Tag Archives: theatre

A short time and a sweet time

14 Sep

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.

Zomburlesque reviews coming in.

16 Mar

Taking a narcissistic point of view, which is the more quotable review quote in the long run?

Jonathan W. Marshall on Zomburlesque for Theatreview:

A special non-zombie, non-burlesque treat is when Ellis, showing a musical and comic virtuosity which would not be out of place in the old Cotton Club’s own stage shows, effectively plays both the trumpet and the trombone at once, calling on the cast beside him to hold one instrument as he reaches to grab the next and immediately continue the same musical phrase on a new instrument.

From the same review::

…apparently heterosexual…

The second one is just a bit punchier, a bit more concise… brevity is, after all, a virtue.

With my lovely assistants, Jepha Krieg aka The Purple Rose aka Georgie; and Hans Landon-Lane aka Clever Hansel aka The Right Reverend Dr Aloysius Splitfoot. Photo taken last night by Deano Shirriffs.

(More photos on Facebook.)

City of the Future

20 Dec

Hamiltron - City of the Future

(Design thiefed from mrvintage.co.nz)

The programme for the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival has been released. The whole festival runs from 17 February to 1 March 2012, and it’s held within the grounds of the best thing Hamilton has to offer. There are so many beautiful areas, especially the themed gardens (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, American modernist, etc), and many of the shows take advantage of those onnections.

For instance, in 2010 I performed inside the Victorian Garden Conservatory as the pianist in Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen – a slight anachronism in name (Jane Austen being from the Regency period some decades earlier), but very similar in culture and setting.

In 2012, I’ll be playing keys in two further shows in that same venue:

The First Asian A* B*. A two-hander comedy by Renee Liang about growing up in New Zealand, which I first performed at BATS Theatre in Wellington during the Rugby World Cup. Does Willy Long become the first ever Asian All Black? Well, you’ll just have to see the show to find out.

Four performances (Wed 22 Feb x2; Thu 23 Feb, Sat 25 Feb), $20/$15/$10 – book here. I’ll be wearing my 2009 North Harbour rugby jersey.

Holmes Alone. Greg Ellis from The Improvisors creates a Sherlock Holmes story in the character of Dr Watson. He goes to the audience for suggestions and it’s freakin’ amazing how he ties all the strands together in the end. I provided his musical accompaniment in a season at Circa Theatre during the 2010 New Zealand International Comedy Festival.

Two performances (Fri 24 & Sat 25 Feb), $20/$15 – book here. I’ll be wearing something appropriately late Victorian.

You should come see these shows. Waikato? Why not!

Sorry, I meant to see your show – the lyrics!

5 Dec

By request, here are the lyrics to my song, commissioned to open the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. I owe a clear debt of gratitude to the superb opening number to this year’s Tony Awards.

I’ve also uploaded the demo I made for the singers:

Sorry, I meant to see your show (demo) by Robbie Ellis

Some lyrics changed in the rehearsal process (and we certainly slowed it down from my speed-demon intentions), but most remained the same. Forgive my falsetto for soprano parts.

“Sorry, I meant to see your show” was performed last night at the Wellington Opera House by MC Emma Kinane and the Shoreline Cab Savs (Carmel McGlone, Bryony Skillington, Jess Robinson, Martyn Wood, Nick Dunbar & Gareth Farr/Lilith La Croix), with me (Robbie Ellis) on piano.

Wellington, you capital of culture!
We love you and we love your theatre scene.
There’s BATS for all the crazies, and Circa for old ladies,
And Downstage, where the finances are lean.
Pōneke, we welcome you this evening (haere mai!)
To a ceremony honouring success. (tino pai!)
With 108 shows eligible, from the tame to the unpalatable,
We’re giving props to just the very best.

It’s the critic’s job to say they’ve seen every blessed play
But I can’t come to everything, you know (bro you know!)
You simply can’t be thorough in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara
So sorry, but I meant to see your show.

I thought that your season was four weeks long,
But it was only three weeks, I got that one wrong.
I missed your presentation cause of my procrastination,
Sorry, I didn’t see your show!

I wanted to see it, don’t think I’m a jerk.
It started at 8:30 but I was at work.
No time for relaxin’, had to meet with Peter Jackson!
Sorry, (sorry!), I meant to see your show!

I’d never lie to you, I truly wish I could have seen it,
But The Hobbit made me sign a Don’t-See-Other-Shows agreement.
I booked my place for Tuesday night, I told you in a tweet,
But I got distracted up the Coast when I met Happy Feet!

The Cap Times, they loved it, Dominion Post too,
But I shouldn’t have logged on to read Theatreview.
My need to see it got away once John Smythe gave the plot away
So sorry (sorry!),
I really truly honestly no-shit sorry-my-cat-was-sick meant to see your show!

Ladies and gentlemen, your MC for the evening, the lovely Emma Kinane!

You scheduled your new play for during the Cup
But I was over rugby and I live in the Hutt.
C’Mon Black! and Nepia, nothing makes me sleepier,
So sorry, I didn’t see your show.

