Award-winning cabaret and burlesque show Singin' In The Pain will be returning for the upcoming season of Adelaide Fringe, where themes of disability and chronic illness will be interspersed into the storytelling component of the show. With a diverse and talented cast of performers with disabilities, the show promises to offer its audience with a 75-minute soapbox style format that will encompass elements of cabaret, burlesque, and singing, which will occasionally be sprinkled with quality banter to keep everyone engaged to their heart's content.
In anticipation of their upcoming performances, I was fortunate enough to conduct an e-interview with producer Jacqueline Tedmanson aka Diana Divine - have a read of our exchange below:
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, Jacquie? What is your personal story? Jacqui "Diana Divine": I've kind of had two journeys that didn't interact for a long time. I started performing in childhood, with singing and acting at the forefront. I followed that through into high school, where I (without knowing it at the time) produced a show in my final year. A few years after graduating, a dear friend introduced me into the world of burlesque – I studied through Peaches n Gin from 2015 (my five-year anniversary recently passed, actually!) until the academy stopped holding regular classes and I became an independent performer, then undertook more classes at Hot Sauce Burlesque and eventually became the Neo-Burlesque teacher there. Since 2016, I've been producing super-hero themed burlesque shows with my partner as The Justass League. All that time, I was experiencing chronic fatigue, mental illness, seizures, and chronic joint pain. Unfortunately, I just didn't get the appropriate care as a kid, so these things rapidly worsened – especially coming into adulthood. I ended up studying psychology in university, mostly focusing on health science & disability education. I eventually got a job as a support worker with a fantastic disability accommodation service and worked there for a few years until my pain & fatigue worsened beyond my ability to fulfil my duties. Since then, I have been doing far less physically-demanding work in freelance design, mostly for people in the burlesque industry, and have begun using a mobility aid (a hot pink walking stick named Betty).
Tema: Who are the key individuals involved in this show that you'd like to highlight? Jacqui "Diana Divine": This year, we have an amazing cast – it's hard to just point out a few. We have award-winning performers (Moisty Magic, reigning Miss Burlesque SA; Ambrosious Lee, currently Burlesque Idol SA) and super skilled up-and-comers (Madame Savage, Iris Envy). We also have a couple of interstate performers this year, with the beautiful disabilibabes Empress Eyrie and Rosie Roulette. Every SITP cast and crew member has a disability or chronic illness and that mutual experience brings everyone together in such a supportive, uplifting way – even when we're all bonding over feeling rough as guts.
Tema: What about the performing arts scene attracted you to it? Jacqui "Diana Divine": I've always been a really socially-motivated person, and I feel like the performing arts scene is the ultimate space for social engagement to thrive. A good performance (as an audience member or a performer) is like an exchange of feelings. Being onstage just amplifies this, because it truly is an exchange, and now you're doing it with 100 people at a time. Burlesque feels like the perfect medium for that kind of performance – it's so audience-driven that they MUST listen to you, in order to know how to respond, but that rule also applies to you as a performer. I value that exchange so much.
Tema: How long have you been in the performing arts scene and what has the experience been like so far? Jacqui "Diana Divine": I've been performing independently since 2016, which was my first true dip into the professional performing arts industry. I jumped on the bandwagon just as it was getting to be more popular in Adelaide, so I came in at a really great time for a new performer. Since then, it has just continued to grow – so much so that the school I teach at has had to limit class slots (and regularly sells out because of it). Involvement with burlesque schools, then teaching at Hot Sauce has created a community-focused ideal for me. One could even say that's what finally convinced me that Singin in the Pain needed to happen.
Tema: So, let's talk about Singin' in the Pain - how did you decide on the concept of your show? Jacqui "Diana Divine": In 2016, I had a painkiller-induced stress nightmare of needing to perform after putting my back out. This led to my dream-self thinking of the truly hilarious pun "Singin' in the Pain". After waking up, the idea of a pain-themed cabaret still seemed good. In 2017, my nightmare came true and I put my back out in the tech rehearsal of my first ever competition. After that, I had no choice but to stop ignoring my needs in favour of burlesque opportunities. In Adelaide Fringe 2019, I debuted this Disability and Chronic Illness Cabaret, using the same name as my original idea, kind of honouring that process for me (plus, I never could resist a pun & theatre reference wrapped up in one). When casting for the show, it blew me away how many performers in the scene live with disability and chronic illness without sharing it – and it kind of took me back to when I first did the same.
