Culture

After a year of COVID-19 restrictions in New York, acclaimed actor and writer Alan Cumming says adjusting to life without face masks in Australia “feels crazy”. The Adelaide Cabaret Festival director will be debuting his new show after a coronavirus-induced b…

For Alan Cumming, getting used to Australia’s relatively low-level coronavirus rules has been a big culture shock after a year of restrictions in New York.
Key points:

  • Acclaimed actor Alan Cumming has arrived in SA ahead of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
  • It is the first time the festival has appointed an international artistic director
  • Cumming will also perform the world premiere of his own cabaret show to close the festival

The Scottish-born performer, who is director of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival, emerged from hotel quarantine late last week, and said he was a bit “overwhelmed” by the freedoms being enjoyed by those in Adelaide.
The internationally-renowned star told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Ali Clarke that he spent his time in isolation trying to emotionally prepare himself for the change.
“It was overwhelming I think I am still adjusting,” he said.
“Most of the pandemic, I’ve been in upstate New York. If I did go into the city, it’d be masks everywhere, social distancing, eating outside.
“So, the idea that I’ve been inside, without a mask it feels crazy.”
Cumming said from his hotel balcony, he could see people walking around the city with no masks on.
“It’s also interesting because, you know, my friend, Daniel Radcliffe I did a play with him right before the pandemic and he was calling masks ‘celebrities’ friend’, because people don’t recognise you because you’ve got masks on,” he said.
“So, on Saturday night, here in Adelaide, when I went out with my friends, it was the onslaught of being in a packed club with people and also not having the celebrities’ friend  It was a lot going on.”
Routine was important to get through quarantine, as Cumming himself learned from the South Australian authorities who made daily calls to check on the mental health of those in the hotel.
“They said it’s actually the people who haven’t got anything planned, who just sort of lie in bed and watch Netflix all the time, they kind of go a bit nutty,” he said.
“It’s hilarious because they say things like, you know, ‘are you fine?’, and I say, ‘yes, yes’, and they go ‘I’m a doctor, do you have anything you want to ask me?’
“And I think ‘well obviously, I want to ask you lots of things because I’ve not spoken to anyone all day but it probably wouldn’t be a good use of your time’.”
The Scottish-born actor tried his hand at Zoom performances during the pandemic  but said he would not recommend it.(Supplied
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A long time between drinks for actor
Cumming’s appointment as the festival’s artistic director is the first time an international talent has been on board.
The pandemic has been one of the longest times the acclaimed actor has not been on stage, and the debut of his cabaret show, Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age, will break that streak.
Although he had not been in front of a live audience in that time, Cumming said he, like others, had pivoted to opportunities on streaming services  but he was not partial to those.
“I did a Chekhov play on Zoom, which I would not recommend,” he said.
“I would not recommend watching it or being in it it was awful.”
As he has grown older, Cumming said he had learned to trust his opinion on what does and does not work in productions  although he always tried to do the piece justice.
“I still go out to do my best to serve the author and serve the production, even if I don’t think the thing is much good,” he said.
“I think that’s what you’ve got to retain if you just allow other peoples’ opinions to just dictate your worth, I think that’s where madness lies.”
Culture’s messages on ageing ‘very mixed’
Cumming’s cabaret show is designed to celebrate his “eclectic spirit and joie de vivre” in song and dance as it explores ageing, of which he believes we receive “very mixed messages” about.
“We’re told to inject our foreheads and do all these things, and stay fit and stay young,” he said.
“But at the same time, we’re told ‘grow up!’ and ‘act your age!’
“I think one of the great things about it is that experience gives you wisdom, and it’s not a pompous thing to say wisdom’s just seeing the same things happen and deciding to make a different decision about how you’re going to deal with it.”
How Alan Cumming is adjusting to life in mask-free Adelaide
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As part of his pre-festival preparations, Cumming spent time speaking to a class of cabaret performers ahead of their shows in the event.
One of the main things he gets asked about by other artists is whether he still feels nerves.
“It never goes away I will be so nervous when I do my new show, this is the world premiere of it that closes the festival,” he said.
“I’ll be so nervous, and I’ll be so furious with myself as well, like ‘why am I doing this, I don’t need to do this I could be on some movie set, I could be at home having dinner, I don’t need to be doing this’.
“The thing is, I do it because I love it, but I think you’ve got to admit that nerves are a necessary part of the process because if you’re nervous, it means you care.”
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 11 to 26.