Rather than give in to the delicious temptation of outlining everything fantastic that occurred this year, I thought I’d focus on the firsts. The first time you do anything is scary, for the obvious reason that you haven’t been down the path before and have no way of knowing if you’ll make it safely to the other end. But it’s exciting too as, succeed or not, it can’t be undone – you’ll always be able to say “I did that thing.” 2013 had quite a few firsts, professionally.
- Gaybies – First Play I’ve Created. I’ve actually never had a desire to write a play, but I did have a desire to do something for Midsumma 2013, their 25th anniversary. The festival is very connected to my life, being the birth of Prodigal and my writing career. I really wanted to do something for their quarter-century but had nothing ready to go. But then I thought “verbatim theatre will be easy, I won’t even had to write it myself, just cut-and-paste!” I thought of coming at gay marriage via the offspring of gay people, getting to the root of “what about the children?” Adam Gardnir at Midsumma loved the idea and pushed me into doing it, when I was quite ready to say “I’m just too busy.” Every good idea I’ve ever had I’ve wanted to pull out of two days later, so it’s good to tell someone bossy who’ll make you do it. Other tactics involve booking a space with a non-refundable deposit, or putting yourself in a brochure. Anyway, Gaybies was on and I set about interviewing as many subjects as I knew of, friends suggested, or came up via twitter/Facebook. The interviews were wonderful and the subjects all so open, funny and lovely. Transcribing the material was exhausting (thank God for touch-typing in Year 10) but as the cast was starting to assemble and featured a ton of my favourite performers as well as the wonderful Sumner Theatre as our venue, it made the work worth working at. I banged together a draft via a number of shaping methods, started adding my brother’s songs for respite and bought Daniel Clarke on as director. We rehearsed the fab cast in across two cities and then I jetted off to direct Priscilla in London while the team put the show on. I’ve never been away from a show of mine in it’s first incarnation, and that was a first that I would gladly do without again, but the first text came through at 10:30am during a rehearsal of “True Colours” saying “You just got a standing ovation at your first show!” I never got to see Gaybies live, and though it was nearly programmed three times in 2014 (talk about stress!) it was filmed beautifully so I kind of know what it was like being in the room hearing those stories. For a first play, it was as beautiful an experience as a writer could hope for.
- Liza (on an E) – First Show in the West End. Trevor Ashley has chutzpah, and with this, talent and a dedicated manager got our tiny little pub show that was planned to do two weeks into a 800-seat theatre in London’s famed West End. This entire week is outlined in another blog, but it was showbiz heaven. The audience ate Trevor up, Trevor ate London up, and I ate Pret up.
- Straight – First Play Directed. I have been dying to direct a play for years, really just to see if I could do it and this year Red Stitch gave me the opportunity. I loved the play on one read – it was funny, surprising and made me quite nervous – essentially two best friends meet up 7 years after Uni and one drunken night decide to make a porn movie together, though they’re both straight. The final half hour is them psyching up for the (never shown) act. This was my first time working with Red Stitch who were utterly delightful and supportive. Three of the ensemble were in the show, Ben, Rosie and Chrissy with Ryan as a guest artist. As I suspected, directing a play is no different to a musical, in terms of how you approach the scenes – basically, as ever, you’re just going, how would someone act in real life, what do I find truthful, how should this story beat flow or most simple of all – what is going on here? The challenges of a play are that the scenes are long and you really have to shape the rhythm of flow of it over rehearsal time so that the actors have such a concrete understanding of the shape of the scene that they can go for it when they’re on the floor. I loved the cast’s inventiveness and actually just loved the cast altogether, as well as our fab SM Jen and LD Claire. This was also my first real collaboration with Owen Phillips (though he did Gaybies) who triumphed at creating a believable bedsit that could transform into a luxe hotel in 90 seconds IN FRONT OF THE AUDIENCE. That scene change, done to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines often got applause and all it took was three days of rehearsal and a lot of stress. Since then we’ve done two more collaborations with plenty more on the way. The play was loved and hated; some people found it confronting, some unbelievable, some a really long-winded coming out story. I found it hilarious and a very modern take on true sexuality. And a great chance to use Salt ‘N Pepa facetiously.
- The Pirates of Penzance – First Operetta Directed/First Show in Hamer Hall. I didn’t expect to love this experience and show so much. It’s a perennial, but doesn’t really jump off the page. I read the script in 25 minutes on a tram ride from the CBD to Richmond. And though the Public Theatre version is famed, it looks super-creaky now on DVD. But, like all live theatre, it really work onstage. Cast a bunch of the funniest and silliest (and often hottest) singers you can find, bring on an equally inventive design team and then have them sung by Matty and danced by Andy and all you need is one small parrot puppet to create a riot onstage. I loved every second of creating this show (except perhaps the seconds that designer Dale Ferguson and I were fluttering blue confetti onto the Hamer Hall stage) and am so thrilled that Ken and Rachel gave us the opportunity to put our mark on one of their favourite and dearest shows (they made Marina a star with their famed production in the 80s and one of the thrills was seeing her gasp with joy on opening night). We were very lucky to get performers like Gareth and Claire, who can sing better than anyone, are funny as fuck, can dance AND are pretty eye-catching. Add clowns like Adam, Gen, Brent and Wayne, and an ensemble to die for led by Troy, Steph and Josie and you have the ingredients for theatre magic right there. You don’t get the chance to do music that is both sublime and funny and working on that show in the divine space that is Hamer Hall is a life highlight.
- In Vogue: Songs by Madonna – First Show at Edinburgh. I didn’t get to see Michael triumph at Edinburgh with his 5 star reviews but I did get to see him last week in London. He was picked up by a producer after his Edinburgh season to perform a Xmas season at the new St James cabaret room in the Victoria area. I hadn’t seen this show of ours for a few years and was actually gobsmacked at how good Michael is – if you’ve never seen the show, he accompanies himself on a baby grand for the whole 70 minutes (doing his own sumptuous arrangements) without sheet music, sings like an angel while delivering a bitchy, funny, sad and wry script. His only respite is the 5 hilarious minutes he spends sharing Madge’s new book of happy snaps (the infamous Sex book). Like Trevor, this first is really about the performer, but it’s a joy to see a show you’ve created together taking on a life of it’s own.
As I get ready to host someone else’s New Year’s Eve party tonight (that’s a first too!) I’m already looking forward to a few firsts in 2014 (First Show at the Hayes Theatre, First Musical in London, First Original Musical by Someone Else, First Production in Korea – South, First Puppet Show in Cantonese, First Nativity Play Performed by Amateur Football Players, the list goes on…) but it’s nice to see that the paths that looked scary or just a bit boring to walk down all ended up being delightful. Happy New Year’s and thanks for reading, Mum.