The glorious Midsumma festival opens next month and in amongst the eclectic and sometimes heady mix of cabaret, dance and visual artistry lies this little apt (given the current happenings in Canberra) gem Standing On Ceremony – The Gay Marriage Plays. The bitingly witty Michael Veitch is a vehicle for one of the monologues and tackles it, the world and me with his trademark flair for funny.
Veitch is possibly best known for his various roles on sketch comedies such The D-Generation, Fast Forward and Full Frontal (God, Wayne and Sonny still bring tears to my eyes…in a good way!) and many would argue that the D-Gen, in particular, was responsible for changing the face of Australian TV comedy as we had come to know it…again, in a good way.
When asked to look back on those days of the D-Gen and Fast Forward, Veitch tells me a story. "Well let me put it this way," he begins. "A few months ago, in fact just the week before a rather large eucalyptus obliqua I was cutting down fell across my leg and smashed my ankle into several small and slightly smaller fragments, I was standing on platform 2 at Richmond Station waiting for the 10.17 Lilydale (limited express), when a girl about, I'd say twenty eyed me from an angle then sidled up. 'Hey, were you on that show last night? On Gem?', she said with that swagger of youthful confidence, referring no doubt to the repeat she'd seen the night before on one of the lesser watched free to air channels which has for some unfathomable reason decided to play ancient episodes of Fast Forward on Thursday nights. 'Yep', I answered blandly, 'that was me'. 'Cool', said the girl, before pausing for a moment. 'When was that made, that show?'. I took a single, very deliberate step towards her. 'Honey, before you were born'. She went slightly pale and quickly boarded the 10.15 to Belgrave. That's basically how I feel about those days now."
Veitch, along with other notable wits, entered the entertainment arena pretty much after graduating from The University of Melbourne. He tells me, though , that he can't actually remember what influenced him to become part of said industry but swears if he ever catches the bastard responsible, he's going to kill him! This is another Veitch break and I love it: "God, why, I mean OH WHY didn't I listen to my father and do quantity surveying? Dad, if you're up there, I'm sorry, you were right. Or interior design! I would have been so good at that, and you know the really tragic thing? I had the marks to get into it. RMIT, no less! I'm even good at fixing things. Why just last week I changed the thermometer on my friend's Volvo 240. Yep, I would have made such a good mechanic. Or even a hair dresser. Brilliant! Instead, for some reason I've become part of this blood-sucking, narcissistic, soul-destroying circus called entertainment. Must be insane. But I have to admit, it’s fun sometimes too and at least it’s stopped me from growing up."
Standing On Ceremony – The Gay Marriage Plays is a wonderfully entertaining series of 9 short pieces that celebrate Gay Marriage, exploring the absurdity of tradition and also the heart and love and loss that can be experienced in any relationship. Writers include Neil Labute, Dough Wright , Moises Kaufman, Paul Rudnick and between them there are 2 Pulitzers, 4 Obies, 1 Emmy and 3 Tony nominations. Veitch's piece is directed by multi-award winning director and actor, Helen Ellis, and is being produced under her banner, Ellis Productions.
"Oh, it’s about…gay marriage, is it? Well, I think they want to be married…or at least some of them do, or at least be allowed to fill in the forms." Quips Veitch, when asked to discuss the themes of the play and how these reflect on current gay marriage issues. And this line alone is satire at it's best…but wait..there's more. "Actually I'm not sure why they're not allowed to get married as it is. Council regulations is it? Is it the paperwork? Cutbacks? Something to do with pets? Is it a parking issue? Not really sure. In fact, why does anyone bother to get married, really, in this day and age? I mean isn’t the whole ‘marriage’ thing a slightly arcane notion anyway? But hey if gay and lesbian or everyone else actually feel silly enough to WANT to get married and end up as miserable as the rest of us, well it probably does come down to one of those inalienable human rights, I would have thought. But hey, who’s listening to me?"
Ellis and Veitch have collaborated before on Veitch's play Flak so, for Ellis, it was an easy decision to cast him. "He is very talented and is surprisingly easy to work with, at least he has been but the demands are getting a bit out of hand," she quips."Michael, as funny and silly as he can be, is also a very accomplished and intuitive actor. His character Joe is the most touching soul in this entire production."
