A short time and a sweet time

Yesterday was the closing night of Short+Sweet Song 2014 in Auckland. I was the Artistic Co-ordinator – a job that I in essence created for myself. A bit of back story:

Short+Sweet is an internationally franchised festival of ten-minute theatre pieces. It’s been running in Auckland since 2010, but last year they added Short+Sweet Song, an adjunct category for musical theatre. I entered a two-hander called Annie & Joshua:

It was not a large show last year: only five pieces in total. I went to the producers and said they needed a specialist to run the Song side of things, and suggested myself. They gave me the job: Artistic Co-ordinator.

logo-song-green-backgroundThe job was to encourage submissions and expressions of interest from writers, directors, musical directors and performers. We ended up with nine pieces in total (review 1, review 2). There was everything from 10-minute excerpts of projected longer pieces (Monopoly – The Musical! and Love and Other Mysteries), an adaptation of a student film (A Girl Like Maria), a story formed around songs by the director’s friend’s band (This Paper City), plays with songs (The Might of Aphrodite, Henry & Hyde), and another piece that went freely in and out of speaking and singing (Cushion).

The Judges’ Choice was Flatmates, a sung-through trio musical written by Wellingtonian Rose Duxfield, directed by Katie Flood and musically adapted by Zac Johns. I’m very glad that Rose had come up to Auckland for the final night – she wasn’t expecting to be showered with quite so many certificates and bottle prizes.

Karaoke Heaven won the People’s Choice Award. Written by Jun Bin Lee (script and backing track), it starred Amanda Grace Leo and Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho as owner and trainee waiter of a karaoke establishment, promoting their venue. This is the second year that Jun Bin has won the People’s Choice Award – last year’s Ninja musical had arguably catchier hooks than Karaoke.

It’s been really satisfying putting this together, building the festival, and spreading the word. The musical theatre community in Auckland is a strangely hybridised and often disconnected beast of occasionally professional, establishment amdram, “emerging theatre practitioner”ish and high school – in fact many private high schools have larger production budgets than some professional shows. It was valuable for my own connections as well as those between those different strands.

Best of all, the casts of the nine different pieces didn’t stay siloed; they interacted and socialised together. They had common warm-ups, they shared dressing rooms, etc etc. I think Short+Sweet’s new venue has really helped. While the Herald Theatre at the Aotea Centre is a nice enough space, spending time within the officialness of a Council-controlled environment like Auckland Live can be stifling. We’re now at TAPAC in Western Springs, which is a small, friendly, nimble performing arts centre with a common foyer area for users of the theatre, hirers of the rehearsal rooms, and audience. I’ve also noticed much greater cross-over support between the different weeks of Short+Sweet (Theatre, Song and Dance), which can only be beneficial.

Someone else will have to be Artistic Co-ordinator next year since I’m leaving the country, but they’ll have great help: Festival Producer Sums Selvarajan, Stage Manager Max Thompson and Technical Designer Michael Craven are utterly professional and hugely helpful, as is everyone else on the team.

I paid tribute to them (and others) just before the awards were handed out last night, in the form of a parody of all nine S+S Song pieces. (I rewrote lyrics to the same music, and sang and played from the piano.) Sardonic reflections on the tech and dress day aside, it sums up my feelings accurately.


[Karaoke Heaven]
If you love singing, then you should know
How magical Short+Sweet Song can be!
Nine great pieces in a single two-hour show…
Sweet, this all came together!
This song is for all of you
Who have been part of Short+Sweet Song.
We put out the call, and you came running;
Now Short+Sweet Song is bigger than before!

[The Might of Aphrodite]
We spread news everywhere, hoping that you’d notice us:
The Big Idea, at TAPAC, and on the side of a bus,
But we were fine; we got our nine
Submitted pieces in.
With directors, writers, MDs, actors,
This thing’s full of win!

[Monopoly – The Musical!]
A nice little slice of theatre,
Just ten minutes or less.
A nice little slice of theatre…
Plus or minus 30 seconds, I guess.
It’s going great, it’s going sweet,
I simply cannot wait to meet
All the beautiful people in this slice of theatre!

[The Might of Aphrodite]
It made us feel all special
That so many folk would join,
Though I got kinda nervous when I saw that a person
Had a singing flesh-tone groin…

[A Girl Like Maria]
Easy running was the pre-production;
Easy running with amazing producers.
I went to them to ask for 32 lapel mics;
They said, “Go fuck yourself, do you think we’re made of money?
We’ll just get actors with impeccable projection
Over pianos and keyboards and tracks,” and I said,
“I want a piano with a big motherfucking sheet,”
And they said, “Yeah, we can do that.”

[Love and Other Mysteries]
(bong bong) Tech day!

The day is bright and sunny!
The sun’s a ball of energy,
But we’re stuck inside, it’s funny
How pasty our skin can be.
So Max is sorting props and set
And Craven’s got every fresnel.
We keep on going to swiftly get
Through this phosphorescent hell!

[Henry & Hyde]
Cause we’re a mean machine,
A theatre-making mean machine!
Figuring out that change of scene
And how to get that cyc so green!

[Karaoke Heaven]
And nothing suits us better
Than getting a 7-foot-4-tall love heart through 6-foot-6-high double doors.

But we’re here for you,
We’re here for you,
Whatever scene and set changes you do.
At least until your 45 minutes are through!

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Twenty minutes down, you’ve barely started lighting;
Haven’t yet decided where that chair goes.
Thirty minutes down, it’s time to start a full run
So you stop and start, continuity blows.
Forty minutes down, you’re barely halfway
And everyone’s frustration grows and grows…

[This Paper City]
You’re all like:
“Take your time, now rewind, now do it again, rehearse it right yeah”

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Forty-seven minutes and we’re giving the hint
That you really don’t have time to complete a new run.
Fifty minutes down and we’re telling you “Get off,”
There’s another team waiting, I think that you’re done…

[This Paper City]
Cause we’re all
Running on empty (running on empty)

I’ve got no idea how I’ve managed to survive this long.
Have we finished tech times yet? Oh it’s now the one with the giant dong.

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Sixty minutes out and we’re giving the briefing
Telling all the cast how to do curtain calls.
I get a little note, all of you should come forward,
But I only tell Amanda, not the rest of you, balls!
Forty minutes out and we’re having sound issues;
Craven’s banging his head against a digital desk.
Twenty minutes out and it’s getting no better;
Why’s the stage-right foldback not fucking routing?

[This Paper City]
Craven is just hanging on!

[A Girl Like Maria]
Cause he’s got leather jeans on!

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Zero minutes out, Craven’s swapping out the mixer;
Using old equipment is often the best.
Twenty minutes late… but I couldn’t care less…
Cause your pieces get going… and they’re bloody brilliant!

If worse came to worst, this could have been a mess,
But directors, you minimised all of my stress.
(Though I can’t say the same when I gave Sam a fright:
I forgot to plug his keyboard in opening night.)
As I conclude this self-indulgent review,
I just want to say thank you.