The Cabaret Cougar

– by Owen Scrivener

‘Pastiche’ in the intellectual circles of art is much a word of derision, and there’s something, I think, incredibly sad about that. There are plenty of things to learn from those who paved the way for modern performance arts, but appropriating their skills is somehow gauche.
Clint Strindberg’s alter-ego, Cougar Morrison adopts a type of pastiche I’ve seen more and more of late, thanks, in-part to the emergence of independent performance. I spoke with him on the eve of his Connections premier performance of RAWWR.

You’re a cabaret singer, musician and dancer but you began in opera. Tell me about that.

“Originally I studied as an actor and had no singing skills. I applied to the theater schools to train as a singer, however it was a classical discipline that took me on.
“The classical vocalists were a little more liberal, and musical theater vocalists were more conservative.
“Eventually I moved to New York, was part of some US opera productions and even got to sing in the choir at Carnegie Hall.”

Did you always envision yourself as a stage performer?

“When I was a kid I wanted to host The Great Outdoors, travel and report. Singing and dancing on stage wasn’t on my mind until much later. I certainly didn’t want to sing opera, though I do enjoy listening to it now.”

Are there any aspects of performance that you dread?
“I’m comfortable on stage, but dread the buildup. Being unprepared is my ultimate fear, it happened last year when I performed my show then, though I was well received.
“Because of that, I’m calculated and analytical during rehearsals.”

Do you consider what you do drag?
“Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t think so, but then I saw Le Gateau Chocolat, who is not your usual female impersonator, hairy and bold. It opened my eyes, so I suppose I am.”

What part of you is Cougar?
“I treat Cougar as a separate entity, and occasionally he surprises me during performances.
“Cougar is much more transparent than Clint is.”

Do you consider modern cabaret kitsch?
“I think there are performances like variety shows and burlesque that get lumped in with cabaret, but to me cabaret is more about telling stories with music.
“I draw my inspiration directly from Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf for that reason.”

Why do you choose to model yourself on Marlene and Edith?

“That’s the thing, Marlene and Edith weren’t necessarily good singers. They were honest singers. Their voices were worn and cracked from their realities. In some songs Edith almost sounds as if she’s crying.
“As impressive as professionally trained singers can be, I am far more moved by a human voice.”

Cougar performs Rawwr on the 21st of February at Connections Nightclub, Northbridge.

Find your tickets at https: www.fringeworld.com.au


Photo credit: Joel Devereaux

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