Joanna Weinberg is best known to Australian audiences for her cabaret-turned-blockbuster-Hollywood-movie Goddess. She turned ‘that kernel of an idea you’ve been mulling over for the past two years’ into a feature film starring West End Mary Poppins Laura Michelle Kelly, Ronan Keating and our very own Magda Szubanski.
In September, Weinberg brings her 10th one-woman-show Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs to The Hayes Theatre. Bloodsongs tackles the issue of addiction head-on through the revelations of a quirky Bulgarian Baroness who has unquenchable, unspeakable yearnings. Maryann Wright sat down with Weinberg to ask whether writing cabarets gets any easier, and how the particular kernel of an idea for Bloodsongs came about.
Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs is, at its heart, a cabaret about addiction. What inspired this idea?
I have many family members and friends who are addicted to various things. I’ve watched them for decades and been judgemental. I wanted to stop judging and take an imaginative leap into the world of an addict and explore what it’s like inside. What it’s like to really crave something.
I smoked for 30 years, I’m addicted to sugar and I’ve had coffee every day of my life since I was 13. Everyone has “addiction” in them to a greater or lesser degree. I wanted to show more compassion towards those who are addicts because it’s not something you can consciously help and simply stop.
Through my research I found that addiction often arises from two major causes: genetic – as in having an addictive personality (for me it’s on my mother’s side of family and quite literally in the blood). The other specific catalyst for addictive behaviour is psychological. For example, being abandoned as a child leads people to look for something that soothes the feeling of loneliness or fear or whatever negative emotion a person wants to self soothe. The cabaret is an exploration of both these catalysts of addiction.
What’s the process of writing a cabaret like for you? This is your 10th show, does it get any easier?
It’s fun. After writing for so many years it does get easier. I’m a lot clearer now about picking a topic. Ideas sit in my brain for months or years and I have project books that I write all my ideas in. Once I pick a topic I follow it and never stray. I like to use the metaphor of a tree: the trunk is the big idea. For example, buildings. I start with that, then I explore all the branches such as the windows and doors of a building. The idea gets more and more detailed as it grows.
When writing I become obsessive. I block out time and never stray – even if it’s only one hour a day, and I’m very disciplined. Over time I’ve gotten better at sticking to the topic. When writing the film Goddess I learned to always go back and back until you’ve fully explored an avenue rather than chucking out ideas every few hours.
Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs premiered in the Melbourne Fringe Festival and had a season in Sydney’s Camelot Lounge earlier this year. What can Hayes Theatre audiences expect?
All I can say is that it’s edgy and scary for me to do this piece. Come with an open mind!
You worked as an actor in film and theatre back in South Africa and since being in Australia you’ve written dozens of musicals and cabarets. What’s next?
There are three musicals I want to write. I’ve chosen one to focus on but I can’t reveal anything yet. I also have past projects I want to push forward such as continuing to work on Lifeforce, which won Pick of the Fringe at the Sydney Fringe Festival last year.
Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs is part of Hayes Theatre Company’s Month of Sundays on 14, 21, 18 September. For bookings call 02 8065 7337 or visit www.hayestheatre.com.au.