Loose Canons: Tessa Waters
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Tessa Waters is a multi-award winning Australian comedian, actor and writer whose show Over Promises opens in Auckland this Tuesday in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival and plays Wellington the week after.
Earlier this year at Adelaide Fringe, Tessa's solo comedy Fully Sik won the Best Comedy Weekly Award, and her comedy cabaret Fringe Wives Club was nominated for Best Newcomer at the recent Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tessa has been dubbed the "Undisputed Queen of Physical Comedy" (Broadway Baby). That Queen tells us what inspires her.
As I'm writing it's a 100 years to the day since Ella was born. I grew up with a lot of music in my house which I think is why it forms such a strong foundation of my work and how I make it. Music conjurs up stories in my mind; characters and physicalities which then become the sketches in the show. Jazz played a big part in my childhood with my mum being such a huge fan and my folks having such a eclectic record collection: Shirley Bassey, Herbie Hancock, Victor Borg, Concert for Bangladesh, Diana Ross, and The Beegees. My big brother became a jazz pianist and is now a music producer.
For me right now, Ella gets me out of bed in the morning. I've been flat-out touring for pretty much the past three years and sometimes I just don't wanna. But I put on Ella and her voice is so mesmerising, so cheeky, so full of heart, soul and guts, that she grounds me and makes me just get on with things and remember how lucky I am to get to do what I do for a living. She was also a woman who totally owned her space in her profession, in a time in history where few women, let alone women of colour were allowed to be. "The only thing better than singing, is more singing". Keep making art. Get on with it Tessa Waters.
This is a power sequin fashion label I'm obsessed with. Maybe its growing up with a lot of Hollywood musicals or my love of being on the stage, but I'm like a magpie for sequins! Combine that love with panache, guts, art, punk, sex positivity and feminism and you have Discount Universe. It's provocative and sexy, but powerful and beautiful all at the same time.
Old Dance Videos
This video inspired most of my new show – the relentless energy, the outrageous costumes, the moves, the enthusiasm mixed with this twistedness that could unravel at any moment. I love it. This soundtrack inspired the opening track of my new show Fully Sik. There's something about old dance videos that tickle me, like they are a mix of quite high skill and total dag, which I hope is the same angle my work hits, haha. I don't know what else to say, but just watch it and feel it, like really feel it y'know?
Haim are releasing a new song this week and I'm beyond excited. I became a fan during a pretty turbulent time in my life and their relentless pop with guts got me through. "Never look back / Never give up" – hells yes. They are three sisters from California and remind me of The Bangles or The GoGos. They are incredible musicians – proper rockstars, and their songs are pop with punch and skill.
I saw them live in London a few years ago and lost my mind. They are always on my pre-show prep playlists. I get pretty nervous before shows once the adrenaline starts pumping, and the best way to bring myself back down and get my head in the present moment is to dance. I put on my favourite tunes and dance around the room, the stage, in the aisles – kind of energising the room. Most of the time my tech and front of house crew get involved as well, or we just chat about our days while I boogie. A lot of my work is based in improvisation and you have to be really present to be able to grab the joke as it whizzes past. You can't be thinking about the next show, or what you did that day, or even analyzing if it's gonna be funny – you have to be in the room, with your audience and in control. Haim's music is the perfect pre-show boogie.
I have been in the comedy industry, and more broadly, the arts for over 10 years and I am so lucky to have been given the opportunities and support along the way which has taught me not only to keep pushing to find my voice and my style of comedy but to also keep perspective and grounded. I think this can be really hard to remember as a young artist, because you feel like you've got to do it all now; you have to compete with your peers and get there first and if you miss the opportunity it's gone forever.
Last year an incredible young theatre artist I had met through Edinburgh Fringe took her own life and it was devastating, not only because I was so closely involved in the aftermath, but also because of the pointless loss of this amazing friend and artist. The world had undoubtedly been robbed of her art and her voice. It highlighted to me at the time the need for young artists to be supported. Making your own work, touring, and even success can be really destabilising, and I wanted to create something that could perhaps offer some kind of support. So I reached out to nine young comedians/circus performers/dancers/actors who I admired the work of and said, "Hey, do you want a mentor?".
It's all based around what they want to do and where they're at in their career and for the most part involves us chatting for hours over coffee about life, the universe and everything. I had hoped through the program I could offer some help and advice where needed and open some doors which might take these artists years to do on their own, but what I didn't expect was how inspired I would be by talking to them about their ideas, their obstacles, experiences and art. My dream for this program is that other established artists take up the model and it will grow to become the norm in the industry. Get rid of the competition – helping one another can only lead to a stronger industry and better work. Guaranteed.
Tessa Waters – Over Promises runs from Tuesday 2 May – Saturday 6 May at Basement Studio in Auckland, then Wednesday 10 May – Saturday 13 May at BATS in Wellington.
Tickets available here.