by Kenneth Gaffney
2017 has begun, and we need some more Knights to help find the Holy Grail!
Hello everyone, thank you in advance for reading. My name is Kenneth Kennington, and I am a Footlights Knight of the props table. Okay… That’s not actually my name – maybe I got your attention.
After a fantastic collaboration with Supertonic, Footlights are back for 2017 and our next show will be Monty Python’s SPAMALOT! We are very excited to begin rehearsals, let out our inner silliness and put on this wonderfully silly show, sure to make you (the audience – if you book in time) and us (the cast, crew, and musicians) laugh enough to drown out 2016 (a lot of people remember the bad things, but some good things did happen!)
I still remember Legally Blonde fondly, Bruiser barked like a wee champion, didn’t he? Before we smashed it again with Heathers. So let's kick off 2017 with a bang!
Spamalot won 3 Tony awards in 2005, so there you go – it comes certifiably ready for us to bring you a show that you’ll love! What excites me about this show is that it’s incredibly silly, like me! The show acknowledges its ridiculousness, it pokes fun at theatre, and musicals (a quick Wikipedia search will tell you all the details you need to know - just don’t read too much and spoil the show for yourself like I did with Game of Thrones…)
I joined Footlights after I successfully screeched Chess’ Anthem, in my audition to join the company for Rent back in the ye’ olden year of 2015. I think I pleased the Lords of Footlights' round table because I got in! I originally wanted to join when I went to see Taking the Minnie. I was doing the good friend thing by going to see it and was crossing my fingers that I enjoyed the show. I freaking loved it - I saw people having fun, connecting with each other, and a family.
Footlights is important to me because it allows me to work my creative muscle, escape my full-time job, and sing beautiful harmonies with some pretty cool friends. I will admit that a lot of the shows we do, I have no idea what half of the songs are, but by the end I am loving it as much as the diehard musical lovers of Footlights. I believe this will be one of the best shows we’ve ever done. Why? We are growing. Every year, every season, every rehearsal, we are growing. Footlights are a young society that is going some pretty exciting places. You can be part of that, and not just as an audience member.
That brings me to my next point. We are having auditions for our 2017 intake! If you are reading this, and you are not one of the members of Footlights this is your opportunity to join our society (Family). You might think, “I’m not silly enough”, “I’m not a good singer”, “I’m not a good actor”, “I have all of the left feet”. Well, I have some advice for you. Try anyway! You might be the only one who thinks that. (I can’t dance to save myself, but they somehow let me in!)
There is a lot of love within Footlights, and you could be part of something special. Wouldn’t you rather try, rather than wonder what could have been?
To book an audition, email us at email@example.com.
by Ellen Walsh, Supertonic Guest Writer
Showmance, the title of our forthcoming show with Footlights, is one of my favourite things: a portmanteau. A portmanteau can basically be defined as a linguistic blend of words, and for me, the show will also be a musical blend of worlds.
Musical theatre and I have a long and lovely history; watching The Sound of Music and Annie religiously on the weekends, forever being amazed at the sudden technicolour world that Dorothy finds herself in in The Wizard of Oz, my mum 'washing that man right out of my hair'. And most recently, the new and similarly fantastic ‘modern musicals’ that are just as addictive, even if it means I’m quietly weeping at emotional torch songs in public, or awkwardly rapping. (No one needs to hear that. Make me stop.) I really got into seeing Footlights productions - they’re very good, you should go see all of them - scratching the itch for live musical theatre in the city where I live.
Theatre classes when I was younger were never that successful. Some of us just aren’t born to dance and I was never light of foot in tap class. But the singing thing - the singing thing I could do and I loved it. I think particularly at school you really have to love something to go to choir at lunchtime, right?
I loved choir, but only as an adult am I able to fully settle into my choir nerd-ery without shame. It’s even on my profile on my work intranet. I will literally talk your ear off about Supertonic if I can segue it into a conversation. I truly never expected that random audition that I decided to do after a significant break away from choir would change my life so much. Seriously. (I was told I could write about my feelings so there are some feelings, what of it).
