Michele Mele by Jason Stroud

Michele Mele Lays Herself Bare

Considering Michele Mele's background in theatre, it should be surprising that she decided to stage her own show. After graduating from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music in 1984, she went on to study directing and directed several productions, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie.

She's also an accomplished jazz musician who's released three albums, her most recent effort, Feel, was released in 2006.

Her new show, Naked on the Rocks, blends theatre and music. Mele took time out from raising four teenage children to talk about what led up to her decision to stage the show.

Q: What can you tell me about the show and what inspired you to stage it? It almost sounds you were caving to pressure when you finally decided to go forward with it.

MM: Oh no! But in fact kind of the opposite, maybe it sounded that way (on the video on my website). Well, it just kind of tumbled into that because my first three albums were predominantly jazz and I had a lot more to say I think. I had a lot more passion inside that need to be expressed and so I started writing in a different direction.

I have a great piano, jazz whatever, teacher and he says "Never stop yourself from writing anything in any direction, anywhere, anyplace, any time ever." I think that's the way I was feeling and so I just strung it all together.

It's still my shtick, it's still what I do on stage, but just with a bit more talking and a bit more scripted but I leave a room from improvisation, which I guess, is the kind of jazz influence of my life, right? The concept of improvisation and spontaneity. So that's a major part as well of the show. And it's fun! That's all! That's the main thing! You gotta have fun and you can take yourself too seriously. That's another thing, it's not about me, it's about the music.

Q: What inspired the name Naked On The Rocks?

MM: A lot of things inspired that song actually! (Laughs) It's metaphor of course. It's mostly inspired by our cottage up outside of Parry Sound. Living in the country you're a few degrees closer to nature than you are being downtown and then being at the cottage, you're even closer to nature and, I feel, to part of the universe that some times we miss. And so being naked in that environment, physically and metaphorically, implies a kind of freedom and yet a connectedness at the same time. It was going to be called Living in the Music, but my marketing team thought it's not ... universal or catchy enough. So, they found the name of some of my other songs in the show and they saw that one and plus, who doesn't want to get naked on the rocks? What's better? Sun, rocks, it's beautiful!

Q: You have a background in theatre, was this a return to form for you?

MM: Not so much a return as a continuation. I've always loved theatre as well. The arts will save the world. And I still believe that. Because I feel that when people get in touch with art, either by creating or experiencing or seeing or hearing, you're exposing yourself. And we spend so much time putting on layers (and) covering ourselves that nobody really knows who anybody or anything is. But with art, it touches something inside and when we're most open, and of course most vulnerable, that's when the beauty happens. So beauty is everybody and it will make everybody feel better. Theatre is one portion, one genre of the arts that I love and I directed a couple of plays, I took a couple of directing courses and then I directed some plays and we did some productions and then I did some high school productions and directed that and loved that. This is putting everything together. It's just a continuation, it's constantly moving ahead, that's all, I feel like it's big snowball drawing from the past and getting more and more strength and more fun. Really! And not going over anyone though! Just like a happy snowball. Not a 'Grr!' kind of snowball! (Laughs)

Q: How did it feel to finally stage the show?

MM: It felt great actually. What I did was get my usual guys that I play with, my band.
I don't like to be so presumptuous as to call them "my band". But really, my guys together are.
And I said I have this new project, I'm moving in a new direction, what we need is a lot of energy; we need a positive feel and are you in? Let's go for it and they said, "Well, let's hear it first!"
And so we ran through all the music and I had some place that I thought maybe we'd like to perform it, or try it out or workshop it. And after our first rehearsal they were all on board and the said, "You know what? This isn't the right venue. We need a better place." And then they started suggesting all kind of different place we could do it and it just felt like I was doing the right thing because everyone was so into it. And then we did the first one at that theatre, a gorgeous theatre, the Country Day School up in King (Township). That's a beautiful theatre up there! And it just felt great. My husband said for him it was like having a baby! I was a little bit nervous but after one second I was (like) "Oh yeah! This is me!" So, it's was fine, it was good!

Q: This is the second time you've staged the show?

MM: Yes, we did two performances in June and we're doing another two now.
Well, I don't want to sound, whatever, but so many people have said to me after the show, weeks and even a couple months later people said to me, "Oh, I was so affected by your show, you changed my life", "When you said this it made me feel that" and "It changed how I am with boyfriend" and someone else said "I've gone on this diet and I'm losing 30 pounds." So it just need to be done more that's all, and we need to just get more people and more press out and keep the snowball going that's all, keep it rolling. And we want to tour and it's good, it's all good!

Q: Is this show going to be at all different from the one you did back during the summer?

MM: No! It'll be the same and if anything it'll be better! But it's the same music, same tunes, same everything, same band. It's non-confrontational, I hand out chocolates in the show. Chocolate's a beautiful thing. I'm all about stimulating the senses and exposing yourself to feelings.

Q: Why should people who were there for the first show come out again?

MM: People who came to see it the first time actually said, "I'm coming to see it again!" And then other people said, "I saw it both times in the summer and I'm coming to see it again!"
I think the reason is that it's fun, it's fun and uplifting and everyone can relate to it, and not just middle-aged woman but men and young people, teenagers. I even have teenage approval, which is pretty huge for me, and hold people have come and really liked it. It's just uplifting and I think need everyone needs to be uplifted. It's just fun, it's us having fun and trying to give that to everyone, with good music at the same time! I think maybe that's why it appeals to everyone at the same time. I call it non-genre-centric. There's jazz and there's rock and I play Handel's 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheeba' with (pianist) Bernie (Senensky) and I play that for piano. And then I have a song dedicated to Canadian men, in keeping with the cottage theme! Burly manly men! And there's some Latin in it.

Q: When you did the show for the first time, was it daunting?

MM: No, I've gotta say because it's what I do. Some people have said that to me. It's very exposing I've gotta say. But like I said at the beginning; I feel like if we don't expose ourselves, what are we doing? Hiding? Spending your whole life hiding in a hole? Everybody feels the same things I think. Everybody feel everything.

Q: Now that you've done something like this, has it inspired any new ideas?

MM: Are you kidding me?! I don't stop writing, I'm writing all the time still. I went through a whole strong writing period which is what this show grew out of, this emotional kind of charge and emotional ... turmoil. But it's good, it's all good. I'm still hanging onto that and now I'm on the coattails of that so the initial thing came, so now I have this project so that's taking but I'm still writing, I still have enough material for another show. I'm already thinking a nice sequel to this would be dot-dot-dot more fun.

Q: What does the future hold for you?

MM: Oh! Well, first and foremost I am a parent of four teenagers so that's very consuming. However, I see this going on the road and this is where a lot of my energy is going toward and still doing club dates and things. But really, this is where my focus is, the album/club date thing isn't as appealing to me as writing and then bringing it forward in this format, in I guess a theatre format. And really wanting to tour and make music, that's all!

Michele Mele
Naked on the Rocks
Thursday October 11th and Tuesday October 16th
Tickets are $30 at Ticketweb or by calling 888-222-6608

Image by Jason Stroud

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