Juliette Burton on how to perform an emotionally raw show to children in Oz

Performer Juliette Burton is in Australia. She should be arriving in Melbourne tomorrow for her When I Grow Up shows which run at the International Comedy Festival.

Juliette Burton & Frankie Lowe rehearse yesterday for her February-May tour of Australia

Juliette Burton and musical director Frankie Lowe set off for their tour of Oz last month

I talked to her when she was in Auburn, about 2 hours drive from Adelaide. She had been performing both her own solo show When I Grow Up and, with Lizzy Mace, their Rom Com Con show at the Adelaide Fringe.

“I’m going to drive the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne.,” she told me rather enthusiastically.

“How was Adelaide?” I asked.

“I live in Edinburgh,” said Juliette, and I’m missing it desperately, but Adelaide has been trying very hard to make me feel at home. It’s been raining non-stop the last few days. When we left, it was pissing down with rain and it was freezing.”

“And professionally?” I asked.

“It was a very big learning curve,” Juliette said. “It was very random. Loads of random experiences. I met Randy again.”

In Juliette’s When I Grow Up show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, Juliette (a great fan of the Muppet Show) had a puppet called Juliuppet who talked via Skype with Randy in Australia.

“In Adelaide,” Juliette told me, “Juiliuppet and I were in the front row to see Randy’s show.”

(from left) Randy, Juliette and Juliuppet in Adelaide

(From left) Randy, Juliette and her Juliuppet

“So you and your hand puppet were watching Sammy J and his hand puppet?”

“Absolutely,” said Juliette. “I’ve seen some great shows. There were some amazing burlesque performers like Rusty Trombone.”

“Did he play a trombone?” I asked.

“No,” replied Juliette, “but he did do a lot of things with a sparkly g-string which I loved. And I got to ride a motorcycle for the first time ever.

“We’ve also been doing a lot of schools performances here, which have been real challenges. I hadn’t realised how much I enjoy performing for adults. Performing for kids is so much harder. When I Grow Up was never written for kids but, for some reason, as well as my main show, I was booked to take this show around schools. I did two shows today, one to primary school children, 8-13. I went into that thinking They’re not going to understand it at all. It will go over their heads. It will be horrible. But, actually, they were laughing along; they were loving it. They especially loved the swear words. And they were asking really intelligent questions afterwards.”

“I remember seeing you do the show in Edinburgh last year and there were three kids in the front row,” I said. “They did seem to enjoy the references to ‘shit’ in the working-on-a-farm sequence.”

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’ve realised this is the key to having an awesome show for children. Saying swear words and having a puppet. Those two things are massive hits for kids. The ‘shit’ word goes down a storm and ‘dickhead’ goes down a storm and maybe surprisingly the ‘twist’ near the end of my show actually seems to have a massive impact on them. No matter what age they are, they all seem to shut up and listen at that point, even if they weren’t paying attention before.”

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette’s childhood show: usually for grown-ups

“It must be difficult,” I said, “to perform that part of the show to kids – the emotional twist.”

“Well,” explained Juliette, “I am learning to put myself in a protective bubble a bit when I do it, because sometimes it’s too raw for me.”

“What do you do?” I asked. “Do you say to yourself: I am being a performer – I am not being me?”

“No, I tried that and it didn’t work,” said Juliette. “Now, even if it is a group of 100 kids and 50 of them couldn’t care less, I try to find the kids in the audience who ARE making eye-contact with me and who ARE clearly invested in what I’m saying and I look at them and say the words to them.

“If I can’t find them in the crowd, then I end up looking at Frankie – who’s doing my technical stuff – and the adults in the room as well. I look at the people who understand exactly what I’m saying and that helps me get through it a lot more. Especially looking at Frankie, because he has seen this show so many times and he has seen the shows where the kids couldn’t care less and the shows where the kids come up to me afterwards.

“With the primary school kids today, we had one girl in the front row who quietly, at the end of the Q&A, said: My mummy doesn’t like herself. She just said it. I asked her Have you spoken to anyone else about this? She said No and I asked Have you got a teacher you can talk to? and she said I think so. The fact that, having seen the show, she felt able to share that with me, let alone the rest of her class… that was amazing.

Juliette defeats Richard Herring in Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

In Edinburgh, Juliette beat Richard Herring in Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

“So it is worth it; it’s just the hardest work I’ve ever done. And, whilst Theatre In Education is not what I want to do, I think it is making me better at performing for adults as well. I’m looking forward to the Edinburgh Fringe so much now, having done this.”

“Doesn’t making eye contact with the kids make it more difficult to get through performing the emotional bit?” I asked. “I would have thought you’d have to distance yourself, but you’re implying it’s better if you, in a way, shorten the distance.”

“But then it would not be real,” explained Juliette. “It would not be me. If I say the same words I’ve said hundreds of times before, I don’t want what I’m feeling to be fake. It is really difficult, but I’m finding ways to cope. In one of the Q&As today, they asked me How do you keep it fresh? and I said The fact I’m looking in new people’s eyes means it’s always fresh because it’s a new story I’m telling to each new person. It’s a lot of emotionally hard work. But I did get to see some kangaroos yesterday and got to touch a koala.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be vicious little brats?” I asked.

A koala or a Fringe performer? The choice is yours

A koala bear or a Fringe performer? –  The decision is yours.

“No,” said Juliette. “They reminded me a lot of Fringe performers, because they sat there taking their drugs – their eucalyptus leaves – scratching themselves and looking uninterested in the people who were standing in a queue waiting to have their photograph taken with them. Then they had to do a turnaround between keepers and koalas which took about the same amount of time it takes between Fringe shows and they were just like little divas waiting for the next batch of koala lovers to come in and see them with their fur coats on.”

“So,” I said. “Drugged-up but vicious underneath? That’s a pretty good description of some Fringe performers.”

“Not my words,” said Juliette.

“No,” I agreed. “So you’re having a lazy time…”

“I arrive in Melbourne on Friday,” she said, “I perform When I Grow Up there on 27th March until 20th April – just one show a day which will be bliss. So I’ve got a few days before then to start writing my new Edinburgh Fringe show Look At Me, which Janey Godley is co-writing with me.

“I’ve recorded all of the video interviews I need. The prosthetic stuff I can’t do until I get back to the UK in May. I’m doing When I Grow Up at the Brighton Fringe in May. Then I’m doing previews of Look At Me in Cambridge and Stowmarket in June – and Brighton and London in July – for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I’m desperate to create something new. I have to create something new to move on from what I’ve learnt. I’m a different person now to who I was a year ago, so I have to write something new now.”

Juliette has a series of six shows planned-out. When I Grow Up Was the first; Look At Me is the second and, in 2015, Dreamcatcher will be the third.

Juliette Burton

A publicity shot for Juliette’s Look At Me (Photo by Helena G Anderson)

“I’m already planning Dreamcatcher with Frankie,” she said.

Frankie Lowe is her musical collaborator as well as her techie.

“Frankie,” She told me, “wants to do some live music instead of recorded music in Dreamcatcher and I think that would work well. In fact, I might end up doing two shows in 2015.

“I’ve had some exciting interest from other Fringe festivals around the world who saw me in Adelaide. I’ve had a couple of offers for this year which I can’t accept because I’m too busy, but next year maybe I’ll see a bit more of the world.”

“So you’re not being lazy,” I said.

There is a video for Juliette’s pop song Dreamers (When I Grow Up) on YouTube.

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Filed under Australia, Children, Comedy

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