Thursday 9 January 2014

Interview with Adèle Anderson

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Adèle Anderson, an inspirational British songwriter, actress, and member of the acclaimed British cabaret group Fascinating Aïda. She is a patron and humanist celebrant of Humanists UK (formerly known as the British Humanist Association), specializing in non-religious weddings. Hello Adèle!
Adèle: Hello, Monika. What would you like to know?
Monika: Last year Fascinating Aïda could boast the 30th anniversary of its creation. You joined the group, a year later, in 1984. So you have been singing with Dillie Keane for almost 30 years. (Liza Pulman joined the group in 2004.) How have you managed to stay together for so many years?
Adèle: First of all, I hugely admire Dillie and her extraordinary talent. We discovered that we just “clicked” as a writing partnership. She has made me a much better songwriter than I would ever have been on my own.
Secondly, it is extremely satisfying to perform a show that one has written and to enjoy the reactions of the various audiences up and down the country and, sometimes, abroad. Dillie and I have learned to be upfront about any disagreements and not to be offended if one of us doesn’t like a lyric that the other one has written, or thinks it isn’t good enough.

Monika: Fascinating Aida has played in more than 100 British theatres and toured many countries, including Australia New Zealand, the USA, Germany, Kenya, and Singapore. You have made many television appearances and radio recordings, released nine albums, three videos, two DVDs, and two autobiographies. What has been your most memorable artistic experience related to the band?
Adèle: Being the opening act of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988. We performed in the theatre of the Sydney Opera House. Also, having Broadway diva, Patti LuPone, record two of our songs. Our song about budget airlines, Cheap Flights, has had over ten and a half million hits on YouTube and brought us a whole new audience.
Monika: How has cabaret, as a form of entertainment, changed over the last 30 years?
Adèle: When we first began, alternative cabaret was just starting. Most of the female comics wore dungarees and talked about their periods. We came on in beautiful dresses and sang barbed lyrics in posh accents. Those alternative comedians became today’s established comedians. It seemed that comedy took over the scene and the other types of the act (ventriloquism, sword swallowing, etc.) got pushed to one side.
For years, there was no cabaret section at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To find out if we were appearing, you had to look under Comedy and/or Music. Now, cabaret is alive and well and positively thriving, alongside its sister, burlesque.

From the left: Dillie Keane, Liza Pulman and Adèle.

Monika: And how have you changed yourself as a cabaret artist?
Adèle: I was very inexperienced when I joined Fascinating Aida and so my on-stage persona was extremely stern (to cover my nerves). Over the years I have learned to “lighten up” and enjoy engaging with the audience. I also took several years of voice coaching to improve my singing technique.
Monika: In addition to your cabaret career, you acted in a few movies: Lady Jane (1986), Company Business (1991), The Winjin' Pom (1991), Different for Girls (1996), and Hotel Babylon (2008). Do you like being an actress?
Adèle: I do, but I don’t get many opportunities to do so. I wasn’t in Different For Girls, but I advised on the script. Filming involves a lot of sitting around, so I prefer stage work. Some of my best work has been in small London Fringe Theatres.
Monika: Some critics say that contemporary art does not provide too many opportunities for women to show their talents and stories that are more interesting for the female audience. Would you agree?
Adèle: No. There are many young female playwrights seeing their work on in London’s West End. The likes of Caroline Aherne (The Royle Family), Ruth Jones (Gavin and Stacey), and Victoria Wood provide excellent stories and opportunities for other women on television. As an actress, parts can be thin on the ground (especially as one ages), so more and more women are writing projects for themselves. Fascinating Aida wouldn’t have lasted this long if we didn’t keep writing new shows.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Adèle: We spent last year writing the new show, Charm Offensive, which will tour for most of 2014. I hope to fit in some solo cabaret work, too, if the schedule allows.

With her first role model April Ashley after the show
of Fascinating Aïda.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in British society when you compare it with their situation in the 70s?
Adèle: It is so much better than I ever dreamed it could, or would be. To be fair, even in the 70s, when I transitioned, my employer, the Civil Service (a branch of the Government), operated a policy of non-discrimination, so I never had any trouble at work.
Back then, though, the general public was uninformed about the subject so, if anyone did find out, I always had to answer a barrage of questions. These days, most people (children included), take the news in their stride.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Adèle: My first role model was April Ashley. I remember reading about her divorce case when I was 17 and marveling at how beautiful she was. Last year, she attended one of our shows and I was extremely honored to meet her afterwards.
Then there was my hairdresser. She had the daintiest hands I’ve ever seen and looked every inch a pretty young woman. Later, a fabulous American, who had transitioned in her teens, became my mentor. She was a make-up consultant and taught me everything I know about how to apply it to the best possible advantage. 
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Adèle: I think it’s likely to be overtaken by intersexualism; because intersex people are often mutilated by doctors, shortly after birth. Transgender people go through a rigorous screening process before they are allowed to do anything to their bodies. As you know, the situation in the UK is paradise compared to, say, Brazil, where so many of us are murdered.

Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Adèle: I know they can. April Ashley was made an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her services to Gender Equality and thanks, in part, to her efforts, we were able to obtain a Gender Recognition certificate and also a new birth certificate. I sign online petitions but have yet to stand outside a government or newspaper office to protest.
I did once protest successfully over a passport. I was renewing my female passport and was told I would have to go through the whole process of providing a doctor’s letter attesting to my surgery. I pointed out that I had done this when I obtained my first passport and that my circumstances remained unchanged. Also, other people renewing passports did not have to provide documentation every time they renewed. I won but this was before the days of terrorism; I think everything is much stricter now.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Adèle: Love is important. I was estranged from the love of my family for a decade, but now we are all very close, which is a delight to me. I have had the same lover for the past thirteen years, but we do not live together. I prefer to live alone. I wouldn’t be without him, but I enjoy our time apart just as much as our time together.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Adèle: I have no interest in fashion, as Dillie and Liza will attest. I know how to dress, but, when you tour a lot, there’s no point in getting dressed up, just to sit in a vehicle taking you to the next town for the next show. I do have some great pieces in my wardrobe, though. I look good in trouser suits (preferably with long jackets), with boots. And the chance to wear a full-length dress is always welcome. For years I wore nothing but black and white, but now I’ll wear practically any color, other than yellow and lime green.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Adèle: I have and so have kept a journal for many years. But I don’t think my being transgender (although transsexual is the term I prefer) is the most interesting thing that’s happened in my life. Also, my family wouldn’t enjoy seeing themselves in print. And one has to be so careful when writing about the entertainment world. Perhaps someone will write a posthumous biography, using my journals.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls dreaming about such a career as yours?
Adèle: Being transgender is not enough on which to hang a career; you’ve got to have talent, too. And a good deal of luck helps. Try and ally yourself with two good women.
Seriously, I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with two other women for thirty years who, when the going has got tough, have been staunch allies. I have learned from them not only how to be a performer, but also a woman.
Monika: Adèle, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Adèle Anderson.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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