For Paul Watson, RENT is summed up in two words…. Life and Love

Many people think that they have what it takes to be a director; that if they are a performer they are automatically gifted with the ability to take on the most demanding position within a company.

In reality over the years however, we have seen many actors take on the role of director with varying levels ofsuccess. The fact is that some people have genuine directorial ability and some merely think they do. A good director is one that not only has a great artistic vision but who constantly inspires his/her cast and production team to achieve their absolute best.

In what can often be a bitchy world of Amateur Theatre; some people can be quick to pull out the knives, talk themselves up, and worst of all talk others down. They usually think that they could have done a better job or are resentful of the fact that they lost out on a part to another actor.

Occasionally however someone comes along who is so focused, so creative, and who has the ability to drive a cast to creative heights that many of them did not realise they were capable of. Enter Paul Watson, big talker yes, but even bigger creator.

Paul has always gone after the things he wanted to experience creatively, usually with huge levels of success. He has a number of professional shows under his belt, including Jersey Boys and has recently become a father for the first time.

Paul is back in the director’s chair, this time with Whitehorse Musical Theatre working on a production that has always had a place in his heart, RENT. So what is it about RENT that he loves so much?

‘What don’t I love? The freedom of concepts, the drama class sensibility, a story told through platforms of style. The show is as unique as a West Side Story. As someone who has watched it, listened to it, performed in it and directed it now, it remains the only show that has made me feel as much as I think I could feel about a production. I love many shows, but Rent for some reason, just sits with me.’

Paul’s journey towards RENT has been less than ordinary. As a child he was a keen musician, spinning vinyl records on Saturday mornings with his dad and listening to everything from Folk and Country to Disco and Rock.

Paul speaks on discovering his uncle (who had died before Paul was born) toured Australia with the Beatles as bass player with the Phantoms:

I just thought that was the most amazing thing to choose as a career. I took to drums very young, then moved to guitar, piano etc and got into theatre as a drummer and then the original theatrepeople editor Jules Sutherland suggested I should get up on stage, since then I’ve tried to be as involved in as many areas as possible such as sound, lighting, crew, design etc to get the best kind of background I could. As a song writer and lover of McCartney I really get into the story telling and so the natural progression was to hopefully be a decent director one day… and the rest is history!


Never one to shy away from controversy (or find himself in the middle of it), I put the question to Paul about his thoughts on critical reception and controversy in the theatre world.

It depends if it is constructive or a blatant attack of personal character. If constructive I welcome it with open arms. I won’t necessarily agree with it, but I will cop it on the chin, think about it and move on. I never let it change my performance or direction choices though. I honestly believe in getting critical, yet honest reviews. I get them, (boy do I get them) I give them too, so it is to be expected. It is a part of what we do and if you really want to be in the thick of it, then expect the thick of it. I honestly believe you can’t push the “we’re just as, or almost as good as the professionals” comment and then expect light fluffy reviews.

In the same breathe though, I say that those reviews however have to come from people who have a reasonable premise for saying these things. Theatre is about interpretation and there is no right or wrong, so the criticism needs to come from a source that has tried to understand the director or the performer, not someone who just thinks they would do it this way or that way. Sure discuss away, but discuss based on that view point of an open mind, not a closed one.

On judging…

I’m confident the Guild either dislike me or just hate my work!!!!!!! I’m fine with either! I loved hosting the Lyrebird Awards and have won the odd porcelain steering wheel now and again, but it seems every time I’ve done the hosting job, I get fired the next year!!!!!!! It would appear I upset a few people at this years ceremony who took a few “gags” the wrong way! But… that is theatre, you can’t please everybody all the time. Or in the case of the people I’m talking about… none of the time!

Criticism aside, theatre has been a labor of love for Paul and has led him to so much more than just time under the spotlight…

The highlight for me is that theatre led me to my wife who is not only my favorite (aspect of theatre), but my choreographer of choice and also and most importantly the mother of our gorgeous little man Campbell.


Fatherhood has changed me in many ways. I get emotional much more than I used to over the silliest little things. I’m tired!!!! My brain doesn’t work anywhere near as fast as it did a year ago! I probably have poo on my finger! My back hurts! I have no time to doing anything for myself! I don’t go out anymore, I get limited alone time with my wife, I don’t buy new clothes and I basically can’t do anything I used to do at the same capacity I used to do it… And I would not change a thing!

When he (Campbell) falls asleep in your arms, or when he giggles at you, or just watching him grow and learn is pretty much unbeatable. There is nothing in this world that I have experienced that gives you the gamut of emotions and experiences as having your own little one to raise and nurture and bring into the world.

Paul’s success as a director cannot be denied. His services are constantly in demand and actors line up to work for him. His ability to draw in talent result in him often being lucky enough to be able to ‘cast a show three times over.’ Paul is always happy to speak loudly and proudly about his various performances on stage and credits a lot of his recent success as a director to his time working in professional theatre:

For one, it has made me realise how much we all don’t know. Discovery is a never ending process. It has made me realize that the work IS the king, and always should be, and the research and background work that I encourage myself and my cast to do is possibly the greatest part about performing. The learning and developing is, for me, the great part. The reason for playing a role.

Secondly I got to watch, listen and absorb some brilliant information and energy from some pretty remarkable, creative and talented people. That was invaluable.

Paul’s own energy as a director is unquestionable. A number of months ago over a couple of quite Friday night drinks I asked him why he had decided to take on RENT. To my amazement and after nearly two hours Paul was still talking about his love of the show. Those thoughts are now being realised as his artistic vision of the show takes flight.

I think it is a show that deals with consequences, choices, desire, need, want, change, life, love in all shapes and sizes and above all overcoming adversity. Something ironically that Whitehorse have been going through very publicly over the past few years. So maybe this is perfect timing. We not only want, but need to lift the roof of the Besen Centre on this one. I encourage everyone to get behind it. The house needs to ROCK! I think it is a conceptual and interesting piece of theatre that is a breath of fresh air. It is drama, book and a conceptual reality mixed with rock concert, opera and tragedy that often does not get to see the bigger stages across the country. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only create my version of Rent, but stage it for Whitehorse and sit back and watch it in that Besen Theatre in all that juxtaposed glory. Rent for me is “big theatre” energy and emotion but designed for intimate characters.

Having previously played Mark Cohen in RENT, Paul has a well defined sense of what the show means to him; it can be seen in his interpretation and reflection of the show:

I think as an actor in it at a time when I was experiencing loss, it helped me grieve and mourn which no other show has helped me do that as much or had that effect on my life personally. I think if audiences allow themselves to see the show as a celebration of life rather than focusing on the (often discussed) “darker aspects”, then it has a very strong message. It’s not a dark show anyway. I struggle to understand why that common theme in discussing the show in the general public keeps popping up. I think there are way more graphic musical theatre productions out there. I keep telling my cast that it is a show about living, not a show about living with. That is something else I love, when I can discuss the show with someone who does not see the Aids/HIV as the protagonist of the story.

There is no doubt that Whitehorse Musical Theatre’s production of RENT is one that the company is banking on and really needs to succeed. With a stellar cast and production team working on Jonathon Larson’s magnificent book and score the show is shaping up to be one of the highlights on the theatre calender in recent times and quite possibly a show that will be talked about for years to come.




Whitehorse Musical Theatre presents


Dates: 7-17th October 2010

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