Belgian choreographer Alain Platel asked a number of older drag queens and trans cabaret artists to perform onstage one last time in his piece Gardenia, which became a global success.
The film intercuts shots from Gardenia with interviews in which these performers talk about the choices they made, going against the grain of conventions in order to become themselves. The contrast between their outrageous performances and their vulnerability offers unsettling but multifaceted insight into these remarkable individuals.
Gardenia – Before the Last Curtain Falls
In 2010, it seemed that the six main characters of our film, Vanessa, Richard, Rudy, Gerrit, Andrea and Danilo had their best days behind them. Their battles with life are written into their faces and it seemed their performing days were over. But then something like a miracle happened to them: in collaboration with Alain Platel, one of Europe’s greatest contemporary modern choreographers, they were putting together a great dance, theatre, cabaret and music show called “Gardenia”. In the process of creating the theatre piece they talked, they improvised. They brought little mementos – objects and photographs – to help share long buried stories. The show “Gardenia” has been created from their lives, it is no work of fiction. Yet no one could have ever imagined that what first started out as a timid, local affair would become an award winning, huge international success. The performers toured for more than two years in five continents and over 60 cities. Now the show is coming to a close and the artists are coming home.
“Gardenia” has woven their lives together into a very special extended family that has given them meaning and ripped them out of their sedate and sometimes very lonely lives. But now, after two years, as the show comes to an end, they arrive at home and return to the lives they left behind. Today, with the experience of being loved by the world and uplifted by the hope that comes with being appreciated, even if it comes late in life, Andrea, Gerrit, Richard, Rudy, Danilo and Vanessa are now ready to express their raw, heart warming and at times hilarious life stories for the first time.
Andrea de Laet for example, is over 60 today, she had a sex-change operation only 15 years ago and never stood on a stage although she dreamt of the cabaret all her life. The ardent Tina Turner fan and impersonator had been a city counsellor, with a cross dressing habit longing to escape the drudgery of her job. “Gardenia” for her was like a dream come true. Life seemed to hold so much more in store than just growing old, bored and fat with her dog Buddy in her small hometown Niel. From her early childhood on she had the sense that she was in the wrong body and as soon as she could speak she asked her parents “can the doctor fix me?”. But it took her more than 40 years to finally take that step and become a woman. After her surgery she finally feels like herself, she has gained more confidence than she had ever possessed as a man. After “Gardenia” has come to an end she is venturing another highlight of her life: she is running as a candidate for the city counsel in her hometown for the communist party.
When rehearsals for „Gardenia“ began, Richard “Tootsie” Dierick hadn’t been near a stage for a long time. He is a gentle gay man of sixty, who has been working as a nurse for 25 years in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, taking care of dying children. When he was younger he sought escape from his sad but meaningful work by performing in amateur drag shows. He started doing outrageously comical drag performances. When he was approached by a friend about “Gardenia”, he put his work at the hospital on hold and fulfilled a lifelong dream he had almost given up on: The dream of being an actor, a model, and being adored on stage. “Gardenia” did this for him.
The documentary “Before the Last Curtain Falls” tells the story of great love, bitter disappointments and self-doubts– but most of all of courage. The courage to take risks, try something new and become yourself, no matter what age.The film dives deeply into the exceptional and heart-warmingstories of a group of transsexuals and drag queens in their sixties and seventies, who summon up their bravery to take the stage once again – perhaps for the last time. Belgium’s pre-imminent choreographer Alain Platel and “wizard”stage director Frank Van Laecke collaborate to turn the castmember’s lives into movement. What was supposed to be a limited run in some selected theatres unexpectedly became a huge international success, playing over 200 shows in 25 countries. For two years the protagonists have been touring five continents, performing a spectacular dance, theatre and music show called “Gardenia”.
Now the show is coming to a close and the artists are coming home to a time of introspection, a re-evaluation of choices made, of lives lived and possible futures. The cast has been through it all.
They’ve gone from rock bottom, to clawing themselves to the top only to fall again. They have worked as performers and prostitutes, been shunned and embraced, undergone sex changes and experienced every shade of love, loss,humiliation and joy imaginable in their long and complicated lives.
The film peels away their many layers of protection, illusion and self-delusion to create a raw but ultimately warm human portrait of a group of people in the last chapter of their lives, who seemingly effortlessly navigate the twilight zone between genders. For the cast, who thought that their best days lay behind them, “Gardenia” has become the highlight of their lives.
Both tender and lascivious, the stories unfold with all of the glamour, courage, tragedy and turbulence of lives lived as gender and sexual rebels. Director Thomas Wallner creates a profoundly human portrait of our persistent longing for love.