AussieTheatre’s Ben Neutze spoke with diva extraordinaire Margi de Ferranti about her brand new cabaret Teach Me Tonight and her work inspiring the next generation of performers.
Margi de Ferranti might now have a reputation as one of the most diligent and talented singing teachers in Australia, with high profile clients including Rebecca Gibney, Virginia Gay and Tamsin Carroll, but it’s a wonder she ended up teaching at all given her experiences as a student.
“I was a ratbag,” Margi says, “hard to believe, I know.”
She was the type of student who would cover the classroom door handles with vaseline, put sticky-tape on the chalk duster and take the invitation when teachers said ‘if you’re not interested in learning just leave.’ According to Margi, her behaviour earned her the nickname ‘Mouth Almighty’ and landed her in constant detention.
But with a performing career spanning 20 years and leading roles in shows such as Mamma Mia, Aspects of Love and Sunday in the Park with George, Margi believes experience has been her best teacher. She’s been praised by Billy Joel, worked with Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr. on the movie version of South Pacific and won the first ever Sydney Cabaret Convention in 1997.
It is from these experiences and those on the other side of the student-teacher relationship that Margi’s new cabaret, Teach Me Tonight sprung. The show, her first in five years, sees her share hilarious and touching stories about her students and insights into the fine art of teaching. There’s even a special tribute to the often-interfering mothers of her students and a medley of the world’s most clichéd audition songs.
From her private students through to her appointments at performing arts schools such as NIDA and AIM, Margi has supported and mentored countless students and truly understands what it is to be a teacher. It’s a subject matter she believed was fertile ground for performance material.
[pull_left]I really don’t like doing a cabaret if I don’t have something to say[/pull_left]
“I really don’t like doing a cabaret if I don’t have something to say, but then things started happening when I was teaching and I realised that’s what I wanted to talk about,” she says.
The show also gives her the chance to tackle some of her students’ songs with pieces by Adele, Lily Allen and even one from Tim Minchin’s musical Matilda.
“I often sit there and play songs for students and think ‘wow, I’d really like to sing that actually.’” And given that Margi hasn’t performed a single song featured in this cabaret before, it’s a pretty big challenge.
“They’re all brand new to me,” she says. “I’m an idiot, but there you go!”
At the heart of the cabaret, is a simple message about the role of teachers – to inspire and nurture creativity.
“I recently read Ken Robinson’s The Element, which is essentially about the way our education system has thwarted students’ creative endeavours by not allowing them to actually be creative,” she says. “Our job is really to understand that we’re not here to trample on anyone’s dreams because it’s their future.”
But Margi is quick to say that audiences shouldn’t expect a deep, cathartic night at the theatre. Teach Me Tonight will surely be packed full of laughs, anecdotes and some belt-tastic tunes.
In her inimitable self-deprecating style, Margi jokes that her return to the cabaret stage is well overdue. “I probably can’t wait for five years until the next one because I could well be dead.”
Teach Me Tonight is at the Vanguard on Sunday, 2 December. Booking details – www.thevanguard.com.au