Julia Sutherland takes the Delorian out for a spin with Aaron Joyner…

I remember first meeting Aaron Joyner in the late 1990s, and I remember being impressed. He was a focused and confident performer, director, musical director and composer, and despite having a most impressive CV for his age even then, he had ambition in spades but none of the overinflated ego that often accompanies high achievers in any field, and especially theatre. We met doing a show, as you do, and soon discovered we had something in common; we were both idealists. We talked a lot about our visions for the future, about everything from politics to the environment to spirituality to vegetarianism and of course, theatre. Mostly theatre.

Aaron lived, breathed, ate and dreamt theatre. He spoke passionately about his vision of ‘bridging the gap’ between amateuer and professional theatre. He was adamant that there was a market there, a niche to do new, contemporary, Australian or off-Broadway works and stage them in some of the many excellent theatres Melbourne boasted yet “the theatres sit there dark at least 50% of the year.” I most vividly remember Aaron saying, “I want to sit down with Jason Marriner and see if we can come to some arrangement.”

I liked the cut of his jib. And God almighty, have you seen what’s happened since?

If you’ve been living in a remote village with no traffic lights, Zumba or Theatre People since 2001, firstly welcome back. Secondly, check this out http://www.magnormos.com/archive.htm. It’s just a list of the thirty plus productions Aaron has instigated since he decided to don the producer’s garb in 2002 and call his little company Magnormos.

Once you’ve had a gander at where we’ve been, exit time machine at present day, and you’ll see, just around the corner (next Monday in fact), the seventh annual instalment of OzMade Musicals; a one-night-only showcase of Australian musical theatre works. Toni Lamond was billed to host the event this year, but due to her having to have minor surgery she has passed the baton to Rhonda Burchmore. Rhonda will head up a cast of notables, namely Esther Hannaford, Christie Whelan, Sally Bourne, Frankie Arena, Sophie Thomas, Rose Sejean, Chris Parker, Lisa-Marie Parker, Cameron Macdonald, Jessica Enes, Chris Buchanan, Jensen Overend, Phoebe Coupe, Lyndond Keenan, Indigo Felton, Glen Hogstrom and Laura Burzacott . BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! Where is it being held, I hear you ask? Oh, just a little venue known as The Comedy Theatre on Exhibition St.

So Aaron, how did you secure the space? “The relationship started through another project, and I was introduced to Jason Marriner through David Reeves, who actually has one of his shows highlighted this year (GRAND CENTRAL performed by Christie Whelan and James Bryers). Jason was extremely supportive, and offered us the support of The Comedy Theatre which we gratefully accepted!”

Look at you go. And the cast? “Many are recruited out of the Magnormos Contributing Artist list, or through people that have come to audition for us for other shows. The directors of the individual segments have cast some of the roles through auditions or through asking directly. It’s a fast and furious event but I’m always thrilled at the calibre of artists who support the cause, and this year’s line-up is truly remarkable.”

That it is. So now it’s OzMade 7. Looking back, how has it changed since the very first OzMade in 2003? “In 2003, OzMade was a concert at Theatre Works, with highlights being performed at Federation Square as part of the inaugural Australia Day celebrations at the Square. Originally it was a highlights concert of existing Australian musicals, but from 2005 we started including development opportunities for new works, and that’s how it runs now. In the one night we celebrate the best of Australian writing past, present and future. This year will see four shows debut, and five existing works celebrated with a highlights song.”

Putting together a show of this nature might be enough work for one year for some little black ducks, but not Aaron ‘pedal to the metal’ Joyner. He laughs, “Every now and again I keep ‘reflecting’ on the amazing moments of 2010, and then have to remind myself that it’s not over yet and we still have more to go! From two seasons of [title of show] and welcoming the original Broadway company, to a performance that Geoffrey Rush was in the audience for, to working with Melbourne Recital Centre on The Sondheim Tryptich and receiving a personal email from Mr. Sondheim himself, and now OzMade Musicals. And I started the year thinking ‘we should have a slow year this year…’”

Yes, lift your game, you slacker. So does the man behind Magnormos in fact have an off-switch, or does he at least go into standby mode? Ever? “I do try to, and I’m a bit of a sucker for computer games. Especially strategy games like Civilization, or role playing games. Something that can absorb me and make me focus entirely on that. I find I spend a few hours on a game, feel terribly guilty and then work like a demon to make up for the lost time!”

Right you are. So after OzMade next week, does Magnormos clock off for a while? “We then have a quirky cabaret for the Midsumma Festival and will be announcing our extraordinary 2011 program very soon too. The details are all being finalised but we’re thrilled about next year already.”

I’m both exhilarated and exhausted just trying to imagine it from Aaron’s perspective. I realise that we first bonded over a mutual idealism. Now I see how different we actually are. Aaron has created a theatre company which is ticking every single box he envisioned for it all those years ago and some he never imagined. I, on the other hand, still haven’t managed to save the world from corporate greed and hunger and build a Utopian society where everybody wears purple, worships nature and sings showtunes on the train. What’s wrong with me? AJ, you rebuild civilizations in your SPARE time. Any advice for me or others whose dreams haven’t yet come to fruition?

“Believe in what you’re doing, and stay committed to it even through the challenges. If your idea has merit it will eventually blossom.”

Wise words. Wise man. Wise move, in my opinion, would be to get along to OzMade Musicals next Monday and witness a little Magnormos magic first hand.

Visit http://www.magnormos.com/ozmade_2010.htm for bookings and details.