Tessa Waters

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Tessa Waters

While enjoying a rare period of down time in Berlin recently, Aussie theatre performer and writer Tessa Waters sat down with Forte Magazine to talk clowning, confidence and life on the road as a touring comedian. “I’m doing a show here tomorrow night, then London on Saturday and Glasgow on Sunday, then I’m heading up to Edinburgh – so I’m what you call a proper travelling carnie!”

Waters has been riding the wave of success in recent years, after being named the Winner of Best Comedy Weekly at last year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival, and Most Outstanding Comedy at Melbourne Fringe in 2014.

“I often pinch myself when I think about where I am in my career, because when I started out about ten years ago, all I wanted to do was put together a show that was me – warts and all,” Waters says. “I wanted to do something I was really proud of and make people laugh. It dawned on me yesterday as I was walking around having a coffee and a carb, my art is taking me on these big adventures and how lucky I am to be able to do this, and I’m so grateful!”

Onstage, Waters is an effervescent, larger-than-life character in her award-winning show WOMANz, while in person she is warm, humble and down-to-earth. When asked about her many accolades, she replies in a refreshingly honest tone: “Awards are brilliant, let’s not beat around the bush!

“It’s lovely to get those, and it has really opened doors for me as a performer and helped me to break through in some areas that I’d been pushing for. But I think that once more people are looking at you, you do feel more pressure to be good. You can’t just be faffing around in the corner breakdancing to Prince anymore – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop!”

While Waters may joke about her 1980s-inspired dance moves and her ability to power-twerk, her training in the field of theatre, movement and clowning is world-class. “I attended a school just outside Paris, the École Philippe Gaulier, which is run by the M. Phillippe Gaulier. I’d say at the moment he’s ‘the guy’ to study clowning with.” Alumni include Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter and Simon McBurney, just to name a few. While Waters admits that her time in Paris was life-changing, she says Gaulier’s teaching methods weren’t all fun and games.

“I think Phillippe unleashed something in me for sure – maybe just my rage,” she jokes. “He definitely operates in a very critical way. He doesn’t put up with any faff – but to me he seemed very warm as well.

“He pushed me in the right way, but he can certainly be quite harsh – he loves a good insult! But learning from him definitely made things more fun, made me more sensitive to the audience and gave me a lot more confidence, and that experience all came together when I started working on WOMANz.”

Billed as the manic, pixie love-child of Cher and Mr Bean, WOMANz is a sexually liberated goddess of feistiness and good times, inspired predominantly by Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto. “She would be best known for singing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. She was a real vixen, a sex goddess of her time really. She started in the sixties when TV and film clips were a very new thing, and she kind of had no idea how to deal with the camera, so if you watch old clips of her, she’s just super awkward and she’s got these big teeth and she doesn’t quite follow the camera – yet she’s this beautiful vixen. So that’s where the character started. I wanted to create someone who was really gorgeous and sexy, and cabaret and exciting, but a bit of an idiot!”

Catch Waters hosting the Opening Gala of the sixth annual Lorne Festival of Performing Arts (FOPA) on Friday September 2. She will also be appearing at the Saturday Night Gala, then again on Sunday when she will bring her spandex and sequin-wearing alter-ego WOMANz to life. “The goal is to try to create an atmosphere in the room where everyone just feels super sexy and loved up – and we kind of achieve that I think. Even if it’s not overtly obvious, they do leave with a bit of a groove in their step.”

Written by Natalie Rogers

When & Where: Festival of Performing Arts, Lorne – 2nd – 4th September