For all that, there was always an itch for musical theatre still waiting to be scratched. I even studied a Bachelor of Performing Arts Management, worked as a stage manager, but never quite got the opportunity to stage manage a musical as I moved away from doing theatre as a job full time. Until I had a happenstance conversation with the lovely Ellie, who is in Footlights and Supertonic, about how they needed a stage manager for Heathers: The Musical and I got to do it for real! It was a full on show, fun and challenging for everyone involved, but so well done and they dealt with the difficult subject matter beautifully. It was surprisingly emotional for me to be able to stage manage a musical with them; it meant more to me to do it than I thought.
I really loved stage managing Heathers, but I’m sure I was incredibly irritating backstage with my singing. I was that stage manager. Way too invested in the show. Why speak cue lines, when you can sing them right? So it’s really great that we’re doing Showmance and that my musical worlds can collide. I can finally sing musical theatre on a stage with my Supertonic friends and some new Footlights friends. There’s a luscious mix of some glorious chorus numbers, snappy small group performances, and solos which are all so very good if you’re coming you’re in for a treat.
The very best thing of all is that I can finally, finally perform songs from musical theatre but I don’t have to dance... well, not too much, I hope. If I do, I hope there’s no tap-dancing.
Buy tickets for Showmance, a concert celebrating friendship, community and musical theatre on December 10th, by clicking this link.
by Ellie Stewart
I've just come home from one of our last rehearsals for Heathers: The Musical, where I put on my full costume for the first time. The cast looks fantastic due to the excellent efforts of costumier Stacey O'Brien (a theatre ninja who directed our last revue and is also playing Heather Duke) and the effervescent Mel Campbell, our sensational seamstress and co-designer. Playing Martha 'Dumptruck' Dunnstock, Westerburg High's naive, overweight sweetheart, who is kitted out in the most fabulously pink outfit imaginable (Elle Woods, watch out!) is proving both a delight and a challenge. The delightful part is playing the only nice character in a play rife with assholes. The challenge is more of an internal struggle. Can I play the 'fat' character... if I'm not fat?
When our director, the excellent Karen Anslow, first gave us her thoughts on how she would approach casting Heathers, she mentioned that any role could be played by anyone in our company (provided their vocal range suited the part.) Performance would prevail over appearance.
For many reasons, I'm a good choice for Martha. The extreme content of Heathers is being closely watched by our production team, and looking after the company's wellbeing is as important as protecting our audience. I've never been bullied over my appearance specifically. I have a resilient personality that can resist internalising the harsh words in the script. I felt passionate about honouring and respecting the character.
The directorial decision to physically pad out the person playing Martha, all things considered, is understandable. Because we are a small company, there is a limited pool of people to cast from. It's not believable to put a perfectly average-sized body on stage and call it fat. But I know that won't stop some people finding it problematic. And while portraying a person who has a high proportion of body fat is one thing, playing a caricature is unacceptable. How do I avoid this?
Let's get one thing straight. There is nothing wrong with fat bodies. There is nothing wrong with any body. Body policing is never going to have a positive impact on the policed. Who can ever know why someone looks the way they do? Cries of 'but, health!' ring starkly of false concern, and factors ranging from socioeconomic status to plain old genetics are all at play in myriad ways, rendering the opinions of others irrelevant. No one has the right to tell others what to do with their body. When it comes to beauty, real world definitions are endless, and individual perceptions of perfection are unique. Dismantling the strict beauty standards that put whiteness and thinness at the forefront of social values is integral to equality and the wellbeing of young people. Let's stop punishing ourselves for not fitting into the narrowest of categories.
