Chilling out by the Brisbane river on a sunny afternoon isn’t such a bad way to spend your time. It’s an even better time when you're interviewing one of the lead actors for one of Brisbane’s most exciting community-based musical theatre companies, Blue Fish.
Blue Fish is a community-based yet professionally-minded musical theatre company based in Brisbane, their home-ground the Schonell Theatre at UQ; a whopper 440-seater venue. With an engine room of musical and indie theatre, artistic director Julie Whiting steers the Blue Fish vehicle towards classic Broadway shows with local talent, all to the huge accolade of Brisbane audiences.
Enter my catch-up with 24 year old Tony Campbell (pictured): actor, singer, all-round performance artist and playing Leo Bloom in the upcoming Blue Fish production of the Mel Brooks Broadway classic The Producers. Yes, it’s not too bad chilling and chatting by the Brisbane river at all.
Tony told me all about Blue Fish, The Producers and what it's like on the ground in Brisbane’s musical theatre scene right now. Like many artists in Brisbane, Tony’s passion for being on stage started in High School and he reflects that “really supportive schools help develop talent”. He went on to gain another edge majoring in Drama at QUT’s famous Creative Industries department and cut his teeth at Groucho’s Theatre Restaurant before joining Blue Fish. About growing into the Brisbane scene he tells that “A small industry has its pros and cons, while we don’t get as much exposure, there is a sense we are all in it together. I’ve always tried to shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars, it’s cliché but its true. There are a lot of opportunities for mentorship [in Brisbane] and it’s invaluable.”
“I like to collaborate,” he says, "The most successful productions are when the work is put in and the ego is left out.” Tony feels there is a great sense of camaraderie in the Brisbane theatrical industry at the moment, especially among some of the smaller grass-roots community players like Blue Fish. He also praises the work of Harvest Rain theatre company as being a “a great example of an entrepreneurial company. ”
For Tony, the Brisbane musical theatre scene is bristling with great opportunities and support for those who have the passion for musical theatre and the performing arts in general.
So in comes Blue Fish, the latest stage in Tony’s blossoming and forming career as a performance artist. Blue Fish, he explains, is driven by a passion for “high quality musicals.” Blue Fish was created, Tony explains, because of a need in Brisbane for such high quality Broadway-style shows. He explains that there was an awareness that the audience loved Broadway-style musicals and classic musical theatre and there was a desire among artists to put on these kinds of shows. This double–sided need saw Blue Fish rise to make its important and highly desired contribution to Brisbane’s theatrical menu.
Although, it’s not always easy at Blue Fish Theatrical as Tony explains that “You’re fighting other media, but it helps having a theatre-loving family. We go to great lengths [at Blue Fish] to get shows out to the community.” Staying connected to the community and putting on shows that they love as well as servicing the story and the script is the name of the game at Blue Fish; “The musical can really represent a community ritual. The Brisbane crowd are loyal and they love a musical.” Tony says.
Another fin of the Blue Fish that Tony told me about was that their company while having an “absolutely open door audition process – show up just as you are!” attracts and is often home to a great and fabulously talented ensemble, he tells me that, especially in the case of The Producers is that in the cohort there are “some very talented, international grade people. ”
For any aspiring talent out there, Tony encourages for them to come and be part of the Blue Fish family saying “there are many options for onstage, backstage, musicians and even directing” without the lengthy processes or high experience requirements of many mainstage theatre companies. "The Producers", he tells me, “pays tribute to a bygone era of shows and the Mel Brooks brand resonates to the audience.” He goes on to further explain that “it’s a very popular and very successful show that’s potentially risky, taking something so well known and so highly regarded, people will have expectations around it but you can expect high octane and high energy performance, a great chorus and really funny comedians. We [the cast] get on really well and have great chemistry, there is a good sense of play and a good sense of sensibility, you have to have that balance in musical comedy. Every show has to sing, has to be different”
In the lead up to Blue Fish’s production of The Producers Tony explained there has been a great sense of excitement and professionalism made equally dynamic by a close cast that works really well together, but what is driving the whole show is an awareness of the audience and what they will be coming to see, at all times executing the script with passion and precision is in the forefront of the mind of the whole team at Blue Fish and delivering the show in a way that honours and celebrates its wonderful script, story and music is paramount. Also, Tony explains that the audience is the most important player in all their shows. “The audience”, he says, “loves to laugh and is another character in the play. You have to have two ears to perform well, one for what’s going on out there and one for what’s happening on stage.”
Passion and a desire for excellence are the driving forces in Blue Fish’s continual swim into the waters of success and they enjoy a growing audience and gaining accolades in the theatrical community. This success is born of their desire to fill a niche in Brisbane’s theatrical menu of musical hits that the audiences love to see and the artists long to perform. Each show is crafted by a close ensemble of talent to be both true to the story and yet passionately aware of the audience and the community. Like many of the other “smaller” houses in Brisbane, Blue Fish is not government funded and does not receive any kind of government support in the form of grants, thus failure is not an option to them – neither is staging shows that no audience will want to see. So they continue to strive and to strive taking bigger strokes up the river of theatrical success and taking on bigger and bigger shows, each one bigger than the last, each with a whole orchestra of live musicians and a team of dedicated talents that are “driven by a passion and a 'just do it' attitude” Tony assures.
I can only recommend that you “catch” Blue Fish’s showing of The Producers as I am very glad to be doing on the weekend. It promises to be a short season of a sensational show from a company that is certainly one to watch and admire as they become a player in Brisbane of trophy proportions.
Show listing for The Producers available with Booking information: https://www.theatrepeople.com.au/whatson/producers
Find out more about Blue Fish Theatrical at: http://www.bluefishtheatrical.com.au
Stay tuned for my review of Blue Fish’s production of The Producers, here on Theatre People Saturday the 12th of November, 2011.