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Cougar Morrison: Bonsoir Bitches!

– Elyse Simich

Clint Strindberg will premier his new cabaret Bonsoir Bitches in Perth next week. In it, he will reprise the role of Cougar Morrison, an androgynous character from New Orleans. “He’s very sassy, he’s very sexy. And he speaks with a delightful southern accent. He tears things or people apart — not in the audience, but the people he’s describing in his stories. He sings a lot, a lot of the time in French. He also is a play on masculinity versus femininity.”

Clint first came up with Cougar about fifteen years ago, however, it wasn’t until three years ago that he found the courage to actually start performing as his character. “I was too scared and not really comfortable enough in myself to do it. He is a way of pulling the finger at what guys are expected to behave as and look like and move in.”

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When asked what to expect in the upcoming show, Clint said Cougar “often tells tales of a hilariously failed love-life, which I think everyone can relate to. You may not have gone through exactly the same things he has, but he makes fun of it now.” However, he hasn’t always been so confident. “There used to be times when Cougar used to get really upset about being single, but now he’s grown a lot. I think it would be really good for Perth audiences who have seen Cougar twice in Fringe’s already to see that he’s growing a bit. And he just laughs at it now.”

At his inception, Cougar was shy and used his sass as a form of misdirection. “The sassiness was kind of this nice, safe façade, because he was very fragile, very torn, very broken as a human being. And that was part of his endearing qualities. We’ve all been hurt at some point, we’ve all been through bad things. That’s nothing unique to Cougar. But a lot of the audience can relate to it,” said Clint. “Now Cougar is way more confident in himself, he’s much more experienced as a human, he’s learnt to laugh at himself a lot more and the sassiness has not diminished at all. The sassiness is not so much a façade, it’s more of a weapon.”

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Clint first began performing as an actor, at the age of seventeen. Hhe fell in love with singing and then began cabaret. “Acting was great and all, but I really wanted to sing. And I couldn’t sing. And I really liked music theatre, so I tried out for musical theatre time and time and time again. And they said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You don’t fit. You’re not right. You don’t sound the part. Your voice is too wobbly.’” But after trying out for classical he was given a chance to perform as a singer. “I travelled around the world, trying to find the best teachers. Because the wobble in my voice was a huge issue for my teachers, they didn’t like it because it was a bit much. So, I trained with people in Italy, I trained with people in New York, all over the different coasts of Australia. And none of them could fix it. There was something just innate in my throat. And I wasn’t really happy doing classical music anymore. So, I thought, “What do I want to sing?” And I wanted to do cabaret, because I get to control everything.”

Edith Piaf was one of his main influences and her music inspired him to keep singing despite the wobble in his voice. “I had no idea what she was even saying, I just really loved her voice. It was so expressive. In some songs you felt like she was just cackling and in other songs, you felt like she was just screaming. But then when I became a singer, and everyone was talking about “this wobble” I ended up going back to Edith Piaf, because she has a wobble. And that was my maintaining of perseverance to keep singing, because she had a wobble, she was revered.”

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Cougar has also been influenced by including the Eurhythmics, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and Prince. He’s now a full drag queen, so he told me we can expect to see some of that in the show. “Their sass is unrivaled, so they taught me something. They taught me a whole lot about how to read people and how to really captivate everybody.” Clint refers to Cougar as “super-Clint”, he accentuates his own quirks whenplaying this role.  He was always told that he was graceful. “To accentuate that gracefulness, I wear heels. And I wear them very, very well. I practice a lot and I know I have to do it really well because there’s a fantastic drag culture here in Perth… There’s another thing where I have quite wide hips for a boy. I affectionately call them my ‘child-birthing hips.’ And that’s just the bone structure. I’m quite slight; it’s definitely not fat. So, I pop on a corset and really accentuate that natural curvaceousness.”

Clint couldn’t tell me a lot about what to expect in terms of story in his upcoming show, but MGM musicals will be a big feature. “There’s a great homage to my old-school, roots, I’m very renowned for not just doing very obscure songs in French but for doing MGM musicals. Even when I’m lip-synching in drag shows I do a lot of Barbra Streisand, or Bette Midler. So, there’s a great, big, fun mash-up of all of those ones. I’ve also been encouraged as a performer, to do more modern things. So, I always put my spin on it.” There will also be a song to his ten-year-old self.

Cougar used to give off a downwards vibe at some of his shows; Clint said he was very consumed with, “I’m single, I hate it. I’m alone.” But this time, the vibe is going to be a lot more positive: “If you’ve got things that suck in your life, yes they suck, but you’ve got to just keep dancing. I think it’s a much better message. Much more fun and encouraging.”

The show will play downstairs at His Majesty’s Theatre on November 17, 18 and 19. Enter the promotional code CLINT to get a discount on your tickets.

Photo credits: Ticketek, CougarMorrison.com

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