Saving the Craving with Constance Craving

Constance Craving As Mrs Lovatt in Sweeney Todd. Photo credit Roxy Paradox

BS: So, Constance Craving, how did your journey begin as Constance Craving?

CC:  I’m one of those people who if someone says some words that remind me of a line from a song, the song is in my head, and I pretty much always sing it, unless I’m in a business meeting or something. And even then, I might. And I think it came about because I heard k.d lang on the radio and it just struck me. This is how a lot of my songs come to me. It’s just the same way that everything else comes to me, through music, and listening to it, and hearing it, and making it. In hindsight it might not have been the wisest choice as when you Google it, you get asked, Do you mean Constant craving? And there’s lots of links about k.d. lang and people wrestling with addictions!

BS:  Of course. And, of course, you’ve named yourself already. So you’re already known as Constance Craving, and a great Emcee, and a great performer. Just on the Emcee side what got you into doing emceeing?

CC:  I never, ever wanted to be a burlesque performer – it didn’t interest me – but I loved the whole thing, loved the everythingness of it, and so– and I went to see my friend Joy, who is Moxie Fizz, to see her graduate show, and Sadie von Scrumptious was the Emcee. And Emily (Sadie) and I have been friends for many years, way before either of us got into burlesque, and I just thought, “Oh my God. This is amazing. I could do this. I could be a part of the burlesque scene and do this!  And that was just like– I just thought, “This is what I want to do.” So that’s what I set out to do from the beginning. And it’s funny, because it’s only been after I did it for a few years that I thought, “, I could probably do a burlesque act.” And I’ve now got one, and you’ve seen it!

BS: But it’s a brilliant act. I love it.

CC: It is what it is. It is funny, because I’ve been– you know how I said what a bitch it is that we’re both doing workshops at the burlesque festival at the same time?

BS: Yes. Yep

Patsy and Eddie who have an Absolutely Fabulous photo taken by Roxy Paradox

CC: Chris Olwage and I are doing this one about “discovering your sexy”, and that’s come to me because in the last couple of years in particular, I’ve been really thinking about what it means to be in my 50s and on stage and sexy and how much more confidence I have in every aspect of myself than I did five years ago, and– yeah, and how much the whole euphemism of sexiness, the pin-up– and I’m using it just as sort of the whole– you stroke your hand up your leg kind of stuff. I did all that in class, but I never felt it fitted with me and who I am, the little [hand under chin?] and ah I’ve never been like that. In my entire life, I’ve never been like that.  And I’ve done photo shoots like that, because it’s what we do– and it works. But it just kind of– I’m interested in finding out what it means to me to be on stage and be allowed to be sexy, and I’m still thinking about that, and I’m trying to. I asked Chris because I wanted to put a movement element into it.  It’s not in my bag, and it’s his bag, and he was pretty intrigued, and the whole idea of how do you express that?– I’m unlocking that slowly, as opposed to the very brave souls who go do a burlesque class and then go do their graduate show, and get their gear off straightaway, and I’m like, “Holy fucking God.” I couldn’t have done that. I’ve such admiration for that courage.  Yeah, and I’m not trying to get to a place where I can do that– but if I do, if that’s where I end up, then that’s where I end up, but that’s not kind of what I’m after.  I’m not trying to force myself into doing anything. I’m just trying to understand what it is to be menopausal, morbidly obese, and sexy all at the same time. I must know how to do it because, sadly, I get hit on a lot!

BS:  Well, I think that I fit all three categories too, so let’s start up our own little group

CC: But at the end of the day, we are so programmed to have those thoughts about our bodies. Because I’ve been in the fashion industry all my life. I’ve been sewing for people for 40 years now actually, weirdly, cos I started very young. And I’ve been listening to women bag on and overthink their bodies all that time. And — I always thought, well, if I start picking on bits of my body, I’m never going to stop. So even really slim women will be obsessed about their nose or the direction their nipples point or that tiny little bit of cellulite on their outer thigh. So it doesn’t matter what you’ve got going for you, you’ll always find fault because we’re so programmed to do that.

Photographer Natasha Halliday

BS: Yep. Yeah.I agree.

CC: I can’t be fucked.

