BUMP IN TIME! Kurt Phelan shares tips to survive production week in the theatre!

The nerves are setting in and the eyelashes are vanishing off shelves- it’s almost bump in week for the Mackay Musical Comedy Player’s production of Wicked and as always, tensions are high and hopes and stresses are higher! There is so much that can go wrong in ‘tech’ week, especially in community theatre, which is very dependent on close to one hundred people giving every ounce of time, focus, money (they need a frequent shopper card for gloss stockings!) and energy that they have in the desire to make what happens on Broadway- with a budget of hundreds of thousands if not millions- happen in the space of a week with a bunch of people that are already exhausted enough to drop.

People can get sick, people can overdose on McDonalds (they knew what they were doing when they built it close to the theatre here!) people can forget moves, people can get on each other’s nerves, and then on the other hand, people can make friendships and memories that last forever, which is why we do it in the first place, isn’t it?

But how do you make sure that you get the best of it all, without ending up an irritable, germ-ophobic, rundown wreck? Especially when you’re volunteering, and trying to balance kids, a job, your bank balance and your health?

Personally, I have a few little tricks up my sleeve to see me through. I brew a special tea that pretty much includes every natural anti-flu ingredient there is, from apple cider vinegar to licorice root leaves to pure honey, and I keep it in a thermos so I can offer it to everybody. I also make sure that I take a pair of comfy slippers with me because it can get cold backstage, especially during tech week when you’re sitting or standing around a lot. As for luck/tradition, I’ve made it a point since I started cheerleading to spritz on one of my (many) Britney Spears perfumes for star quality (It’s Sammy, bitch) and I used to have an awesome post-show ritual with a friend in cheerleading, where we would race one another to get changed afterwards, and the first one that was ready to go party would get to pop the Ricadonna. We’re funny little creatures of habit, humans, and Thespian and Athletes tend to have more productive ‘tics’ than anyone, but what really works?

This week I had the amazing opportunity to hang out with Kurt Phelan, who played the iconic Johnny Castle of Australia’s tour of Dirty Dancing, and because he always looks 100% together, I decided to pick his brain for tips on how to survive production week, and was curious to see how professional shows differ from community-based ones.

Of course Kurt has developed his many skills on a rich diet of both, so take his advice, fellow Thespians, and leap and whirl with it!

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Photo, contributed by Kurt Phelan.

S.K:
What are some huge differences between moving into the theatre before a community show, and a major production?

Kurt:
Mostly time. The first time you mount a large production you have at least a week, and the crew and technicians have a week or two before you get there to sort things out on their end so there’s a lot less standing around because the technical stuff is mostly ready to go by the time you arrive. There’s a lot more to be done in community but that’s part of the charm of it. When I went back to Townsville for Rent, I found it hard to get out of the ‘pro’ focus headspace and remember that it was supposed to be fun. In the bigger shows, you shut up and go.

S.K:
Is there anything in particular that you like to have in your dressing room to make you feel at home?

Kurt:
I like to have music if I’m in a room by myself. I listen until half hour call so I don’t end up all neurotic. Theatre’s also have a very specific smell, so I like to have a scented candle or something familiar going to make it feel like home.

S.K:
What kind of examples could you give for what you consider to be correct dressing room etiquette?

Kurt:
I hate it when people aren’t observant of other people’s needs, especially when you’re sharing a dressing room. Try not to make a lot of noise and fuss if you’re with people that require quiet and focus, and don’t bring in something to eat with a really strong smell, like butter chicken. Once I’m at the half hour call, I turn off music, and only start conversations if other people initiate them, just in case. It’s different for different shows though. Sometimes you need to be pumped up but if it’s Shakespeare, I like to focus in order to disappear into his world, and to get into the zone.
S.K:
What kind of meals do you have while you’re in a performance season?
Kurt:
A lot of vegetables, I eat really clean because I tend to get reflux, and that can often mean that I’ll lose my voice. I avoid the saucy stuff and go for simple, clean things like chicken and broccoli and savory mince. I’m not really into pastas either, but that’s because I end up with my shirt off a lot! On that note, Protein shakes are great too.

