I recently had the opportunity to talk with Director, Writer, and Producer Tim O’Connor about his new show Misfits School of Arts. Tim has had an incredible career directing shows such as Guys and Dolls, Into the Woods, Spamalot, and The Pirates of Penzance, as well as mounting arena productions of Cats, Hairspray, Grease, and The Wizard of Oz which toured Australia playing to over 100,000 people. Now, Tim has written his own show, Misfits School of Arts, which is being produced by Harvest Rain, the world’s largest youth arts organisation, and performed by the students of the Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre. Continue reading below to find out what Tim had to say about this new endeavour.
The Show opened on the 25th of November, how has it been going so far?
TIM: It’s been absolutely fantastic! We have been able to have packed houses here in Queensland which has been lovely. It’s also been nice to be back in the theatre and to be able to do a brand new musical.
Are you able to give us a small overview of what the show is about?
TIM: Misfits School of Arts is set in a little school in a small town run by a fabulous woman called Miss Fitzgerald, who all the kids call Miss Fitz for short. The show is full of the antics of a ragtag bunch of wannabe performers who go to the school, and all the hilarity and silliness that ensues as they go after their Broadway dreams. For anyone who has ever been interested in theatre, you’ll know this story and these characters quite well.
Yourself and Dennett Hudson wrote the show together, was it a story that came to you during lockdown or did you have the idea in your head for a while?
TIM: The idea was something we had been pondering for a very long time, I think I first thought of it nearly ten years ago. Because we are a youth organisation at Harvest Rain, we work with young people all the time and I have always thought how there are some brilliant stories and characters here, but I have never had the time to pursue it. We were always so busy doing arena tours that when lockdown came Dennett and I thought well, we might as well have a crack at it! The musical really filled our time, we spent day and night working on it, so much so that it didn’t really feel like lockdown. We had so much time we could dedicate to the show, which in part is really thanks to JobKeeper. In a way, JobKeeper was supporting our creativity during that time.
I read that the show was inspired by some of your own experiences in the theatre, are there any characters in particular who were based on people you know in your own life?
TIM: There are certainly some characters in the show that are people I have met over time, and some of them are me when I was a teenager. It has been quite funny actually, there have been some people who after the show have messaged me asking “Is that character me?” and the answer is always no, it’s not you. However, it has made me realise that the stories and characters in the show are quite common, especially amongst creative people. I think what is really lovely about the show is that everyone can come and see a little bit of themselves in some of the characters, which makes for a really nice connective experience.
On the topic of creative people, in a video of your first table read when talking to the cast you said, “We wanted to write a story about the uniqueness of creative people coming together”. In your opinion what is so unique about working with other creative people?
TIM: Just by looking at this year you can see that the creative world is full of some of the most forward-thinking people who are incredibly embracing of individuality and diversity. On top of that when you bring creative-minded people together, real magic can happen. I don’t think we would have been able to show that same uniqueness if we tried to write a show about Misfits School of Accounting. In addition to that, I think there is something quite unique about allowing this show to be an explanation of creative people to other people who are not creative. In my own life, my dad is a cop and my mum is a scientist and they would always look at me with that look of “What do we do with this kid”? In a way, Misfits is something that creative kids can show to their parents as a way to help them understand who they are a little better. In fact, I just read an email this morning from a father who took his son to see the show and he thanked us for helping him to understand his son, which was beautiful. At the end that is what we really wanted to do, we wanted to create something that could help explain what life is like for creative people who choose to pursue what is often considered a non-conventional path.
You have pursued a very creative career yourself as a director, what has it been like directing your own show compared to directing shows written by other people?
TIM: When you are directing other people’s work you have to spend time trying to work out what the writer was intending or putting your own interpretation onto their writing. Because it was my own work I found it was easier to change it and work on it as I was directing. While I was writing it I found I was half-directing it in my head and while I was directing it I was half-writing it as well. Because I have been very lucky to have a lot of directing experience I was able to look at the work objectively and not be precious about my writing. In fact I was completely ruthless. But all in all it was a really nice complete experience for me.
What has the experience been like for the cast and crew working on Misfits?
TIM: What has been really unique about this experience has been the fact that it is a completely new show. It was really fun and sometimes terrifying because none of us had all the answers, there wasn’t anything to refer to. Every time we would work on a scene there was always the possibility that it wouldn’t work. Whereas when you are directing a show like Oklahoma that’s been tried and tested, you know it will work. So you are always questioning everything. The cast as well had a lot of big decisions to make about their characters because there wasn’t any road map for them. It was a really freeing and satisfying experience that not many people get the opportunity to have.
Harvest Rain is recording a live stream performance of the show on the 13th of December, how did the idea to do that come about?
We planned the live stream back when the Queensland borders were closed so that our students’ parents and friends who lived intestate could still see the show. Even though the borders have opened up now we figured we would continue with the live stream. Mainly because it is a new Australian musical, which isn’t something that happens every day, and we wanted as many people to be a part of it as possible. Misfits is a really uplifting show and we wanted it to be our gift to everyone at the end of this harrowing year, so that no matter where you live, you can be a part of the joy.
Is live streaming shows something you can see continuing in the industry even after the pandemic is over?
I really hope so. The way audiences receive entertainment is changing and I think even with live streams people will still always want to see live performances. I know for me seeing Hamilton on Disney+ only made me want to go and see the show live even more. I think being able to see a show on a streaming service is a great way to add to the whole theatre experience, as well as a way to help musical theatre become something more than just a niche for the elite who can afford to buy tickets. We have been watching the football on television for years, why not musical theatre? I really hope it becomes something that everybody has access to.
Do you have any final messages for those reading this interview?
At the end of this crazy year I think everybody could use a little bit of happiness, and that is exactly what Misfits offers. If you are looking for some joy right now then this is your musical.
I would like to thank Tim O’Connor for taking the time out to talk to us.
BUY TICKETS TO MISFITS SCHOOL OF ARTS HERE.