Behind the Curtain

The theatre can be a magical place. Whether observing a group of retired thespians reading Shakespeare in the local church hall, witnessing a sultry cabaret show or enjoying a glitzy production on the Great White Way, show business has something to offer everyone. What the audience doesn’t see, however, is all the work that happens behind the scenes.

For many of us, working in the theatre is a labour of love. Every production is part of a unique art form that exists only for the time it plays, similar to Nicholas Cook’s view of classical music – an ‘imaginary museum’ of individual works that exist in print but only come to life in performance when infused with an artist’s own interpretation (Cook 1998, p. 30).

Each show requires countless hours of hard work by a dedicated team of talented individuals, who don’t always get the recognition they deserve. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make a production what it is and at the end of the rehearsal period, it is always a pleasure to see the fruits of the hard work you have shared with your colleagues.

Being raised as a dancer and then trained as a musician, I’ve been involved in many aspects of theatre. Ballet has always been my favourite physical activity, because there is something about it – artistically and physically – that makes it transcend from purely a form of entertainment to a higher-level emotional and philosophical statement.

When performing on stage though, I prefer being in lavish, glamorous numbers with kick lines or traditional routines with complex tap sequences. My introduction to performing these sorts of numbers was through my mentor Colleen Fitzgerald, principal of Johnny Young Talent School on the Gold Coast, where I refined my show business aspirations and reaffirmed my goal of going to Broadway. Since then, I have stage managed, choreographed, composed and performed in shows around Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Tweed with the hope of wrapping up all these exploits into a package and posting it to the Broadway stage.

Two highlights of the last few years have fuelled my inspiration to follow this dream: one was performing the national anthem with a group of young singers at the Gold Coast Titans’ launch at Suncorp Stadium, the other, performing some of my own choreography from Blue Fish Theatrical’s The Producers for a charity concert in front of an 800-strong audience.

Artists often speak about finding inspiration wherever they can, and so I asked Colleen Fitzgerald where she looks for her inspiration. “Just myself. Totally – it’s totally from myself,” she says. Personally, I go about choreographing in a somewhat different manner by letting the music suggest combinations, while also drawing on steps I’ve danced or seen performed, transmogrifying these into variations suitable to the current number. I believe that choreographing in context is very important.

Taking note of a song’s style is also essential – a rock and roll number needs rock and roll steps; and Latin steps don’t normally suit an up-tempo jazz standard. Choreographing to the lyrics is usually the best idea, as this is easier for everyone to understand. ‘List songs’ that make use of old-hat comparisons and clichés tend to be the easiest; whereas slower songs with generic lyrics can prove a challenge. Coming from a classical music background, I rather enjoy choreographing instrumental songs and dance breaks because they afford you freedom to concentrate on how the steps relate to the music rather than serving the dramatic intentions of the librettist.

In order to source lyrics and audio for requested songs on demand, I find the internet an invaluable tool. Throughout all of society, technology is inescapable and the theatre is no different. In the past, theatres have actually been at the forefront of mechanical design. Most non-operatic shows use an array of audio equipment for amplification, and every indoor production must be lit. When I’ve mulled over these for some time and finally get to the stage of choreographing, I almost always use Audacity, the open-source audio editing software. It allows for edits to be made where necessary and distinctive sections of music can easily be isolated, labeled and re-played over and over to kick-start the creative process – a process that only truly begins away from the computer when lying in bed or driving long distances.

For Johnny Young Talent School, technology has had an impact on their marketing. I recently designed and uploaded a new website to help bring the studio into the twenty first century and promote the school’s new Cudgen studio. “Possibly, now that we’ve got the website up, it’s probably good.” says Colleen. “People can go on there and see my qualifications and the qualifications of the teachers that are there.” The site also explains the school’s aim to remain non-competitive by focusing on performances rather than Eisteddfods.

Attending dance school can be a big commitment. In fact, dedication is integral to the entire theatrical machine. A significant part of this dedication is persistence – if you don’t get something at first, keep trying. There is a common maxim in the theatre, “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”

All my life I’ve been completely dedicated to the arts – and for a large part, dance – so as I continue to serve as resident choreographer for the Tweed Links Music Club and look forward to directing Beenleigh Theatre Group’s 2013 production of Fame, the magical music box will keep playing and the ballerinas will keep turning. Irving Berlin’s famous Annie Get Your Gun song sums it all up nicely, “There’s no business like show business.”

By Christopher King

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