Robert McDougall: Rob Guest Endowment Finalist 2015

The Rob Guest Endowment annual gala concert will take place on Monday November 9, 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 $20,000 and a headshot package from Blueprint Studios.

Rob McDougall
Rob McDougall

AussieTheatre’s Cassie Tongue asked ten questions of each finalist, in the lead-up to the concert, to find out about their lives, careers, and how they’re preparing for the high-calibre event.

Today we feature our third finalist for 2015 – Robert McDougall – who is currently appearing in the Australian tour of Les Miserables, understudying the role of Javert.

1. When did you know you wanted to become a performer?

I decided I would like to try and become a performer after watching John Farnham and Anthony Warlow perform “Granada” on a DVD of the main event. My parents had given it to me after dragging me to a Farnham concert, and me subsequently loving it and wanting to see more. I decided that I definitely wanted to perform as a living after my first public performance, an arena school spectacular show in Tamworth called CAPERS, which I now help direct.

2. What made you apply for the Rob Guest Endowment?

My agent suggested it would be a good idea, and it had been on my radar for a while. I had considered auditioning for several years, but it had never felt like the right time. This year, with encouragement from Les and from my friends at work, I decided to give it a crack.

3. How are you preparing for the upcoming concert? Any new rituals or routines?

I’m trained as a classical singer, which has pro’s and con’s. I found learning the music itself pretty straightforward, but I have no training and only moderate experience as an actor. I leaned heavily on my peers to help me by showing me their processes and guiding me through them. This has probable been the most rewarding part of the whole process, the creation of a character, the subtle nuances of text analysis. It has been a massive, joint master class for me, I’ve really enjoyed it!

4. You’ve appeared in beloved shows like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. What has been your most surreal “megashow” experience?

Stepping on for Javert for the first time in a full, touring Australian production of Les Miserables. I was 25! I don’t actually remember the performance, I was that nervous. I remember the first two bars, then blank, then the curtain coming down, me bursting into tears, and the cast coming and hugging me. Very Special.

5. What has been your best/worst onstage mishap?

Once, during the bows when I was on for The Bishop [in Les Miserables], I suppose you could say that my bow was ‘a little enthusiastic’, and the headpiece attached to the bishops wig went flying into the orchestra pit. Giggles ensued.

6. What’s your dream role, regardless of age, gender, or anything else?

Believe it or not it actually has always been Javert. Another couple would be Phantom, and Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. But definitely Javert was always the top.

7. This is a tough industry. What keeps you going?

A weekly salary? Ha!
No seriously, I love the music. Some people I work with enjoy this for the character creation and banter you can have with people on stage, for the emotional connections you form with other actors and for the stories you get to tell. That’s all wonderful, and definitely part of what makes going on stage magical, but my passion has always been for the music itself. I love listening to shows even more than watching them, and I’m one of those horribly annoying people who unconsciously conducts pieces. The music is what it’s all about.

8. What was your memorable night in the theatre – as an audience member or as a performer?

I conducted an amateur production of Little Shop of Horrors for the Sydney University Musical Theatre Society whilst I was still at the Con, and my favourite memory of the theatre is my – now late – grandmother (who I had collected from her home and brought to the show, where she waited for an hour while we warmed up) coming up, giving me a big hug, and saying she was super proud of me, and that she loved the show! She was 86! It was Little Shop of Horrors! (not a show I would have thought was in her wheelhouse, know what I’m saying?) That stuff makes you feel great.

9. Do you have any pre-­performance rituals?

This is a bland answer, so I’m sorry, but I read generally. I read a book, I read the paper, but I’ve generally found that by the time I get to a performance, no amount of worrying or preparing in the minutes before going onstage is going to affect the outcome, so rather than worry about it and tense up, I tend to just read and take my mind of it.

10. Why does musical theatre matter?

We get letters every day at Les Mis telling us why it matters. Theatre affects people, it moves them and it changes them. Sometimes it’s our job to hold a mirror up to society, and that’s important, but I feel that most of the time it’s our job to provide expression for people’s wants, needs and emotions, both conscious and unconscious. People get moved by shows, often completely unexpectedly, all the time, and leave a performance feeling vastly different to how they entered. The number of girls who identify with Eponine, or with Elphaba in Wicked, is astounding, and for many of them, these characters give voice to internal conflicts, to pain and self-doubts, that would otherwise not find expression.

It also matters because it’s interactive and social, it’s a force for social cohesion, (as opposed to television, which I feel creates division by its very nature). A night out at the theatre is a social event, both in terms of other patrons, but also in terms of feeling like you’re part of the story, experiencing it, not just observing it. I worry that’s something we are in danger of losing to television.

Mostly I suppose it matters because people say it does. Record crowds kept Wicked running for almost 7 years, Les Miserables has just smashed box office records in pre-sales in Manila, and we have a string of musicals flooding Australian theatres over the next 2 years. People keep coming, there must be something in our shows that speaks to them, and makes the long trek from the couch into the city and to a theatre seat worthwhile.

Follow the Rob Guest Endowment official Instagram account to see each of the 6 finalists ‘takeover’ for a week leading up to the concert.

Check out our previous interviews with 2015 finalists Daniel Assetta and Ashleigh Rubenach

For more information, visit robguestendowment.com.au

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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