Veitch has a slightly different (not surprising really!) take on the match and says: "Well, I was desperate and Helen Ellis took pity on me. Also it's a monologue and I don't have to work with actors. Bliss…but apart from that, it’s actually an exquisitely written piece about love, loss, grief and remembrance, as well as some serious stuff too. I mean, I’ve been in some dogs, and I mean some real absolute dogs of plays over the years, so to finally be in one that’s actually really well-written, well, it’s Christmas really."
Veitch also has some strong feelings about Ellis, and I marvel at his bravery in disclosure, given what I learn: "Frighteningly efficient. Angers easily – and savagely. Needs to be kept placated with fresh pomegranate juice and blue soft toys. Or else read her a story. Lots of pictures. Actually she's a little…scary (you know, I've been thinking I should actually talk to someone about this because I'm pretty certain there's some weird and probably illegal stuff going down here. I mean I don't mind dressing up, but the rabbit costume for an entire week, well I never though that was fair. And the whole rattan business to the soles of the feet? Yeah, maybe I had fucked up, but I still reckon the MEAA would have a thing to say about it. Christ, they're never there when you want them, are they?"
I ask Veitch to tell me a little about his character – who is Joe? what does he want? how does he fit into the greater scheme of things? "I don't think he fits into anything in particular, and if I keep eating the way I have been since coming out of hospital, I won't be able to fit into much either." Veitch tells me, referencing his earlier Man Vs. Tree reveal. "Honestly, I was down to 76 now I'm back up to 80. No fucking self-control, that's my…sorry? Oh, his name's…oh, Christ, what is it? Trevor? Ray? He's speaking at his lover's funeral. It's a eulogy. Quite a lovely piece it is too….or maybe it's his husband…or wife, but as we won't be opening the coffin on stage we may never know. Goes for 15 minutes. Fifteen! How the hell am I going to learn the bloody thing? Look if I start now, I might just be able to pull it off. Otherwise I'll just have to wing it. Might need to take a nap in the middle, and if people want to leave to get a drink half way through, I won't be offended. Pinot gris for me, thanks."
"Oh, my character? Sorry, had a senior’s moment for a bit. His name’s Joe – sturdy older gent (yes, I’m playing ‘up’. Considerably. Ok?); recently lost his partner, Paul, of many yonks, and the piece I’m doing, ‘London Mosquitos’ is his eulogy. Solid stuff: moving, sad, poignant, wide-ranging, the whole shebang. Written by Moises Kaufman who has both a Tony and Obie on his bookshelf! Uses big words, concepts, analogies etc…in fact the whole thing’s probably beyond me but I’ll give it a red-hot shot. "
Ellis Productions is donating the proceeds from the production to the Australian Marriage Equality to contribute towards ongoing advocacy, awareness and change. Thank God for Ellis, actually, who brings the tone of the interview back to serious business. The show has been selected by Midsumma to be a premier event and, she tells me, it will be a great celebration. The production will feature a live wedding band and an imaginative and exciting set.
"We can't wait to get started and we do hope everyone comes and joins in the fun," says Ellis. "Proceeds will go to Australian Marriage Equality, so you even get something for you donation – what a great cause. As Michael says, there is no reason why same sex couples shouldn't marry. Some of my friends are in beautiful, long term relationships and the fact that they can't get married is just heartbreaking. The choice should be there, it is a civil right!"
The celebration of queer culture is what Midsumma is all about, and this show sounds like the ticket to do just that. If not for all the right reasons, go for all the Veitch reasons:
"Well I'm in it…and so are some other people too. I think. And I'm sure the tickets are cheap. And I mean, where can you go to the theatre and see nine, count em – NINE plays in one night? I mean it’s going to be a riot: livelier than a sack full of ferrets. And no rubbish either. All quality stuff written by credentialed playwrights, not just a couple of final year La Trobe University Arts students called Shae and Amber fulfilling the criteria for the final installment of their Churchill Fellowship. I mean we’re talking Moises Kaufman for Christ’s sake! In fact the between all the playwrights on Standing on Ceremony, there are two Pulitzers, four Obies one Emmy and two Tony nominations. And for some reason, they’ve given me the big one, the mozza, the most substantial piece of the evening! They must be mad. Still, the challenge is on."
Cast featuring Spencer McLaren, Pia Miranda, Michael Veitch, Brett Whittingham, Olivia Hogan, Luke Jacka, Helen Ellis and Wayne Pearn
Season 22 January – 9 February 2014