I heard that The Engine Room was awesome for sure,
But I was sick and tired of the ’81 Tour.
I’d beaten you to get a wage when we were on the set of Rage
So sorry (sorry!), I didn’t see your show.

You invited me on Facebook and I hit “Maybe Attending”
But Maybe’s really ‘No’ and that’s the message I was sending.
I’ve blocked your status updates so you might call me a wanker
But I’ve got so sick of theatre spam I’ve also blocked Brianne Kerr! (Sorry Bri…)

So… welcome to theatre’s Christmas work do
Just sit back, relax, as we congratulate you!
We’ll now get off the stage as this song’s lasted fucking (Os-)ages!
(Fuck me that was a long play…)

But… sorry, (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
Sorry (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
I really truly honestly no-shit don’t-you-believe-me dog-ate-my-homework had-to-wash-my-hair-that-night
Meant to see your show!

Sorry, I meant to see your show

5 Dec

I, George Nēpia publicity shot

I, George Nēpia - winner of four awards including Production of the Year, and yet another Wellington theatre success story I didn't end up seeing. (Publicity image thiefed from circa.co.nz.)

Last night the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards took place, an annual Wellington institution to recognise awesome. I played continuity music.

I also wrote the opening song called “Sorry, I meant to see your show”, which was performed brilliantly by the Shoreline Cab Savs and MC Emma Kinane. (Edit: Lyrics & demo here.) It’s quite appropriate: out of the nine shows that won awards – the cream of this year’s Wellington theatre crop – I saw only three. At least Nēpia has a return season starting tomorrow (Edit: Thursday) so there’s no excuse there.

I’m fond of groan-worthy musical puns, so every award winner (all twenty) had one as their walk-on music. Here’s the complete list – up to you to spot the connections.

The Critics’ Wild Card
Johann Nortje for AV design in Wake Less, Hear to See, When the Rain Stops Falling etc
Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star

Downstage Theatre Award for the Most Promising Male Newcomer of the Year
Simon K Leary – Mates & Lovers
(acid-y jazz version): Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Circa Award donated by TACT for the Most Promising Female Newcomer of the Year
Lauren Gibson – August: Osage County
Afroman: Because I Got High

Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School & Victoria University of Wellington Award for Most Promising Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Rod Derrett: Rugby, Racing & Beer

Peter Harcourt Award for Outstanding New Playwright of the Year sponsored by BATS Theatre and Taki Rua Productions
Ralph McCubbin Howell – The Engine Room
Blam Blam Blam: There is No Depression in New Zealand

Grouse Lighting Award for Lighting Designer of the Year
Marcus McShane – When the Rain Stops Falling
Australian Crawl: Boys Light Up

Weta Workshop Award for Set Designer of the Year
Andrew Foster – The Lead Wait
The Foundations: Build Me Up Buttercup

The Brancott Estate Award for Costume Desginer of the Year
Gillie Coxill – The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again
Satellite Spies: Destiny in Motion

Park Road Post Production Sound Designer of the Year
Chris Ward – The Lead Wait
Kool and the Gang: Jungle Boogie

Constance Scott Kirkcaldie Award for Outstanding Composer of Music
Richard Nunns – Hear to See
Dudley Benson feat. Richard Nunns: Ruru

The Absolutely Positively Wellington Award for Most Original Production of the Year
Hear to See – Capital E National Theatre for Children
Mi-Sex: Computer Games

The Playmarket / Capital E National Theatre for Children Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year
Slouching Toward Bethlehem – Dean Parker
The Knobz: Culture

The Whitireia Performing Arts Chapman Tripp Award for Supporting Actor of the Year
Christopher Brougham – When the Rain Stops Falling
Rihanna: Umbrella

The Orbit Corporate Travel Award for Supporting Actress of the Year
Erin Banks – The Engine Room
The Newmatics: Riot Squad

EAT Wellington Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Michelle Amas – August: Osage County
Madness: Our House

eCaster Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Phil Grieve – Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Kora: Politician

Chapman Tripp Award for Actress of the Year
Jennifer Ludlam – August: Osage County
Amy Winehouse: Rehab

The ProActors and Gail Cowan Management Award for Actor of the Year
Jarod Rawiri – I, George Nēpia
Howard Morrison Quartet: My Old Man’s an All Black

The Museum Hotel Award for Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Queen: Radio Ga Ga

Chapman Tripp Award for Production of the Year
I, George Nēpia – Tawata Productions
George Nēpia: Beneath the Māori Moon


21 Oct

I’m sitting in Dunedin Airport waiting for the 1710 to Auckland. Time for a quick blog update…

Early yesterday morning I flew from Wellington (current home) to Dunedin (next year’s home). This is my first time in Dunedin as an adult – growing up in Auckland, the only time our family made it this far south was on The Big South Island Trip one summer. (In the words of my mother: “You’re growing up in Auckland and you won’t be a real Kiwi unless you’ve seen the South Island!”)

