Many readers of SX will be familiar with Queenie van de Zandt’s alter-ego ‘Jan van de Stool’ from Light the Night, Hats Off, or various ACON and Aurora fundraisers. If you have ever enjoyed Jan’s antics at these events, you will love I Get The Music In You: a full 80 minutes of pure, unadulterated Jan. By Garrett Bithell.
Like most good things in life, performer Queenie van de Zandt’s alter-ego ‘Jan van de Stool’ was spawned by accident.
“I was putting together a cabaret show for the Brisbane Cabaret Festival in 2002, and I needed a way to link a whole lot of songs together,” Queenie tells SX. “After much pondering, I realised that all the songs I wanted to sing in my show were about women in relationships. And so as a way of stringing all the songs together, I invented a self-help character, called her Jan (cause that was my therapist’s name), and put all the songs in the context of this dodgy self-help course that Jan was running about women in relationships called ‘Don’t be a Clichéd Archetype, Be a Self-Made Dynamite!’
“The night before I performed the show, I ran it for a friend and he suggested that I do Jan in my Mum’s Dutch accent, because he said whenever I spoke like my Mum, it was piss funny. And so the next night, I followed his advice, and nobody much remembered the songs, but Jan van de Stool was a hit!”
Since then, the character of Jan has literally taken on a life of her own, and Queenie has bestowed on her a detailed, hilarious back story.
“Jan van de Stool was a successful real estate agent before giving it all up and making a natural progression into becoming a self-help guru,” Queenie says
“She lives in Woy Woy, with Pieter, her cousin and husband, and promotes her unique brand of therapy at the local Munudgi Scout Hall. Originally from Schiermonnikoog, an unpronounceable small village on the Frisian Islands in the Netherlands, Jan originally immigrated to Canberra in the early 70s – where she had early success as a singer in her all-female group, Pandora’s Box.
“But these days Jan prefers to use her ‘unique’ musical skills to help other people. Through the power of music Jan has helped literally tens of people become self-expressed.”
This brings us to I Get the Music in You, which has previously had a number of sold-out runs around the country, but hasn’t had a Sydney season in six years. Set at the Munudgi Scout Hall, the show features Jan, who labels herself an ‘International Musical Therapist’, hosting day one of her one-day beginner’s course, ‘Open Your Throat, Open The Door’. Never letting her flimsy grip on the English language get in the way, Jan flogs her DVDs, books and CDs with genuine ingenuity under the guise of healing.
“I play Jan as well as the five students in her self-help course who come to the stage to ‘share’ with the course participants – the participants being the audience,” Queenie tells. “Jan’s grip on the English language constantly comes unstuck, as does the evening, when insecurity about one of her student’s extraordinary singing talent makes for an ending that leaves the audience floored.”
As Queenie tells, she has received some unexpected real-life inspiration for the character of Jan. “Over the years a friend of my mother’s has unknowingly been a great inspiration to me in writing Jan. If you know Jan, this is not a compliment to my Mum’s friend. So you can imagine my horror when the show came to my home town and she and her husband came to see it.
“Luckily we humans are by and large not too insightful about our own foibles, so she had no idea I had shamelessly portrayed her onstage!”
Queenie is unsure if Jan is more character or alter-ego these days. “I think in all the characters actors play, they use parts of themselves in the creation of those characters,” she says. “But Jan feels very distinctly different from me – and yet she is so natural for me to slip into. I love playing her, because she gets to say many of the things I think, but would not dare utter. One of the things I love about her is how unaware she is of her flaws and hence how free she is in her expression of herself, and somehow in being like that, even though she is so flawed, we somehow love her for it.”
In the end, Jan is simply the queen of the shit sandwich. “It’s a cultural thing – the Dutch are brutally honest people,” Queenie states. “It’s part of their make-up. I’m constantly reminding my parents that they don’t have to tell me every little thing that they think.”
[Image] Self-help guru … Jan van de Stool. Photo: John McRae
I Get the Music In You, an evening with Jan van de Stool, NIDA Parade Theatres December 5 – 7, 11 – 14. Bookings through www.ticketek.com.au.