Rotary and IGA Supermarkets are keeping the arts alive!
When the major sponsors and supporters of a national young performers’ competition are Rotary and an independent supermarket, you have to wonder at the state of performing arts in this country. It’s the question I most often ask. What IS the current state of theatre in this country? Apparently, if you go back and read my recent briztix.com interviews with Australian working musical theatre performers, IT’S ALL GOOD. Phew. That’s a relief. Personally, I have no qualms about where the money comes from, not really, however; where was any level of government on this one? Perhaps they weren’t asked to contribute but with the previous sponsor (an offshore philanthropist) devastated by the natural disasters in his own country, unable to continue with his financial support this year, only Rotary and IGA stepped in to ensure the event continued. I’m glad they did because this event gives young performers (16 – 19 years of age) a platform to present their best impression of themselves…before anybody else tells them who they should be.
Without the grooming along the way by prominent industry personalities, this competition is like a kinder, smaller, live version of The X-Factor. And like The X-Factor, the trick is to find those finalists with that elusive special something that will set them apart. What IS it that sets a performer apart? What makes them a winner in the subjective world of The Arts? What makes “good” art? “Good” theatre? What does good theatre look like anyway? Does anybody know anymore? If you’ve got a blog you’re a critic (hell, if you’ve got a Facebook or a Twitter profile you’re a critic)! BUT “Does anybody know what we are looking for?” Maybe not until we see it and then, once we’ve seen it, experienced it, we want to see it, experience it again. Does it really matter anyway? The show must go on! Most of our high profile performing arts awards are the same popularity contests we see on our screens, decided on by votes from friends and fans of those involved, who login, click to vote and go about their day. One particular Storm the Stage award intrigued me greatly: the Briggs and Gibbs Award for Audience Appeal…decided on by the judges. Because just like the TV audiences who listen to the propaganda created by the publicity departments and executives of the commercial television stations (and recording companies) in this country, we need somebody to tell us what will appeal to us, what’s good… I’m not saying I disagree with the judges’ decision – Queenslander, Mitchell Page was, without appearing on any promotional material, the obvious pin-up boy of this year’s competition…or perhaps, of next year’s competition. Just saying.
Some of the Storm the Stage talent was impressive. Musical Theatre performer, Madeline Crofts, certainly had the voice but lost the story as she focused on switching between the different vocal styles in the challenging number, The Girl in 14G (from the musical of the same name) and Romy Vuksan showed us she is a wonderful dancer in Show Off from The Drowsy Chaperone (that number is up there with Ulla’s in The Producers, in terms of the “deceptively easy to sell” stakes)! Lachlan Graeme and Matty Johnstondemonstrated their comic capabilities in I Really, Really Love You (Sorta Love Songs) and The Ballad of Farquaad (Shrek – The Musical) respectively. Taylah Jarrett – the judges’ choice in the Musical Theatre category – sang beautifully but in neglecting to don a blonde wig, looked nothing like her character, Audrey or Donna Reed, of whom she sings, making Somewhere That’s Greena strange choice for this one-off performance in the finals of a national musical theatre competition. What does good theatre look like? Sound like? Song choice. Attention to detail. Let us into the world of your character and imagine their world is yours.
But art is not a science! Take a bit of the technique and precision out of it. As vocal coach and musical director, Todd Schroeder teaches, “First, serve the lyric.” Tell the story. Special guest performer from NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art) in New Zealand, Ashleigh Stove, delivered a superb monologue from Skintight, demonstrating her natural ability to feel the rhythm of the language, the discipline of her training and the confidence she possesses at this point in her career, to let it all go and simply be Elizabeth, who shares her story with us. This was, in my opinion, the best performance of the evening but as a special guest performer, of course Ashleigh was ineligible for an award. I’m sure we’ll see her on the professional stage or on our screens sometime soon.
There is immense value in a competition that awards competitors with honest, constructive feedback, giving them the opportunity to hone their craft a little, which allow them to rehearse and perform in a commercial venue with a professional technical team, in front of a supportive audience. As our Emcee,Drew Jarvis and National Producer, James Gauci, pointed out, young performers in Storm the Stage are undoubtedly gaining confidence and building a valuable network of like-minded creative people. So, like the eisteddfods and in preparation for the awards systems already in place in our Performing Arts Industry, I maintain that this competition is invaluable. It must continue. I will say though, that alternate drama & musical theatre – mostly comedy – is certainly an interesting mix and doesn’t make the most entertaining evening for an audience. If this competition is to grow – and, as I’ve stated, despite my misgivings about the subjective parameters of performing arts awards – it should be allowed to grow, perhaps the drama and musical theatre components can be kept apart.
In the meantime, young (and old) performers still need to see more theatre! That’s key. I hope most of it’s good but some of it might be bad. And that’s okay. If you’re not seeing and experiencing any of it, how can you expect to work out what “good” is? So see more theatre. Seek new teachers. Take a master class. Engage a vocal coach. Engage an acting coach. Appreciate your training and then be prepared to let it go. Prepare. Compete if that’s your thing (and even if it’s not, remember every audition is a competition) and know that winning doesn’t mean you’ll make it. A lot of hard work, great mentors, good networks, self-belief and a little bit of luck means you might make it.
Congratulations to all the finalists and CHOOKAS!
Paul Sabey, John Peek and Simone de Haas
Best Performance – Drama Category: Camilla Best (Tasmania) – Rose – The Seed by Kate Mulvany
Runner-up: May Grehan (QLD) – Rae – Rae’s Story by Don Zolidis
Best Performance – Musical Theatre Category: Tayla Jarrett (NSW) – Audrey – Somewhere That’s Green, Little Shop of Horrors, Music by Alan Menken, Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Runner Up: Lachlan Graham (Vic) – I Really, Really Love You – (Sorta) Love Songs, Music by Paul Loesel, Book and Lyrics by Scott Burkell
Briggs and Gibbs Award: Mitchell Page (QLD) (Drama) – The Writer – Oh! You’re a Writer, They Say! (compilation of excerpts), by Neil Simon, William Shakespeare and Anonymous
This review published originally on briztix.com