BIJOU a cabaret of secrets and seduction
by Chrissie Shaw. Directed by Susan Pilbeam. Design by Imogen Keen and Victoria Worley. Choreography by Liz Lea.
In a Parisian café bar in 1932, we meet Bijou draped in her tattered finery. Over many glasses of wine, she reads palms, tells saucy stories, sings snatches of song and relives the adventures of her long-lost youth. The bar pianist plays Satie, Weill, Hollander, Bruant and more, triggering memories of Bijou’s haphazard past. It’s a Cabaret of ribald tales, French and German songs and the unravelling of a life story…truth or fantasy? Chrissie Shaw plays Bijou, with Alan Hicks on piano.
Bijou’s Creative Development and Premiere season were supported by the ACT Government’s Arts Funding program.
A word from Chrissie, re the writing of Bijou!
This work was in development for three years before the actual premiere at The Street Theatre ACT in August 2013. Like most new works it was born with a spark of an idea, and some encouragement from others. I never set out to be a writer but it turns out that I have written several theatre pieces, all with a musical component, all meeting success in performance, and all touring interstate.
Bijou had a longer gestation period, and I was fortunate to be included in The Street Theatre’s Hive project, starting in 2010. I was originally encouraged to create a cabaret, and when I saw a photo of Madame Bijou, taken by Brassai in Paris in 1932, I had the notion to mould her persona, her story, into a cabaret style performance. I began, with the help of dramaturg Peter Matheson, to build a story line and to gather songs that fitted. In some cases, the song came first, and the story wrapped around it. Not much is known about Madame Bijou, but what I could find out about her, was woven into a fictitious tale which brings us to the point where she has been reduced in old age, to begging in the bars for a living.
With a grant from artsACT for Creative Development in 2012, I was able to return to the Hive project at The Street Theatre, work solidly on the script and song choices and we had two readings, to try out the different stages of the show. Director Susan Pilbeam is also a Dramaturg, and has made a major contribution to the development of this work through the Creative Development and the actual Production stages.
I worked with two pianists over the time, Peter J Casey, and Raphael Wong. Both made invaluable contributions to the piece. By the end of 2013 I was on the 14th draft of Bijou!
To continue to production, I was again lucky to be funded by artsACT for 2013. More workshops with Hive and Peter Matheson, and now I am on the 19th Draft, an almost final script in the offing. The process included editing, re-wording, and shaving off unnecessary text. ‘Over-writing’ is a danger in writing for theatre. It’s important to trust the actors and the director to bring the text to life, and so there’s no need to place extraneous words into the mouths of the characters (as I had done in the first drafts!). As Peter Matheson said, use lots of stage directions, cut down the verbal explanations! Don’t always use full sentences for spoken language… So I cut well over 800 spoken words by the time I got to Draft 19. The stage directions made up for the cuts however! Pianist Alan Hicks will perform in the production, and has helped to mould the final mix of song and spoken text.
Maybe now I can say I am a writer! The test will be in the audience reaction, so come and see Bijou and send me the feedback later.
A bit about Chrissie’s work:
Since 1991, Chrissie has produced seven original plays, in collaboration with other producers and artists, all initially funded by artsACT (the ACT Government’s arts funding program). Several of them were written by Chrissie.
Shows include About Face (by Merrilee Moss, directed by Tessa Bremner), Footprints on the Wind (by Chrissie Shaw, directed by Camilla Blunden), A Sweeter Fern – That’s Red! (by Chrissie Shaw and Lynne Ellis, directed by Lynne Ellis)
Drumming on Water (by Geoff Page, directed by Kate Gaul)
The Keeper (by Chrissie Shaw and Penelope Bartlau, directed by Penelope Bartlau), Gran’s Bag (for children, written and directed by Greg Lissaman, songs by Chrissie Shaw), and Bijou (by Chrissie Shaw, directed by Susan Pilbeam).