So how does one interview one’s self for one’s interview on one’s own website? Oh dear… This is going to hurt.
TP: So Chris, clearly people have no idea who you are these days, as you’ve not been on stage for the past eight years?
Chris: Well technically Chris, that’s not a question… it’s a statement… albeit a true statement. I’m sure people have forgotten about me, despite my involvement with this very website. This was highlighted a couple of weeks ago at one of our ‘TP Sings’ events. When the lovely girl on the door was unable to locate my name on her list, she asked “Are you with Theatre People?” I smiled, laughed confidently and declared, “Well kind of…. I’m the founder!” With that, she rolled her eyes apathetically and begrudgingly waved me in. Yep… Nothing keeps you grounded like not being recognised by anyone at your own event. It’s a great way to keep the ego in check.
TP: So after eight years off stage, what’s been the hardest thing about returning to tread the boards?
Chris: Well… I assume it will be the uncontrollable opening night nerves that will cripple me to the point of nausea, but as we are a few weeks away from that joy, I’d have to say, choreography. It’s never been my strong suit, but after doing back to back shows for ten years, you do get into a rhythm, which allows you to retain choreography at a reasonable pace. I am convinced that our choreographer, Ash absolutely hates me (and quite frankly, I don’t blame her) but she’s far too nice to articulate that. I am still waiting for my remedial dance lesson, which I know is coming, but for now, Morticia, played by Boccas is slapping me around and pointing me to where I need to go.
TP: What’s The Addams Family like as a show?
Chris: It’s a bit of a hidden gem actually. When it came out to Australia, I didn’t pay it much attention as I’d viewed the Nathan Lane version and found it clunky and a little self-indulgent. This version is much slicker and funnier. It just goes to show that no matter how good your star is (Nathan Lane in this case), don’t let them get away with too much of their own material, or it will inevitably drag.
It’s a very funny show and it’s great for adults and kids alike. It has some unusually pleasant songs, in contrasting styles, and for the most part they work effectively to further the story. The real appeal of this show however is in the hilarious book. It offers as many belly laughs as The Producers or The Book of Mormon and as such… it’s a pleasure to perform and I can’t wait to try it out in front of an audience.
TP: And your cast?
Chris: This is the bit where the interviewee always says. “Oh my God! The cast are just soooo amaaaaaaazing. The director is amazing… the choreographer is amazing… the lady who makes the sandwiches for bump-in is amaaaaazing…” Yes… yes… They are all amazing. Some of you may have seen our Wednesday, Shani Clarke at the recent TP Sings event… so you already know how amazing she is.
TP: What advice would you give to young performers?
Chris: Ask lots of questions and ask for critiques from people you respect. There are a tonne of delusional young performers out there who aren’t half as good as they think they are. If you are going to get better at what you do, then arrogance is your enemy!
When I was directing Phantom, I called in an old mate of mine, Shaun Kingma, to sit in on a couple of the last rehearsals. His advice was invaluable. I’ve never heard of any other Director doing that. I’ll do the same with this show, but I’ll most likely tape a final rehearsal and watch it back (something I hate doing) and critique myself in detail. This idea dawned on me during a cast video night many years ago – I watched on in horror, noting the many things I would have changed about my performance if I had been given my time over again.
TP: What are you like in rehearsals?
Chris: I’m all business in rehearsals, other than the odd outburst of completely inappropriate humour. I actually like working hard in rehearsals and enjoy being challenged. To do that, you need to stay in the moment and not spend all your time goofing around. I generally keep to myself, but anyone who knows me can vouch that I’m usually the last man standing at the after party. I like creating a culture of discipline in the shows I’m involved in, as everyone seems to rise to that quite well. I’ve been in a show where leadership from the principal cast was lacking and unfortunately, everyone just took their cue from them. Luckily they were an incredibly naturally talented group of some of the best people I worked with, so they pulled it all together at the last minute, but only just…
I’ve been rather fortunate in having worked mostly with CLOC and Whitehorse – companies who took what they did pretty seriously and instilled some great behaviour early on. My first lead with CLOC was when I’d just turned 18. I still remember taking off my P plates down the road from rehearsals, as I lied on my audition form about my age! Good times…
TP: How do you prepare for a show?
Chris: I start by gathering as much information as I can. Some of it is very practical. Watching other productions on YouTube is always a good place to start. Then I distill the information and pinch the best bits. That gives me a good skeleton to work with. For example, my accent has elements similar to Raul Julia’s movie version of Gomez – not too strong, but still distinctly Latin. It’s also got a touch of Nathan Lane (I pinched his laugh for example, which is so amusing that it gets it’s own laugh from the audience.. thanks Nathan!). Early on in rehearsals, I trialed some voices that were a little more like Antonio Banderas in the Shrek movies however the Antonio voice was too different from the core voice I was using – he’s raspy and the accent is much thicker. I couldn’t incorporate it.
It’s important to trial different ways of delivery in rehearsals. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to deliver the same line the same way from the first rehearsal until the final dress (or even after opening night given that, in this show, the audience reaction will influence the pace). Rehearsal is all about trial and error and I work well with directors who push for a few alternatives on how to deliver lines and force me to think differently.
Once I have that down, I work on facial expressions, reactions, using props effectively and the intricate moments when my character isn’t speaking. Those moments are often overlooked, but they are just as important as dialogue. Getting these elements right is the difference between a polished performance that an audience can really engage with and something that just gets by.
In the theatre, I’m a creature of routine. When I arrive at the theatre, everything is done the same way at the same time. I’m boring like that…
TP: What’s your favourite moment in The Addams Family?
Chris: Great question Chris. I was wondering when you’d get to that. At this stage, I’d have to say that the finale to Act One “Full Disclosure” is my favourite scene, as it’s packed with jokes and the whole principal cast get a great opportunity to shine as individuals. I have also recently grown quite fond of Happy/Sad, as it’s a really tender little moment in an otherwise light and comic show between Gomez and Wednesday. However… this may all change when we get into the theatre. Sometimes it’s the scene you give the least attention to in rehearsals that can be the most enjoyable to play in front of an audience. I’m also a huge fan of aesthetics, so I am often drawn to the scene with the best sets and costumes and I won’t know what that’s gong to look like for a few more weeks.
TP: What will audiences get out of this show?
Chris: Another great question. For 40 bucks, or whatever the ticket price is, you will get an opportunity to see a seldom-performed show with some unbridled, piss-your-pants-funny entertainment that will distract you from your normal, dreary life. For those of you wondering if “Hughesy still has it” (and yes, some would argue that I never “had it”), then I can tell you… I’m a completely different performer these days. Directing has helped a lot with that. I’ve gained a completely different perspective on performing and I’m glad I took time out to explore that. I reckon that it’s made me a better performer overall. Come along and form your own opinion and if you disagree, then get stuffed! No refunds! Ha ha ha!
The Addams Family plays from July 22 at GPAC – Geelong
To book CLICK HERE