Writer and actor Alexandra Keddie makes her return to The Butterfly Club with her smash hit cabaret success, I See Me & Meryl Streep. No stranger to the stage or screen, Keddie (Offspring, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and MTC’s Hay Fever in 2017) aims high when it comes to inspirational mentors.
“I think for most actors, Meryl acts as a sort of benchmark… that we all strive to meet. She’s the best.”
Streep has been deep within her chosen career for almost 50 years so, as a homage to the life and times of the most honoured actor of our time (21 Academy Award nominations and 31 Golden Globe nominations), Keddie had a truck load of material to choose from to create her whirlwind tour of all things Streep.
Initially the show for Keddie came together in a few different parts. “I wanted to write and perform in a cabaret, I’d become sick of whinging about not being able to perform enough and perform what I wanted to perform,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do something where I could play a whole myriad of characters and whilst in the black hole of Youtube I found a video called ‘The Many Voices of Meryl Streep’ and thought, bingo! The show then became somewhat of a love letter to my younger self and to young performers who feel out of place and like they don’t belong in the situation they’re in. As much as it’s about Meryl Streep, it’s equally as much about a young girl at the cusp of adult-hood who’s trying to figure out where her quirks and oddities fit in and how to be bold and different in a time in your life when that’s not always appreciated.”
Streep’s longevity is not an accident nor is her skill. Hard work and commitment to her craft have contributed towards her outstanding abilities as has an inherent talent. Her ability to create truthful characters each and every time is what all effective actors must strive for. This is one of the messages that Keddie hopes audiences take away with them after viewing the show.
“On the one hand, I’ve tried to weave in an undercurrent of Meryl’s ability to find the humanity in all of her characters however ‘unlikeable’ they may seem on paper,” says Keddie. “She always approaches her roles with the intent to defend them and present a soul to the audience and that’s always done without judgement of those people. I think that’s the only way she’s been able to present such a vast catalogue of characters each as convincing as each other.”
Another message emanates from Keddie herself as she explores the feelings and dreams of a once 17 year old girl whose ultimate aspiration is to one day be a somebody.
“Then on the other hand it’s about a young girl’s struggle to be comfortable with the person that she is. She’s battling with her differences whilst simultaneously showing them off. She’s chosen the most adored and admired actress there is to emulate and can’t help but compare herself and her own surroundings where she’s not quite so adored. In that, this girl has to learn to love herself and her own reality… whilst singing ABBA.”
While researching the piece, Keddie discovered some interesting facts about Streep that were surprising but indicative of the actor who has managed to maintain her personal space within an arena that often craves blood as well as keeping her private life private within that same arena. Keddie also gives insight into a part of Streep’s process which is fundamental to an actor’s truth..
“Meryl’s remained fairly closed off with a lot of her personal life,” says Keddie. “She’s purposefully used her characters as the vessel for her opinions. She saw that Jane Fonda’s activism had outshone her work and Meryl didn’t want that, instead she channeled her activism through the women she played by giving a nuanced, human and strong voice to people who may not necessarily have been given one before.
I did like the story I heard recently about when she was put on probation in high school for her ethics assignment where she called all of the teachers at her school claiming that there had been a terrible car accident and they all needed to give blood. Then at Yale when she was put on probation because she was said to lack ambition… they wanted her to be the lead in all the of her university plays and she wanted some of the other students to have a go.
As far as obtaining work… Meryl’s not really had to struggle. She did 7 plays in New York her first year out of Yale, 3 of which she was cast in before she’d even left.”
Keddie explains that the work has gone through many different versions because, primarily, she hadn’t really figured out what it was yet.
“You have to lay down your foundations, and you’ve got to believe in those foundations before you can build a show and without that it’ll fall apart at any moment,” she explains. “Which it did… until 9 months later when I birthed a show that I was really proud of. Looking at the script now, 3 years later, was such an interesting experience. I’ve spent these years writing and learning more and couldn’t help but change it up and add new things. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop writing it, maybe when I become too old to play this character.”
Keddie has made her own luck thus far in a range of roles from TV to the stage and musical theatre. But what medium is her favourite?
“I love them both so much,” she says. ” I love the accessibility of TV and Film, but the immediacy of theatre is maybe the best thing in the world. Not many people have the luxury of picking and choosing where we work in this country, there’s so much talent and not enough work to go around so you learn to be versatile with style and medium, which I think is an exciting prospect. I think what I really am seeking in a career is variety. Both in what platform I get to perform on and also in characters and the worlds they live in.”
Keddie did a farce last year (Hay Fever, MTC) and had the best time being big and bold and playing in a comedy “… but then I watch Handmaid’s Tale and all I want to do is be dramatic and cry and imagine a dystopian future.”
As an actor, Keddie is particularly interested in portraying characters who people underestimate. She loves playing people who are seemingly naive because of their positivity but have a strength that runs deeper than what they present to the world. “As a rampant feminist I’m deeply interested in how women are portrayed and how new projects are presenting the strength and power of femininity. That really excites me.”
Featuring music from ABBA, Sondheim, Ray Charles and more ABBA, I See Me & Meryl Streep is a nostalgic exploration of some of cinema’s most loved and memorable characters from Miranda Priestly to Julia Child, Joanna Kramer and Margaret Thatcher. Through sequins and hilarity, Alexandra Keddie reminds us all what it feels like to have stars in our eyes and the world at our feet.
Says Keddie: “It’s fun. It’s a really fun night out. And it’s only an hour so you can still go out for dinner afterwards. I know when I go to a show and find out it’s a neat 60-75 minutes I’m a happy gal! It’s a nostalgic exploration of film too. Film holds so many memories, not just in the film itself but in remembering where you were when you saw it and who you were with. I hope people see this show and leave having had a fun night, having remembered some great cinema and remembering that it’s okay to bold about your supposed weirdness.”
August 27 – September 1