After suffering a massive hit from the Global Financial Crisis, fictional mega church DreamSong decides to stage the return of Christ, marketing him as a Christian pop star. Writer/Performer Hugo Chiarella talks to Bethany Simons about how the journey of writing a new musical is anything but taking the straight and narrow.
The rehearsal room is always a sacred space, but perhaps even more so when working on new material. Add to this the fact that the new material is all about faith, and it’s a miracle I was granted access to observe rehearsals for the satirical new musical, DreamSong.
Having been developed through the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) as well as Arts Centre Melbourne’s Music Theatre Workshop Carnegie 18, the latest incarnation of DreamSong will be directed by Dean Bryant.
Apart from the creative team, I was the only one in the seating bank that day. I sat quietly as script updates and notes were given and blocking was finalised. At morning tea, I briefly introduced myself to the cast members, noting that for the most part, they all worked through their break. When it was time to start again, it was announced that they would now attempt a stagger-through of the first act.
“Just push through regardless of mistakes” said Dean. And so it began.
I laughed my way right through to the lunch break, during which I sat down with Hugo Chiarella to find out more about DreamSong – his dream-come-true.
“I had the idea eight years ago and I really wanted to write it myself – music, book, lyrics, everything. I had written a handful of stuff but kind of lost heart because the music I was writing was a bit generic. So, I left it on the backburner. I didn’t want to do a crap job of it!”
A short while later, Chiarella met Robert Tripolino while studying music theatre at VCA. Chiarella says, “We started writing together because he has been writing some songs but was unhappy with the lyrics. I thought it would be great to write a show, so I dug up the DreamSong stuff and said to Rob, ‘Ignore any music I’ve written, and start again!’ We basically started from scratch. It’s gone through so many drafts that very few of the songs exist from the original versions.”
Chiarella says he and Tripolino are thrilled to be working with Bryant on the Comedy Festival production. “We had the same director for the VCA and Arts Centre developments. Rob and I kept tweaking it after that and then we sent the script to Dean who thought it needed a lot of work. A few months later, we sent him another draft and he really liked the changes. He wanted to direct it and we jumped at the chance.”
During those early workshops at VCA, Chiarella was never in the show. “It’s kind of important that I wasn’t in it. It was purely the value of being able to sit outside and say, ‘that’s not working’. But it looked like a lot of fun!”
On the day I attended rehearsal, they happened to be an actor down, so I got to see Chiarella on stage singing his heart out with the rest of the cast. “I stepped in just so they could stage it with someone. It’s made me think, ‘Damn it – I should’ve cast myself!’”, he laughs.
Though he loves performing, Chiarella admits to having a passion for the creative process of writing. “As a performer, you are making certain creative choices, but most of the time you are trying to fulfil the vision of someone else. Often it’s more of a technical task. So, with writing I feel a bit more creatively satisfied.”
Chiarella insists that the show is not about biting back. “I wasn’t raised religiously, I just find it fascinating that it informs so much contemporary debate. These ‘stories’ play into real issues in such a significant way. Obviously it is a satire of a particular brand of religion. I think there would be some people who would be offended, but our aim isn’t to offend those with religious beliefs.”
DreamSong is universal. It looks at our desire to believe in something, the central dramatic question being: does the value of faith outweigh the dangers? After hearing snippets of the show online, I was pleased to discover that the cast were no longer using American accents in rehearsal. Why the change? Chiarella says, “It’s been a big battle in my head. Originally my thinking was that this style of religion was not as big here. The way that religion plays into politics in America is more apparent, but as this is a new Australian work, it’s actually really important to set it here.”
If the second week of rehearsal is anything to go by, DreamSong is set to raise the roof. Glory, you’d better buy your tickets now. The saviour is here. And he’s hot enough to make anyone come twice.
9 – 20 Apr, 2014
Theatre Works (14 Acland St, St Kilda)
Bookings and info: www.theatreworks.org.au