Over the coming months, Drew Lane will be presenting a series of blogs which focus on new music theatre in Australia…
This year, I’ll be doing some interviews with up and coming musical theatre writers and composers for AussieTheatre. This is obviously something very close to my own heart (being a musical theatre composer myself!), and I thought it would be great for you guys out there to get to know some of our homegrown composing talent.
Essentially, there are 10 (plus one!) questions, and I’ve left it up to whomever is on the receiving end of the questions to take each on their own merits. What I do hope is that you’ll find these interesting, informative, but most of all enlightening. We have great talent here in Australia, and it’s time to bring it into the public awareness!
My first interview was with a songwriting team whose first musical is taking to the stage very shortly. Josh Mulcahy and Emily Mercurio have created a piece called One More Year, and its world premiere will take place on Monday the 16 April, 2012, in Melbourne.
My Quick Chat with Emily and Josh…
1. How did you stumble into being a musical theatre composer?
EM: I started writing in general in high school when I wrote a fantasy novel over a few years. I discovered I had a real passion for writing and so I kept working on my book and writing short stories, as well as developing other book ideas as I went along. I didn’t think much about writing musical theatre until later on. I had written little scenes and things for school drama but never anything huge. When Josh came to me with his music we just sort of plunged in and hoped we would learn on the way, which we certainly have.
JM: By complete accident! I wrote a simple song whilst at work one day and showed it to my now writing partner whom I began to collaborate with and spin ideas about how this song could be the central point of some sort of show. Suddenly the show was written and here I was, the composer of a full length, two act musical!
2. What was the first musical you ever wrote: staged or unstaged?
EM: One More Year is our first musical. I have never written anything else for theatre so this is a brand new experience for me, and a very exciting one at that.
JM: Emily (My writing partner) and I are currently still working on our first show titled One More Year. It is at the pressure end now as the show is set to perform to Melbourne audiences for the first time in a tiny small three weeks. The show itself tells the story of 5 school aged teens going through their final year of high school. We are taken on a journey and shown both their highs, and their lows throughout different points of the year. The text deals with ideas related to growing up, moving on, families, school and the inevitability of change in every day of our lives.
3. How would you describe your writing?
EM: My writing style varies depending on the themes of the piece. Writing a fantasy novel required a very different style of writing to a contemporary musical based on teenage characters. I try to keep the dialogue very natural, and true to how young people today talk in general conversation. We’re not as eloquent as theatre often portrays us to be, and so I really wanted to show that youthful inability to express everything exactly as we want to. It shows a vulnerability, and that’s what we were really aiming for.
JM: Simple. The music in the show is clean, and easy to listen to. There are lots of catchy chorus jingles (That often prove too catchy to forget!) and the show is sung with a very pop feel. If I end up writing more musical theatre pieces then I’m sure I would change my writing style to fit whatever show I am working on but for this one, the contemporary pop style suits just fine.
4. What’s the hardest part about getting a new musical on stage?
EM: The hardest part about getting a show on stage is the amount of little details that are easy to forget about. Ultimately, Josh and I have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. We never thought we’d be able to say “Let’s put this on” and actually get it done but thanks to the help we’ve had, it’s been possible. That being said, there are so many things to organise that we weren’t expecting. Putting a show on isn’t just getting the show on it’s feet, it’s all the schedules, meetings, contracts, and HUNDREDS of emails as well. But it’s all worth it in the end!
JM: It’s BIG. It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience and at times, a lot of focus. You can sit in rooms and discuss the ideas and tasks related to getting your show on stage but you never fully realise the scale and amount of work that you have to put into it. Also time is a huge factor that makes putting your show on the stage hard. You have to meet deadlines and time disappears so quickly you can not believe it’s even passed.
5. What would consider to be your greatest writing achievement so far?
EM: While I’m very proud of my novel and all I have done with that, I believe that One More Year is my greatest achievement. It feels surreal that we’ve gotten to this point with the show, and it’s far more then we ever could have hoped for. I just hope that we can continue to develop it and move it along because while it’s been a huge challenge, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
JM: As I am new to music theatre writing I will hopefully in four weeks time be able to say ‘One More Year’! We all have our fingers crossed that audiences will react positively and give us great feedback to further develop and refine our baby of a show.
