Valerie is Robin Kelly’s first original work, receiving critical acclaim and going on to tour New Zealand festivals in 2017 and 2018 (Nelson, Kokomai, NZ Festival, Dunedin, Hawke’s Bay).
Robin graduated with a BMus/BSc from the University of Auckland in 2011 majoring in composition, and studied classical piano for over 15 years with Australian Music Examination Board and Trinity College London.
Robin works as an accompanist, repetiteur, musical director, arranger, composer, choir leader, and is company director of Last Tapes. Robin’s credits include Musical Director for The Last Five Years (Last Tapes), Earnest (Fractious Tash & Last Tapes), The Events (Silo, 2015), Guys and Dolls (ATC, 2015), and Night of the Queer (TAPAC, 2015-2016). Other roles include choir leader for Stimmung Choir, and founder of Auckland-based band Neon Warwick and The Bethell Gang.
Robin is currently working on a follow up to ‘Valerie’ – weaving together science, personal history, and music to create a new show about memory called ‘Engram’.
Valerie is coming to Summerhall, Cairns Lecture Theatre what can you tell us about it?
Valerie reaches into the guts of family mythologies, honouring the women who are strong for those they love. The tagline is Sing a Song of Sickness – it’s a piece of inter-generational cabaret theatre inspired by my grandmother’s struggles. It combines storytelling, music, and science; gig-theatre at its finest.
Is it based on real events?
The entire story is taken from the experiences of my family, and the strength of my grandmother Valerie who acted as our bulwark. This was a family where the seemingly joyous quirkiness of a grandfather who kept live canaries in his beard slid into despair and dislocation through the nearly overwhelming impact of his severe mental illness.
Why did you want to write about this subject?
There’s a strong current of mental health issues in our family, and more suicides and breakdowns on my mother’s side than is comfortable to think about. It’s particularly uncomfortable since my own depression and anxiety seem to be worsening as I head into my 30s. As I unpacked Valerie’s story the fear kept growing and I needed to know more about what I’ve inherited. These are issues which affect a surprising number of people and need to be talked about.
Have you had to make any changes to the production to suit the space you have?
When Valerie premiered it was showing to small, intimate audiences, much like those we’ll be encountering in the Cairns Lecture Theatre. Then, as we started touring it, we found ourselves playing to audiences of 300-400 in large and opulent venues around NZ. Coming back to a smaller venue will be an interesting return to Valerie’s roots, where the cast interact with the audience on a more individual level. We’re really interested in the way we can alter performances and set design to glean the best experience for the audience.
What’s the one thing about Valerie makes it different from all the rest?
The role and strength of women like Valerie deserves to be more widely honoured. There are women like her in every community, country, continent and generation. Likewise, issues of male mental health need far wider discussions and understanding. This is what we try to do, and in a context which uses music and song as well as the spoken word. The music of Valerie is all original, slotted in amongst genetics lectures, personal reveries and the reading of letters and notes, and in this way it defies genre labels – much like the lady herself!
What would you say to people thinking of coming to see Valerie?
Be prepared to face raw emotion in the most welcoming and nurturing environment, and if you feel the need to talk with the cast about what you’ve just experienced, meet us in the bar afterwards for a drink. We’re here for the conversations; we want to start something.
Valerie is at Summerhall 3rd – 26th August (not 13th or 20th). Tickets on sale here.