S.K:
How do you make sure that you don’t end up feeling run down, especially during the cooler seasons?

Kurt:
I’ve found that I’m always really hot and sweaty after I’ve finished a show, no matter what the weather, and everything outside of the theatre always feels cooler so I always have a jacket handy so I don’t catch a cold the old-fashioned way. It’s easy to do that too, because when you’re in a theatre you’re breathing everyone else’s air. It’s so easy to eat crap too, so I take in a lot of vegetables and vitamins.

S.K:
Coffee, Red-Bull, Gatorade, Water or all of the above?

Kurt:
Coffee always before a show!

S.K:
If you had a theatre survival kit, what would be in it?

Kurt:
(Quickly) Jameson Irish Whiskey. (Laughs) Nurofen. Moisturizer. Oh, and Difflam throat spray. I think it’s awesome but singing teachers don’t. It’s good to have honey and lemon nearby too- the real stuff.

S.K:
Do you have any pre-show or after show traditions that you like to observe for luck or just for the sake of tradition?

Kurt:
I used to do five push-ups before the finale, and it was cute, because the crew used to do it with me too. I also like to give each of my roles a particular smell by theming a cologne with it. I wore old spice for the whole tour of Dirty Dancing because I figured that back then, that’s what Johnny would have worn. Kirby would say ‘Oh, I just smell you again!’
And ever since forever, I used to spit on the soles of my soles – especially my tap shoes. It helps for slipping and makes me feel more confident. Just a little spit though (laughs) I’m not hocking up a big… anything.

S.K:
We are so dependent on our costume, stage and sound crews during a production in community theatre, and it’s not unusual for those in the cast to be asked or required to land a hand. Can you remember a time when a techie/crew member saved your ass from a backstage emergency?
Kurt:
When I was singing on the cruise ship, the lift didn’t come up the whole way. I stepped as I always did, fell and knocked out my front tooth! But a crew member looked for it until he found it and I thought that was cool. Another time, when I was an understudy, for Felicia in Priscilla, the lead hurt himself in the first ten minutes. I’d never done his role before, but the resident director and the stage managers had my script and costumes ready and followed me around for the whole thing, feeding me lines and entrances and exits.

S.K:
Wow! What’s the biggest tech-week disaster you ever experienced?
Kurt:
The first Priscilla show I did went for three and a half hours because the bus kept stopping! It was charity so everyone took it well, thank goodness. Oh and another time when I was playing Felicia I got off the shoe too early and ended up stuck and suspended over the audience!

S.K:
What’s the worst mistake that you’ve ever made?
Kurt:
(Groans) Okay, look- I fell asleep. (Laughs) It was my first musical, Singing In The Rain. We had an hour off between act one and two, and a lot of the older and cheekier cast members saw that I’d dozed up and said it would be funny if they left me there. I’m sure someone meant to tell me to get up eventually, but I woke up suddenly when I heard : ‘Gotta dance….!’ Which was, of course, what I was supposed to be singing! I ran out there, but by the time I made it to stage, the number was just ending. It was hilarious, in hindsight, but I was in tears.

S.K:
Can you remember another stressed out actor treating someone appallingly during a diva moment?
Kurt:
Not really. I have seen some tantrums, but Divas don’t last long in this business. However, I have been trying to work on how I treat people when I’m stressed out or in a rush because sometimes, when I’m having a crisis I forget my manners. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and go: ‘Shoes! Shoes!’ during a quick change, but I’m working on it.

S.K:
If a friend or a fan wanted to give you a performance gift, what would you prefer over the standard chocolates and flowers?

Kurt:
Something cute that is linked to that particular show. Like if I was doing the Book of Mormon, It’s be funny to have a God-themed present. I’m allergic to some pollens though, so if I get Lillies, I can’t even be in the room as them, so people give me wine a lot.

S.K:
What kind of wine would you like?

Kurt:
Anything from bubbles a nice bottle of red that I can keep for sentimental value, then look back at it and go: ‘Ahhh, I got this, for that show!’