BS: No, I can’t be either, to be honest. So that also applies to Made Marion too because, obviously, you make a lot of your own stuff, and with Made Marion, I’m assuming that was born out of a creativity angle to make your own stuff or– how was that born?

CC: Well, I bought an existing business called Golding Handcrafts that’s been in Wellington since 1968. So Goldings has been the craft store, always. It’s like Centrepoint Fabrics in Auckland. It’s always there, everybody knew about it. And we had to change the name and we were on Marion Street. And it was a general craft store, and still is. So we sell candle-making supplies and stuff like that as well as sewing stuff and we don’t sell much fabric.  We’re really haberdashery and general craft, paints, and things like that. But I bought it because I’ve noticed that, throughout my whole life, what I run back to when I need comfort, or I need to be grounded, is making stuff. And so, yeah, I was spectacularly miserable in my job. I just hated it. It was just killing my soul. And when I found out the business was for sale and I went in and started talking to them about it, and it has been a great way to connect with the Wellington performing community, not to mention give work to poor performers!

Photographer Roxy Paradox

BS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. For sure [laughter]. For sure [laughter]. Totally get it.  With your Emceeing, what gets you up on stage?

CC: I love being on stage. I’ve been on stage all my life so it’s not a new thing for me, but the breakthrough for me was when I realized– because I’ve done some acting and I really don’t enjoy it, and I’ve always felt that I showboat. And then I realized that I’m not an actor. I’m an improviser. But improvising in the sense of running with a troupe doesn’t appeal to me either, and so I realized, this is something I can do where I can be on the stage. I can be in the moment with people. I can respond to the crowds.

BS: Yes.

CC: This just blew me away. I thought, this is all the things that I love to do all in one job. And then I went to a few shows and I’m not sure if you want to correct me on this, but I’ll tell you anyway, I’ve been to a few shows and seen some Emcees and thought, “I’m so happy I’m not coming on stage after that guy just said that stuff”. And it started to make me feel political and feminist and I think I’ve been a bit of a bitch about it. But I’m just really passionate about building people who understand most of the women who are performing and what they need from an Emcee and how to be respectful and set the tone of the show for the audience. And it’s not something that men are generally useful at. Some are good at it. It’s not something that all women are good at. But primarily it’s a 80/20 rule. There’s no room in Burlesque for the male gaze, basically.

BS: The Emcee is really the glue to the show.  Can you identify what is different from that very first time that you stepped up on stage as an Emcee to how you Emcee today?

CC: I’ve seen video of my very first performance. I’ve seen video of my very last performance and the difference is, I think I have a much better idea of what I’m there for and I’m much more grounded. I don’t know if I’m any better or worse or different but just like, in the first one I’m almost, I can see I’m almost crawling out of my body with terror since I know me. And in the last one, I was also spectacularly uncomfortable because it was a hugely challenging show but I’m there. It hasn’t got any easier I have to say because of the nature of how I do it. I keep making it hard for myself. Like a lot of things, the more I do it, the more experiences I have where I know what can go wrong so the cumulative list of things to worry about grows. I’d say that I’ve just basically, I’ve got into my skin a bit more. I’ve got a lot more material. I can basically say now, if somebody rings me up and says, “So and so’s fallen off the stage can you be here in two hours?” I know I can do it.

BS: Yeah.

CC: That’s probably the big difference.

BS: Okay, but that’s an important difference because that means that you yeah. Yeah. Improv skills and your improvisation I know are absolutely stellar from personal experience. When Jack fell over on stage at DIY last year, yeah, you just made the whole thing just continue while Miss Cherry Lashes went out and helped him. And you just carried it from being a potential disaster to just, “Oh, this is all just part of it.”. So yeah, I know from experience that your improv skills and your ability to ad-lib is just absolutely amazing. I think that’s really important for an Emcee.

The eye of Sauron photographer Ataahua Photography

CC: Also what’s changed is my costumes.  When I first started, I had this long fish tail skit, which I still love, and I would wear these long drapy over jackets because I was busy hiding my body. The last time I did it, I did it in my underwear so, obviously, some fucks have died somewhere along the line, and I don’t think they’re going to come back to life. I’m not going to do all my shows in my underwear [laughter], but I’ve been on stage in a corset and stockings and nobody died.

