Ego Jacket at the Adelaide Fringe Festival
By the age of 25 Phillip had lost 60 kilos, come out, had abdominoplasty, dealt with heartbreak and staged two shows about it, so you could say that all his troubles are behind him ...right?
With an upbeat attitude Phil prepares to stage a rock show for the ages, but as it turns out, just because you say you’re fine doesn’t mean you actually are. Phillip Lee Curtis chats to Fred about Ego Jacket, a show that takes its audience on an audio visual journey of self-discovery in a rock cabaret extravaganza that explores anxiety, self-sabotage and the deep internal void.
Check out the full interview below:
Phillip Lee Curtis
The show is based on your own experiences, how do you decide what to include of your life? Is there anything you've changed or exaggerated for dramatic purposes?
Usually I just ask myself “would someone else find this interesting?” or “would someone else benefit from this story?” and if the answer is yes then I know I’m on the right track. So far there’s very little I’ve left out, usually only the mundane details, I find the more honest I am the easier it is to perform authentically. I don’t tend to change or exaggerate too heavily, I may condense a little or generalise as a way to make situations more accessible to audiences who may not have had similar experiences, but I try to present things as they are because I think that’s more powerful. Including music and visuals gives dramatic light and shade, but the details are almost always as they happened. Luckily (or not so luckily) I’ve had a pretty interesting ride so far so there’s plenty of stories to choose from.
Being so personal, do you find the show challenging to perform? Or is it liberating?
Funnily I find it harder to perform less personal works, maybe because I feel I’m more of a showman than an actor, so the more myself I am, the better. The show does take up a lot of energy, but it’s not been as exhausting as I expected when I first wrote it. Possibly because some time has passed and I have more perspective on the issues I’m highlighting, but also because the truth really is liberating. To be on stage owning who you are warts and all is incredibly powerful. In more superficial terms, the only times this show is hard to perform is when I’m not feeling well, as I sing about 18 songs in 70 minutes so that can be tough, or when there’s someone in the audience who has had a few too many drinks and decides to start a running commentary during the more intense moments of the show (it’s actually happened).
The show is based around pop/rock classics – which are your favourite and which have been particularly important to moments in your life?
My favourite song to perform in the show is The World Is Not Enough by Garbage because the feeling I have on stage is exactly how I envisioned it when I wrote the show, which is not always the case. The setlist was the first thing I worked on, after I had the title, and it came very organically. I wanted the story to be told largely through the songs, so there’s a lot less dialogue than most people realise. I chose the songs based on how they reflected the story, rather than whether or not they had previously been a big part of my life, however there are a few with special meaning. The White Stripes ‘7 Nation Army’ was the first song I ever sang on stage. Tina Arena’s ‘Chains’ was the song that made me realise I could sing as a 5 or 6 year old in the back of the car, mainly just because I had the power to sing it. The lesser known ‘Irvine’ by Kelly Clarkson is possibly the saddest song I’ve ever heard, which I discovered during a very low period in my life. But I think the most important song to me in the show is Alanis Morissette’s ‘That I Would Be Good’ because it’s a song that could be written by anyone, it’s so stunningly simple. It’s the song that usually tugs at the audience’s heartstrings and comes after a particularly poignant line in the show. I implore everyone to listen to it.
Even though the show is based around pop/rock classics, is there any music theatre you've also been particularly influenced by?
My exposure to musical theatre is a little different to others in that I often come to it through my love of pop and rock music. For example I discovered Jesus Christ Superstar because Melanie C was cast as Mary Magdalene in the Australian arena tour (totally fine to judge me). Or I went to see Fiddler On The Roof after Gwen Stefani sampled If I Were A Rich Man in her song Rich Girl (also fine to judge). Other shows I’ve found because friends performed in them or asked me to come along. So my road to musical theatre has been an unexpected one but I’ve yet to see a production I didn’t like which I think is rather amazing. If I had to choose which show has had the biggest influence on me I really can’t go past The Sound of Music, and not just because Gwen Stefani sampled The Lonely Goatherd, but because it has such joy and laugher and yet as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed more and more of the dramatic undertones, both in the show and the film. Plus my mum loves it and I’ve never met a singing nun I didn’t like!
How has the show changed over the course of you performing it? Has it affected you?
The main changes have been around how I perform certain songs. Perhaps I envisioned moving around the stage only to realise it’s more powerful if I’m standing still, or I realised I didn’t need to change costumes or leave the stage as often. I’ve been able to edit as I go and make the show tighter with each performance based on audience reaction and gut instinct. Thankfully I did a lot of work on the script beforehand so on that side of things it feels pretty tight, when I went back over it leading up to Adelaide Fringe, aside from a few minor text edits, it was pretty much ready to go. As far as its effect on me, I can’t say much without giving away the ending, but after the initial run I was able to seek proper treatment for the issue that’s revealed towards the end of the show. It’s an ongoing process and very difficult, but I think the show helped me see that my work wasn’t done. Come to the show if you want to know what on earth I’m talking about!
What is your advice for other young people struggling with anxieties or hiding behind their own personas?
The two main things are to seek help, whether professionally or simply by talking to a friend, and to have things in your life that give you joy. Working on yourself is terrifying because it means being exposed and vulnerable and it can feel never ending, but it is absolutely worth it, take the time to do it, that goes for everyone. And my favourite piece of advice is to look after yourself the way you would look after someone you love.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite production you have ever seen?
A tie between Calamity Jane at Arts Centre Melbourne and Pleasuredome in New Zealand (less for the script and more for the joyous experience)
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Spain. I don’t even know why.
Dream role or trick to perform?
I’ve always wanted to put on a fully choreographed show, like a Lady Gaga or Kylie concert, or to be able to do all of the acrobatics that P!nk does. I wish I was P!nk.
Plays or musicals?
Oh that’s so hard, but Musical’s because they’re bigger.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I love to swim, but most of my life is creative, I dance, I write, I’m a Graphic Designer, I host a podcast called Fanatic. I’m super annoying.
What’s next for you after this show?
If Adelaide Fringe goes well I may tour other parts of Australia and take it to Edinburgh Fringe. Beyond that I have 2 or 3 other show ideas and have started writing some original music which ideally I could turn into an album.
Ego Jacket opens at The Bakehouse Theatre in Adelaide on February 25th and runs until March 2nd 2019. You can get your tickets here.