Every performer knows it. Every performer says it. “God I hope I get it". Originally directed and devised by Michael Bennet in the early 1970s, A Chorus Line details the events of an audition for a Broadway production where 17 dancers describe and relive the events in their lives which have led them into a career in Theatre.
This productions features the collaborative talents of Four Letter Word Theatre and Trinity College Musical Theatre Society. Sara Tabitha Catchpole and Simone Nathan share a strong collaborative history built on a foundation of mutual trust and friendship. Says Nathan: "Tabby and I have been working together over the past few years, and this is my fourth collaboration with her. Having worked with her as an actress, and as Assistant Director, I knew after I took on the role as Producer of the Trinity College Musical Theatre Society that Tabby was the person I wanted to bring back into the college as my Director. Our production team for the show runs like a well oiled machine, often we have three rehearsals going on at the same time in three locations so it can be rather intensive and it's great to have Tabby with me at the helm of this project!"
"Working with college kids in their environment is a unique, immersive and sometimes surprising process for people who we bring in from the outside," explains Nathan, "so it's great to have Tabby involved as although she now has her own theatre company, she has a lot of experience both within our college itself and in the wider Melbourne University community."
Catchpole is the Artistic Director and Founder of Four Letter Word Theatre which she formed in 2010. Her work for FLWT is about as different as chalk is from cheese comparative to her work here. The Blue Room, Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love, Patrick Marber’s Close and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange are some of the works associated with the Catchpole name. She describes FLWT as the ‘Confronting Entertainment’ company, and the majority of the shows she works on have a darker, usually violent and highly sexualised driven core but, she admits, it’s always a bit of a relief to have the opportunity to direct shows like A Chorus Line (which she has inevitably made sure to sneak in a bit of that 'In-Yer-Face' style – ever so briefly). "What I didn’t expect from this production is how it has darkened my view of the industry and the risks of stifling the individuality of performers in the pursuit of perfection and that ‘machine-of-perfect-cogs’ effect.," she says. "There is a fine line between the benefits of everyone working in sync to create one harmonious production and everyone working like insane bees with never their own individual shining moment. "
The attraction here for Catchpole is the allure of the work as well as the opportunity to immerse herself in a variety of disciplines as she continues to grow her craft. "A Chorus Line is an incredibly poignant production to every person working in the performing arts industry," she say. " It speaks not only to dancers but to all performers, designers and creators working in the performing arts. To ensure I can create works where every aspect of the production works in harmony with the rest, I have, over the years, tried to work in as many areas as I can. This way, when I direct a show I can be on the level with and understand the processes of the actors, designers (lighting, costume, set and sound), producers, stage and production managers, crew, builders and operators, ushers and publicists. I truly believe that every person acting in all of these aspects of production (in any area of the performing arts) who experience A Chorus Line (whether it be on stage, film or listening to the music) can understand both the desperate yearning to be a part of something creative and special and also the horrible let down when you don’t get it."
"But as we know, the long days for weeks on end, the torture of tech week and the pressure of putting your body and soul on the line for a show all pays off when the curtain rises on opening night. That's the feeling which is so seamlessly explored in the show: Elation, relief, satisfaction and joy."
The project does not come without its challenges though says Catchpole: "The risk (and intention) with A Chorus Line is that it you can sit through 90 minutes of the histories of 17 dancers (and a director and his assistant) displayed through beautiful music, creative and technically stunning choreography and interesting, character history driven text; but then lose your audience to the sequins, lights and rehearsed “I-love-to-dance” smiles in the final number "One". The glamour of performance is designed to encase an audience in a certain world, a certain outlook on life and a very specific view of performers and who they are as individuals – or in this case: who they are as a blended group. "
"When the cast weren't singing and dancing for hours on end in rehearsals I made sure we talked a lot about being special and being an individual. Zach sees how special Cassie is in the show because he knows her personally. He feels he has validated her talent by casting her in lead roles in the past and as a result she is seen by him to be more special than any of the other dancers on stage. Cassie's reply is simple, clear and culminates the entire message of the show for me, and I hope therefore conveyed to you: Everyone is special. “They're all special”."
"The final scenes of the show focus heavily on what the performers would do if they couldn't dance anymore. I had the cast think about the one goal or aspect of their lives which they couldn't live without; something that they wouldn't be able to replace with anything else. The results varied from performing (music, dancing, and acting) to academic endeavours (medicine, law, and politics). Some results really touched me: being a mother one day; always having friends and family around; simply being happy and content with oneself. I asked them to think about how they would feel if they couldn’t have that one thing in their lives anymore. That feeling is the ugly guts of the text: “What would you do if you couldn’t dance anymore”. It affects every single person, no matter their goals or priorities. That niggling question in the back of your mind of what you would do if it was all taken away?"
A Chorus Line has won Tony, Drama Desk and Pulitzer prize Awards. the original Broadway production ran for over 6000 performances and who doesn't love a Marvin Hamlisch score. Catchpole believes that every performance of A Chorus Line has two audiences. The first is the audience who are swept away by the precision, glitz, passion and unity of a chorus in any musical or theatrical production. The second is the audience of performers themselves, who really understand that feeling of façade in a forced smile, or the emotional and physical pain of repetition in audition and performance. "Both audiences can enjoy the entertainment of A Chorus Line, but at the same time, both audiences can take something truly personal away from it, " she says.
Catchpole is of the opinion that A Chorus Line was the perfect choice of production for the Trinity College Musical Theatre Society. "The students involved are energetic, open minded and while being old enough to critically look at their futures and themselves, the experience of childhood and adolescence is still so raw.," says Catchpole."With incredible choreography from Cassie Pennicuik and outstanding Music Direction from Victorian Music Theatre Guild Nominated 'Best Music Director' (Curtains, 2011), Anthony Cardamone, combined with a talented cast and dedicated crew has culminated in a production which explodes on stage with beautiful performances from this talented cast of 33 and live orchestra."
Trinity College Musical Theatre Society Presents A Chorus Line
By Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante.
May 8 – May 11
To keep up with Sara Tabitha Catchpole’s upcoming productions, check out www.fourletterwordtheatre.com