Yesterday, 107 Australians were announced as the 2011 Churchill Fellows. Among the winners was Music Theatre performer, composer and lyricist Matthew Robinson, who took the time to speak with AussieTheatre.com about his incredible triumph.
Hailing originally from Rockhampton, Queensland, Robinson is a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and has an impressive array of performance credits to his name. Boasting lead roles in successive 3 Opera Australia shows (My Fair Lady, A Little Night Music and The Pirates of Penzance), starring as Pippin in Kookaburra’s Pippin, and appearing in countless other musicals and television series (including Spielberg’s The Pacific), Robinson is certainly a seasoned member of the theatre community.
This year, Robinson has been awarded the The Gilbert Spottiswood Churchill Fellowship, a sponsored (and prestigious) grant which will allow him to travel overseas, study his art and bring the knowledge back to the Australian theatre community.
“My application, the 15 word project title was: to ‘Study book writing, composition and lyric writing for musical theatre, under the mentorship of Stephen Schwartz”, Robinson told AussieTheatre.com yesterday.
The aim of the Churchill Fellowship program is to provide opportunities for Australians to travel overseas and conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in Australia.
“It’s basically an international study grant. Most of the grants are worth $18–24 thousand, and the idea behind the scheme is that you can go away [overseas] and find information in your field of study, then come back to Australia and share it with your community”, he said.
Robinson’s first book musical Metro Street won him critical acclaim (and five Helpmann Nominations) after being produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia. His second show, the revue Sing On Through Tomorrow will be presented in Sydney from August 4, 2011. But it is Robinson’s 3rd work Happy People (commissioned by the State Theatre Company of South Australia) which will take the focus of the Fellowship and the attention of composer Stephen Schwartz – the man behind musicals Wicked, Godspell, and Pippin.
As part of his grant, Robinson will travel to the home and heart of musical theatre – Broadway, New York City — for 6 weeks and work under the tutelage of Schwartz.
“I have worked with him before on some of the material from happy people, using some of the techniques he has been taught about how to conceive a musical. Now we are looking at re-working a musical… re drafting”, he said.
The stars have aligned for Robinson, who explains that the “new work scout” inside 321 Theatrical Management, (which is the general management company of Wicked and was Next to Normal’s general management company on Broadway) will assist him in hosting a reading of Happy People, in New York, performed by American actors, with Stephen Schwartz in attendance. This, in addition to the Fellowship itself, is a dream com true.
“Stephen has agreed to go away with me for a few weeks while I re-work Happy People, with his mentorship on how to best re-write a whole musical’, he said.
There is absolutely no doubt that Robinson is the generous and giving kind. He intends to bring his knowledge back tp the Australian Theatre Community and up-and-coming Australian composers.
“I will meet people in New York, which means that others in my community will get to meet people, because well all pass on contacts and support”, he enthuses.
Already this year, Robinson has helped pass on musical theatre writing concepts which he has learned over the years through programs like New Musicals Australia (where Stephen Schwartz first mentored his compositional development).
Robinson believes that, as well as developing and honing his own skills in composition, the flow on effects of this Fellowship for the Australian Theatre Community will be hugely beneficial.
“It was a five month interview and application process with 2 or 3 shortlists,” he said, “but as I said in my last interview: I have needed throughout my life, people to look at and say ‘Oh, my god! They did it, and they are from a small town in rural Australia.
“Part of the part of the psychological reason for wanting to get over there and do great things is that I want young people to turn around and say ‘Well, Matthew did it, why can’t I?”
Who knows – Matthew Robinson may very well be the next Jason Robert Brown. His songs are cleverly written with humour, wit, pathos and a whole lot of heart. Ladies and gentlemen, this young Australian artist is certainly one to watch!
Congratulations Matthew Robinson. What a talented Fellow you are!
Don’t miss the chance to see his newest musical revue Sing On Through Tomorrow in Sydney at Side Track Theatre from August 4 — 14. Matthew stars alongside Shaun Rennie, Hollie Andrew and Kate Marie Hoolihan, in an evening of his own work.