By Catherine French


I brave myself to ring a stranger. Not too much stranger than myself admittedly, only that bravery is bestowed upon folks who create every moment of their life to express themselves artistically. It is admirable. It is honed. A home-coming.


I am curious about this non-stranger stranger. All it takes is a hello, and any animosity abates. We know, when talking about The Village, there is an indescribable magic. Joana Simmons, aka Banana Jolie warms my ears with generosity and insight.


Frenchy: Banana Jolie, welcome to The Village Festival Edinburgh Gardens 2017.


Banana Jolie: Absolute pleasure, thank you.


F: Reading about your work, I was struck by your experience of heartbreak in making art. I was curious to know more about what this means to you – how is life, art?


BJ: Life as art, hmm. Obviously its expression, the license and freedom to make your own take on things. I started making my own work because I wasn’t getting much work from anyone else, or a lot of the work I was getting was because of my ideas and creative charisma, instead of following another person’s vision. I wanted this creativity thing to be real, and so had to… make work. I find it’s a way of looking through the world with coloured lenses. At the moment, I’m inspired to tweak and bring back some of the old pieces of mine, rather than generate totally new work. Taking a step back and thinking…hmm, this was good but didn’t work the first time (and so normally I never do it again) but putting a different concept or context to try make it land… you know? By evolving the stories and putting things out there, I have a way to reflect the reality and resonance of my experience. This is what I’m bringing to The Village this year.


F: It is interesting because, you trained as a musical theatre person. I find this inherently golden era dreaming. What do you find is the power of cabaret and performance?


BJ: [Pause] It is such a vast genre, so this means there is not a great pressure to be one thing or one way. The audience is generally open. I mean, there are really no rules. It is a chance to play. Because cabaret is so much a take on real life, and interactive with the audience, it gives opportunity to respond to their contribution. We get to break down the barriers. Thinking of it as powerful is a new twist. Thank you.


F: My pleasure! I like to think there is power in each chosen form of expression. It makes me also consider why you choose The Village as a place to play with your ideas?


BJ: My first Village was at Edinburgh Gardens about four years ago, a balmy Sunday evening in November. I was awash with sunshine, and then stepped into The Village and its crazy quirky world. I loved the way the performers were in the crowd. I’m from New Zealand, and never experienced that before. Since that experience, The Village has been really great for me to use making new work. The accessibility means people are more likely to come. Being entry by donation was an epic feedback loop into the way people valued us in their neighbourhood. Because The Village just goes for a few days, people purge in creativity. They mostly have no idea what they are in for but I guess at Festivals people let go of everything, and perhaps this means they are more open and receptive to risky performance.


F: So true, for me it’s a check-in on the creative process and a captive audience is super responsive. At The Village we talk about our intention as spurring curiosity, community and creativity… what do these words mean to you?


BJ: Woah, all of the words come to me.


Curiosity… for me this relates to kindness, a safety. What are the possibilities? What can we do here? And the ways we explore our emotions, our feelings, and how to present them as “things.”


Community – I think this is what really got me about The Village – what struck my heart when I first started. I came from dance musical theatre world. Its competitive, and harsh. In comparison, everyone supports each other at The Village. There is room to move and grow, and expand my skills. The audience community sit on the ground most of the time, there is proximity, and intimacy. It’s a bit like Narnia, and at Edinburgh Gardens, it’s dog and family friendly. It’s ‘gone are the days of us and them’ – we bare all.


Creativity evokes bravery, play, joyfulness. You have to let go and not be precious, which is really hard. Because some of my best work has meant embracing failure, and by going back to the drawing board and ultimately creating something better. There’s a uniqueness to creativity, everyone does something different. You could think that creativity is lacking in society, based on the way we problem solve – our patience is shortening. It’s more ‘I can’t do it, give me the answer’, instead of finding ways of making it and the joy being in that. Everything is being handed to us, and that means creativity is harder to come by. It is not emerging from chaos. We are so complex as human beings, sometimes we people don’t want to be creative because we can’t see the worth of investing our time and effort. Wanting to be a rockstar straight away… you know?


F: I really do understand that. I have been known to stare down my phone for answers to life’s complexities… I could just as easily have made a show in that time!

BJ: [Laughter]


F: So tell me more about your cabaret performance?

BJ: Well, I am Banana Jolie. And the stories I share are based on my life, or things in and around it. Going through the physical motions, potions, and puns of wildly broken hearts, lost voices, exercising and strange choices. I am close to my audience, and with that uncover original songs, high-powered dance, and jokes. Why cry, when you can laugh with your entire body. It is comedy and cabaret – an accessible platter of artforms.


F: Yes! Cabaret is amazing – Oh I’m looking forward to it.

BJ: It’s on Friday 27 October, 6pm.


F: Thank you for talking with me.

BJ: Of course, thanks for calling!


Check out The Village Festival website for more program details


The Village Festival

Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy

27 – 29 October




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