I got a chance to chat with two of the stars of the new Hayes Theatre production Songs For A New World Teagan Wouters and Chris Scalzo.
Songs for A New World is a very different sort of musical. “It’s a sort of non-linear musical… It’s missing the through storyline that you would find in the traditional musical, the songs are all related around the theme of someone facing a moment of decision, a moment of change, a moment of loss or a moment of development in their life.” says Chris. Teagan agrees, “Its essentially a song cycle. Little moments in time connected by a theme, the crossroads in our lives where a decisions has to be made and the consequences of those decisions and how we deal with them. There are funny pieces, heartfelt sad moments. There is no book, no words, everything is sung.”
It is told through a detailed and complicated score write by Jason Robert Brown that is atmospheric and emotional. “There are no character names, there is no designated time or place yet it is feels complete. This makes it very unique and has probably contributed to its cult status.” add Chris
So approaching a musical like this must be very different to the way you would approach a traditional structured musical. “This is the first time I have done something like this. Usually you have one character that you play throughout the show. you still do the same work of discovering the character, you just re-do it for each song, so there is a lot more preparation work. It is a little comparable to when I played a series of characters in Jersey Boys….With a different character for each song it means that you have to be very nimble That only becomes obvious when you start running everything together late in the rehearsal. In the main part of the rehearsal process you work on a particular song and do it over and over again as you evolve the character and the story of the song. Suddenly when you put the songs together you realise that you don’t have long to jump into the next one. Especially since we are on stage the whole time. You have to instantly be in that moment with that character. There is no prep time. That was quite a challenge.”
Teagan is the only cast member to reprise her roles from the Melbourne production. Being surrounded by a whole new cast and only a week of rehearsals in the same room there will be some interesting new challenges and benefits. “We had two weeks before the Melbourne show but these guys only have one”. They have obviously got all the songs down by the first rehearsal, “Its just a matter of finding the right blend of our voices and getting all the songs together.” Still it is going to be a big week. ” I can’t wait to see what new things are brought to the table because the personalities are so different so there are going to be different interpretations and nuances”
With a show like this there are bound to be moments that resonate with you. “There are a few songs for a few different reasons.” says Chris. “The song Flying Home is deeply emotional and quite powerful. It is very clever and has a beautiful melodic gospel type number. I love its sound…I am really drawn to the power and strength of King of the World. There is something about a man or woman fighting their injustice with the power of their words that I find very powerful. It is a man proving his innocence and his wrongful imprisonment and he is doing it with nothing but the power of his words”
Are there moments that remind you of a personal experience. “many… many.. The choices and the decisions these people make cover so much. Like falling in or out of love with the right or wrong person, it breaks your heart when you are really young and you think it is the end of the world and then down the road a little further there is a whole other person there for you…Maybe you chose the wrong person to share your life with and maybe it led you down a path that was not right for you”.
It was slightly different for Teagan. “There was nothing that specifically made me think “Oh God, I have been there, in that specific circumstance.. but i could definitely relate to a lot of the decisions.. like being in a situation that could have been happy and wonderful but at the time want and having to decide if that is where I should be. In Stars and the Moon where we have a mother telling the daughter about her life and how she had this option with a guy and this option with a guy and she ends up taking the last one and her realisation that she wanted all this stuff but she would never actually have ‘the moon’, She always wants something she could not have. Standing there listing to that and thinking of the people in my life that i know that has happened to is very affecting..You get an understanding of what they have gone through”
We then started to chat about when you first knew you wanted to perform. For Chris it was always with him. “When I was a child of about six or seven I was obsessed with stories. I was, and still to this day, and avid reader. These stories and other people’s journey’s. I liked explaining the story and journey to other people, I guess in a theatrical sort of way. My mum took me an after school drama class that she though might be a good fit, a good outlet for me. I was mad with her and hated he for it and i was scared but it set a course for my entire life.” For Teagan there was no defining moment. Growing up doing the usual dance classes, “I didn’t realise that you could do this as a career. i was so lucky, I got to go to so many shows as a child and I absolutely loved it but for some reason i didn’t think they were real jobs. It was when one of the girls I was dancing with went to the VCA musical theatre course and she encouraged me to audition for it… I though OK.. I auditioned for it, I got in and it all sort of fell into place after that.”
