The pursuit of our dreams and striving to reach our goals are common threads in all our lives. Social media is saturated in motivational stories and memes to encourage us all to be who we want to be. We live in an age of reality TV where the average Joe gets his 15 minutes of fame and we sit in judgement from the comfort of our lounge rooms. Everyone is a star. No-one is allowed to fail. At school, we reward everyone. And everyone’s talking about their personal brand.
But not everyone is worthy of being a star. Just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean you will be great at it. What if you don’t have any talent and can talent be taught? These are the questions on my mind as I look toward the production of Glorious! at Riverside Theatres in September.
Glorious! is the story of Florence Foster Jenkins who was immortalised in the 2016 film starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. If you haven’t seen that film then you won’t realise what a great story it is. Glorious! is an award winning theatrical production written by Peter Quilter that has enjoyed rave reviews, with most pointing out how hilariously funny and surprisingly touching the story is.
Florence Foster Jenkins was notoriously dubbed ‘the world’s worst singer’ by music historian Stephen Pile. She was a New York socialite who hit her stride in the 1930s and 40s. She was heavily involved in the city’s musical elite and played hostess to a great number of musical society functions, often starring in them as a singer and performer with elaborate homemade costumes. She was wealthy and generous with a larger than life personality and a somewhat sad backstory. If she were alive today, one suspects she would rival Lady Gaga with twitter followers.
Yet Florence couldn’t sing. She held an infamous concert at Carnegie Hall that not only sold out but had 2000 people turned away from the doors. There was no standing room left. This old lady (she was in her 70s at the time), managed to fill one of the great stages of the world and yet was a truly awful singer. Her audiences were usually filled with her supporters but on this single occasion it was open to the general public. Audience members laughed so hard some of them became hysterical and had to be escorted from the theatre. But they all loved it. There is a great debate about how much Florence understood. Did she know how awful she was? Couldn’t she hear the people laughing at her in the audience? It’s generally thought by historians that she didn’t know how awful her singing was. She believed that people who criticised her didn’t understand music.
And herein lies the reason for the continuing fascination with her story. Surely being ridiculed for doing something that we think we’re good at is one of the great fears that we all hold. It’s what makes us nervous whenever we speak in public or perform. It’s the fear that holds us back from speaking up and putting ourselves forward. Coupled with the instant celebrity that social media provides us we are all in danger of becoming Florence. It’s just one of the things that makes her story so relevant to today.
There is something endearingly human about Florence. She exudes confidence, passion and enthusiasm for her singing, performance and music. One suspects that it was because of her wealth and generosity that people didn’t ridicule her to her face. They went along with the charade. They encouraged it even. She was harmless. She wasn’t hurting anyone and so her audiences sat back and enjoyed just how awful her performances were. But imagine if her hobby had been politics. Imagine if she was a wealthy, celebrity hungry property magnate who thought they could run a country instead of just singing songs. Or maybe she ran a fish and chip shop and enjoyed making public statements about immigration. Imagine if everyone went along with it and laughed because it was so entertaining to see someone so truly awful in the spotlight. Yes. I’m going there. There is a strong element of Florence in the stories of both Donald Trump and even Pauline Hanson! The story of Florence is most definitely relevant to today’s world.
Ours is a world where everyone is told that they can do whatever it is they want to. In our schools there are hardly any winners. Every child who participates is a winner. Social media and the cult of celebrity have our teenagers striking poses on Instagram and Snapchat. Reality TV turns our everyday lives into moments of celebrity stardom. We are no different to Florence. There is an hysterically funny horror and poignancy to her story. We are watching ourselves on a stage.
And yet, there is something so wonderful about Florence. She was captivating. She didn’t let anyone stop her from doing what she wanted to do. She followed her passion with gusto and from all accounts had a great time doing it. Good on her. Which leads me to the curious feelings of horror at the ridicule she exposed herself to and yet admiration for her guts in following her passion. It’s a delightful paradox that will have you laughing and crying all at once.
Glorious! is a wonderful live production that presents us with a mirror into ourselves and the cult of celebrity, into our ambitions and our fears and it does so with a great deal of humour and a lot of heart. Starring the talented Diana McLean, a veteran of Australian stage and screen and featuring a script by Peter Quilty that won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2005, it will catapult you into the drawing rooms of the wealthy social set of 1930s New York in a way that the film just can’t match. Glorious! is a wonderful opportunity to experience Florence ‘in the flesh’, to be her audience and to witness her dreams come true.
As one review put it…… “This touching play is a lesson in how to live your dream. Funny, sharp and irresistible.” Daily Express.
Story by Liane Morris
A freelance writer with a background in arts and media marketing, Liane runs a boutique consultancy from her home in Lake Macquarie. She can write just about anything but has a passion for the arts, health and cooking, happiness theories, travel, feminism, leadership and parenting.
In the past Liane worked as a senior marketer in organisations such as Canberra Glassworks, Riverside Theatres, Sydney Symphony and Time Inc. Magazines (Who Weekly, Time, Sports Illustrated and InStyle) but these days she prefers the flexibility and creative freedom in freelance writing work.
A proud Novacastrian, Liane loves living on the coast just 1 ½ hours from the big smoke, growing amazing little human beings and writing for pleasure and for her clients.