As musical theatre in Victoria reached giant-ape-climbing-a-sky-scraper heights this year, Queensland also made many a musical fan happy. The state premiered Grease, announced it would open the Australian production of The Rocky Horror Show next year and saw the continued rise of one Brisbane’s premier community theatre groups, Harvest Rain Theatre Company. They may have cancelled their last show, but this is in the same stellar season in which they made their fully-professional debut, brought some big names to the Brisbane stage and wowed audiences with sold-out shows. Theatrepeople.com.au talks to Harvest Rain’s Artistic Director Tim O’Connor ahead of the 2014 season launch to discuss last season’s shows and gives a hint of what we can expect next.
TP: All Shook Up promised much of the same talent seen in your sold-out production of Hairspray yet, in a first for Harvest Rain, this production was cancelled. Can you talk about what happened?
TO: We were all so excited about All Shook Up. It's a really fantastic show, and I think it could have been even bigger and better than Hairspray in many respects. Sadly, it just didn't attract the ticket sales we needed to make it financially viable. Ultimately, you have to listen to your audience. These shows are expensive to produce so you have to make sure your audience is with you. It was really sad to have to stop everything in its tracks, but I think it's given us time to really finesse our plans for 2014. Next year is going to be our biggest year ever, so having a little bit of downtime before we launch has been an enormous gift because what's coming is going to be HUGE! Hold on to your hats…..
TP: This year’s Oklahoma! was Harvest Rain’s first fully-professional musical production. Are you aiming to produce more shows professionally in future seasons?
TO: From 2014 onwards, Harvest Rain will operate as a fully professional musical theatre company, which means all performers, creatives and musicians will be engaged professionally to appear in our shows. It's a big and exciting step, and it means great things for musical theatre performers, chiefly because there will be more work available! Of course, we are still making plans for ways in which amateur and emerging performers can engage with some of our productions – one of our productions next year in particular will have a core professional cast but we intend to offer the opportunity to some emerging amateur performers to take part in a large ensemble around that group (you'll hear more about that later!).
TP: The success of Oklahoma! and The Lincoln Center Theatre production of South Pacific have shown that classic musicals are still popular. Though Harvest Rain is better known for more contemporary and even new works, can we expect old favourites in future seasons?
TO: I love the challenge of taking a musical that is 60 or 70 years old and introducing it to a modern audience. So many people said to me after Oklahoma! "I always thought that musical was so boring, but you guys made it so entertaining!" What's funny is that we didn't make any massive cuts or changes to the original script or score — these classic musicals are classics for a reason. Often it's just the way you process the material, present and package it and the way you deliver it that matters. The best thing is that with some of those older classics, you know that the more youthful portion of the audience are potentially seeing the show for the first time. I remember on the day of our first preview of Oklahoma!, we brought our musical theatre interns in to watch the final dress rehearsal. Most of them are 18 – 20 years old and had never seen Oklahoma! so seeing their reaction to the piece was just wonderful. It's such a pleasure to be able to introduce these works to a new audience, but also an honour to be able to reintroduce it to the people who grew up with that music back when it was first released! Our season next year is a real mixed bag – there will be one very recent Broadway hit musical, one modern Broadway classic and one golden oldie! Something for all!
TP: Popular shows, such as your production of Jesus Christ Superstar, have been re-staged in subsequent seasons. Are there any shows from your 2013 season you would consider producing again?
T0: I'm personally not a fan of return seasons, which I'm sure sounds funny coming from the producer who has staged a few return seasons in recent years. I think it's often difficult to recapture the magic of the first season. Putting Superstar back together for the return season was one of the most terrifying and challenging things I've ever done. The first time round there was little expectation, the second time round the expectation was overwhelming and I didn't know if we could get lightning to strike twice for us! (Thankfully it did!). Working on Oklahoma! was one of my very favourite experiences in the theatre ever. It was just joyous from start to finish, but the season was brief so I would love to revisit Oklahoma! at some stage, but that won't be in 2014. Maybe in a few years’ time…..
TP: Harvest Rain has brought stars like Simon Gallaher, Ian Stenlake and Amanda Muggleton to the Brisbane stage. Can we expect more big names?
TO: Oh yes you can! That's a very big part of what we do now. Our motto for 2014 is "the stars shine bright in Brisbane" and it's really true. There are some really big stars appearing in our 2014 season. Marina Prior will be doing a show with us, as will Jon English, and Simon Gallaher, Ian Stenlake and Angela Harding are back for more, and that's just the beginning.
TP: So Harvest Rain’s own talents will be making a return as well?
TO: There will always be a mix – established stars alongside our own rising stars. I often say at Harvest Rain, we don't just bring the stars to Brisbane, we make them here too. So many well-known performers got their start at Harvest Rain. I turned on the television the other day and saw Matt Passmore starring in the US TV series, The Glades. He got his start at Harvest Rain way back in the early 90's and since then so many people have used Harvest Rain as a launching pad like he did. Now with our musical theatre internship program, we're churning out young stars like Casey McCollow, Erika Naddei, Shaun Kohlman, and so many more who now get the chance to work alongside established stars like Prior or Gallaher in locally produced work. It's incredibly exciting. I am passionate about giving performers in Queensland the opportunity to forge a career for themselves in the musical theatre world. It used to be near impossible to live in Queensland and be able to train or work in musical theatre. Now you can do both – thanks, Harvest Rain!
TP: Callum Mansfield’s choreography is always a highlight of Harvest Rain’s musicals and his original production of Ink and the Unknowns had a sell-out season. Will there be plenty of dancing for him to choreograph next season?
TO: Callum's work has become a very big part of the Harvest Rain brand, and he himself is one of our rising stars. He started out with us when he was twelve and we've nurtured him as a choreographer to the point where he is now in high demand all over the place. In fact, it's actually getting difficult to secure him for all of our shows because he has so much work, but that's just how it should be! I'm so proud of him and what he has achieved as a choreographer and I can tell you with certainty that he will be back at Harvest Rain next year, and in fact we're going to really put him through his paces with one of our shows in particular. It might be his biggest and best work yet! Stay tuned!
Harvest Rain Theatre Company launches their 2014 season on Monday 18th November. Further info at www.harvestrain.com.au.