Interview with Lili La Scala

The wonderful Lili la Scala talks to Voice about her background as a performer, her Edinburgh show, and her future aspirations

Interview with Lili La Scala

At what point did you decide you wanted to be a performer? Was the desire to sing always there or did something spark it?

The desire to perform was, certainly, always there. It's down to a good primary school music teacher who spotted I could hold a tune that put me on the path to becoming a singer. My mother was a ballet dancer and so I started dancing at 18 months old, it's all I've ever known.

What steps did you take to becoming a professional singer?

I'm not sure they were particular steps. I went through the same training the hundreds of other classical singers, regular singing lessons, singing exams, Music College. Most classical singers follow that path.

Was there a particular career path you had in mind, or was Cabaret always the aim?

I desperately wanted, (at that time) to be an opera singer and sing in actual operas. I did my dissertation on the role of the courtesan in Romantic opera with specific reference to Marie Duplessis, who inspired Violetta Valery in La Traviata. She is my idea of operatic perfection. Once it became clear that vocally I was going to be a Susanna/Zerlina voice type, I lost interest to a certain extent. In my final year at music college, I had already started swing dancing and street performing and that had captured my heart. From there I stumbled into burlesque (combined with opera) and from there into Cabaret. Cabaret continues to interest me, it's a constant evolution.

What draws you to Edinburgh each year?

What wouldn't? The rain, the expense, the crowds! I jest. It's a great month. I'm not sure I'll ever take a solo show again but the variety show is the best kind of show. I get to put together, nightly, an eclectic line up of fabulous acts and then get to hang out with a packed house of punters who want to have a great time. I also get to wear fabulous gowns and sing fun songs.

How many years have you been doing Another F*cking Variety Show? What inspired the name?

This will be our fourth year at the Fringe with the Variety show. In 2012, I didn't have a solo show but I wanted to be doing something at the Fringe. We came up with the idea of doing a variety show which was just another variety show amid a plethora of variety shows on offer. The name was just a tongue in cheek way of saying it is anything but. The first year, we were all just finding our way. I hadn't been hosting for terribly long, I sang to backing tracks but it evolves every year. One day, I'd like a whole band and a chorus line of chaps in white tie!

In your time as an act in Edinburgh, have you noticed any changes in the festival? There are always those that proclaim Edinburgh is dead, do you agree?

I don't think Edinburgh will ever 'die' as such. It will always adapt to survive. It is always faced with challenges and it always carries on. I think it is certainly harder now for people who don't have financial help. The bitching and in-fighting amongst the various free fringes will never be helpful or productive. When things go wrong, it's never the big names and producers that suffer, I can't imagine any of the 'telly comics' lost much sleep over the Free Fringes riding roughshod over agreements but for the performers who had sunk a lot of time and effort (and money, for you never get anything for free) I imagine it was a bitch of a time!

What is interesting is seeing the evolution of trends, from burlesque to mentalism to sideshow and drag, The Fringe always shows where artists are focussing their talents.

Is it a challenge to find acts for your show, or do you tend to find people are desperate to be a part?

A bit of both. It's a challenge to find acts that people haven't seen at the same time as strongly filtering the acts who aren't quite there yet. I watch a lot of videos. I'm sometimes dismayed by the acts people send me and I have to refrain from offering advice. Sometimes it is something as simple as basic stagecraft which is lacking and that is so easy to rectify. I want the standard of acts to be as high as they possibly can be, it's my name on the show, after all.

I often ask acts back year after year if they do a good job.

How do you rate the success of a show? Are there indicators in a particular night that determine whether it's good or bad?

It's mainly down to the audience. It is their show and they'll decide early on how it is going to be. Tom Barnes and I will always have a giggle because we enjoy ourselves but the audience are the ones who will make it. You'd think that the weekend shows would go with a bang but every night is Saturday at the Fringe, we've had some fantastic shows on weekdays.

What was the weirdest thing to ever happen in one of your shows?

It's AFVS! That list would be so long. We've had Tom Barnes in a dress, Hardeep Singh Kohli in a ball gag and a lady with a firework in her vagina. Anything goes.

As a performer yourself, and married to the renowned Boy with Tape on His Face, do you find it difficult to manage a family dynamic. Does Rafferty travel with you to your gigs?

It is difficult but you just have to make it work. You just keep on keeping on at the same time as keeping a meticulous diary. Happily, as both of us work at night, we get to see Raffy a lot during the day. We try and keep his life as 'normal' as possible, he has a very structured routine and we work around that. He doesn't come to our evening shows but he knows what Mama and Daddy do and if we are doing shows during the day he'll come along.

On the subject of family, do you think there should be a divide between the professional and the personal, i.e. focus should be on an act, rather than their family life?

I don't think you can necessarily divide the two. I'm happy to talk about my family, the same way as I like to here how other families juggle children and career.

Although the answer is possibly in the title of your show, how do you keep Another F*cking Variety Show fresh? Does a lot of thought go into planning new things each year, or do you like to keep it loose?

We try and make it better each year. Last year we brought in live piano and sparkly letters, this year we have new songs and new costumes. The line ups are looking good, though many of the cabaret acts who have previously appeared are taking a year off Edinburgh so we have some new faces. I start thinking about it on Sept 1st when we do an Edinburgh debrief! Next year, I'd like a band.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to take a show to Edinburgh?

I think if you want to take a show to Edinburgh, wait. Take the show to everywhere else. Get reviews, hone it, make it the best it can be and then take it to Edinburgh. People rush into Edinburgh and if you don't make the best show you can, you simply won't get what you want out of it.

Imagine you can travel back in time and visit 16 year old you. What one piece of life advice would you give yourself?!

Be the you that you really want to be. Don't be so chicken shit.

Finally, are there any acts you are really looking forward to seeing this year?

Puddles Pity Party without a doubt. Colin Cloud is fantastic too.

You can catch Another Fucking Variety Show at 23:00 in the Pleasance Dome from August 6th. Tickets can be purchased here.

We have reviewed Lili La Scala twice before, and on each occasion she received well-deserved 5 stars. In 2014 she was also an Arts Award Voice Pick of the Fringe! So we highly recommend you check her out if you're in Edinburgh this year.


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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  • Emily Steer

    On 3 August 2015, 13:20 Emily Steer Voice Team commented:

    Brilliant performer!

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