I can say all this, and I can believe all this. I can acknowledge the hell out of the privilege I'm afforded as a fashionably proportioned (thanks, Kim K and Beyoncé!), white, cisgendered, straight person. But like most people with first world problems, I am still led to wonder, 'am I fat?' More specifically, 'if I were thinner, or smaller, or had a more delicate bone structure... would I be more loved?' My family and friends would probably be surprised to know that checking mirrors to make sure I'm not fat is a daily ritual. This self-policing can happily coincide with genuine confidence, self-acceptance and body positivity. These are not mutually exclusive feelings. But I don't want to waste time thinking about it. 'Beauty comes from within' is a resonant cliché. And I care less and less thanks to a healthy consumption of feminist think-pieces, being outwardly proud and confident my appearance, accepting and internalising compliments, remembering that 10 years and 10 kilos ago I had exactly the same perception of my body, and tentatively observing the slowly but surely changing global media.
I want to see more diversity on stage and screen – that goes for race, ability, sexuality and gender as well as size and shape. I know people need to see themselves represented. The social impact of what we watch cannot be underestimated. Every time I see a person on film who has a physical feature I share, especially if It's not considered ideal, I am elated. Seeing yourself represented is incredibly validating. We only value what we see the most of - let's see more of what people look like. When I saw the Ghostbusters reboot, I wasn't just delighted by the great jokes and funtimes. Watching four women be at the centre of a film, and smash the Bechdel test, and do fight scenes without showing their boobs and butts, was a revelation. I finally understand why people like action films – seeing yourself in a character that kicks butt is an awe-inducing treat. The significance of Melissa McCarthy's unwavering presence on the big screen as a woman of size is profound. And getting to watch women play characters who aren't primarily there for their beauty is such a rare delight. Despite knowing on an intellectual level that this kind of representation was important, and being a person who thinks every day about the way media reflect and affect the world, I still didn't quite understand how much I needed to see it. Then I saw it two more times.
But back to Heathers. Heathers centres around the worst kind of high school environment - if an overblown one, rife with extreme bullying, homophobia, fat-phobia and mental health stigma. Martha's victimisation is the same as anyone else's – supported only by the idea of 'otherness'. 'Nerds' 'cripples' and 'homos' are also maligned. This is the 80s remember, but bullying is just as prevalent in 2016, concentrated by social media and the anonymity of the internet. Let's face it – unless you are a thin, white, cisgender, straight man, being othered is a social staple. Smashing the patriarchy and pushing for social justice are battles we all need to be part of. At the end of the day, the message of Heathers is clear – no one deserves to be bullied. The othering of people is a vicious, pointless practice, whether it's brash high school bullying, or subtle digs made in public discourse. This is the message of Heathers. The butt of the joke isn't Martha's body. It's the idea of othering itself.
So what does me playing Martha mean? Well, I hope that those who care can forgive me for pretending to be something I'm not. I know it's not the same as putting on a wig, or heels, or a sparkly jumpsuit. This character has to be believed – but I want her, and people who look like her, to be respected. I hope I do Martha justice. I hope by acknowledging this burden, I can take some of the weight off.
By Mike Bryant
Out of the shows I've been asked to review for this musical season, Sister Act is probably the one I had the least formed opinion about. I've listened to the Original London Cast Recording many times and, although there were a couple of songs that I adored, by the time the recording finished, I was left more bamboozled than satisfied.
This only goes to show that though there are some shows that are just as enjoyable to sit down and listen to, there are other shows that need the full spectacle to be fully appreciated. Sister Act definitely falls into the second category for me.
For those of you who haven't seen the film (that idea makes me sad. I actually had to explain to a friend who Whoopi Goldberg was today. There are people in the world who don't know who Whoopi Goldberg is! But I digress...) Sister Act is about a lounge singer named Deloris Van Cartier who witnesses a mob murder and gets hidden away in a convent so the evil gangsters can't find her. What ensues are many classic fish-out-of-water shenanigans set to a disco-inspired beat.
What I got from Wellington Musical Theatre's production of Sister Act was exactly what I expected. Fun, light, fluffy entertainment.