6. How do you see the state of new musical theatre in Australia?
EM: As a huge fan of musical theatre and an aspiring performer myself, I try to keep a close eye on theatre so I can understand all that’s going on! And sadly you don’t see too much new (especially Australian) theatre up on the big stages. We have such an incredibly hub of artists here in Melbourne, and places like Theatre Works and Chapel off Chapel showcase their work all the time which is wonderful. And with programs like Carnegie 18 at the Arts Centre, there are more and more opportunities to get new original work out there. Unfortunately the big theatres are yet to give the new work much of a chance but Josh and I are not alone in developing a new work. There are young writers out there like us building up new works so hopefully in the future we’ll see more original stuff out there and doing well.
JM: It’s an interesting state we are in at the moment. I think there is a phenomenal amount of talent amongst the theatre community (Both amateur and pro) and this extends from the writers who create new shows and concepts to performers who perform them any amount of nights per week and even further to the insanely talented individuals we have who work behind the scenes in Australia. I think our biggest issue is getting new works and some of those undiscovered talents the chance to show what they can do. So many young people, or those young at heart trying something new are attempting to do something with their own idea/show/thought/dream but we are lacking the resources to help them really get noticed and out there… but it is definitely getting better in the last few years!
7. What can you tell us about your latest musical?
EM: One More Year is a story about five teenagers in their final year of high school. We wrote it with differing perspectives, myself just having finished year twelve, and Josh preparing himself to begin. We wanted to talk about the importance of this year in shaping the kind of people we become. Essentially, we all face the same issues in school. We have our fair share of social drama, of pressure, of adolescent woes and family issues. What makes us different is the way we cope with these things, and how that shapes us. Each of the five characters cope in very different ways and this is what makes them unique.
8. Who are your musical theatre heroes – composers and/or other?
EM: I have a fair few musical theatre heroes. Highest on the list (and feel free to roll your eyes if you want) is Stephen Sondheim. Not just for his music, but for his incredible intelligence in his lyrics. He manages to portray the character’s message, and his own effortlessly, so that every single word is telling you something more then just the obvious meaning. I aspire to that with my own lyric and dialogue writing.
JM: I don’t have any particular people as such. I look to learn from anyone who has anything to do with staging a new musical. Whether they be the Broadway producer, the director in the west end, the chorus member in Melbourne or the writer of a new show at a community theatre in Wagga Wagga.
9. What do you think makes musical theatre so unique as opposed to other performance arts?
EM: Musical Theatre, to me, is the ideal of storytelling. Every performance style is about telling a story, but the thing I find so compelling about musical theatre is it doesn’t ever want to stick with one way of expressing itself. Just singing isn’t enough, or just dancing – musical theatre has to do it all. And I love that because it’s constantly challenging and constantly moving to audiences. It’s unique in the sense that the gamut of musical theatre is huge, from classics like The Sound of Music to things that push outside of the box like Avenue Q, you never know quite what you’re going to get.
JM: It’s ability to always return to the age old tradition of story telling. Musical theatre night after night presents audiences with the opportunity to put aside their lives for a few hours and watch someone else’s story. Whether that be happy or sad it is still a story and life which is not their own. Even when shows set out to communicate an idea, or an issue all have at their core a story to be told and the chance for an audience to be right up close with it, 8 nights a week.
10. What advice would you give to up-and-coming musical theatre composers and writers?
EM: I’m new to this, so I won’t pretend to be an expert! But the bit of advice I can give is to trust your instincts. Josh and I worked purely on instinct, going off what we’d seen and heard and what felt right. Of course you’ll make mistakes and have to tidy things and rework things, but fi you go off instinct then you’ll be following your heart, and if you follow your heart then the show will have a heart and that’s the most important thing.
JM: YOU CAN DO IT! There is no harm in trying to do something new and there is no harm in writing something that likens itself to every musical you ever saw. It is still in many ways your own and if you go to the trouble of writing (and I know, at times it is trouble) you should have the opportunity for people to see what you can do… no matter how small or large scale! Workshops and development readings are terrific and don’t ever think otherwise but you don’t need to wait for a company or individual to see it and say they’ll produce you a season. You can go out there yourself and with a little planning, careful budgeting and your dedication, you can put your piece on and who knows who may see it then. The sky is the limit!
Congratulations to Josh and Emily, and we look forward to hearing more about the world premiere of One More Year in the coming weeks. Of course, dear reader, if you can make it to the Cromwell Road Theatre, South Yarra, please do. New Australian Music Theatre needs your support!
Until next time, Blog ya later!