Jonathan Larson brought us the worldwide phenomenon of Rent before he tragically died on the morning of the first preview. tick, tick… BOOM! is one of Larson’s lesser known musicals and debuted after his untimely death. Now, Pursued By Bear is bringing tick, tick… BOOM! to Chapel off Chapel in an intimate production very dear to the creative’s hearts.
tick, tick… BOOM! follows Jonathan Larson’s life as he struggled with turning 30 without his dreams fully realised, and the impacts of his choice to pursue a creative career.
Directed by Paul Watson, in this production Luigi Lucente is Jon and Angela Scundi is Susan. All have had extensive performance careers; Lucente and Scundi have been finalists in the Rob Guest Endowment Award, Lucente in 2011 and Scundi in 2014.
“It’s an incredible program aimed at young performers under 30 looking to pave their path in the industry,” Scundi said.
“You get the opportunity to perform on your own with a full orchestra on the Capitol Theatre Stage. It’s incredible. The reality is it could go to anyone there.”
Lucente agreed, saying it gave a great platform to showcase himself to industry connections.
“The nature of competitions is that there’s only one winner,” Lucente said.
“It exposed people to my work who weren’t familiar with me, and gave me the chance to perform for them.”
But that’s not where the similarities end. Scundi and Watson were going to work together on Rent ten years ago, but she was accepted into NIDA.
“We like to call that experience unfinished business,” Scundi said.
“In that production, Paul was playing Mark and I was cast as Mimi, so it’s great that ten years later we get to work on another Larson show together.”
Scundi also has past experience working with Lucente, on The Rocky Horror Show.
“Luigi and I did Rocky together, so I’m super excited to be working together again,” she said.
“I’ve spent half my life on Rocky productions and it was the first gig I got straight out of uni with a cast full of big names and I was the only one who hadn’t done a show before.”
There’s plenty of natural chemistry and heart behind Jon and Susan in tick, tick… BOOM! Director Paul Watson said this was a deliberate choice.
“When Ange was auditioning, we saw they had incredible chemistry,” Watson said.
“When she walks out on stage you know she knows who she is.”
The show is a sort of biopic of Larson’s life as he was turning 30. It raises questions like whether he should be an artist with how much he struggles financially and how much pressure it puts on relationships in his life. Watson purposefully cast people around the same age as the characters, saying it was “really important to get those parallels right”.
“What was really important for me and the creative team was that I wanted our actors to come out on stage and play themselves,” he said.
“I didn’t want caricatures – that wasn’t the point. It’s sort of a biopic in that sense. It’s about celebrating the similarities between Jon and Luigi for example – he’s in that age bracket, he’s a creator and a performer as Jonathon was. I said to the cast I’m looking for people who are brave enough to be themselves.”
Both Lucente and Scundi feel that they can bring in whatever’s going on in their lives to the show and be real.
“It’s not like we’re putting up a façade or slightly bizzaro alternate versions of ourselves. The script is more of a film script and it requires more naturalistic performances. It’s played very real,” Lucente said.
“Being an artist, we are constantly at these crossroads of struggle and questioning our life choices. Our psyche is always evolving and that’s the same for any type of creative person. It’s Larson’s work and we’re seeing bits of all of us in the story.”
Scundi said it hits incredibly close to home.
“It’s like my life right now. I’m 29 turning 30 this year, and these three friends in Tick Tick are all turning 30,” she said.
“It highlights the different choices you make and the consequences of them. I’m going through that right now. You know I sometimes feel like I’m still 24, but I’ve gone through being unable to say yes to things because I got married and bought a house, and didn’t want to spend months away from my husband.
“Tick Tick is of our generation in terms of we’re not getting married and starting families at 21 or 22. We’re living in an apartment with five friends and eating steamed rice. But also we’re dealing with loved ones not quite understanding our career choices, waiting for us to get a ‘real job’.”
In tick, tick… BOOM!, Jon’s best friend Michael (played by Quin Kelly in this production) has given up a creative career and has a BMW, a new apartment and a research executive job.
“So should I have a $100k job, a baby on the way and own three houses?” Scundi said.
“What choices have I made, are they selfish, am I alone in this? Am I an actor if I’m not cast in something right now? This is what I’ve chosen to do, but how do I sustain it and my relationships? Tick Tick is a little insight into what really goes on in the industry and it’s a great lesson as an artist. You don’t often see behind the glittery curtain. There’s no room for ego in this industry.
