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‘I was never leaving New York’

Meet cabaret artist Natalie Gamsu, who has turned her journey from South Africa to New York to Melbourne into a one-woman comedy show.
Fay Burstin
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Natalie Gamsu will perform a one-woman show at Kadimah Yiddish Theatre.

Published: 30 May 2024

Last updated: 30 May 2024

From performing in underground clubs in apartheid South Africa to the bright lights of New York to Melbourne Yiddish theatre is an unconventional journey but it gives plenty of material for storytelling.

Natalie Gamsu uses her personal experiences as fodder for her performances. She will bring her stories of tsures (Yiddish for trouble) to an evening of storytelling at Kadimah in Melbourne on June 15-16. The show is in English with songs in Yiddish, Spanish and English.

Here's a peak into how the sausage is made.

You have a very impressive resume that includes cabaret, musical theatre and television. What inspired you to undertake one-woman shows?

Necessity! Haha! I was told by my agent at the age of 22 that I would stop getting cast in my late 30s early 40s. Other than a few wonderful roles in South Africa, she was right. Casting directors didn’t know where to ‘put me’, and truthfully, I didn’t know where to put myself.

So, it was either wait for 15 years, or create something for myself! Thankfully I chose the latter. Besides the enormous pleasure, challenge and fun it takes to create your own work, it has given me, a career, a way to keep working, and an incredible platform to keep learning, and to shape and hone my skills.

 Is it harder being a solo performer? What are the pros and cons?

In some ways it is harder being a solo performer, although it’s never really a solo show. There’s mostly a director, a musician, a dramaturg/writer, someone on lights and sound. I’ve been so lucky to feel supported and encouraged by many a team.

But financially it’s very stressful because it has mostly (not always), fallen on me to finance the show. I’ve never quite understood the grant and funding system, so it’s mostly been possible through the generosity and kindness of writers, directors and musicians that I’ve been able to do my work. Plus, I’ve paid my team out of earnings from music theatre. Used it all up and then started again. I love the freedom and flexibility of a solo show. I also love feeling the breadth of the stage on my own – holding the audience (or not). It’s really exciting and challenging.

I so enjoy working with the Kadimah; those involved put all their energies into creating beautiful Yiddish programming with the all-important Melburnian flair, contributing to the continuously unfurling goldene keyt – the golden chain of global Yiddish culture.

 What brought you to Australia in 2003, after a successful career in New York?

I met a beautiful young man in 2001. He was on his way to Brazil and stopped over in NY. I was on my way to the dentist and stopped to have coffee on 86th & Amsterdam. I asked “is this chair taken….?” And that was pretty much it. He told me that he was going to live in Australia in 2002. I was never leaving New York, or so I thought! Long story short – here I am 21 years later! Leaving New York was agony, and for a long time I missed it terribly. But being with Julian is a beautiful thing which I am grateful for every day.

What is your favourite thing about Australia?

Melbourne! I have made deep deep friends here and I cannot imagine my life without them.

What is your relationship with Yiddish language and culture?

My great grandmother Dinah spoke Yiddish. She died when I was quite young. I only remember her beautiful grey hair plaited and woven around the top of her head and the sweets she kept for us in her cupboard. My father is a student of Yiddish and sings in Yiddish. I discovered Klezmer in New York and I have a great love for the language and music.

The show, Shrapnel, is a personal reflection. What made you decide to write and perform this particular show?

 I love telling my stories. I love listening to others tell their stories. I am fascinated by the universality of a good story, and the power of laughing together at the things that were so huge and painful at the time. Once you’ve wept your tears and let go of the drama, stories become universal, and we can all laugh together. Someone told me “comedy creates community”, I like that. And, I was lucky enough to befriend Ash Flanders and Stephen Nicolazzo – great story tellers and lovers of laughter and they encouraged me and generously shared their time and expertise with me.

Natalie Gamsu performs Shrapnel, co written with Ash Flanders and produced by Kadimah Yiddish Theatre, on June 15 and 16. Tickets here.

About the author

Fay Burstin

Fay Burstin is a festival programmer, theatre and concert producer, journalist and ex-lawyer. She is the producer for Melbourne's Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre, curator of several stages for Splendour in the Grass festival, and spent many years as a News Ltd reporter.


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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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