Interview: Michaela Burger & Greg Wain on bringing Edith Piaf to life at the Adelaide French Festival

Edith Piaf remains one of the world’s best known performers, bringing French music further into the contemporary music world, while Piaf herself has become a icon portrayed on film, on stage and in studio thanks to countless tributes.

At the Adelaide French Festival coming up this month, Piaf’s music comes to life with Exposing Edith, the brainchild of two beloved Adelaide artists in Michaela Burger and Greg Wain. The duo take us through the show, coming to the Space Theatre on January 13th.

How long has the show you will be bringing to it been in production/the making for, and what is exciting you the most about it?

 The show has been in production since 2013. Exposing Edith was created in Adelaide by two Adelaidians, [Michaela Burger and Greg Wain], so being part of the first ever Adelaide French Festival is very exciting for us. We feel so much gratitude towards our Adelaide audiences for continuing to support us so strongly over the years so this gives us another opportunity to give back to them.

Can you tell us a bit about the sort of impression you initially wanted to leave on your audience with this show, and how the show has progressed since you first started performing it? What’s been a significant highlight of the performance or change that you’ve undergone with it?

Initially we wanted to leave our audiences with an experience of old mixed with new –  taking the classic music and giving it a modern touch while remaining authentic to Edith Piaf. We also endeavoured to tell a more intimate story of her life, interspersing the music with anecdotes which display more of Edith’s personal character rather than her public persona. The show has never strayed from these goals and hopefully we are still able to touch audiences in the way that we set out in our first performances.

The beauty of creating a show and performing in it is that you are able to experience first hand what works and what doesn’t work and adjust it accordingly. The ability to be able to change the script at will and to experiment with the flow of the show has enabled us to respond spontaneously to different audiences and fine tune the content and delivery of the show. This has been a very satisfying process, and another element that we are grateful to our audiences for.

Have you been able to take this show elsewhere in Australia (or on tour around the world) in 2017, or is this a new one for 2018?

We have fortunately been able to take the show to many places in Australia as well as a few places over seas. We have performed in; New Zealand, Edinburgh, UK, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. In 2018, we will also tour Queensland as well as Victoria again.

What has drawn you to bring this sort of music to life?

Both of us have a long standing connection to Edith Piaf and French music and culture. When we first met, while Michaela was busking in the Adelaide Central Markets singing “La Vie en Rose” with her Ukulele, we recognised our mutual love and felt that it was almost our calling to bring her music to life in an accessible way for the next generation as well as the older generations who grew up with her. It’s quite powerful, when looking out to our audiences, to see the varied ages and demographics and to realise the impact that her music has had, and continues to have, on people’s lives.

With a New Year of music and creativity upon us, what is exciting you the most as a performer moving forward?

It’s always thrilling to see new original pieces comes to life in Australia. As a performer I [Michaela] love to be part of many different creative projects to broaden my knowledge and growth as a creative artist. I am also lucky to be part of Can You Hear Colour?, the new Patch Theatre production that will be part of the Adelaide Festival – so this is very exciting for me.

For Exposing Edith, performing to new audiences never ceases to touch us. Having performed the show so many times one would think that it would be mechanical for us. But each time we step on the stage and bring a new group of people on the rollercoaster ride of Edith Piaf’s life, it is as if we are both experiencing it along with them all, for the first time. And that, as artists, is thrilling.

You’re Adelaide locals, what does it mean to you as creatives to have this sort of platform to showcase your work on?

Festivals being able to support local artists is a very important aspect of the Performing Arts world. We have been fortunate enough to be part of two Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Festivals as well as the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and many Adelaide Fringe festivals [including two show at the end of this March 2018 in Gluttony] – all of which have given us a platform to access Adelaide audiences.

As we all know, Adelaide is very much a large country town and most often, we are only divided by one degree of separation. This has given us an amazing journey with the Adelaide audiences – often discovering old school friends and teachers, colleagues from years back and distant relatives who we were sure were no longer living, approaching us with congratulatory hugs at the end of the show. It’s really a special moment performing on a stage in your home town and Adelaide has such a generous way of supporting it’s creative artists.

With the French Festival, we feel it’s yet another opportunity to share the show more specifically with people who have a direct interest in French Culture. It may also give us more access to French people who may not have otherwise heard about the show. We are very grateful for this.

Image by Matt Craig.

Exposing Edith shows at the Space Theatre on January 13th. For tickets and more information, check it out here.

The Adelaide French Festival runs from January 12th – 14th.