“This is the first show I’ve done in 18 months. I’m more balanced right now doing this show than I was four weeks ago just working full time at a job I love. This has showed me that I have to do it. I don’t have a choice. I’m able to do the other things in my life because of performing. That’s my life.”
Scundi’s story is all too familiar for many artists, and Lucente relates to it.
“I got married a couple of months after Ange and I’ve also got a mortgage. We’re constantly having to juggle two performing arts careers,” he said.
“We’re having a weekly discussion about how we are going to get through the next two months. It takes a lot of hard work and it’s a roller coaster. You have to be a united support team for each other to be able to get through those darker times. It’s the best and worst. And being in Australia, we have to follow the work because it just doesn’t come to us. Overall, it’s a pretty addictive lifestyle I think.”
The resounding message from Scundi and Lucente about establishing and maintaining a career as an artist, was that it takes profound resilience and supportive networks.
“So many artists fall away from their dreams – there is a universal theme of resilience in Larson’s work,” Lucente said.
“Paul and I are such Larson fans there will be lots of little things that will ignite that time period and the setting of the piece. It will feel really authentic and impressive. tick, tick… BOOM! can offer something for everyone – if you don’t know anything about Larson or his work, it’s this fantastic biopic of a fantastic writer and his struggles. If you’re a musical theatre fan, it is a fantastic companion piece to whatever you know of Rent – it’s a rock n roll musical with heart and struggle. We feel it’s just the way Jonathon would’ve liked it to be.
“I like the audience to be transplanted into the world of the piece. In the way we’ve staged this show, they’re a fly on the wall or in the audience of a workshop. Because it is a small boutique musical, being able to put a stamp on it is great. To be able to present work that’s so authentic that we’ve been able to craft and shape is amazing. This production will be so unique.”
Not only are the cast encouraged to bring themselves to their characters, the whole process is immensely collaborative.
“Being a director is my true love now. This has been highly collaborative and organic, it’s about being on the floor and seeing if it will work,” Watson said.
“Luigi made a decision the other day and it wouldn’t have come about if we weren’t mucking around. And likewise, if they were just actors asking to be told where to go, it wouldn’t have come out.”
Lucente and Watson’s adoration for Larson will translate into plenty of ‘Larson-isms’ planted into tick, tick… BOOM!. For instance, they both told Theatre People about how Larson had a habit of asking people to not pick up the phone so he could leave his entire musical on their voicemail. They talk about him with the upmost respect, so it’s no surprise how dedicated they are to this production.
“The ‘tick’ is about these percussive moments in life that grind at you and the ‘boom’ can sometimes be quite good. I’ve wanted to do Tick Tick for a long time, but it’s never felt right. Every time I’ve done a Larson show, it gets inside you. Every person I’ve ever seen do Rent has walked away a better person,” Watson said.
“It’s been the greatest decision. I know some people will come expecting musical theatre. The ethos is like Once – we focus on the people and the simplicity of honest, real humans and how they create to the detriment of things going around them. The addiction to their art can cause friction in other areas of their lives.”
“I think as creatives in our country we need to understand we have a responsibility when we’re being the story teller. We have to be clever. The age of going out there to shock people and slap them in the face – I think that era has gone. We’re a more intelligent human race now. We can do things better and get a more powerful impact out of it.”
With an intricate knowledge of Larson and an extensive career in performing, Watson is acutely aware of the impact of performance.
“To go and see a show and sit forward in your seat, investing for two hours, is magic. If I can get that to happen, then it’s heaven.”
There’s a lot more to be said about the creatives behind Pursued By Bear’s tick, tick… BOOM!, but ultimately it can be summed up by them being incredibly generous and attached to this material. It’s sure to be a special show, leaving you as far forward in your seat as possible.
tick, tick… BOOM! is at Chapel off Chapel from Thursday 21 April, 2016.
Cast: Luigi Lucente (Jon), Angela Scundi (Susan), Quin Kelly (Michael), Mitch Roberts (Cover and Ensemble), Rebecca Hetherington (Cover and Ensemble), Brenton Cosier (Cover and Assistant Director)
Season Dates: Thursday April 21 – Sunday May 1
Tickets from $39
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel Box Office 03 8290 7000 or www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
For more details: www.pursuedbybear.com.au