After a sell out season in 2017, the University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association’s The Factory once again returns to the Melbourne Fringe Festival to present two brand new musicals by Australian writers, and presented by all female production teams. Chicks Dig It written by Coco Garner Davis and Victoria Hofflin and A Sharp Intake of Breath written by Lucy O’Brien appear for a few nights only this week, as an important opportunity to showcase and develop new Australian musicals. I spoke to the team working their butts off to pull these shows together about what it means to be working on brand new musicals, and how these two shows came to be part of UMMTA’s The Factory.
Union House Theatre awarded UMMTA a development week in January 2018, which was met with overwhelming support and interest from artists. For Bronya Doyle, producer of these two shows, the process of interviewing and discussing with all of the artists presented an opportunity for all different applications and all different forms.
“We found ourselves with two powerhouse scripts that we thought could be good for Fringe and then realised they were both with all female writing teams. From there it was a no brainer that we would do them at Fringe. We were so excited to provide an opportunity where women are significantly the minority. And Fringe is definitely an environment for celebrating diversity”, she said.
It’s been a huge learning process, working in an environment where you are building everything from scratch on brand new work.
“It forces you to work fast and under pressure. You don’t have the luxury of a finished script when you begin your planning, you also have no previous resources to draw on if creatively you get stuck which is a privilege of recreating professional musicals. But those challenges are the reason we do it. As a producer, all the hard works is forgotten and it’s actually so inspiring. To watch people get a chance to be creative with something that is their own and thrive, couldn’t be more exciting” said Doyle.
The Factory is an opportunity for many people at different levels all striving for the same goal, a safe and supported opportunity to be creative and show case new work.
“For me this is important because I love music theatre. It’s a pretty magical form of art, but it has a habit of getting caught in its time, especially given the commercial cost of musical theatre. I feel it is so important to foster the new voices and keep the form relevant and progressive. UMMTA is constantly growing and we are so proud we can continually foster new talent in different forms. I have been lucky that I could work with this team; they have taken every challenge in their stride. And it has been challenging, but when everyone is respectful of everyone’s ability and willing to go above and beyond… The amount of professionalism that this team has considering how young we are is so promising to what the future of musical theatre could look like”, said Doyle on the importance of programs like this, and how the two shows have come together.
Chicks Dig It
A darkly comedic feature-length musical set in the absurd world of a crumbling mustard mansion turned outback minimum security women’s prison, where the ladies rarely act like ladies. It follows a newly incarcerated young woman from the burbs of Melbourne who turned to embezzling to pay herself the money she feels she absolutely deserves. Upon her entrance into prison, she meets Jet – an aged, transgendered lifer – and when she learns he’s planning an escape. The musical follows their plot to escape with the aid of five prison misfits. The music is fun and the style is vibrant accompanied by big numbers to an 80s style soundtrack combines Wentworth, with The Book of Mormon.
For writers Coco Garner Davis and Victoria Hofflin, this musical came about from an assignment Garner Davis had to write, and Hofflin bringing the music together.
“The premise was actually born out of an article I read. I read that there was a prison that was forcing male inmates the where pink jumpsuits and the article made it sound like the most horrendous crime. Forget about the other horrendous stuff that happens in prison, God forbid you put them in pink jumpsuits. I just thought it was really ironic that the worst thing to happen to a man was to be in a “feminine” colour. So that started my ideas about a script set in a women’s prison where they would have to where pink”, said Garner Davis.
Putting the show on has been an excellent lesson in delegation for the young duo, which have put their show in Doyle’s hands.
“We’ve gotten to work with a bunch of people we couldn’t normally get to work with, and we don’t have to pay for it, which is huge. It means we don’t have to worry and can just focus on the work. We get to present it with another piece of work, which is so rare and may never happen again”, Garner Davis said on the experience working with UMMTA.
“It’s just really nice because we don’t have to organise things, which has been really great. We can just focus on writing. And we don’t have to worry about things we would normally worry about. It’s just been really nice supportive opportunity to work with”, said Hofflin.
A Sharp Intake of Breath
Declan used to be in a band, a pretty successful one at that, and he loves to tell stories about the old days in his pub. His daughters have heard him tell these stories so many times; they know them off by heart. But he’s starting to forget the words, forget where he is at times, and forget simple things. He’s a charismatic showman though, so he’s good at covering all that up – or so he thinks. It’s about family – how do we step in and intervene with people we love, how do we let go and move on from the past, no matter how glorious?
Writer Lucy O’Brien is overwhelmed that that UMMTA is putting her show on in the Fringe, and she isn’t even here to see it, having departed for New York earlier in September to study the Graduate Music Theatre Writing Program at NYU.
“This is honestly so wonderful, I can’t even begin to describe. Having other people put on your shows, after you’ve been self-producing for so long, feels like such a relief, such an amazing step forward. Between this and Jack of Two Trades which was put on by Monash University last year, I feel quite proud of myself for the progress I’m making. And also grateful, for the people who’ve allowed me to grow – whether that’s the cast and creative team of UMMTA (and their brilliant committee), or the previous two casts of Sharp Intake, plus the feedback I received from the Grassroots Initiative, which helped me guide it into the place its in now”, O’Brien said on the journey the show has been on.
The cast keep joking that this show is ‘Brunswick the Musical’, but O’Brien is specifically interested in that very particular Australian way of storytelling and the enigmatic people who are good at drawing a crowd – the magic around them.
“I’ve been kicking this idea around in a few different forms since 2014, and it’s gone through a few big changes in that time. I probably wrote the last song in the show first – My Best Mate – which is about a guy who finds family in his local pub, spends so much time there he calls the bartenders his best friends”, she said.
“Apart from that, it’s actually been sort of drawn together with a combination of personal stories, things I want to deep dive into, and place and dialect. Its pretty Melbourne inner-north-centric, and isn’t apologetic about that, because I love seeing our local places on stage. This lead character – this guy who can’t move on from the past, both because of his huge ego and because now he can’t form new memories and the past is all he can cling to – is another thing I was drawn to” said O’Brien.
“I’m just so overwhelmingly damn impressed with the youthful, amazing people putting on my show. In their professionalism, their commitment, and in their creativity. Plus, what a leading example for taking a risk on new works? How often do we see that, not just at a community theatre level, but at all?”
Don’t miss these two brand new shows – catch them as a double bill at the Lithuanian Club and support up and coming artists and performers, and brand new musicals in Melbourne.
Tickets from melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-factory-a-sharp-intake-of-breath and melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-factory-chicks-dig-it – special prices available for tickets to see both shows.