When she turned 50, Maude Davey decided she was too old to keep taking off her clothes in public. But she didn’t stop immediately.
Instead, the writer, theatre-maker and performer decided to have one last hurrah with My Life in the Nude.
“I decided I would do a retrospective of all the works I had done in the nude, so I put this show together and it’s kind of a series of pieces I have made in the past 25 years – they’re not all in the nude, but all involve some level of undress,” Davey tells InDaily.
“The show is much more than the sum of its parts; it just really hangs together as a journey for the audience to go on.”
My Life in the Nude has earned impressive reviews in Sydney and Melbourne, and now the former artistic director of Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix theatre company is bringing the show here for six nights during this month’s Feast Festival.
Described as an investigation into the contemporary culture of the past two decades, it incorporates song, comedy and performance theatre in a series of pieces that include Davey’s infamous “My C***” monologue, which was made into a short film that has screened on SBS, and a “secret strawberry” routine which saw her win a Miss Wicked contest in the ’90s and turned her into a lesbian icon.
While she has had a wide-ranging career as a director, writer and teacher in film, TV and theatre, she is particularly well known for her edgy cabaret performances, including in Finucane & Smith’s subversive salon spectacle The Burlesque Hour.
“I started [performing risqué cabaret] in the ’90s, when the gay and lesbian movement first entertained the notion of coalition politics and queer politics – before that, gay men and lesbians were very separate, but then the AIDS crisis came and that really galvanised our community,” she says.
The queer community started hosting club nights that created a platform for performers like Davey to present experimental cabaret-style performances. Then, in the noughties, she says the same style of performance was rebadged as burlesque, although it was more confronting and political than much of what is today described as burlesque.
Davey has always sought to celebrate the beauty of the diversity of the human body, rather than unattainable perfection. Her work is provocative, but it’s not about nudity for nudity’s sake.
“In some ways, for me, there’s nothing more boring than a performance that simply ends with nudity. I feel like nudity should be the beginning of something, because to take your clothes off in public is still quite a big thing; it’s still shocking for some people.
“Fundamentally, I think we live in a world that loathes the body, particularly the female body … that’s hidden by adulation of the beautiful body, but that is contained to a level of perfection that is unattainable for most of us.
“Most of my work explores that – the difficulty of living in a female body. Why do we hate our bodies so much when they are so beautiful and they are what we are?”
But a career spent exploring such issues doesn’t make Davey immune to the insecurities and concerns everyone feels as their body ages, and she admits that taking her clothes off on stage has become more difficult.
“More and more as I get older, my place on stage [doing burlesque] is under threat – there’s going to be a day when they go, ‘Oh God, why are we looking at these old ladies?’, because they have come to see a burlesque show.”
She describes performance as “an assault on yourself”, because audiences will always judge a performer, and it takes fortitude to face that judgment.
“If you’re presenting yourself in a way that the audience is not prepared to accept, that just hurts. It’s like presenting yourself for a thousand lashes – why would you do that?”
Davey certainly has no intention of stopping performing, but in future she will be doing it clothed. Meanwhile, the platform of My Life in the Nude is such that she says the naked element feels entirely comfortable.
“The show is all about over-sharing. Some people cry … but it’s funny, it’s charming, it’s celebratory. It’s very positive.”
Maude Davey’s My Life in the Nude is being presented by Feast and Vitalstatistix at Queer Nexus, Lion Arts Centre, from November 18-23 during the Feast Festival, which runs from November 15.30.
Feast of ideas, art, food and culture – InDaily’s festival preview
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