So what is it you love about this job? Chris replies, “Being able to have a job that allows people to forget their problems. they can sit for a few hours in the dark and just enjoy live story telling. there is something wonderful about sitting with a group of people in a theatre space waiting to be told a story or to share a journey.” For Teagan “I love the challenge of it. I love singing. I love the way you become a family with everyone you work with. It does not matter how short the run is. You are playing all the time, not many people can do that. You are constantly learning and discovering and if you get to do that and enjoy your job you are set.”
Chris recently had rave reviews for his performance as Angel in Rent which sold out for the original and the return season. “It was an extraordinarily wonderful experience. We went into it not knowing if anything we were doing was going to relate to anybody. It had related to us in the rehearsal room. It moved us and inspired us everyday.” The tickets were selling so well but that adds its own pressures. Will the production live up to the expectations? “That’s right. Then it opened and I think it filled this wonderful void in people’s lives in so many ways and it became this wonderful success.”
Teagan will be playing Nicola in the upcoming Australia production of Kinky Boots in Melbourne. “I cannot wait. It is one of those things where we auditioned and got the roles and now are waiting to start… it’s a show with a really good message and I think it is important in our day and age to be able to share that and to encourage people to be who they are.”
So now to a few questions I love to ask. The first…What advice would you give to someone starting out? For Chris it is “To Listen and learn from other people that have tread the path. Find somebody in the industry that you can relate to or whose career you might wish to emulate or a show you would really love to do. Then sit down and think about what steps you could take to try and make that opportunity possible. Don’t worry about anybody else, your competition or other people’s process. Just focus on you and your journey and your skills and what you can offer and make them the best they can be.”
For Teagan it is a similar theme “Constantly keep learning. You never stop training, never stop singing lessons, never stop dance classes. you learn from every single thing you do.” Then she adds “It’s easier to say than do but you have to form a really thick skin because most of the time you are going to be rejected and that is a really hard thing to take and to learn how to deal with and to pick yourself back up again and continue on. I have learnt over the years that most of the time its not about you and its not about your talent. Sometimes its just that you are not the right look or you are not tall enough or something and as soon as you realise that and go forward with the thought that it is not you or your ability it makes it easier to deal with.”
In an industry that has a reputation for divas and backstabbing it refreshing to hear so often that people’s mentors and those most respected are current successful Australian musical theatre performers. “I think things are changing.” says Teagan “You need to have someone in a company, especially in long tours, that are good people and will get along with each other.. “I have never idolised someone that i don’t know personally. One of the ones I remember most was Chloe Dallimore. She is a beautiful person. She was always encouraging of people, a wonderful leader of the company. I look up to her. I admire that she is always kind to everyone, in life, not just in musical theatre. Lucy Durack is the same, good people doing good work. I strive to be like them. They are good strong female role models.”
Chris also has a local Australian inspiration. “A lady and dear friend of mine, Esther Hanniford (Played Audrey in the recent production of Little Shop Of Horrors). She is inspirational because she is not the cookie cutter version of anything. She has a voice that is her own voice and her acting and comedy style is her own. The vulnerability that she has on stage is driven by the amazing person that she is. She has so much versatility. She had auditioned to get into WAPA musical theatre and did not get in. That did not stop her. She has gone on to be leading lady after leading lady. She is quiet and humble and respectful, who then takes to the stage and erupts into these amazing characters. Her individuality and uniqueness inspire me every day. If i could follow that type of path I would be very happy.
Songs For A New World opened this weekend and runs at the Hayes Theatre until 28th August.
Lynden Jones – Talking Arts