S.K:
Have you ever had a ‘show-mance,’?
Kurt:
Yeah… but I’m not one of those people who seek it out, and once this someone and I kept it really quiet so people were stunned when they found out. ‘Don’t Screw The Crew,’ is a good expression, I think.

S.K:
How many long-term friends have you made during a production?

Kurt:
I find that you tend to keep two or three ones out of every production, but you almost always get along with everyone. Funnily enough, a lot of my closest friends are part of the crew- so I have a lot of muso mates.

S.K:
If you could do any show from your whole career again, what would it be?
Kurt:
Witches Of Eastwick, if it was a musical, or Tender Napalm. That was a performance art piece I did once and it was just amazing.

 

I would like to thank Kurt so much for making himself so available to the performers of Mackay, and to Joel Bow for organizing so many fantastic workshops. If you’d like to keep on track with what this shooting star is up to next, make sure you jump on and ‘like’ his Facebook page!

https://www.facebook.com/KurtPhelanAus/

And a big, fat CHOOKAS to the cast of MMCP’s Wicked! Going live next week! Only a few tickets left so get into people!

A Dreamy Evening : A Review Of Timber Dreams, Joel Bow Productions.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Timber Dreams, the cabaret review masterminded by Joel Bow, of Joel Bow Productions, as a part of the Anywhere Mackay Festival.

The concept was simple and seamless; stage a performance of some kind in a random location- anywhere but within a theatre- and bring on the entertainment. Of course even when Joel Bow does something simple he sets the bar at extraordinary, so he enlisted not only two very talented local songbirds, Kyra Geoghegan and Molly Rossetto to take up the challenge, but he got them and pianist Sarah Rosekrans to accompany the one, the only Kurt Phelan, whom a lot of lucky or theatre-savvy folks will recognize as Johnny Castle from the Australian production of Dirty Dancing. Together, this very talented quartet performed a variety of numbers from a few different genres over two sets in the highly original setting of Porters Timber Stockyard.
I will set the scene for you now- stacks of treated timber shelved all the way to the monstrously high ceiling, soft candlelight and colored mood lighting, heavenly incense wafting through the door to mix with that lovely timber smell (my husband works in a timber yard so that scent is borderline erotic to me now, lol) an intimate but eager audience scattered around the front of a very simple, vintage-inspired stage and two very gracious hosts greeting you at the door and making sure you’re not wanting for a refreshment or five. Everything Joel does is elegant, but Timber Dreams managed to be mysterious and cozy with a hint of rustic, and I guess that is one of the many upsides to the Anywhere Festival– it takes people out of one comfort zone but then introduces them to a new and very unexpected one. With the right eye, anywhere can be romantic, and Joel Bow has that eye, all right.

The performers were beautifully dressed in gorgeous evening wear too, and they absolutely sparkled under the lights- not just on the outside but from within. Molly Rossetto is still pretty fresh out of the Conservatorium Of Music, but she has the stage presence of someone who has been doing what she has done for decades. I’m currently in the production of MMCP’s Wicked with her and have seen her perform in quite a few things over the last year, and I’ve noticed that she tends to take on a lot of very dark or intense roles, which suits her perfectly because she has an incredibly strong voice and a very high range, which is hard to find. However, I saw a lighter side of Molly last night as well and I was delighted by that. She had quite a few songs and they were incredibly catchy and cheeky, so much so that I ended up Googling them earlier this evening because I was immediately a fan, and I don’t think I was the only one absolutely enamored by the tune: ‘A Contemporary Musical Theatre Song,’ which resonates like a cheeky in-joke for Thespians and theatre goers. Molly’s voice is a big one, not unlike Adele’s, and I really enjoy how effortless she makes singing a string of big-belt numbers look. Though younger and fresher onto the the scene than Kurt Phelan and Kyra Geoghegan, Molly definitely held her own last night and then some, and I think it’s safe to say that we can expect to see a lot more of her around the region in the future.

