Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Happy Birthday, Mr.President!
Happy Birthday, Mr. President! is a journey through the lives of the men (ugh, yes, all men) who have held the highest US office. Join Ellie and her band The Secret Service as she chronicles the weird, human sides of Commanders-in-Chief. Featuring a variety of music from Whitney Houston to Radiohead, old-school rap to classic country.
Hi Ellie, thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current, how does it feel to be heading to Edinburgh Fringe and Underbelly this year?
Thank you for asking me! I am so excited to be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe and working with Underbelly, just like two of my all time favourite shows, Fleabag and SIX. Actually that just made me realise that my show is kind of like a mashup of Fleabag and SIX, it’s a one woman show about my weird quasi-sexual obsession with powerful men in history. But I’m dressed like Marilyn Monroe. So not exactly like the two shows, but you get my drift.
With this being your Fringe debut will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?
Oh you mean have I been sleeping the past few months? No, I am too excited and nervous. I always get anxious before my shows and the Fringe will be the biggest platform I’ve ever worked on, so my anxiety is through the roof. Because I care so much! And because I’m a New Yorker and we are kind of always anxious. I legit think I’ve dropped weight because of my fretting. I’m also hilariously getting married 3 weeks after the Fringe ends so I am REALLY HAVING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER.
What does it mean to you to be able to bring Happy Birthday, Mr President! to the festival?
The Fringe is where so many of my favourite performers and acts got their start, and I can’t believe that I get to be included in that group. On top of that I get to finally do my show for a full run instead of random nights every 6 months or so. It makes a huge difference in really getting to know your piece. Plus, I’ve never done my show for a non-American audience. I can’t wait to hear the international perspective on the US Presidents (I don’t think it will be positive! We’re the worst! I’m so sorry!).
What has been the best comment you’ve gotten from one of your shows?
Famed Presidential historian Robert Caro, who actually interviewed JFK, said that I was spot-on with my Marilyn impression and thought I was wonderful. Now, he said he doesn’t give public reviews so please don’t tell him I said that.
If you could use one word that best describes your show what would it be and why?
Histori-sexy. Cause my show is about history but it’s also..sexy. Dorky would be the other option but I’m choosing to believe that my show is sexy first and not dorky. Maybe the word is sexi-dork? Sexi-dork-historical. Yeah that’s it.
Any show/performer you’re looking forward to seeing at the Fringe?
My Mischief Theatre family has 3 shows at the Fringe this year and I can’t wait to see them all. Also, my family and I got really into Taskmaster over the pandemic and it seems like a ton of former Taskmaster competitors have shows at the Fringe this year. I hope I can keep it cool around Nish Kumar and Sophie Duker.
"Since then the show has morphed into something that’s less about making myself feel better and more about living in the tension of American history."
Where did your fascination with American Presidents come from and do you have a favourite?
I was always obsessed with history, my parents were in the military so for family vacations we went to historical battlefields and museums. And when I was little I had this dinner placement that had all the US Presidents on it and I memorised them all pretty early on. (I had friends! But yes I also skipped recess to hang out in the library) The Presidents are the easiest way to track American history, I mean you can denote historical eras by the reigns of kings etc but we can do it from Presidents. They’re like the leading player in the drama of America. At least that’s what I was taught to believe.
It has hard to pick an absolute favourite, I love many for many different reasons. I mean, have you ever seen young Rutherford B. Hayes? He’s a dreamboat. And I lately have been thinking about how incredible John Quincy Adams was, he started in the public service when he was 13, traveled the world and was one of the foremost abolitionists in the country. But if I had to pick just one it would of course be Abe Lincoln. His humour, his ability to hold paradox, his struggle with depression makes him so human to me. I wish I could have met him.
Can you tell me how Happy Birthday, Mr President! came about, what was the inspiration behind this new show?
I thought a President had to be someone special, someone who we as a country could hold up as an ideal. And then 2016 happened and well…that theory got destroyed. I started doing this show on June 14th, 2018 (I’ll let you look up whose presidential birthday that was) to kind of make myself feel better. Since then the show has morphed into something that’s less about making myself feel better and more about living in the tension of American history. But it’s also fun. Because if we can’t laugh right now we’d probably never stop crying.
Have you always had a passion for cabaret?
I had a passion for musical theatre, in fact it was the only music I listened to until I turned 14 and then I moved from Texas to New Jersey where people listened to things other than country and Christian. My world exploded and I got obsessed with all genres of music. I became one of those annoying music teens who always had to know the coolest new artists. Cabaret is a form that lets me marry my musical theatre core with my appreciation for popular music. And it’s kind of like stand-up but less vulnerable because if I ever feel self conscious I can fall back on a song.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone wanting to get into cabaret?
Make your show about something other than “your journey.” I think people were interested in my show right away because it was about something very specific. It can absolutely end up being about and should be about something particular and personal to you, but having a great hook will get you booked.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Happy Birthday, Mr President!?
How incredible my band is, these guys rock, I can’t wait for you to hear them
How complicated history is, and how we can retell history in our own image
How stellar my Winston Churchill impression is, now THAT is really going to wow the crowd.