Two-minute interview: Maude Davey, director of Mongrel

Maude Davey. Image by Giulia McGauran.
Maude Davey. Image by Giulia McGauran.

Actor, writer, director, and Victorian College of the Arts alumna Maude Davey tells us more about the VCA’s new music theatre variety show, Mongrel

By Susanna Ling

Hi Maude, can you tell us a little more about Mongrel, the show you’re working on at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music’s Grant St Theatre?   

It’s an independent performance-making project, where we replicate the conditions that the VCA Music Theatre graduates will face in the outside world. Most likely, they’ll get a great contract for two years and then spend eight months with nothing. Generating their own material is a really big part of what music theatre artists do.

For Mongrel, the students are given a venue, and make work to bang into that place really quickly and with minimal production values.

The Conservatorium’s Interactive Composition students have also come on board. We’ve put these two cohorts together to make something original, in groups of about three or four from each discipline. This adds a level of complexity but also a level of excitement.

Is there a particular theme that draws all the pieces together?

Not exactly, but it’s interesting what happens year after year [2018 is the the fourth annual iteration of Mongrel]. In some ways, people are making work about where they are at the moment, so as final-year students about to enter the industry, we’ve had a lot of “limbo” or “precipice” pieces. I think they’re unconscious of it, but they tend to articulate that through the creative decisions they make.

Your background is in acting – how did you become involved in music theatre?

After I graduated from VCA in 1985, I made a lot of my own work, including with a group called Crying in Public Places, which was me and my sister Anni, Jane Bayly, and Karen Hadfield. We sang a capella songs and made theatre – which kind of sounds like cabaret, doesn’t it? We toured nationally and internationally quite a lot during the 90s, and that’s the most “legitimate” kind of music theatre I’ve ever done.

In the noughties, I got hooked up with Finucane and Smith and was one of the core performers in two of their shows – The Burlesque Hour and Glory Box – for a decade.

I fit into the Mongrel project really well because it’s about making small works that you could show at a small venue like Melbourne’s Butterfly Club. I’d say Mongrel‘s about music-driven work, rather than “musical theatre” as such.

Have you seen much change in the theatre world over the past few decades?

The industry’s always changing, and I think today’s graduates are facing a harder situation than I did when I finished drama school. But then again, there’s much more work in music theatre than there was back then. There’s less television, but there are more opportunities in web-based stuff. There’s less money around – until you hit a certain stage, at least. But Melbourne has a really vibrant and healthy independent arts culture. It’s the best city in Australia for making a career as a performing artist.