What do you do when your dream role to choreograph Chicago becomes available only to be held at more than arms distance away by a two hundred kilometre stretch of water known as Bass Strait? If you’re Carolyn Hasenkam it will take more than Bass Strait to stand in the way of a dream.
Burnie (for those of you who don’t know) is Tasmania’s fourth largest city, residing on the North West Coast looking out over endless sea which vanishes into the horizon. Isolation becomes real here, no islands to break up the view, no city traffic and certainly not your typical throbbing metropolis. Unless of course, you are talking about the arts. Every city has a heartbeat, for Burnie, part of that rhythm comes from the beat of drums, feet, voices, music and theatre. With a number of community theatre companies, there is always a show happening at any given time of the year. For Encore Performing Arts Studio, the opportunity to move into musical theatre from a background of variety shows became a reality with Chicago due to open this Friday the 5th of August.
The production team, headed by dynamic duo Katy Pakinga and Helenmarie had their hearts set on Helenmarie’s sister, Carolyn, to take on the role of choreographer. Only problem is, although Tasmanian born and bred, Carolyn resides in Victoria along with her husband and three children. Now I have been involved in many shows and have witnessed the mammoth effort required by a choreographer, I even went as far to take on roles of dance captain and assistant choreographer. When you’re not at rehearsals 2 nights a week and all weekend you are working moves and sequences in your lounge room, your kitchen, the shower and there are even kick lines in your dreams! So you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail from a cast member of Chicago appears in my inbox telling me about the Choreographer from Victoria who managed to do it all….. via Skype.
I am painted a picture of a passionate, driven, dedicated woman who clearly prefers dance breaks to coffee breaks and has inspired the cast with her eye for detail and tremendous amount of support. Her choreography is described as a ‘feast for the eyes’ and although Carolyn has made two trips for intensive weekend dance rehearsals, most of the contact has been made via Skype and pre-recorded videos. It was this unusual form of rehearsing and the sheer love for who she was that intrigued me to find out more. I needed to investigate what the rest of the cast thought, after all, I did only have one opinion, what I didn’t expect was their overwhelming support and gratefulness.
To put this in perspective, community theatre in Tasmania usually has an eclectic mix of singers, actors, and the occasional dancer who may be making their stage debut or having their 10th show. This makes for a stressful time for choreographers especially, who tend to be confronted with those who dance well, those who have rhythm and those who would rather walk on hot coals than do a box step. Carolyn seems to have mastered the difficult task of appealing to all three groups without instilling fear, misery and frustration towards dance in those who haven’t had the experience and keeping the interest and drive in those who have dancing in their blood. For those who have been in her position or in a cast you will know this is not an easy feat. Cast members reported ‘she never made me feel less than average’, ‘she has a cheeky sense of humour’, ‘she has an encouraging way of teaching that fuels my desire to learn’. Its comments like this that make it such a joy to see people grow as performers.
So who is the person behind the webcam? Carolyn has been dancing since the age of three and began singing lessons at age 10, she performed in her first musical in Burnie and began playing with choreography at the tender age of 16. Since then she has been a vibrant member of the theatre community in both Tasmania and Victoria both on and off stage. Carolyn was seen with her two sisters, Helenmarie and Cassandra recently in their ever popular ‘Three Sisters’ Cabaret show. Carolyn reports a general passion and enthusiasm for life which seems to certainly influence her teaching and passion during rehearsals. ‘Its wonderful to see the talent of Tasmania being harnessed’, she says of her birthplace, ‘I cannot believe the amount of talent that comes out of there, proud to still be known as one’. Although Victoria has an abundance of musical theatre companies to choose from she believes that as long as the love for the theatre is combined with a dedicated crew you will always put on a good show no matter where you are from. The community’s ‘Lets give it a go’ mentality has been one of the draw cards for Carolyn being involved in amateur theatre and is also described as her lifes’ motto.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of Carolyns' story is the use of Skype and technology to rehearse and develop the dancing in what is a physically demanding show. Those familiar with Chicago will know the sultry, snappy steps that are required to supplement the toe tapping music of the 1920’s. ‘Isn’t technology great?!’ she says, ‘Besides the occasional glitch on the screen (which made for some very funny dance moves) it has been a fantastic tool for us to have used along with videos’. Dances were pre-recorded and broken down bit by bit as well as at differing tempos for those who required it. Carolyn also collaborated with a nominated Dance Captain (Rosalind Wilton) whom she spoke with regularly on Skype and was then able to feed back changes and modifications as well as teaching techniques and pointers to the rest of the cast. This enabled regular hands on practice opportunities for those who wanted a bit of extra help as well as Carolyn making herself available for individual Skype sessions. A cast member who had been overseas for some of the rehearsal period spoke of the pre-recorded videos as an essential opportunity to practice. Another cast member who was pulled into a few dances in the last few weeks of rehearsal also praised the videos and individual sessions to allow her to practice within the comforts of home before combining with the rest of the group. Carolyn certainly sees the use of this technology as useful for companies and something she would use again in the future ‘As long as everyone knows each other’s role, then yes, combine the talents and share the love!’ Let’s face it, technology is moving forward, and what better way to be a part of it then incorporating the talents of people such as Carolyn with communities all over Australia? Surely there is an opportunity for companies with professionals in a variety of areas to collaborate with production teams around the country and allow for information and resource sharing when physical trips become impossible or expensive.
Recovering from a neurological condition that causes weakness, fatigue and pain has made the two intensive weekend rehearsals very physically demanding for Carolyn but this has had no effect on her energy and support of the cast. One of the bonuses about working via video has allowed Carolyn to spend a little more time with her family than she would if she were attending each rehearsal and increased flexibility in her schedule. As well as meeting some wonderful, talented people, Carolyn believes we can all learn a lot from working with small theatre groups as well as with different teams.
When asked what it was about musical theatre that made her so passionate to continue, Carolyn replied: ‘There are moments in your life when you feel ready to burst with pride, overwhelmed by sheer joy when everything just feels good and right and overshadows any bad or wrong in your life at that time. When you have children, there are thousands of those moments. To me, being involved in musical theatre makes me feel the same. I nurture, encourage, inspire, mentor, and persevere and above all else… I love. I have been encouraged all my life to be the best ME I can be. If I have ever encouraged others to feel the same; then it was worth it. ‘
Watching the opening number of All That Jazz at a recent rehearsal, I was able to witness the fruits of Carolyns' labour and her vision come together. Sultry, seductive, sharp freezes with a hint of a Charleston and classic Broadway steps mixed with splits, cartwheels, fishnets and heels. What better way to open a show and certainly excellent use of talent and something each cast member should be proud of. It has been a privilege to expose this inspirational woman of community theatre and to hopefully sow the seeds of possibility in the minds of other companies and groups to consider the use of technology to collaborate more, share resources as well as skills and talents.
Chicago opens this Friday at the Burnie Arts and Function Centre.
Tickets ON SALE NOW!
Amateur production by special arrangement with Dominie Pty Ltd
Director – Helenmarie
Musical Director – David Turner
Choreographer – Carolyn Hasenkam
Producer – Katy Pakinga
Friday 5 August, Saturday 6 August, Thursday 11 August, Friday 12 August, Saturday 13 August
ALL SHOWS 8PM
Office hours – 9am – 5pm (Monday – Friday) Phone: 03 6430 5850