Sam KIingner’s journey to bring Friends! The Musical Parody to Australian theatres began back in 2017 when he first spoke to US producers about securing the rights. An Australian tour was scheduled for 2020 – and then COVID hit. The tour was rescheduled. Further outbreaks and lockdowns resulted in the tour being yet again rescheduled, but finally, Friends! The Musical Parody has successfully opened at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre, playing for a limited season.

Being a producer is a challenging career at the best of times, but the coronavirus pandemic has made this even more challenging. Lockdowns and border closures has increased the workload. Rescheduling performances of multiple productions has become almost a daily, and tiring, task. The Melbourne season of Friends! The Musical Parody has already been rescheduled three times.

“Timewise, as a producer, I’m finding less and less that I’m a producer and more of a COVID-19 navigator,” explained producer Sam Klingner. “It takes so much time away from us. It steals us away from all the other tasks we normally have to do.”

Amazingly, Friends! The Musical Parody has finally opened in Brisbane, but it took an extraordinary effort to achieve this feat.

Sam Klingner is a Brisbane based producer, so Brisbane seemed the logical place to reattempt to kick off the tour. But the challenge was getting his cast and crew from other capital cities. Six of the cast and crew had to enter hotel quarantine after arriving from Sydney, while four from Melbourne had literally just a few hours notice to board a flight to Brisbane, arriving two weeks earlier than anticipated to beat a sudden impending border closure. It was a very costly exercise for the producer and Sam Klingner admits there were times he considered cancelling the whole tour. He knows the reduced capacity in the theatres, in addition to the costs of hotel quarantine for his cast and crew, will result in a financial loss that he simply can’t recoup, but Klingner decided to proceed with the production regardless. Sam Klingner considered his cast and crew who had rushed up from Melbourne at short notice or spent two weeks in hotel quarantine – all with the uncertainty of whether the show would indeed proceed. He also considered the audience members who had purchased their tickets way back in February last year. He knew Friends! the Musical Parody had to open.

“It’s what we all need,” said Klingner.

Producer Sam Klingner

While Klingner doesn’t regret the decision to not cancel, he admits some days over the past year have been hard.

“We’re being dealt cards that we just have to play with.”

Klingner, like many other theatre producers, had made plans for the second half of this year, hoping that Australia would have reached a vaccination rate high enough to allow life to return to normal. Producers booked theatres, cast their shows and prepared to open.

“We all assumed, in fact we were all told, that by now Australia would be fine – that we’d all be vaccinated and there wouldn’t be a risk,” Klingner explained.

Ideally, producers will line up several cities to enable a tour with back to back seasons. The ongoing border closures and lockdowns have prevented this from happening. While some capital cities are not in lockdown, getting the cast and crew there is impossible. It’s something Klingner realised he just had to accept. The delays in finally staging this show resulted in the need to rehearse the show and remount the production for this latest Brisbane season, which added further costs.

“That would be tricky at the best of times, but even trickier with reduced capacities in theatres.”

With coronavirus numbers soaring in various parts of our country, and the race to get the nation vaccinated, I asked Sam Klingner why the arts are so important to society. As he responded, Sam Klingner became very emotional.

“The reason that I produce theatre ..” he paused to catch his breath, surprised at the emotion this question had immediately provoked, then continued, “Oh gosh, I’m actually quite emotional – it’s because we have this amazing gift and this amazing ability …”

Again Sam Klingner’s voice trailed off as he was swept up in the emotion.

“I am so passionate about it because I know what theatre has done for me in dark times in my life, particularly growing up as a kid in high school. But the amazing opportunity we have, as producers and directors and performers, for an hour or two is to entertain an audience and them allow to escape whatever it is they are facing in their lives … Everyone is going through different challenges and their challenges vary so much, but it’s just such a gift that no matter what someone is going through – as much as a bad day at work to losing someone really close to them or coming out of a relationship and just feeling low, to just escape and to be entertained and to laugh. The opportunity for us to do that – it’s just magic and I feel so fortunate to be able to do that. That’s why the arts matter to me – it’s so people can escape and be entertained and taken away to another world.”

Right now, Brisbane audiences have a rare opportunity – to escape to the world of live theatre in the intimacy of Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre to experience Friends! The Musical Parody.

“It’s a comedy musical parody. It’s a fun night out at the theatre. Everything we produce, and everything we work on, we really look for live theatre and entertainment that at the end of the day it just thoroughly entertains an audience and it just puts a smile on the faces of the audience members. For us to be doing that right now, to escape for a few hours and just lose themselves and have a good time, that’s really special.”

Friends! The Musical Parody is now playing at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre until Saturday 28th August.

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