This April, one of AussieTheatre’s own lights takes centre-stage with a new, original work based on her experiences in a different kind of foyer, with Reception: The Musical. Brendan McCallum caught up with Bethany Simons to talk swivel chairs, stationery orders, and the enduring love of audiences for good, toe-tapping cabaret.
“It’s not poking fun, and it’s not bitter,” says Simons when asked what audiences can expect from her latest work, Reception: The Musical. It’s a fair question, given that the field of admin is often perceived as a drudgery of endlessly answering phones and front-desk busy-work.
For Simons, however, it’s a hidden world of quiet surprises and eyebrow-raising quirks.
“It’s a celebration of administration,” she says of the piece, developed with Melbourne piano maestro Peter de Jager and launching its world premiere season at Melbourne CBD’s The Butterfly Club from April 29. “Who doesn’t love singing about sticky-tape?”
Simons is well placed to subvert our typical notions of the front-desk. A theatre-maker of no small experience, having received excellent notices and a Green Room Award nomination for her previous work The Weather and Your Health, she has also served on the sleek front-lines of many a foyer desk.
Reception: The Musical, in fact, had its genesis at one such desk at her old workplace.
“What a day job! They let me wheel a piano into the foyer and sit on the front desk to sing for people!”
Effusive responses from colleagues and clients ensued, enough to suggest that perhaps it was time to consider making something more out of what had started as a bit of light escapism.
As such, in 2010 Simons partnered with leading Melbourne pianist Peter de Jager to begin working in earnest on the ideas and characters that Simons birthed and observed from her swivel chair. The two soon developed a formidable partnership.
“Peter and I have loved this creative process. We work quickly when we get together.”
The two met while Simons was working as a receptionist at the academy were de Jager studied classical piano.
“I grew up in country NSW and had never even heard an orchestra before working there,” Simons reveals. “When I discovered that Peter and I both loved show tunes, I made a joke that we should write a musical about reception. He loved it, so we got together and wrote the first song ‘My Name is Bethany’ during a lunch break.”
Cabaret was the perfect vehicle.
“What’s not to love? There is something very intimate and exciting about hearing somebody speak and then break into song right in front of you,” she observes.
“As a theatre maker I believe in storytelling, so when we started work on Reception, I wanted to keep that at the heart of the show.”
Directed by David Wicks, with choreography from Joseph Simons (Bethany’s brother), Reception: The Musical features a score of original compositions, and promises to bring to life some of the eclectic characters that the actor and producer has encountered through her time at the desk. “As an actor, I had a field day meeting the characters who wandered in to the foyer each day”.
Ultimately, with Reception: The Musical, Simons seeks to elevate and validate people working in what are often seen as ‘small’ roles. “When you meet an enthusiastic receptionist, a comedic tram driver or a friendly cleaner, you realise that it all comes down to attitude.”
And just as a cheerful attitude can make bring music to the mundane, the mundane can become something approaching the magical.
“I loved being a receptionist,” reflects Simons. “That’s what this show is about”.
Season: Tue 29 April – Sun 4 May
(Tue, Wed, Sun at 8pm, Thur, Fri, Sat at 9pm)
Bookings: The Butterfly Club
More info: bethanysimons.com