Tema: What is the basic premise of Singin' in the Pain, without giving too much away? Jacqui "Diana Divine": Cabaret – Community – Catharsis We use cabaret's "small parts make a larger whole" format to tell individual stories that remind us of universal experiences. We're not really trying to teach a lesson, we're just reaching out to our audience and saying "do you understand?" Think TED Talks with more skin (and more crying).
Tema: Who would you say is your target audience? Jacqui "Diana Divine": People with disabilities, and people who care about people with disabilities.
Tema: What are you hoping for your show to resonate with your audience? Jacqui "Diana Divine": Anyone who is disabled or chronically ill will find warmth and understanding in our show, and those who are not will gain insight. This is a show that, as a performer, can feel almost a little selfish, because we get so much out of sharing our stories to a receptive audience. However, we hear feedback from audience members who finally feel seen and understood, who feel encouraged or validated, and it becomes clear that this wasn't just for us.
Tema: What can people expect from attending Singin' in the Pain? Jacqui "Diana Divine": A rollercoaster of emotions. As the host, I'm regularly introducing or thanking acts through tears while the audience cries along with me. We explore the many facets of the disabled experience, being clear that no single story tells it all. We have highly comedic routines followed by heartbreaking stories in the next. Feelings of empowerment and feelings of helplessness are presented side by side. We aren't trying to particularly uplift or bring down, we're just trying to tell the truth.
Tema: As a returning Adelaide Fringe performer, what are you hoping to expect from this year's participation in the festival? Jacqui "Diana Divine": My first involvement with Fringe was in 2016 with the gorgeous Die Lyla Dash's production A Burlesque Show Named Desire as a performer and kitty. Just one year later, I produced Dawn of Justass and since have been heavily involved, usually producing multiple shows during Fringe time. This year, I'm taking time off from the League and presenting a FringeWorks artist & producer workshop in addition to SITP, called "Creating Accessible Performances". The League hiatus was meant to give me spare time to plan my wedding in July, but this year's Fringe has accidentally just become about doing better and actually contributing to my community.
Tema: Where have you taken your show within Australia / around the world and how has the experience of travelling with the show been? Jacqui "Diana Divine": We haven't toured this show yet, though things may be a-brewing for later this year. I am excited to combine our Adelaide cast with local performers – the more the merrier as far as perspectives are concerned.
Tema: When you're not performing, what does a day in the life of Jacquie (and the other performers involved in the show) look like? Jacqui "Diana Divine": Many of our performers have day jobs, from psychologists to teachers, while a decent chunk of us are full-time artists. Burlesque kind of seeps into your life until everything is related to it, especially when you have multiple art mediums. When I'm not dancing, I'm singing. When I'm not on stage, I'm stage managing. When I'm not at the venue on the night, I'm designing the posters for distribution.
Tema: How would you like to motivate them to give in to whatever fear might be holding them back from taking the step towards pursuing a career in the industry? Jacqui "Diana Divine": I fully recommend attending as many shows as you can. Find a style that speaks to you. Take classes and keep seeing shows. Burlesque, for me, was a one-stop self-esteem shop. It's all about self-love, body positivity, and expressing your own narratives. The command over the audience that burlesque as a style facilitates appeals to that desire for autonomy that we are often denied, though I'm sure just about anyone in love with their chosen genre would say the same. If you have the desire to do it, you've already jumped the biggest hurdle.
Tema: What do you think makes Singin' in the Pain a must-watch show? Jacqui "Diana Divine": We gracefully flip-off the idea of the "perfect" disabled or chronically ill person. We encourage the messy, complicated truth of our experiences, and will help you to do the same. We'll mess with your understanding of the world and you'll come out better for it.
Tema: Is there anything else that you'd like us to know about yourself and Singin' in the Pain? Jacqui "Diana Divine": While our venue is physically accessible, we understand that other aspects of our show are inherently NOT. We've organised our Saturday afternoon session to have an Auslan interpreter and relaxed tech, though regardless of session time we are an 18-plus show.
Singin' in the Pain: A Disability and Chronic Illness Cabaret will be performed at Nexus Arts on March 6 and 7, 2020. Book your tix here.