Laura Davis is inviting into you into a mysterious swimming pool illusion. She wants to play Marco (Polo) and explore the boundaries of trust, love, and human connection. Also, she’ll make you laugh. On the back of her awarding-winning show Ghost Machine, Davis has received the Moosehead grant, a program that funds a range of comedians each Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The grant has been offered for the past thirty years, and has supported a range of innovative comedians from Sam Simmons to Lano & Woodley.
Davis is thrilled to be a recipient of the grant. “Moosehead are lovely! Having a producer is wonderful,” says Davis, who has self produced seven out of her nine MICF shows. Usually, you get a choice of two – a well written show you’re happy with, good production, or good publicity. Up until now, Davis has been relying on word of mouth to get crowds in, which proved particularly successful last year for Ghost Machine, but Davis is relieved to have someone else worry about it. Moosehead also provide a director, an experience Davis has never had before but is utterly thrilled about. “I’ve always wanted one, but I didn’t want to ask anyone I knew to do it for little to no money. It’s such an intense process and people should be paid properly for it.” She’s working with Wes Snelling, well known for his musical theatre comedy stylings. With his all rounder background and experience in theatrical comedy, Snelling is a good compliment to Davis’ exploratory style. Marco (Polo) is going to be more theatrical than her previous shows – “I don’t like the idea of backing off!”
Davis wants the show to be gentler and warmer too. Doing a new show every year for nine years gives a pretty interesting snapshot into her psyche, she concedes, and 2015 was a good year. “Growth grows shows,” she laughs. Davis won both the Golden Gibbo (MICF’s award for the best independent show) and Best Comedy at Melbourne Fringe. She’s looking forward to a softer (although still fairly full on, she hurries to assure me) show, after spending years cultivating a more aggressive onstage persona to combat what people assume when they see her. “It’s definitely a response to reviewers who judge me by how I look. They look at me and think ‘oh, she’s a sweet woman’.” It’s a judgment that has impacted her over the years, with event organisers assuming she’s appropriate for an early time slot. “Don’t book me for 6pm!” Davis groans. “A 10 o’clock show is perfect for me.”
Marco (Polo) is at 9:30pm, which is close enough. The show is a blend of comedic styles, one of the reasons Davis is pleased with the venue, the ACMI Games Room. “I love working in gallery spaces. I’d be terrible in standard black box theatre, because audiences come in expecting Theatre. Gallery spaces short circuit those expectations.” It being located in the ACMI Games Room also gives Davis the opportunity to do some strange and daring things, without fear of falling off the stage. “I’m going to be blindfolded, in my bathers, on a ladder,” she says, smiling sweetly. It’s quite a physical performance, Davis has had to work on her strength in order to hold on to the ladder for so long. The show involves some audience interaction, a brave choice for a woman blindfolded on a ladder.
It is this idea of the bravery in vulnerability that is at the centre of Marco (Polo). Davis is fascinated by it. As a comedian, you are considered brave for revealing personal stories and truths within your jokes to strangers sitting in the dark. Because of the “sweet woman” assumption, Davis finds a lot of people also assume her to be vulnerable, yet it’s an industry where confidence and honesty go hand in hand. “It’s kind of this super power move, when you tell your secrets to a space you have control over.”
Marco (Polo) is on at the ACMI Games Room at 9:30pm (8:30pm Sundays) from March 24 until April 17 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.