Iconic performer Maude Davey on her life in the nude
Jul01

Iconic performer Maude Davey on her life in the nude

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 01 July 2014 Author // Stephen A. Russell

Maude Davey has been creating provocative theatre for over twenty years. From her memorable performance as Ms Wicked at the Club in Collingwood to her lauded show, My Life in the Nude, she is one of Melbourne’s most loved performers. By Stephen A. Russell.

Turning 50 after quarter of a century of performing nude in provocatively stylish cabarets around Melbourne and the world at large, actor, director and teacher Maude Davey found herself wondering if it was time for her birthday suit to face its final curtain.

Davey honed her art in the city’s vibrant queer clubs and pubs in the 80s and 90s. This buzz led to scene queens Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith establishing The Burlesque Hour in 2004, a world-famous bastion of getting entertainingly naked that drew a much broader crowd in its classily freakish way, with Davey one of its centrefold stars.

“Moira and Jackie forged a niche for themselves in the market because they put on great work in great environment and treated their audiences really well,” Maude says.

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[Image] Maude Davey. Photo: Mia Mala McDonald

After another ten years gracing their stage, Davey found herself questioning her physical relevance.

“My body can’t speak about youth and voluptuousness, ripeness and potential any more,” she admits. “I said to Moira one day, ‘I’m going to have to retire my nude act,’ and she said to me, ‘that would seriously affect your continuing with The Burlesque Hour, Maudey.’ That confronted me with the size of the decision I might be about to make, that I would let that mode of performance go.”

Suddenly examining her sense of identity and the way the world perceived her act, Davey realised this was ripe material for a new show. My Life In The Nude, which debuted at Carlton’s La Mama theatre last year, was her last hurrah, taking in the scope of her career in the flesh.

“If I looked at all that work I’ve done over 25 years, what would it say if I jammed it all together?’ Davey asks. “How has the work, the dialogue, the dialectic changed? What story does it tell about the Melbourne we live in, and about me as an artist? The story is, in some way, a discourse about a maturation of relationship to the body, to ideas about being female.”

An incredibly powerful show, it left may audience members weeping for joy at its unguarded beauty, which startled Davey. “I didn’t set out to make a show that tugged at people’s heartstrings,” she says. “I think it talks to people very strongly, in a kind of visceral way, about mortality, the privilege of beauty, normality, whatever that is, about humanity and about what it is to live in a body and have difficulty with it. Everybody has difficulty with their body, and that ebbs and flows as we go through our lives.”  

So powerful was that response that Davey must undress herself one last time for an encore at fortyfivedownstairs theatre in the city. She recalls, as a young woman, thinking that the world would progress along a certain trajectory.

Maude Davey speaks about My Life in the Nude

“I thought I would grow up into a world which would more closely resemble me: my concerns, desires and expectations. I was going to inherit a world that I would have made. Women would not wear full faces of make-up, skimpy clothes and incredibly high heels in clubs at three o’clock the morning, hoping that football players would betray their wives by fucking them.”  

The rising creep of conservatism also troubles Davey. “The buzzword these days is normativity – the endless quest to turn us into identical, consumerist automatons, with less room for difference.”

She hopes her unguarded honesty will help others forge their own path. “When I think about the queer community, one of the most valuable things you can do for a young person is to say you have choices. You are not a freak who is alone. You are a freak within a community of freaks.”

Far from her final curtain call, Davey will be keeping the clothes on from now on, but she hopes My Life In The Nude will embolden others.

“I want people to go away and think, ‘If I took my clothes off, people wouldn’t judge me, because I didn’t judge her.’ We spend most of our lives avoiding the fear of being revealed, and yet it’s an illusory monster. I don’t mean that I think that everybody should wander around nude all the time, but I do think people should love their bodies more.”

[Top image] – 'Showgirl' Maude Davey in My Life in the Nude. Photo: Paul Dunn

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Stephen A. Russell

Stephen A. Russell is a Melbourne based writer.

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