Picking up a rental car at the airport, my first stop was Black/Sale House, HQ of the University of Otago Department of Music. I had a good chat with Dr Anthony Ritchie, the only Otago staff member I really knew prior to my appointment as 2012 Mozart Fellow. We talked about plans for the Fellowship – I’ll do a little bit of teaching, some tutoring, and some supervision of undergraduate work. All promising.

At a morning tea I met the Department staff – the academics and the admin. I also said hello to Chris Adams, the current Mozart Fellow.

Then the flat-hunt began. I’d set up 10 viewings for between midday at 6:30pm yesterday. Two were promising, and as it happens I got one of them – a nice little cosy 1-bedroom on the sunny slopes of North East Valley (it’s practically Opoho).

On a bit of a stroll around town, I popped into Twang Town on Moray Pl, a music shop specialising in string instruments. The independent owner-operator style reminded me of Alistair’s Music on Cuba St – I’ll happily take my guitar or bass there once I move. The proprietor, Hyram Ballard, is a good dude and recommended “the best coffee in Dunedin” at Mazagran across the road. It was pretty damn good coffee.

On the venues front, I popped my head into the Fortune Theatre; saw a student recital at Marama Hall on campus; had dinner and saw an amazing Celtic chamber ensemble at The Church (where this performance of my piece Ha! took place); and took a tour around Sammy’s with the owner, Sam Chin. It’s a grand old proscenium arch theatre which has variously been a brewery warehouse, a nightclub, and a big music gig venue. We’re in talks about bringing a show there for the Dunedin Fringe Festival… can’t say much more than that now but it looks exciting.

First boarding call for my flight so I’ll sign off now.

The First Asian A* B* up and running.

24 Sep

Place of birth / Lieu de naissance: TAKAPUNA, NEW ZEALAND

We are two performances into our eight-show season of The First Asian A* B* by Renee Liang. In a show of provincial loyalty, I went onto Trade Me and bought a second-hand 2009 North Harbour rugby jersey as a costuming decision. Its size is L, about 1.5 sizes too large for me, but it works well enough.

John Smythe has reviewed us for Theatreview, concentrating more on the script and story construction than the performances. Laurie Atkinson from the Dominion Post attended opening night; there may well be a review in Monday’s newspaper. (Edit: Dom Post review indeed appeared on Monday.)

In each performance, three folk (Renee, Ben & Paul) are visiting from Auckland and two (Fern and myself) live in Wellington. We’re currently sharing BATS with Death By Cheerleader, another rugby-themed show from Auckland. Last night, cheerleader Amy Waller gave me the beginnings of a lapdance in my second-row seat. All in the service of theatre, boys, all in the service of theatre.

My role in this season is really that of caretaker musician. Andrew Corrêa provided live music for the inaugural season at the Basement in Auckland, and two days after the Wellington season ends, the guys have a few performances at Auckland schools with Andrew once again. While I can’t diverge too radically from the cues as Andrew did them, I have been able to add some of my own touches: Samoa-ifying the ukulele playing; going slightly further over-the-top in the training montage; and hamming up God Defend Synth Zealand at the beginning. It’s fun.

You should come to BATS Theatre to see us. Six shows remaining, we run until Saturday 1 October. Starts 6pm. Don’t be a dumbass.

T* F* A* All Black

12 Sep

Rugby, racing and beer… well, just rugby and beer for me at the moment.

Since everybody else is, I’ll post this link:

Paul Fagamalo & Benjamin Teh in The First Asian A* B*

Paul Fagamalo & Benjamin Teh

Rugby vs Theatre: The First Asian AB

This interview was done by my good friend and colleague James Wenley. He’s such a good friend that I let him smash the electric guitar my parents gave me for my 12th birthday – all in the name of art. (I should really post the video of that some time.) He runs a website called Theatre Scenes, looking at the theatre scene (singular) in Auckland. Or maybe there are parallel scenes in parallel theatre universes in that city.

(“Oh, tricky parallel universes!” is an anagram for “City o’ Sails. Hark, P! Revere null.” That took me 15 minutes.)

The interview is about a play which I have read the script of but not seen any rehearsals for. This weekend I go to Auckland to observe the final two performances of the inaugural season, where the much talented Andrew Corrêa is playing the incidental music. Then on Thursday next week, the Wellington season opens at BATS Theatre and I play the incidental music.

I’m not really concerning myself with thinking about the play too much at this stage. Yeah, I’ve read the script, so I have a broad overview of where the story goes. Yes, I know it’s a two-hander and that the actors play multiple characters. Yes, I’m publicising it down here to a certain extent. But until I see what the actors are doing – and more importantly, until I see how Andrew has established the tone with his music – I’m not thinking about it.

My job for the Wellington season is to maintain the production’s continuity. It’s been through Read Raw in Auckland; it’s been rewritten, rehearsed, rewritten, rehearsed; and it’s opening at the Basement in just over 18 hours. I’ve been there for none of that process, but I hope to get up to speed pretty quickly!

Edit: Eva Radich interviews Renee Liang on Upbeat on Radio New Zealand Concert; audio below.

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