Written by Jack McPhail.
A performance nerd’s musings on musical theatre . . .
‘I love play rehearsal,
Cause’ you are equipped with direction and text,
Life is easy in rehearsal,
you follow a script so you know what comes next.’
– Christine Canigula, ‘I Love Play Rehearsal’, Be More Chill
All of a sudden the lights on stage dim, and a voice—the fairy godmother for our production—welcomes the audience to the theatre and introduces our show. Then the magic moment happens: there’s a roar of applause, the orchestra strikes their opening notes, the heavy red curtain rises, and the lights flood the stage, revealing our frozen scene. And there we are, in all our vulnerability and nerves, our excitement and our joy. Let us entertain you.
Performance has always been a great love of mine (my family insist I was born singing), but looking back there was one moment my passion for music theatre truly took root. ‘That was totally … wicked!’ was my somewhat cheesy response to my mum’s question upon leaving the doors of the Regent theatre, after watching—gleefully—a performance of the Australian premiere of the musical Wicked in 2008. I was eight years old, it was my first time seeing a theatre show, and I was floored. Never before could my young mind comprehend that people could dance that well, act so real, and sing so spectacularly outside of television and film—right before my eyes.
From that point forward, I tried to take every opportunity I could to sing and perform until, finally some six years later I participated in my first stage show: my school’s 2013 production of The Wizard of Oz, and that was it. I was head over heels. I was going to perform, whether the world liked it or not, and there was nothing that could ever change that. I found my home in the theatre.
Fast forward another six years, and I’m waiting on stage for the curtains to rise on what would be my eighth theatre show, a lush production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The stage is slowly filled with a steady stream of cast members. We’d been rehearsing Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays since November for our March show, and we were ready. We’re all throwing hugs, nervous handshakes, and silent high fives. I’m approached by a girl in an elaborate gown for her aristocratic character, who pulls me in for a tight hug as she mutters, nervously, the sacred word, ‘Chookas!’ (the favoured replacement in an environment where it is ‘bad luck’ to say ‘good luck’), to which I return. A young boy costumed like a villager runs up to me, offering his fist, exclaiming, ‘You got this!’ Every bone in our body is tired, but we’re fuelled by the pounding of our hearts in our ears and the electric buzz of the audience hidden behind the single thick curtain hiding us from their view.
But that’s merely the cap in a rehearsal process spanning several months that is just as rewarding as it is tiring. It takes time, effort, and dedication to make a performance great, and the rehearsals are where that time, effort and dedication culminate to bring a show to life. Over several Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays—most of which followed a busy day at uni—I walked into the rehearsal space to see a hardworking cast coming together to make this show the best it can be: Cinderella and her prince charming are sitting together, script in lap, repeating scenes to memorise every line. There are the dancers, practicing their waltz to make the ball as graceful as it needs to be and, in another corner, a small group is huddled around a phone, singing along with a recording to ensure they hit every note they need to, to make every song sound spectacular. Everyone takes care and dedication to bring each character, main role, or ensemble to life.
Despite being on top of my first trimester of my second year at Deakin, this didn’t feel like an extra workload. On the contrary, going to rehearsals and creating a performance amongst some truly talented people was an escape. This was work that could distract me from the importance and weight of everything I was doing at uni. Even though I would usually leave rehearsals tired, my mind was clear, and I felt fulfilled. I go to university to work towards achieving the best future that my past has led me to. I go to rehearsals to fill in the little gaps in-between study, classes, and sleeping. I go to rehearsals for the community—the friends I have made doing shows are friends that I will have and cherish for a very long time. We are a team, with a shared passion for entertaining.
And oh boy, the teamwork and community that develops during the rehearsal process truly is like no other that I have experienced—we learn to rely on each other, to listen to each other, so that every single cast member stands out and shines. A theatre cast is a team that comes together to create something magical, something that brings us great pride and joy for the sole purpose of entertaining anyone who comes to witness our magic.
There is no greater high than what the cocktail of dopamine, endorphins, nerves, and adrenaline brings when the curtain rises and the lights come up. You’re on display, in front of hundreds of pairs of eyes, doing what you love. It’s my pride and joy—to me there is no better feeling in the world, coming to me as naturally as breathing. Theatre brings people together, both as an audience and a performer, and I honestly don’t think that connection can be replicated anywhere else in the world. That one production of Wicked that I saw when I was eight firmly established a deeply important part of my life, love, and personality—and I couldn’t be any more grateful.
Brackett, S (dir.) 2015, Be More Chill, by J. Iconis & J. Tracz, Music Theatre Performance, Two River Theatre.
Read more of Jack’s work in the Atmosphere edition of WORDLY Magazine.