Your friends have HIV/AIDS. Your loved ones are dying. Nobody understands how to directly combat this rampaging disease, but you do: it’s time to dance.
From its early beginnings, Hats Off! has grown to become a gargantuan celebration of community spirit. A culmination of the nation’s best and most exciting performers, Hats Off! is one of THE musical theatre events of the year. And it’s all to benefit HIV/AIDS research.
With all the fun and frivolity and sometimes, if we are very lucky, feathers, AussieTheatre’s Chris Fung caught up with some of the cast and creatives involved in this year’s run to find out what it’s all about and how it all comes together.
How did Hats Off get started?
Jonathan Mill (Executive Producer): In 1997, a group of musical theatre performers and stage managers who were being directly affected by the impact of AIDS came together to form Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. During those dark days many members of the entertainment industry community were being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and most of them were dying.
You’ve been very personally involved in the organisation of this event for many years. What do you hope to achieve each year?
Jonathan: Our goals are to raise money, raise awareness and raise the roof! Whilst it’s important to make money from a charity concert, and we do raise a lot of money, it is also important for the theatrical community to come together and celebrate who we are and what we can do. The concert is amazing but the long day putting the show together is exhausting. People who may not have seen each other in weeks, months, years reconnect. New stars are discovered as young talents are exposed or an ensemble member gets to showcase themselves. Legends are venerated and the warmth and love of an amazing group of people known as “show folk” fills the air.
And how does that group of people come together? This has become an incredibly well-regarded event in the Musical Theatre community – how do you decide who to invite, and how the show will go?
Ed Grey (Director): It probably works differently for different teams but for us, we find a theme that resonates with us and then we just riff off that idea – who might want to do something, and [it will be about] whose artistic voice reminds us of the theme. Then we have a discussion with the artists about what they may wish to perform. There’s a bit of back and forth and we decide on something that will match the show as a whole as well as the artist themselves.
Concerts like this are a huge commitment in terms of organising so many disparate, and highly in demand performers – can you give some insight into the community response? Has it been difficult to approach people? When did organisation for this event begin? Has there been some unsung hero in the background working hard? What has that workload been like?
Ed: I love this question. Hats Off is truly a group effort. Everyone, including the creative team, is donating their time and skill. Most artists are super keen to be involved if their time allows. We started meeting about it last November. It’s one of those things where it’s a lot of fun but as soon as you feel like you’re all over it, you realise there’s a thousand things yet to do…
Bali Padda (Producer): The process of organising an event like this is a massive one. We have such an excellent team that are pulling together all the departments, from performers, musicians, stage management, technicians to lighting. If this event could be pulled off with just one person, then it wouldn’t be the same.
Jonathan: A small but dedicated team start working on the next concert as soon as the last number of each show ends. After bumping out, the core team get together to debrief and make suggestions for next year’s show. At least six months out, I, as the president of OSC/EFA and executive producer of Hats Off! approach someone to be the producer. Once that is locked in, a director is approached. The team is then built. Key positions such as production manager, musical director and designer are filled. Later down the track more volunteer positions are allocated, stage managers, lighting designer, sound operator, publicists, artist liaisons, caterers, stage door attendants, raffle ticket sellers, runners, until the volunteer production team reaches over 30. Add the 20 musicians and usually close to a hundred cast, an audience of 800 and you have Hats Off!
This year’s event is hosted by Tom Sharah and Gillian Cosgriff and, amongst many others, will feature the talents of such performers as Queenie Van De Zandt, Katie Elle Reeve, Casey Donovan, and Andy Dexterity.
Hats Off is on February 22, 2016 at the Seymour Centre, Sydney.
For more details and for ticket purchases book at seymourcentre.com or call 02 9351 7940.