Queensland born Matthew Robinson is a Pratt Prize winning composer/lyricist with both a prestigious Churchill Fellowship and an Australia Council Music Fellowship to his name. Editor Erin James spoke with Robinson about the upcoming world premiere concert of his new musical Atlantis in Melbourne on February 23, how he writes musicals and more…
“I like to over commit a little”, Robinson laughs down the phone, sounding completely in control.
Boasting an enviable list of credits both an actor and a composer/lyricist, Robinson seems to excel at everything he tries his hand at. This talented WAAPA graduate has appeared in more musicals, television series and concerts than many working professionals could dream of. His five-time Helpmann Award nominated musical Metro Street helped him become the youngest ever winner of the Pratt Prize for musical theatre writing. His extremely popular The Singing Actor Workshops have assisted aspiring performers across the country. And most recently, he has been mentored by Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked, Pippin and Godspell fame) in the development of his latest musical Atlantis.
Described by Robinson as falling musically somewhere between Les Miserables and Disney, Atlantis is written as a full scale musical for between 25 and 30 people. Charting the days leading to the destruction of the ancient mythological kingdom, Atlantis now has firm interest from Broadway producers and investors, and the two back-to-back concerts on Sunday 23 February might be Australia’s only chance to see the work before it is produced in the USA.
I catch him between rehearsal sessions to have a quick chat about his extraordinary life. Extraordinary indeed! Turns out he is not only rehearsing with 12 of Australia’s brightest music theatre stars to bring his epic musical about the days leading to the destruction of the ancient mythological kingdom Atlantis to life, he is also juggling the development of two new musicals thanks to an Australian Council Music Fellowship, and he couldn’t be happier.
“Because of the wonderful fellowship that I received in December from the Australia Council – which is $50,000 a year for two years to generate new work, I therefore am writing two new musicals in the next 6 months. But I am also doing reading and developments of those new shows plus my other musicals Happy People and Atlantis. So, four new musicals I will be doing developments of over two years”, he explains, barely taking a breath.
And that’s only half of what is in store over then next 24 months for Robinson, he tells me. It’s enough to make you giddy (and reassess all your recent exclamations of “I’ve got too much to do”).
“I am in the process of creating the first of those two shows now. The idea is to have a first draft of that show by the the end of March and the first draft of the second show finished by June”, he said.
While this sounds like an epic commitment, Robinson assures me he is happy with the timeline, and that having deadlines in place certainly help.
“Really, what I tend to do is think and mull over the concepts and the story board for a number of weeks, but the actual pen to paper part of the process tends to happen in about 6-8 weeks. I will sit down and do a full story board, a full story arc and character arcs. Then when I put pen to paper, I can start at the beginning and just roll… Act one, Scene one, Act one, Scene two…”, he explained.
“I tend to find that knowing I have a 5 week deadline to write a whole first draft is a help. Although, sometimes I get to week three and I go “Matty, you’re only up to Act 1 scene 10, just come on you can do this!’. I love a deadline. I would sleep in and eat nachos without one!”
Robinson explains that after drafting a musical, he will hold a workshop or reading to create a second draft. A third draft will then be written for as he prepares for another workshop and from there, a fourth draft will emerge.
After seven drafts and five readings, Atlantis has now been seen by some of the most influential people in the NYC Musical Theatre scene, and it has been met with nods of approval from the big-wigs.
“At the last reading in New York I started to invite people who I didn’t know, or who are assistants to producers who help the decision makers make the decisions. And out of that last reading there is now interest, with Atlantis anyway, from people who can actually get things done.”
Of course, Robinson is also keenly aware that there is always give and take in any situation like this. Some shows will take many years from birth to Broadway and some will be fast tracked to success in a matter of months. He also knows that a good work ethic and putting in the hard yards has placed him and his musical in a good position for the future.
“It’s a case of working hard and getting a good number of drafts done within a year or two period. I feel like a three year period is pretty good for introducing the piece to the right people”, he said.
So before Robinson heads back to the Big Apple, be sure you book your tickets to see his latest work at Chapel Off Chapel on Sunday 23 February at 8:30pm to see Lucy Durack (Wicked, Legally Blonde), Gareth Keegan (Jersey Boys, Moonshadow), Kellie Rode (The Rocky Horror Show, The Boyfriend), Anne Wood (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mamma Mia!), Bert LaBonte (The Mountaintop, An Officer and a Gentleman – The Musical), Melissa Langton (We Will Rock You, The Fabulous Singlettes), Lisa-Marie Parker (Cats), Sophie Carter (King Kong), Cameron MacDonald (Godspell), Joel Parnis (The Producers), Ben Nicholson (Playground) and Emily Langridge (who will play Cosette in the forthcoming Australian production of Les Miserables) bring this epic musical to life.
(The first concert at 6pm sold out so fast, a second was announced for 8:30pm. Tickets are selling fast!)
Robinson is keenly anticipating this event, and with rehearsals now underway with director Chris Parker, he knows his cast will bring the musical to life with ease. He is enjoying exploring the timbres and textures within this diverse range of performers.
“Because Atlantis has been written for a global audience, really the characters were coming out of the story and the script, as opposed to writing for very particular people. When I was putting together the cast for this one, I was absolutely considering vocal textures – how those 12 voices would come together to create a sound that really sits with one foot in Disney and one foot in Les Mis.”
“One of my favourite instruments in the world is the human voice”, Robinson explained, “and getting to know particular human voices and exploring the texture that lies inside of that person is just wonderful.”
ATLANTIS – IN CONCERT
Date: Sunday 23rd February 2014 at 6.00pm and 8:30pm
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Bookings: Phone (03) 8290 7000 or online at www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
Tickets: $49 / $39 (Concession)