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Michaela Burger and Greg Wain: Exposing Edith

By | Published on Tuesday 30 July 2019

When I first heard about ‘Exposing Edith’ – a musical show at this year’s Fringe all about the legendary Piaf – I thought it seemed a bit familiar. And as it turns out, this excellent piece of work has been performed at the Festival to much acclaim before.

Too often, I think, successful shows get lost and ignored once the Fringe is over, so it’s good to see this one back for another run. To find out more about the show and its journey, I spoke to its co-creators: vocalist Michaela Burger and guitarist Greg Wain.

CM: Tell us about the show: does it tell a story? Is there a linear narrative, or does it offer snapshots of Piaf’s life?
MB&GW: The show definitely tells a story about the life and songs of Edith Piaf. It is a strong linear narrative that Michaela tells, as well as going in and out of character to give a snapshot of Piaf’s character and of the other people that were in her life. A lot of the story is also told through the incredible music and songs of Piaf – as Edith’s songs were mostly written for her with the themes that were most obvious in her life.

CM: Do you seek to explore specific themes through the show? Does the life of the singer lend itself to the exploration of particular themes?
MB&GW: The themes that are most explored in this show are themes of rising above hardship and Edith’s selflessness towards her audience, her willingness to give her whole heart and soul to them. Of course, the theme of French chanson is also very strong, and of Edith’s ability to portray the music in such a passionate, raw and honest way.

CM: Which songs can we expect to hear during the course of the show?
MB&GW: You will hear many of her famous songs, including ‘La Vie En Rose’, ‘Milord’, ‘Padam Padam’ and of course ‘Non, Je ne regrette Rien’, amongst some less famous songs that we felt were imperative to include in order to tell her story.

CM: What made you want to create a whole show based around the singer and her life? Have you always been a fan of her work? What made you think this would work?
MB&GW: When we met we realised that we had a mutual ‘obsession’ with Edith Piaf and felt that they had no choice but to create a show about her and her life and music. Michaela had been a fan of Edith and French culture since she was seventeen years old – after her French exchange family introduce her to the singer – and Greg had long been a fan of French chanson. We knew that the show would work due to the number of people who love Edith Piaf so passionately and devotedly.

CM: How did you go about putting the show together? What was your creative process like?
MB&GW: Michaela went through all of the existing biographies on Edith Piaf and pulled together the stories that were interesting, important, unique and intriguing in order to create a strong story that would paint a picture of the side of Edith’s life that people weren’t so aware of. We wanted to expose parts of Edith that people hadn’t seen before, and ensure that her personal, private story was told as well the more well known stories.

In the meantime both of us worked through the song decision and started to put the music together in a unique way with the creative intention being “what would Edith Piaf do with these songs if she were alive today with our technology”. This is how they came up with techniques such as using loop and delay affects and the infamous moment of Michaela singing into the guitar. We also spent many years continuing to develop the show while already touring nationally and internationally in order to get it to where it is today.

CM: This isn’t your first run at Edinburgh, is it? What made you want to come back?
MB&GW: We had a great experience in Edinburgh in 2016 but knew that it would be challenging to return the year after due to the work load. We were approached by SquareSums&Co, and they invited us to join their team and suggested that they help us bring Exposing Edith to Edinburgh this year. This made our decision to come back extremely easy – as they are a great company and legendary people!

CM: You’ve also performed at other festivals, haven’t you? How do they compare to the Edinburgh Fringe?
MB&GW: I have found the festivals always have a unique energy to them as expected when so much creativity is brought together for a short period of time. Edinburgh, being the biggest of its kind in the world, has this energy in the extreme and as an artist to be part of this with all the other artists from all over the world is awesome, meeting artists in so many different genres, sharing ideas, and/or just enjoying what they too have brought to the festival. And to have it in such a beautiful city.

CM: What are you looking forward to about your 2019 run in Edinburgh?
MB&GW: This time, our second time in Edinburgh, we are under the management of SquareSummsand Co. and with their global experience behind us we are looking to have a very successful season which will generate a lot more international interest in our show. And being already familiar with how the festival works we’ll be much more able to immerse ourselves into the whole experience.

CM: What advice would you give to other people heading to the Fringe for the first time?
MB&GW: As an artist or just as a ticket buyer just enjoy the experience of being in such a unique environment with so much on offer. Wander around and just soak it all up. The variety of what’s on offer is endless, pace yourself, go to things you would never have tried before, see some favourites, it’s all there in one place and can suit any budget.

CM: Can we now go back a bit and talk about you: how did you get into performance, and was it always what you wanted to do? How did your career begin?
GW: I was always headed for a life in performance because I grew up in a very musical family, performing all through my school days to studying at university in NZ and the UK and being a freelance performer all my life so far. I could never be a nine-to-five person. I’ve been very lucky to have made this my life.

CM: What’s been the highlight of your careers thus far?
MB&GW: There have been too many highlights to single any one out but having the opportunity to create and continue performing our show around the world these last few years has been a buzz and makes all the hard work worth it.

CM: Do you have any grand plans for the future – any new avenues or big ambitions?
MB&GW: As artists you never stop thinking about what’s next. Opportunities come often when you least expect them and your creative juices can be sent in any direction. Who knows what’s next?!

CM: What’s coming up next for Exposing Edith? Will you continue performing it?
MB&GW: At this stage we have a one-off performance in October in our home city of Adelaide as we haven’t performed it there for almost two years and we get a lot of inquiries. Looking beyond this we are hoping that our season at this year’s Edinburgh fringe festival will generate future bookings internationally, as it did the first time.

‘Exposing Edith’ was performed at Assembly George Square Studios at Edinburgh Festival 2019.

Photo: Matt Craig