On the Couch with Murray Raine

AAR Murray Raine with Ms Vera DivineWho is Murray Raine?
Foremost, I’m husband to my partner of 38 years, Neil. Then comes my passion for theatre. I started entertaining people with my puppetry when I was 8 years old and haven’t stopped. When my Dolly Parton puppet with the balloon tits accidentally exploded during one of my childhood performances and the audience went from being patronisingly amused at the kid with the puppets to fall-off-your-seat hilarity, I knew then that it was time to lift puppetry from the safety of family entertainment to ribald and edgy. I haven’t yet found the limit to what an audience will accept (but I think my newest show, They Came From Uranus, is getting close to it).

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I recently performed at the Launceston Arts Festival and the producers arranged for guest speakers from the arts industry to address all the festival performers at a free luncheon. The first speaker gave some advice to the audience which I wish I had before embarking on my new show: “Not everyone is going to like your show. Keep faithful to your art and find your audience.” I wish I had not wasted so much emotional energy being upset when some elderly audience members in a conservative and religious town started to walk out during the show. I’ve found my audience on the younger end of the spectrum and either queer or with queer sensitivity. I now ignore the “walk-outs” and bask in the “standing ovations”.

Who inspires you and why?
I’m inspired by anyone who is prepared to take risks with their art. It might sound pedestrian now, but when I was a boy I wrote to Norman Hetherington, the master puppeteer who created and performed Mr Squiggle for many decades on the ABC. He was the first to bring marionette puppetry to Australian television audiences. He took the risk and it paid off. Norman and his family became dear life-long friends. Norman has died now but his grandson, Thomas, is following in his footsteps and already he has created edgy puppetry. Such a young person taking the risk continues to delight and inspire me.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Sadly, social media has caused many young people to doubt themselves. They compare themselves to the impossibly high standards created by algorithms and editing programs. The arts is an area that can counter these negative effects. When Neil and I wrote They Came From Uranus, we wanted to lampoon the negative impact of social media and while entertaining the audience give them the courage to park social media in a part of their brain where they maintain control of it and not be defined by it.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
For me, holidays are about taking a step back from the pressures and timelines of performing and reassessing where I’m going both personally and professionally. I can’t do this if I’m being pushed through airports and navigating foreign countries. So, my favourite holiday destination is here in Melbourne. It’s where I become my most creative. And Melbourne is a fabulous place to live. I never get bored of it.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Melbourne’s smaller performance spaces are unique. The Butterfly Club is a favourite but my newest bestie is The Motley Bauhaus in Carlton. The proprietor, Jason, has created a unique venue for artists which has two performance spaces and a quaint and intimate bar. He provides opportunities for new and emerging artists to test their work as well as bringing in well-established acts. Our visitors to Melbourne go away from the Motley feeling like they have experienced the essence of Melbourne.

What are you currently reading?
I’m an avid reader and go through periods of exhausting the library of a particular genre before moving on to the next. I’m currently reading the autobiography of Arthur Laurents’ Mainly on Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story and Other Musicals – a truly fascinating and strikingly candid insight into his extraordinary work as playwright, screenwriter and director on some of Broadways greatest musicals.

What are you currently listening to?
Isaac Lummis, my costume designer, and I are currently working on a new “Kylie” humanette/puppet which will make her guest appearance in Uranus at The MC Showroom for Midsumma this month. So I’ve been listening to her music, working out how the puppet will move and perform and how we can respectfully portray her. I promise, you will never have seen her quite like this!

Happiness is?
Happiness is seeing my audience laugh and hearing them say… how did he do that?

What does the future hold for you?
Not only is Uranus gaining momentum in its own right, but it has also opened up new opportunities for working with some of Australia’s most famous and ingenious drag/cabaret performers. James Welsby from Yummy Productions directed Uranus,  and he has found a place for some of my single acts to be lifted out and placed in his other shows. This is proving to work beautifully and lots of fun for me and our audiences.

Murray presents They Came From Uranus at The MC Showroom from 24 – 27 January, as part of the 2024 Midsumma Festival. For more information, visit: www.midsumma.org.au for details.

Image: Murray Raine with Ms Vera Divine (supplied)