Build it and they will come. The line famously uttered in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams epitomises the journey that OXAGEN has taken. The company founded by three alumni of Xavier College and Genazzano nearly six years ago has worked to build a tight-knit community with a reputation for quality and memorable audience experiences. It has been a journey filled with memories, learning experiences, and fire trucks! The company’s repertoire has included West Side Story, Spamalot, and Songs for a New World. Each show has gathered success for a company that began its life as a singing group with big dreams and generous hearts.
Theatre People (TP) has watched the rise of OXAGEN over the last five years. And was pleased to discuss the upcoming O2 Anniversary Gala with the Director Penn Vann (PV) and President Ary Sudarmana (AS).
TP Ary, as one of the founding members of Oxagen, you have seen the company grow. What are your thoughts on the journey that has taken place over the last five years?
AS The last five years has certainly been a learning experience for all of us. The three of us who co-founded OXAGEN had very little experience in amateur theatre when we began, having only been involved in school musicals… The “OXAGEN Family” is one that is constantly growing and strengthening which has made all those hours of hard work over the last five years so rewarding.
TP Can you describe some of the high points through that five year period?
AS A couple that stand out include receiving an email from Jason Robert Brown on the opening night of our 2013 production of Songs for a New World thanking us for bringing life to his show and encouraging us to “Sing loud, make strong choices, and bring the audience along with you!”
Another memorable highlight was the final night of our Spamalot season in 2012, when, five minutes into act two the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate the theatre. The driveway into the theatre and the two or three fire trucks that turned up were the only things maintaining the fourth wall. Thanks to the ridiculous genius of Monty Python, fire alarm-related jokes improvised through the second act made for an even more poignant final performance. After the performance I had people asking me how we had organised for the fire department to have fire trucks show up as part of the performance.
TP Penn, as the director of the O2 Anniversary Gala, what are your thoughts on the coming show?
PV It was a great privilege to be asked back to direct a show which celebrates the 5 years of OXAGEN. I think it’s a fantastic achievement when and young company can make it to five years and still be going strong.
TP What will the audience experience during the Gala?
PV The style of the Gala is based on the Kennedy Centre Honours musical tributes that are all over Youtube… It is simply a celebration of 5 years of passion and dedication to theatre… We have assembled a very talented cast for the Gala.
The vast majority of our company members are soloists and lead performers in their own right and this lifts the standard of the show. The show is a combination of high energy company numbers from a variety of shows, such as Run, Freedom Run from Urinetown, America from West Side Story, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat from Guys and Dolls and Dirty Laundry from The Witches of Eastwick, as well as showcasing our phenomenally talented soloists with numbers such as Maria from West Side Story, Everybody Says Don’t from Anyone Can Whistle, Being Alive from Company and the title number from Children of Eden.
TP Ary and Penn, can you describe for the readers of Theatre People the process involved in putting together the Gala?
PV The process began back in February with selecting the content of the content. We wanted to celebrate what has been in the last five years as well as look to the future. The selection of numbers include songs from shows OXAGEN has previously performed as well as numbers from shows that might be done in the future. We extended an invitation to previous performers whose numbers we wanted to perform so it’s been a really great experience to work the some of the original cast members reviving their characters and performances.
AS Our first show was also a gala, OXAGEN’s Inaugural Gala Concert. Using that as experience we knew that putting together another one was going to be a deceivingly tricky job. Luckily this time around we had five years’-worth of members to invite back. We also had a selection of numbers that were already learnt which we could revive. This gave us the chance to experiment a little bit with numbers from shows we haven’t done and items from shows that rarely get performed on an amateur stage.
TP Ary, can you please describe how Oxagen and/or the idea for the company first came about?
AS OXAGEN was actually co-founded by Raphael Wong, Catherine Worsnop and myself in 2008 (making us officially six years old this year – it is the fifth anniversary since our first show). The idea came to us because the annual school musical had always been a highlight of our time at Xavier & Genazzano Colleges. Our friendship group had largely grown out of doing musicals together, and we had kept performing together after year 12 through a singing group called “Notes to Self” that still does concerts today to raise money for charity.
TP Penn, how did you first become involved with Oxagen?
PV I first worked with OXAGEN in 2013 when I directed Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. As I was finishing my degree at VCA, I was fortunate enough to be sharing a performance venue with a past director from OXAGEN. He had invited a couple of the committee members to come and see his show and, being a double bill, they saw mine as well. The rest, as they say, is history.
TP Ary, what is your favourite musical number to be performed at the Gala and why?
AS I have three favourites, the first being “Bui Doi” from Miss Saigon. It’s a song I’ve always loved, mainly because musically it is so simple yet there is so much emotion conveyed through just the melody, then you get to know the lyrics and it’s even more touching…
The other two are “I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change” and “Seasons of Love”. Both songs are songs we have always performed with “Notes to Self”, so to be able have the opportunity so many years later to still perform it with some of the same people, and the rest of the OXAGEN family that has grown out of that original idea is something very special and close to my heart.
TP Penn, what is your favourite musical number to be performed at the Gala and why?
PV I am proud of all the numbers in the show and they are all my favourite and all for a different reason. They all have a story behind them which makes them special to those who perform it.
TP Ary and Penn, there is five minutes before curtains up at the Gala. The audience grows quiet. The house lights dim. What are your thoughts?
AS After most likely having spent the last 24 hours in a manic state checking everything is good to go, those few moments in the mist of nervous excitement and the buzz of audience chatter give me the space to collect my thoughts and put everything into perspective, to be grateful that I have the opportunity to perform and that I get to do it with the people I love.
PV That I am extremely fortunate to be able to direct theatre and to work with such a brilliant company like OXAGEN with such amazingly talented people who are open and receptive and who, at the end of the day, are here for the same love of theatre that I have.
OXAGEN Productions O2 ANNIVERSARY GALA Runs for two shows only on June 27th, 2014 and June 28th, 2014. Performances will be held at the Eldon Hogan Performing Arts Centre, Xavier College. More information at can be found here.