During my training at WAAPA, I was very fortunate to take part in the workshop stage of new Australian musicals. I never realised exactly what goes into building a musical, until our class were introduced to Matthew Lee Robinson’s Draft 6 of Atlantis.
For 2 weeks, we submerged ourselves into the world of our characters to help bring the incredible book and score to life. Not only was this beneficial for Matthew; the knowledge of the creation process and insights we gained were invaluable for us as actors. We had the gift of playing roles which have continued to be shaped and developed by different actors.
This week, I had the pleasure of experiencing this process again in the workshop of Nick Higginbotham and Gareth Hudson’s Between Worlds. Despite being pasty and freckled, I got to live my coconut bra dreams and play a Hawaiian for the week (luckily, the team were very good at using their imagination and helpful with native pronunciations).
Between Worlds tells the story of Captain Cook’s final voyage to Hawaii, and the events leading up to his tragic death. With a cast of 13 covering many roles, direction by Jason Langley, and musical direction by Michael Tyack; Nick and Gareth were subjected to a week of torture as the team cut scenes, songs and characters. Well, not torture (although we did cut a song called ‘Torture’) as they were involved in the process and had the final say in what was working and what wasn’t. Nick also had the difficult task of explaining the cultural references and keeping the historic accuracy despite necessary theatrical cuts.
After a read through on the first day, the group dived into discussion. Character relationships and motives were examined as well as points that needed to be changed to improve the dramatic arc. We then learnt the first chunk of the score- which is absolutely stunning and a real treat to both sing and listen to. Due to intense heat and no air-conditioning (appropriate climate for the show, but not so much a rehearsal room), we moved to a new location for day 2, and followed the schedule of scenes in the morning and music in the afternoon (ain’t nobody want Hawaiian war chants in morning voices).
Day 3 was my absolute favourite. Hilary Cole (playing the Hawaiian ‘Princess Mahealani’) and Brett O’Neill (playing ‘Lieutenant King’ of Cook’s crew), enchanted us with their love duet before the room split to work on different scenes. I went with the men who were workshopping the end of the first act, under the impression they would have a few read throughs, circle the lines that didn’t serve the scene and move on. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve never been a part of such an intelligent, stimulating, attentive and creative discussion in my life. The scene was devoured with 100% commitment by the actors, which in turn led to exciting ideas being fed back into the script through improvisation and thoughtful character responses. Everyone was aware of their character’s journey, their relationship with every other character in the room, the purpose of their character in the scene and the purpose of the scene in the story. Every word consisted of a choice, and sometimes the difference of a single word would entirely change the intent of the scene. Remind me NEVER to paraphrase again.
After participating in a few different musical workshops, I’ve discovered how the essence of the person playing the role feeds directly into the character’s development. It’s rather beautiful how so many generous actors feed a piece of their soul into the livelihood of a single character, and the result is a piece of text that is free for unlimited interpretations and takes on
a new life with each person embodying it. Its weeks like these that remind me why I choose to pursue theatre.
After some last minute underscore add- ins and changes to songs, we did a run of the entire show. Despite some little hiccups and struggles with new material, I spent a large portion of the afternoon covered in goose bumps- and not from the air conditioner. Nick and Gareth have created something truly special and with the help of Jason, Michael and a passionate cast, brought an incredible, historical story to life. Keep a look out for it!