New Beginnings – Madam Nightingale Tells A Story Through Spellbinding Synthpop

Madam Nightingale
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

Spoken word, interpretive dance and music collide in the collaborative 'New Beginnings’.

Award-winning synthpop artist Madam Nightingale (Phaedra Gunn) and emerging rapper Cloutie Will (Sarah Dwyer) come together to give Adelaide Fringe audiences a premiere experience, exploring what it means to be human, using many art forms.

Cloutie Will is cast as a 'fallen woman' in this rap and '80s-influenced synthpop show, seeking Madam Nightingale – her goddess of song – for guidance toward a spiritual rebirth.

Among other exciting elements like spoken word and interpretive dance, 'New Beginnings' acts as the vessel for the first live performances of Cloutie Will's current releases 'Hungry Ghost' and 'Getting Kinda Freaky', and Madam Nightingale's debut single 'Dance With Me'.

Here, we speak to Madam Nightingale ahead of this ethereal Fringe experience.

Firstly, what IS ’New Beginnings’?
The show is a reimagining of the original Madam Nightingale creation story – ‘Flight Of Fancy’ performed at the HillsceneLive live-streamed festival in 2020 – of humanity’s global emotional fall and rise during the early ‘00s, as retold through the personal spiritual experience of a solitary woman. It is a collaborative show featuring synthpop songs I composed with producer Aj’Zho, including ‘Dance With Me’ – recipient of RSOM’s Top Songs Of ‘23 Award, and hip hop grooves Cloutie Will composed with producer Flip That Groove. With a theatrical performance, the audience for 'New Beginnings' will feel like they’re witnessing an hour-long music video.

Tell us a bit about you as an artist.
I’m a multidisciplinary artist. I originally studied classical guitar as a child, mainly practicing visual art (drawing, sculpture, gold and silver smithing) as an adult before forming The Winterfriends folk-rock acoustic music collective with the late Steven Marshall White (sound engineer and musician) in 2013. After six years as the vocalist, lyricist and main composer for that entity, post Steven’s passing – Madam Nightingale’s sophomore single ‘Feelings’ lyrics are in tribute to Steven – I developed my Madam Nightingale alter-ego in 2019 to focus on solo performance and collaborations with electronica producers. I started performing as Madam Nightingale at the St Kilda Festival in February 2020, winning the Sounds Of St Kilda battle of the bands competition at that debut performance with Aj’Zho supporting on live synth.

How did you create this show – where did you begin?
Taking the original provocation of how humanity healed from the global challenges of ‘20-21’, Cloutie Will and I deconstructed the plot to rebuild the storyline around her personal journey. With a strong focus on both vocal performance and kitsch theatricality, the show features bricolage props, origami audience-participatory gifts, and interpretive dance elements derived from rhythm gymnastics and synchronised swimming.

What has been the biggest challenge of its creation?
Developing the choreography with a performance partner was a new challenge for both of us, as was determining the design for some costumery and props, such as a straight jacket and ambulance, as neither of us have designed and constructed so many theatrical elements for a single show before.

There are themes about what it means to be human. Why was this something you wanted to cover in the piece?
Authentic emotional journeys inform the development of both my and Cloutie Will’s pop and rap lyrics, as we are both creatively inspired by emotional landscapes which have a humanist focus. Our solo songwriting tends to be in the 'show me' descriptive of feelings style rather than the 'tell me' descriptive of events style. Our natural affinity for 'show me' songwriting lent itself well to describing aspects of the human condition integral to the underlying show plot.

Who is this show for?

Music aficionados who enjoy contemporary mainstream pop with melodic and rap vocals will enjoy this show, as will theatre and musical lovers looking for an avant-garde approach to contemporary synth/electronica music performance.

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It’s a collaboration with emerging rap artist Cloutie Will. Who is Cloutie Will and how are they incorporated in the work?
Cloutie Will is the stage name of emerging rapper Sarah Dwyer who I met through Melbourne’s vibrant open mic scene, who is currently studying a music degree at Monash University. The show’s plot incorporates her journey towards mental and spiritual wellness escaping her past life as a 'fallen woman'. While both of us are performing on stage together most of the time, the show will feature the first live solo performances of Cloutie Will’s current releases ‘Hungry Ghost’ and ‘Getting Kinda Freaky’ with beats by producer Flip That Groove from their recently released collaborative EP.

The show is premiering at Adelaide Fringe! Why is this festival the perfect place for it to premiere?
As arguably the biggest fringe in Australia for musicians with a cabaret/theatrical performance style, I see the Adelaide Fringe as therefore the logical debut location for ‘New Beginnings’ given the critics and audience it attracts both locally and internationally. I can’t wait to perform this show at Prompt Creative Centre in the heart of Adelaide!

'New Beginnings' plays Prompt Creative Centre (Adelaide Fringe) 16-18 February.

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