I have blogged three times before about the charismatic Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma – about her schizophrenic Fascist singing Nancy Sanazi character at the Edinburgh Fringe in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II and at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show… as part of the Fringe show Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret… and last week as host of the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows in London.
But I have never been sure how to categorise her. Actress, comedian, clown, puppeteer, singer/songwriter? She seems to do ’em all. I also made the initial mistake of thinking she was from the US. Never a good thing.
“I’m Canadian,” she reminded me this week. “Originally from St Catherines, Ontario near Toronto. Well, actually, I’m from everywhere. We moved around a lot.”
“So what did you want to be as a kid?” I asked. “An actress?”
“My mother is a theatre director and my father’s a set designer,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “So I was just like doing theatre forever.”
“I was one of the witches in The Crucible in a 6-month run in the main stage,” she told me (without mentioning the award she got).
“That was when it all started,” she told me. “The woman who played Abigail in The Crucible became a great mentor for me and she had studied at Canada’s National Theatre School, which is where I wanted to go. But she said: Don’t go to the National Theatre School. I spent four years there and then I went to L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and re-did it all and now I’m getting all the work… Gaulier’s a genius. If you can, just go straight to him.”
“So, when I finished high school in Canada, I went to study with Philippe Gaulier in Paris. I showed up there thinking I was this very serious actress and just flopped every day for about six months. Every day I’d come on and Philippe Gaulier would say Oh you are this boring Canadian little rabbit lost in the forest taking a poo poo. Oh she is so beautiful. Wow. You love her. You want to fuck her every night of your life. That’s what he’d say every day and then he’d ask someone I had had a crush on in the class and they would say No, she’s a boring rabbit poo poo in the Canadian forest.”
“This sounds like some cult breaking down your personality,” I said.
“But I WAS shit,” insisted Nelly/Zuma. “He was training us to find the magic, to know how to identify it when we were on our own. And so, after six months of flopping every day trying to be this serious actress, we started the character section – character/clown/comedy – and I came out the first day and I stayed on stage for 15 minutes and everyone was laughing and I’d never… It was the best moment of my life… For some reason, all this time I’d thought I was a serious actress and it turned out that I was a lot funnier than I thought I was.”
“And after that you went back to Canada?” I asked.
“I went from Paris back to Victoria, British Columbia,” said Nelly/Zuma, “where I lived in a cave with a man named Caveman Dan and then I hitchhiked to California and around California. I was singing at this time – R&B, Blues, jazz and a little bit hip-hop.”
“With bands?” I asked.
“Yeah, doing stuff with producers and musicians and all sorts of people for years. I ended up teaching at a circus school in Costa Rica, met a band there and toured with them to Peru for ten months. Kind of just being an idiot on the road.
“After that, I decided I wanted to finish my clown school in Montreal because I’d sort of started it and done little bits here and there.”
In fact, she studied puppetry at the Banff Arts Centre, completing L’Ecole Clown et Comedie with Gaulier’s Protege and Cirque du Soleil’s first clowns Francine Côté and James Keylon in Montreal.
“I had just finished the clown school,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “when my grandfather passed away in 2012 – he was British. We all came here for the funeral and, afterwards, my parents asked me When do you want to leave? and I said Give me an open flight and I’ll figure it out. Then I went to Buddhafield and met Adam Oliver (her cohort in Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe) at a hippie festival and came to London to visit Annie Bashford who I’d gone to Gaulier with.
“She was playing Anne Stank (a singing Anne Frank) in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night gigs with Agent Lynch playing Nancy Sanazi. Then Agent Lynch got picked up to perform with La Clique and Annie suggested me to Pete (Frank Sanazi) as his new Nancy Sanazi; I was only staying with her for a week.
“After doing Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we had a few gigs lined up and Pete said Stay a couple of months so I said I’d stay until Christmas and I was also doing a double act with Annie back then – we were called Grumpy Lettuce.
“At the end of October, we did a show at Lost Theatre in London and the artistic director wanted to start up a cabaret night called Lost Cabaret at the Priory Arms in Stockwell and was looking for a compere, so I did that.”
“You’re certainly busy,” I said. “Do you have an agent?”
“No, I’d like one. Actually, I don’t know what’s happening with the Adam Lost Cabaret at the moment. He’s so busy producing a million and one things… Maybe we’ll do some double acty stuff in various places.”
“And then you’ve got these London Play Group workshops for adults that start next Wednesday,” I asked, trying to be helpful. “What are they about?”
“Well, replied Nelly/Zuma, “a bunch of adults will come and we’ll get absolutely ridiculous, have loads of fun, play ridiculous games together – just like playful children’s games – improvisation, clown games – like how to find your ridiculous self, how to become free in your self-expression on stage and how to bring that play into life. That’s what we’re exploring. Finding pleasure in life, connecting to people in a playful community and making friends with this hub of people who feel they don’t have enough play or laughter in their life because we’re forced to live this adult lifestyle. Finding a way to be ridiculous.
“I’m also starting a feminist theatre show as part of a group of four people. We’re just starting to talk about it. We feel there’s loads of feminist festivals all over the country that we’d love to tour with our bizarre show. We feel there’s a lot of angry feminists who have made it all about angry women who hate men and we want to bring it back to equality and involve men in feminist theatre and say a man can be a feminist too.”
“So there are men involved?”
“Dan Lees,” said Nelly, “who was in Moonfish Rhumba.”
“And so the bizarreness continues,” I said.