Interview: Paul Capsis (Aus) talks Sydney Festival and working with Jethro Woodward

Paul Capsis is one of Australia’s most versatile performers and is equally at home in the world’s of theatre, film & television, and of course cabaret. He’s a gifted interpreter of song, and has sung with a diverse and varied group of musicians and singers, including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Russell Crowe, the Soweto Gospel Choir and Marcia Hines.

Ahead of his appearance at the 2019 Sydney Festival, where he’ll be performing with Jethro Woodward and The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra, we caught up with Paul to find out more about what to expect from his new show, his favourite artists, and those dream collaborations.

Can you begin by briefly introducing yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

My name is Paul Capsis and I have been a performer for thirty six years. I’ve worked extensively in theatre, cabarets, concerts, and film. I am a survivor and achieved great things without the trappings of fame.

You’re playing Sydney Festival with Jethro Woodward & The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra. How did that collaboration come about?

I met Jethro through my work with Windmill Theatre in Adelaide. He is the greatest musical director in the business and he gets me, my style of singing, and my voice.

Why do you think people should come and see this show?

People should leave their homes, get a bus, uber, taxi, train or ferry because they are going to have a rocking good time. I promise. We work for the people. Jethro has created the most exciting arrangements of the songs. I’m extending how I sing and the material is more full bodied now. Besides, I miss singing!

It’s also Sydney Festival, and Sydney comes alive in the summertime. It’s a Speigeltent, what more reason do you need? Also the people need to keep Sydney open!!!

You previously played a cabaret show in Darlinghurst with Jeremy Brennan on grand piano. Will there be any similarities between the two shows? What things will be different?

Very different. The Darlinghurst theatre show was intimate, more cabaret, and quiet, this is full tilt boogie rock. The material is more adventurous. I mean Led Zeppelin mashed with Joan Baez. It’s a different show, with some similar material, but totally different with a band.

Your press release says that the Sydney Festival show will feature songs by Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Janis Joplin and more. How did you choose the songs you’ll be singing? How do the arrangements differ from the original songs?

That’s right. Jethro had a lot to do with the choosing of the material. He knew a lot of my material and came up with a big bag of suggestions. It happens that I liked his suggestions and I got excited, which is rare these days.

Some obscure 1950’s thing, the Zeppelin mash up, Lana Del Ray, The Suicide. I had the idea to include some Childish Gambino too. There are also some songs from shows that I have taken part in, like The Black Rider and Cabaret, which will feature. The arrangements are different because I’m singing them, and I don’t sound like the originals anyway. Jethro has a great gift and when you come to the show you will find out.

You’re obviously inspired by a diverse range of artists. If you had to bring five albums along to a deserted island what ones would you choose and why?

Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall
Janis Joplin‘s Greatest Hits,
Patti Smith Horses
Billie Holiday Lady in Satin
and anything Edith Piaf

As I am slowing starving to death and having freshly been bitten by some nasty snake, I can go out listening to some of my favourite all time singers.

You’ve performed in a lot of different shows including Angela’s Kitchen, about your Nanna. How different is it preparing for a show like your upcoming one at the Sydney Festival compared to the other things you’ve performed in?

Very different. It still requires a lot of work, rehearsals, learning the songs and researching the material. Then there is the performing it and choosing what to wear for the show. The right shoes. The energy is different, it requires something else from me and its more immediate with an audience. Angela’s Kitchen was like no other work I’ve done previously or since. That play was an open wound. I got to perform it in Malta last year, which was probably the highlight of my long career.

Do you ever channel Angela’s spirit on-stage? Do you think she would have loved your Sydney Festival show?

I try and channel my darling Angela’s spirit every day, because I miss her every day of my life. I have never been the same since she passed. She had a huge impact on me, on my life and my life’s trajectory. My Nanna was the most strong, fierce and totally unconditionally loving human that I ever had the great honour of knowing.

If you could collaborate with any three artists, living or dead, who would you choose to work with, and why?

It’s hard to pick three, there are so many. There are many living ones that I would like to collaborate with. Pedro Almadovar, Vivian Westwood, the British film maker Steve McQueen. Of course there’s also Patti Smith or Lou Reed and Janis. These artist’s are fearless, they don’t hold back. They are real, and political, and they make and have made great work.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your Sydney Festival show and/or upcoming projects? Grazzi ta ‘kollox Paul!

I think I have covered everything. Just come to the show if you want to have fun and feel the music with me. Grazzi qalbi.


Paul Capsis performs with Jethro Woodward & The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent on January 17th and 18th. For more information and to purchase tickets click HERE. Tickets are selling fast, so act quickly to secure yourself a ticket.

Header Image: Mandy Hall

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