BS: That’s right.  Yeah. And the thing that I find, being very similar to you in age and all that size, the whole works, is that there are people that do appreciate us. And I think the audience, in general, appreciate people who are out the box, but they also appreciate the box, as well. Don’t get me wrong. But you’re right, nobody died. It’s not a crime, and everybody was having fun. Yeah

CC: And the thing that gets me — I went to a show as an audience member.   I dressed as Constance so I was still representing the show. I go around sometimes and talk to people in the audience.   I got talking to this lady — there was a whole table of them, and they were all in their 50s and they were in Wellington for the weekend for a divorce celebration.  This lady was taller and bigger than the rest, we had a lovely chat. And at the halftime, I can’t remember who she had seen on stage, but it was–well pretty much a diverse lineup of ages and stages and pages and gauges. And she was in tears. And I said, “Oh my God, are you okay?” And she took me aside and she said, “I can’t say this in front of the others because they won’t understand, but I just saw women on stage who are like me and I am so overcome with–” she just had this massive emotional response to seeing herself represented on stage. It blew her mind and she was crying happy tears. It was happy tears. And this is what makes it worthwhile, and this is why what we do has nothing to do with the male gaze.   I wrote about this on my blog. There was a show I sent some friends along to, and the Emcee? He’s got a good instinct but he was doing rugby, lots of jokes, a male comedian doing his show, in fact. And my friend had taken friends and they were guys there, and they were going, “Oh, she’s a bit on the– she’s a bit chunky-dunky,” kind of being quite critical of the women. I never say that, and I never hear that because when your Emcee is framing your show like, “This is what you’re going to get,” then they know to shut the fuck up. They may think those things, but they know that it’s not their time or place to say anything about it, and then they shut up and they learn. And if they feel like they’ve been given that permission to be the guy whose opinion matters -, and that’s pretty much the world we swim in – then they will have their opinion. So part of what I do is I’m about shutting them down and letting everybody else in. You know? I mean, I don’t ACTUALLY say that on stage, it’s all in the kind of humor and the warm up and the word choices, that sets the tone.

Photo Nacktmusik at the Napier Art Deco Festival with Clever Hansel and Ellie Cat

BS: Sometimes it’s the way that the Emcee pictures the show that really details how the show is actually going to eventuate and how it’s going to evolve. And that’s really important because the thing that I find is you hop off stage and somebody might say to you, “It’s so nice to see a woman like you up on stage.” And I know they mean that as a compliment, but it doesn’t quite come across that way.

CC: Oh, I know. I know, and because I’m not getting my kit off, I can hear that when they say that to me, but I’m pretty sure that if you had, that it would be really, really awful. I’ve had friends in tears over that because they hear that it’s a backhanded compliment.

BS: Exactly right.  So I don’t have too many more questions. I’ve just got these lovely little random questions for you [laughter]. These are complete mind-benders, some of them. I’ve got two for you. The first one is if there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?

CC:   I had to go and research this, this morning.  The only person, because I mean for a start, who the hell gets to play anybody old and overweight in Hollywood or anywhere? is Keala Settle. And I love the idea of her singing my songs better than me [laughter]. And that she’s the bearded lady in The Greatest Show On Earth, and I also think that she’s amazing and I’ve actually not seen the movie yet, but I saw her on Graham Norton and I thought she was fucking awesome, so she’s getting the role.

BS: Excellent. And I’m sure she’d take it and she would do it so well. Okay, I’ve just got one more. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

CC: Apple green would be my answer.  And the reason is that– why I would love to be that crayon – although it’s something I aspire to be, not something I always am – my mother’s a florist, and I’ve learned a lot about colour from her, and that shade of apple green makes all the other colours look good. So, it sort of frames them when you put that into your colour scheme– it often freshens up a colour palette and can really lift the whole thing. And I would love to be able to be the crayon in the crayon box that is able to help all the crayons to look their best together, and I suppose that as an Emcee I’ve tried to be that apple green crayon, where it’s not my job to be the best thing in the show. It’s my job to make everybody else be the best thing in the show

BS: I really like that analogy and that concludes our interview

Photo taken with PollyFilla at the Soundshell in Wellington Botanic Garden

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