We sat down with Katie Noonan for a chat about the moving stories that inspired her new show ‘Love-Song-Circus’…
Katie Noonan is bringing her new show Love-Song-Circus, a tale of love, loss and strength, to Brisbane in March.
Spreading the untold story of Australia’s convict women to audiences with a lot of heart and a deep respect for each woman’s journey, Katie chatted with us about the new show and the tumbling Circa performers who help bring the songs to life.
So what was it about the convict women’s stories that inspired Love-Song-Circus?
Basically I went to this exhibition called Love Tokens at the National Museum, which was a selection of coins inscribed with messages that the convicts would write for the loved ones they were forced to leave behind.
The words were beautiful, things like “When this you see, remember me, though many miles we distant be.” So much love and loss, and longing, and sadness, that I thought wow, I really want to find out who these people are.
Pretty much the bulk of us are descendants of convicts and as a woman and a mother I wanted to find out the female story. Because it’s really been largely untold; there’s stories about the wild colonial boy, but there’s not many stories about the wild colonial women.
How in-depth was the research into their lives?
I did a huge amount of research and wrote songs about these women. They’re all historically accurate and supported by multiple facts about their lives that I came up with from lots of books, prison records, thesis papers – all sorts of research.
How did this affect your song-writing process?
It was really different. Usually when I write, I’m just writing from my point of view and my take on the world, whereas these songs are not from my point of view, I’m writing as if I am Ellen, or Mary – these key women on the record (the songs are simply their names, Ellen, Mary, Janet, Jane, Esther) – these are all real women and so I’m writing from their point of view in the first person.
So it was very different. And I felt a great responsibility to tell their story properly and with great respect and dignity.
What message are you hoping to convey with this show?
More than anything I’d like audiences to leave with a lasting impression of these incredible women and their strength.
Why did you want to incorporate a circus aspect into this show?
My main passion as an artist is to create cross-art form collaborations - where the language between different schools like dance, art and music is joined, blurring those boundaries and creating multi-dimensional work.
And when I think of strong women in contemporary setting, I think the women in circus represent that beautifully. It’s about sisterhood, solidarity, strength and grace.
Circa really creates circus that is not traditional circus, it’s got a strong sense of drama. Yaron and Ben are both fantastic directors that take the language of circus to a new place. I’ve seen their work and felt that they would bring a really beautiful thing to this show.
What has it been like collaborating with performers from such a different genre?
It was very seamless really. I wrote the songs and then Yaron was the first person to hear the music.
They’re not doing a literal representation because there’s enough in the songs you don’t need to do that. It’s just a series of beautiful vignettes that reflect different things in the songs and create a very beautiful shape to look at.
And for us it’s great fun because I look up and there’s a girl doing crazy stuff above my head! I think it helps transport the audience into our world.
What can audiences expect from Love-Song-Circus?
A visual feast with Circa – and it’s myself, a string quartet, double bass, guitars, grand piano, so it’s quite a feast from a visual and an aural point of view.
The thing is when we come to Brisbane the show will change again. We premiered in Adelaide and we had a sold out season in a big theatre, then we had a sold-out season in Melbourne and that was in a Spiegeltent, and now we’re at the Cremorne which is different again.
Each space we have to adapt, so I’m not quite sure what magic we’ll dream up – well, I have an idea, but it will change every show.
Love-Song-Circus has been very successful in Adelaide and in Melbourne, what has the feedback been like?
Just beautiful. I think people found it quite moving when they found out how amazing these women were and how much they survived and how tough they were. So tough! I mean, we think we’re tough, but they were so tough.
And obviously we’re still part of the monarchy and our colonial history is a part of white Australian history, so it’s a part of who we are.
Have you tried any of the circus elements yourself?
No, definitely not! I think we’ve definitely established that we’re good at music and they’re good at circus and we’re best leaving our skills in separate worlds.
If you could master one circus skill what would it be?
The tissu routines are particularly beautiful. There’s one piece where she hangs and spins really fast by the neck, and that’s pretty amazing.
What’s next on the horizon? Any other upcoming projects?
This keeps me pretty busy for the first half of the year because then we go on to Adelaide and then on to Sydney, and then I’m doing some classical work with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, some new works. And a piece with Sydney Dance Company and QSO in June.
I’ve also got two albums on the boil that I’m writing, one with Elixir and the other is my next solo record.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The travel’s both the biggest downside and positive of the job because it’s great, I get to see so much; yesterday I was driving through Pyrenees regional Victoria and it was beautiful, but I am away a lot from my boys.
Also just the chance to be able to make art that people want to hear and see. I know that’s a great gift because there are a lot of creative artists that aren’t as fortunate to find a regular home for their music.
What advice would you have for any upcoming artists or performers that are looking to find places for their work?
Gig as much as possible, write as much as possible, see as much music as possible, as much art as possible. Just keep yourself open as a big open book of inspiration.
And don’t go on a reality TV show! If you want to make art that you’re allowed to make on your own terms, then do it on your own terms.
Catch Love-Song-Circus at QPAC from 4 to 8 March – see our event guide for more information.