The amount of effort that the cast and crew put in was obvious and exactly right. The choreography by Stacey Neale was fantastic and seemed to fit each individual cast member's abilities to a tee and, even though I am very much not a dancer (see every Footlights show I've been in, ever), the choreography had that rare quality of making me want to get up, don one of those faaaabulous nun outfits and join in - it looked like that much fun!
Wellington Musical Theatre obviously has a larger budget than most amateur theatre companies and that showed in the sets and costumes, both of which set the time and place accordingly. Particularly the costumes. I want the costumes. All of them. I don't care if they don't fit me, I want them.
Leading the cast was Deloris, played by Lahleina Feaunati. Feaunati sang the role with such conviction that made the character's singing career seem like a legitimate thing. She nailed every single note and I was absolutely blown away; my only major note on Feaunati was that although she nailed the sassy, smart-mouthed aspects of the character, it started to feel a bit one-note after a while. I would have preferred to see a bit more nuance in the character with less of a focus on the sass and more on how big Deloris' heart is, especially since I feel that Feaunati could have pulled the softer parts of Deloris off really satisfactorily.
Other cast members I liked were Footlights alumni Tania Parker-Dreaver as Sister Mary Patrick and Joe Mara as Sweaty Eddie. Parker-Dreaver played the adorably optimistic and perpetually cheerful nun with great aplomb (but to be fair, how much of that was acting and how much of that was just how she is in real life is up for debate) and Mara's voice soared majestically and turned a forgettable song into one of the many highlights of the show.
Jess Old portrayed the sweetly shy Sister Mary Robert absolutely beautifully, fully inhabiting this character so completely that you just want to take her home and look after her. (In a parental way. Not in a creepy way.) Jonathan Morgan, Ben Emerson and WIlliam Dean (the latter two both being Footlightians... Footlighters? Footlettes?) threatened to steal the show at certain points, particularly Morgan, who I found endearingly naive and utterly hilarious.
But, by far, my favourite person onstage was Stephanie Gartrell who infused the character of Mother Superior with all of the gravitas needed. Any time Gartrell made an appearance, I couldn't stop grinning. She had the exact amount of dry humour and personality required to bring such a straight-laced lady to life and her voice on "Here Within These Walls" gave me goosebumps.
Overall, this show was such a fun time. I laughed a lot and it was a perfect way to escape a miserable, rainy day. Good job to the cast and crew.
Sister Act runs until September 24th at the Opera House.
TIckets are available at http://premier.ticketek.co.nz/shows/show.aspx?sh=SISTERAC16
Murder, bullying, drugs, teenage sex and suicide are not typically covered in musical theatre but, as Wellington audiences will discover next week, Heathers is hardly a typical musical.
Heathers: The Musical is based on the cult classic 1989 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater and, like the film, it includes dark topics including bullying, depression, suicide, drug use, and sexual violence. While the musical is presented as a dark comedy, the confronting themes may be challenging for some. Wellington Footlights is proud to be partnering with Youthline to help support audience members and spark healthy discussion.
“We have a responsibility to look after our audience’s well-being. While we think the musical appropriately tackles these important issues, we also appreciate that audience members may struggle with the themes explored,” says Heathers director Karen Anslow.
“The homophobia, the bullying, the language in Heathers is a product of its time, but these themes are still relevant to young people even 30 years later, with online bullying a prevalent and growing problem. While we think the musical approaches these themes respectfully, it is difficult to know what may trigger strong emotional reactions, which is why we will be at the performances supporting people,” says Chloe Bisley-Wright, Youthline Wellington’s Education & Youth Development Coordinator.
Youthline staff members will be in the foyer during intermission of all four performances and written resources will also be available.
Heathers: The Musical was first performed off Broadway in 2014 but it is set in 1989. The musical, which begins next week, is a New Zealand Premiere.
About Heathers: The Musical
Presented by the Wellington Footlights Society
$28 adult / $20 concession