Kyra Geoghegan is a very seasoned local performer, and one that I have had the pleasure of seeing with and woking with many times before, but I was absolutely dazzled by her rendition of ‘How Bout A Dance?’ from the musical, Bonnie & Clyde last night. It was pitch perfect and luxurious, and proved why she so often gets cast as the lead in local productions: the girl just has that quality that puts asses in seats. She has an incredible Mezzo-Soprano sound and a belt that never fails to hit the back of every room, but more than that, she has this natural gift for connecting with the songs that she’s singing and then forcing that connection on the audience too. Seriously, I don’t get how she manages to make even eyebrow movements hypnotic but she does- when Kyra’s singing, one cannot take their eyes off her face and with the right song, she’ll move you to tears. I’ve always said that Miss Geoghegan is wasted on Mackay because I know she could move people anywhere, but truth be told, I’m very grateful for the fact that she’s chosen to not only stick around Mackay to dazzle audiences, but to endeavor to pass on her many gifts to her students at Aspire Performing Arts.

And then there was Kurt Phelan, and I don’t think even I have enough words to sum up exactly what seeing a Kurt Phelan performance is like, but I’ve seen him perform three times now, and I know that I will continue to drop whatever it is I’m doing in the future to see him again. Kurt is a top shelf singer and there’s absolutely no denying that, but he is is a performer in every sense of the word and so there is never a dull moment or a lull when he’s around. If you haven’t seen one of his shows yet, you’re missing a real treat, because he knows how to make you laugh, cry, snort-giggle and drink more, and you don’t see a single drop of effort behind anything he does. The man’s just a natural charmer with exceptional comic timing, and he knows how to string songs together with a few well-worded anecdotes that are delivered in a manner that will move you from tears to laughter without a beat being missed. I enjoyed every single song he sang last night whole-heartedly, but ‘Burn for You’ was the highlight for me, and I’m a big fan of the way he interacts not only with everyone from the production team, to the audience, but the way he draws attention to his fellow performers as well, bringing credit where it’s due. Really, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to catch one of his shows yet, do yourself a favour and follow him on Facebook or Twitter so you known when he graces a Mackay stage next, and ladies, take your husband along as I did but Kurt’s sense of humour is accessible to all kinds- and it wouldn’t hurt for some of his personal style to rub off on ‘em either because the boy from Ayr can wear a suit like no one’s business!

And in the vein of bringing credit where it’s due, I must say that I’ve never seen a musician captivate a room quite the way Sarah Rozekrans does. She chooses to be off stage and often to the right of it but Sarah has as much presence in every performance she does as anyone with a microphone in the spotlight. The way her fingers fly over piano keys is stunning in itself, but like Kyra, she has a way of connecting with the music while inviting others to connect with her. She never misses a note, she always looks stunning and when she’s inviting to jump in and start singing too the audience is always wowed. Her and Kurt have a fantastic chemistry that I noticed during his performance Phelan Groovy in 2014, and I believe, a very similar sense of humour so they’re a delightful combination every single time. As satisfying as the entire show was last night, I have to admit that my favourite moment was hearing the thunderous applause that was all for Sarah because she earned every beat of that.

Timber Dreams was definitely a singular experience, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t a face in the crowd that didn’t look like they were having the time of their life (pun intended like a mother) last night. Like everything that Joel Bow has done so far, and will certainly continue to do, it was an evening of perfect harmony, class and laughter delivered in a way that was seemingly effortless even though I know just how hard the cast, Joel and his crew; Greg Sugden, Tim Philips and Leah Edwards work to deliver such beautiful illusions. Five stars from start to finish guys, thanks for doing everything you do, and so well.

Bring It On The Musical Mercy College Mackay, a review.

