Diva – Tiffany Barton’s one woman show – is making its way to the Big Apple as quite a big deal: it is the only Australian show to be accepted into the 20th Annual New York International Fringe Festival!
The show is based on a real life New York diva and friend of her American mother so, in a way, the interrelatedness is right. “Both women worked at Avon in New York in the 60s,” explains Barton. “I first met her when I was 17 and then again at 28 when I stayed with her for a week, and then again in 2013 when I was producing my play Polly’s Waffle in New York. She always blew me away. She became a successful soprano, performing at The Metropolitan Opera and travelling the world doing what she loved. She has a mega watt personality and is a quintessential New York character – bold, brassy, loud, uncompromising, sexy and full of New York chutzpah. When I hung out with her at 28 she would’ve been in her 50s and she was batting the men away like flies. They clearly adored her beauty, confidence and charisma, and I did too. When I met her again in her 60s not much had changed. She was still dating interesting men who clearly adored her and she seemed so confident in her career and her sexuality. I thought she was a great feminist character who deserved to be written about.”
The annual NY International Fringe Festival is a tough gig to get into – out of 870 applicants only 200 where chosen. Barton applied late last year and only found out recently that she is the only Australian act performing this year, which, she acknowledges, is a real honour. “I was inspired to enter because I attended NY Fringe in 2013 with my play Polly’s Waffle and had an absolute ball. While I was there I met the opera singer who inspired my play DIVA. It’s a New York character in a New York setting, so of course I had to apply to perform it in New York – that’s a no brainer!”
The team travels light, with only three creatives : director Helen Doig, designer Cherie Hewson and Barton, but the plan is to utilize every free body to assist with publicity. ” When we get there we’ll spend a few days flyering the area around our theatre to raise a crowd and we’ll perform our first show two days later.”
The play is about June, a brilliant, bold, brassy, bad-ass opera singer, given to singing to her dead stuffed cat, reminiscing about her lurid love life, consuming vast amounts of vodka, and chastising her lousy ex-husband. Once famous and celebrated, June is down on her luck. She’s lost her man, her looks, her career, her cat, and now she’s on the verge of losing her marbles. Agoraphobic and unable to leave her apartment, she turns to her booze, her pills, her dead stuffed cat and her trusty vibrator Mr Buzzy for solace.
Barton has found that DIVA has a much wider appeal than she had initially imagined with young audiences loving the punked-up opera and no-holds-barred story telling; and older audiences loving the emotional journey and exploration of art, aging, love and loss.
As an artist, Barton is attracted to edgy themes. “I like redemption stories, stories of love and loss, stories of people on the fringes, stories of madness and longing and desire and transgression and healing,” she says.
Diva is a wild ride that will have you hanging onto your seats. It’s a portrait of a fabulous woman who’s fallen on hard times and is now on the edge of a nervous breakdown. With nothing left to lose, she lets it all hang out, and bares her soul to the audience, sharing with us her flaws, her fears and her dirty little secrets. Sounds very much like the Big Apple herself!