The Rob Guest Endowment annual gala concert is just weeks away and it’s going to be a night to remember in the Aussie Musical Theatre calendar. The big event is all set for Monday November 14, where six finalists — emerging stars of Australian musical theatre — will take the stage at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre to compete for a a prize package of over $50,000.
Previous winners of the top prize include Daniel Assetta, Joshua Robson, Samantha Leigh Dodemaide, Glenn Hill, Blake Bowden, Francine Cain and Danielle Matthews.
Now let’s get to know one of our future stars: Linden Furnell! He’s played Roger in Rent at the Hayes, Fiyero in Wicked for Packemin Productions, and is now in the cast of Kinky Boots.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the guy you keep telling to stop touching things or they’ll break. I can’t help myself, I’m curious! Other than that, I’m a passionate singer songwriter, great guitarist, decent bassist, okay drummer, disappointing pianist, and a roll-of-the-die cook. I love all things fitness, am an Umbilical Brothers mega-fan and a pun enthusiast. I’m currently writing my first album and have an original EP available under the name Linden Charles – Charles happens to be my middle name.
When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
My whole family are performers to some degree. We all play or sing so it was bound to happen. Doing it for a job however was another thing entirely. I always imagined a professional career but lacked the courage to have a good go till I was 21. That’s when I quit my office job, abandoned my rock trio Olivine and moved to Singapore to study Musical Theatre at Lasalle.
What does Rob Guest’s legacy mean to you?
I’m a bit of a late bloomer I suppose, so this grant would really help me fill in training gaps, work with wonderful and influential industry people and allow me to immerse myself fully in the scene. Having lived in Asia for most of my adult life, I’m a newbie to the Aussie scene and it would really help cement my place in Australian musical theatre. Bit of a teenage dream come true.
Rob had a prolific career that took him all over the world to inhabit some of musical theatre’s most famous characters. It would be a great honour to pursue a career path like his and do the RG foundation proud. I suppose his sudden passing is something of an important lesson to me as well. Life begins and ends very quickly on the grand scale. Rob lived his life doing what he did best and brought joy to audiences right until the end. That’s both badass and meaningful – There’s limited time, so do what you do for love.
Whose advice do you always take?
I suppose I don’t ‘always’ take anyone’s advice. I’m wary of opinions and their opiniony nature – but there are a couple people in my life that are further down the track than I and whose level-headedness I admire and envy. I’m a total right brainer: Forgetful, unfiltered, easily distracted, so I value the perspective of friends at the other polarity. Bookish, organised, respectful… geeks. Like my good mates Austin and Adrian.
What is your all-time favourite memory of being onstage?
Possibly way back when I played Judas in an amateur production of JCSS at 19 – the moment he cries out to God after betraying Jesus, right before his suicide. I still remember the visceral feeling of explosive release right at the apex of the number. There’s something about community theatre done right that can really affect both the audience and the performer; A freedom and joy from both sides of the curtain that you don’t always get in pro shows. I’m probably making the memory far better than it was, but that was when I (and a few others) said ‘hey maybe I really could do this seriously’.
This can be a tough industry. What keeps you going?
Honestly, sometimes I almost don’t keep going. When I’ve felt like giving up, some last minute thing somehow swoops me up again. The RGE opportunity is one of those things. Other times it’s a few kind words from a fellow actor, or the opportunity to just sing some song I love in a little bar. Little reminders of why I do it in the first place are important; The sense of community and the joy of losing yourself in music. It’s important to remind yourself of those feelings often, especially when your self worth is constantly at the mercy of your audience and your peers. I wish I could say I had an impenetrable skin, but that is definitely one of my shortcomings as a fulltime performer – the sensitivity typical of many performers is very counter intuitive.
What are you currently singing in the shower?
Aside from my RG pieces… Awaiting You by Adam Guettel is a shower favourite. Sometimes I sing both Henry and Natalie parts in the ‘Hey’ duets from Next to Normal. See I’m Smiling comes out after a few beers.
You’re in the cast of Kinky Boots. What’s the best thing about being in that show?
The joy that permeates the entire cast. They’re a great bunch of people whom I’d happily hang out with. Performing such uplifting material with them is a lovely gift.
Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals?
I like to physically warm up and be limber. Then I like a brief meditative moment where I take a minute to consciously exhale my personal life, my habit of watching myself, and any care about what the audience thinks. I try to essentially isolate and restrict my sense of awareness to the parameters of the stage. I have a busy brain and so calming it before I walk on is crucial.
Why does musical theatre matter?
It’s an artform that is both absurd and magical, yet connects to audience in a naturalistic way. You can witness the most everyday human moments, yet hear someone’s inner workings burst out of their heart in music. It’s very strange and disarming and hence has a sneaky power to powerfully affect people. Kinky Boots is one of those shows. I was a skeptic at first, as someone who loves Guettel and Sondheim… but the emotional truth and joy of the piece is a real suckerpunch. I hope it will turn a mirror on people and send them away thinking and loving harder.