Seeing as how I was a cheerleader for almost ten years, I would have seen Bring It On before now, but no one’s done it in Mackay, and because I am bound by the GPS points of 4-7-4-0, I had to wait until someone brilliant like Tania Attard decided to undertake it. I’ve never seen one of Mercy College’s shows before because I’m usually too tired to move after whatever MMCP rehearsal I’ve been flattened with that week, but as soon as I found out that it was being directed by THE Tania Attard (she earned that Uppercase ‘THE’ in Hairspray for me because it’s still the best show I’ve ever seen) and starring half of the kids that I’ve seen and have come to adore on the MMCP circuit, I was sold.
So tonight I dragged my retired pom-pom waving self and my still pom-pom waving daughter along to catch the opening night performance and we both had a great time. Cheerleading isn’t a sport that’s taken very seriously but the original Bring It On movie can be credited for changing a lot of people’s attitudes towards it. In fact, since that movie debuted cheerleading has gone from being a bit of an American stereotype to a worldwide phenomenon, and although it’s still stereotyped, it’s in a more multi-layered way now. You’ve got the glitz and the ponytail whips and the sassy popular girls, but there’s true athleticism buried under all of that glitter and Hairspray (Hairrrsssppprraaayyyyy!) And it creates incredibly powerful friendships between all kinds. In addition to that, the entire sport is about to be validated for real as its being introduced into the Olympics, and that’s been a long time coming. (Spoiler alert one- The Philippines is about to wear some gold, yo!)
Bring It On The Musical is very different to Bring It On The Movie though. (Spoiler alert 2-it’s actually a lot like the third movie Bring It On 3 All or Nothing which was the best one so we good) but the stage adaption focuses less on cheerleading and more on the relationships between the squad members. You still get the cute routines performed by some incredibly skilled athletes, but you get a lot of great songs that I think teenagers are going to love. My daughter walked out going: ‘I waannnaaa beee innn thattt….’ and I’m not surprised. The songs and choreography was very modern, so there was a booty shake for every high V, which a dancer will appreciate.
The cast was full of energy, and I was incredibly impressed by a lot of the choreography and some of the skill sets that these kids had, and I’m a hard sell because I have legit seen about 1040 cheerleading performances by this point. To be honest the moves aren’t quite as gravity defying (I’m in a theatre-pun mood so excuse me) as in the movie and I’m grateful that they weren’t because when I walked in I started eyeing the lighting-scaffolding warily lest a baskettoss should go awry (I speak from gymnasium ceiling fan experience), but the director and choreographer have managed to create two incredible cheerleading teams out of one high school cast and I appreciate what a feat that is. I got the impression that there were a few cases of opening night nerves and a few technical glitches, but I daresay they’ll be nonexistent tomorrow night and really, these kids pulled off a cracker of a show. Whoever handled the lighting/staging concept was incredibly inspired- the experience was not that different to being in the MECC.
As I’ve mentioned before, there were quite a few very small but very seasoned actors within the cast and to me they shone like absolute stars tonight. But the great thing about this show is that it gave everyone something wonderful to do- some moment to stand out. Of course your eye goes to the leading lady because she has to be on from start to finish and played her role perfectly, but the script grants every cast member the chance to pull focus or switch it up. There was no good guys vs bad guy feels being pushed onto the audience, because the antagonist was just a little bucket of adorable too, and I really appreciate that because to me, it helped encouraged healthy competition without hate and that is such an important lesson for teens today to get. In the same vein, I won’t go naming a lot of names with people so young, but the parrot (lorikeet?), the rappers, (good grief I almost laughed my way under my seat) and the sassy misses heading the Jackson Crew stole the show for me tonight. And some of the athletic skills that were rolled out in the finale had me, well…cheering. Ten spirit fingers go to the little leaper, the girl that pulled the bow and arrow and the vocal stylings of Georgia Attard, who I cannot help but name because I think everyone’s going to know it soon enough! And as far as superstars go, hats off to the typically-unappreciated person who slaved over the programs because they were AMAZING. Whoever did those deserves a bow of their own at the end! But you cannot walk away from this particular production without knowing that every single person involved gave 150% of themselves in the end, especially the director who never ceases to amaze me.

Bring It On The Musical will be on tomorrow night and Saturday night at Mercy College, and you don’t want to miss your chance to either get your teen to go on with you as a mother daughter date like I did, or con them into going as a group because it will be a fantastic night out that’ll have all that see it feeling uplifted after.

Tickets can be bought over the phone or at Mercy College and are a great price, so make sure you take some time out to be entertained!

Complete PNR Trilogy For Free!

I’m giving away all three books in my Kissed By A Muse Series, on Amazon Kindle today! A heavenly wicked romance with a mythological twist and steamy but sentimental undertones! A must-read for those who are looking for a highly original concept, or are in need of a new book boyfriend!

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