The View Upstairs: First rehearsal week – Why This Play? Why Now?
So I’m doing a show! Its loud, its fun and it’s as gay as Christmas… at Aunty Jeff’s… who’s dressed as Mrs Claus… and Ru Paul is popping over for an egg nog at 8.
The View UpStairs is loosely based on the arson attack of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973… which doesn’t sound incredibly gay and fun, but trust me, with Max Vernon’s score filled with 70s pop inspired songs, a drag queen, a pair of lovers, a priest and a sprinkling of time travel there’s not much that you won’t be smiling at.
The show is brand new, with it’s Off Broadway debut coming just last year, and nominations for Lucille Lortel, Off-Broadway Alliance and Drama Desk awards following in quick succession. So when I found out that I was going to be a part of this show, I was, to put it in its most flamboyant phraseology: “pretty darn excited.”
The first day of any production is a stressful event, and as an 11 year veteran of this industry it’s odd for me to walk into a rehearsal room of complete strangers. Yet there I was, shaking hand after hand saying “hi, I’m David” and smiling sweetly as the returned introduction trickled out my other ear, dribbled down my neck and created a damp pool of names on my right shoulder.
Choreographer Cameron Mitchell is the only familiar face, but I know a few of the team by reputation; the director Shaun Rennie and I have been playing ships in the night for over fifteen years (I even went to WAAPA at the same time as his brother), Stephen Madsen, who plays Patrick, I saw strut his stuff recently in Muriel’s Wedding (he arrives straight from his shirtless performance at the STC to a more modest tight shirted performance at the Hayes), and I once stood in a line of men at an audition whilst Ryan Gonzalez, who will play drag queen Freddy, instructed us on choreography.
As introductions turned to conversation, the calibre of the actors and creatives that surrounded me became blindingly apparent. And although I felt a certain sense of artistic emasculation, the nerves that accompany the first day faded away when I realised just how good hands I am in.
Unlike most shows that I’ve been part of, the first task was not a read through. Instead we crowded around the traditional plastic trestle tables, hastily erected in the centre of the room by stage management, and pondered the two most important questions to any production; “why this play?” and “why now?” The conversation quickly turned to the loss of community in gay life. With the “normalisation” of gay culture and equality for LGBT+ people (at least in law) already mostly achieved, todays young gay men (it is mostly the plight of gay men that The View UpStairs depicts) no longer feel that they require the sanctuary offered by traditional gay meeting spots, and in turn lack the relationships and support that they provided.
Our conversation is frank, thorough and has a foregone conclusion. With the marriage equality debate still ringing so sharply in our ears, there is no better time to remind people of the leaps and bounds that we have come over the past 40 years, but also how some of the issues raised in this piece are still, worryingly, effecting people all over the world to this day.
But after that little bit of seriousness, the real fun began as we crowded around the musical director Nick Griffin to learn ‘dem tunes’ what I mentioned earlier. This part of the process, although always frustrating, is some of the most fulfilling time, as over the next three days the themes and harmonies of the piece came together in a wall of goosebumpingly fantastic amazingness. (I should give particular props to Henry Brett, who plays our protagonist, whose voice alone should be reason enough for you to buy a ticket.)
And so with many notes, harmonies, tunes, ditties, themes and lyrics crammed into our heads and with most of those things slowly dribbling out our mouths, we finished up our first few days in the rehearsal room. But there’s more, so much more to come.
The View UpStairs plays at the Hayes Theatre from February 11. Tickets available at www.hayestheatre.com.au