Alex and Mel discuss her new show, the creative process, and the state of amateur theatre.
When it comes to amateur theatre, Melissa Trickey is a busy woman. She describes herself as having grown up in the community, (“entering my seventh year… it feels like decades!” she says) and she’s made herself known during that time . Most recently the director of Players Theatre Company’s Hot Mikado, Mel’s also known for her choreography and skill as a dancer and performer. Recently, she’s been taking new steps into the world of cabaret shows with her new show Happiness 101: Laughter is the Best Pseudo-science, premiering at The Butterfly Club on the 24th of February.
“It’s fun, and it’s something a bit different,” Mel says, buzzing after giving a brief preview of the show for the audience at the Treble Clef several Sundays back. The show centres around a class teaching the basics of happiness, taught by a certain Professor Geraldine Gravis (“She’s a PHE, MBCD, EBFC… I think one of her other titles is a FFFF”), joined by her assistant and accompanist, played by Roland Brache, who’s also musically directing the production. It becomes apparent early that, while Professor Gravis’ class and research are on Happiness, she’s not someone who should be teaching the subject. After Professor Gravis’ past, the audience is taken through a whirlwind story, involving lost love, stolen dreams, meditations on what happiness truly is, and a massive dance montage. The score is made up of some of Mel’s musical favourites with altered lyrics to fit the story, but she stresses that, unlike certain popular musical television programs, that they aren’t included for the sake of the songs themselves. “All of them have to be relevant. I had to change a song after the first run through in the Club, we decided it just wasn’t working… but I think I’ve gotten a lot better at picking relevant material, and all the lyrics I’ve rewritten are my own.”
Mel’s able to rattle off the complete plot and score with such detail and at such speed that one would think that it’s been floating around for years, but Mel tells me that her character of Geraldine Gravis, PHE, MBCD, ETC, is hardly two months old. Mel explained the genesis of Happiness 101, which was originally a part of The Way To Cabaret program produced by Why Not? Production Company in 2009. “It was called Optimism 101, and it was me as Mel, talking about what makes people happy.” While it’s eventually transformed into the show as it is today, Mel admits that her first brush with the cabaret format was extremely conceptual. “I’m not sure it had a point.” She says with a smirk, “Originally I just picked the songs in 2009 because I liked them. It was just… random. I just got my iPod out, I asked ‘is that about happiness, yes, put it in.’ " After the original show in 2009, Mel tucked the idea away until an appropriate lull in her schedule. After her directorial debut, she found her moment. “I decided I wanted a break from prod teams, so I auditioned for shows. And I didn’t get in. Which is sort of awkward. After, I was like ‘Well, if I’m not going to get an opportunity to be in a show, I’ll just make my own!’” Of course, Mel tells me that she’s now over-worked after getting cast in two shows for the next season.
While the essential concept and the intended title are the same (“Halfway through rehearsal for Optimism 101, I thought I should have called it Happiness 101, but the posters had been printed!”), Mel decided that when she revived the show, she’d be prepared. “I thought if I ever brought it again, I’d need to bring a director on… there’s no way of knowing if you’re good if it’s just yourself. I wanted someone to guide me.” Enter Kim Edwards, the director of Happiness 101, who Mel cannot speak more highly of. “Kim know so much about cabaret…It was Kim who said ‘why don’t you have a character?’ It’s taken a turn I’ve never expected, but that’s why I wanted Kim in the first place.” Mel revealed that although she’s protective of her own material, she valued the outside perspective that Edwards offered. “I had no idea if the script was good or not. She’d say ‘swap this around, this doesn’t work, you need more here, less here.’ It’s hard to hear when you’re the writer, but that’s why I got her. I always like being directed, it’s good to have that again.”
While Mel’s show is intriguing for its own merits, a self-funded cabaret production headed up by someone with such close ties to amateur musicals raises a few pertinent questions, especially considering the financial state that many companies are facing. “This show is self-reliant. It’s quite bizarre! It’s your show, and you’re investing and making the profit, every rehearsal costs you money. Everything [in bigger companies] that I’ve done, you rehearse it to death, but with Happiness 101 we have one dress rehearsal and I’m on. We’ve had five rehearsals and a prod meeting.” While Mel is optimistic about her production, she never lets herself become unrealistic when discussing practical matters. “It’s risky doing this, because there’s always the chance people won’t come! You have to cut corners, when it’s your money and yourself on the line… For example, I wanted a projector, but I’ll borrow one from my work. You don’t have to pay anyone for that.”
Mel admits that she’s striking out on an unfamiliar path, but upon the suggestion that struggling companies follow her example and pursue smaller, original shows, she’s quick to point out the difficulties of creativity. “It’s small potatoes. If I lose money, it’ll be a couple hundred dollars. I can take risks… but a company that has, say, $20,000 dollars worth of expenses for a show, any show is a risk, especially now. Creativity’s great, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” However, upon further discussion, Mel concludes that perhaps some company’s bills will remain unpaid regardless of risks taken. “A lot of our companies are facing a real threat of closure, some of them will do the standard shows and not sell them because of the saturation in the market… nothing is paying the bills. I think this year might be the year. To get tickets sold, [companies] need to market themselves really well, and we’ve hit a wall in marketing. Facebook, letter drops… they’ll only get you so far. If I knew the answer, I’d share it!”
Despite the risks Mel is facing and the theatrical climate she’s releasing her show into, she remains, of course, optimistic. “This is all just a bit of fun. I want to give it the best shot that I can, and I’m stable enough in who I am to take risks and not worry about what people think. What matters to me is that I felt that I was good enough.” Mel’s enthusiasm for the show transcends all the worries. When asked why audiences should attend this show, she said simply “You can come and be happy for an hour. Why wouldn’t you want to be happy?”
Happiness 101: Laughter Is The Best Pseudo-Science
The Butterfly Club
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