Actor Ash Flanders (pictured above) says he has a habit of meeting celebrities in his underwear. First it was Cate Blanchett backstage after he’d performed in Sydney Theatre Company’s 2013 play Little Mercy, and last night it was Katy Perry at Malthouse Theatre’s Calpurnia Descending.
“I was washing off my face and I’d taken off half my costume and then there was a knock at the door and it was Marion Potts [Malthouse’s Artistic Director],” Flanders told Daily Review. “I was like, ‘I’m busy!’ ’cause I’m a diva myself. Then I could just hear people saying ‘Katy! Katy!’ and I thought ‘oh my god!’. Marion led me out and I was in my wig cap and my underwear, which is old threadbare underwear that I’ve had for, like, seven years, and that’s how I met Katy Perry.”
Perry is in Melbourne for her Prismatic world tour, and on a night off from her eight shows at Rod Laver Arena decided to take in a night of theatre. So she purchased her own ticket to Calpurnia Descending.
Calpurnia Descending is devised by Ash Flanders with his writing partner Declan Greene, and explores the notion of the diva, and gay men’s relationship to diva figures through a camp, drag extravaganza. It explores the evolution of the diva and references Perry and her contemporaries as the epitome of a modern diva.
“It’s so funny that of all the people, it was her. She’s been a real muse for this piece, and she was there. It’s crazy,” Flanders said.
“I said, ‘oh Katy, it was so nice — we went out tonight and the audience was really with us. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience, but it felt like this huge group of people loving us,’ and she just laughed and parroted back to me in my exact voice: ‘Yeah, doll, I don’t know what that’s like’.”
The show is, in some ways, strongly critical of the culture Perry is central to. In an interview last month with Gay News Network, Flanders said: “Now we have mass produced, mass marketed divas, people like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry – women who constantly reinvent their image while only revealing the most basic of personality traits in an effort to stay pleasing to all people at all times. There is no rough edge. There is no risk. It feels more money driven.”
“I should also add that I’m a complete turncoat and have no politics except to worship famous people,” Flanders told Daily Review with a laugh today.
But none of the cast or creative team knew that Perry would be in the audience until Perry came backstage after the show.
“The show started a little late because they were apparently making sure it was all fine and safe and she wouldn’t be mobbed by theatre subscribers,” Flanders said.
“Then there was a standing ovation — if you want to be kind, you could say she led it. If you want to be factual, you could say she and her friends were the only people standing. I looked and gestured to them because it was so absurd that in this huge sea of people there were these people defiantly standing, and it made me really happy.”
— Malthouse Theatre (@MalthouseMelb) November 13, 2014