With three prestigious Helpmann Awards to her name, roles in a sizable number of productions across Australia and several other accolades to her name, Sharon Millerchip is clearly one of the big names in the Australian theatre scene. But rather than take to the stage once again with Strictly Ballroom the Musical, which is currently holding its world-first tour across Australia, Millerchip has taken on the backstage but nevertheless crucial role of the show’s Resident Director.
With children auditions for Strictly Ballroom the Musical’s upcoming Brisbane run being held this weekend, Sharon Millerchip was in Queensland searching for those who will take on the role of Kylie Hastings and her dance partner Luke in the show. Having been invited to watch one of the auditions on Saturday, I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes to speak with Millerchip. On the agenda: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, children’s auditions / children in stage musicals and her own personal advice for those looking to enter the industry.
Without further ado, you can read the entire interview below:
As Strictly Ballroom continues its Melbourne leg at this moment, what do you think the public reception has been like so far?
Public feedback has been amazing, its been really incredible. In fact, its one of the things I find most rewarding about being involved in the show. I watch the show several times a week obviously to keep an eye on it, so I get to experience even what the performers don’t in a sense, I get to feel the rapture and the joy of the audience which is such a gift for me. People quite literally dance in the isles by the end of the show, and I don’t think there’s that many things in our pretty hectic, pressured, stressful lives that allow us that kind of abandonment. So I genuinely feel like we give the audience a gift when they come and see the show. So that’s what I find most rewarding. They do love it, they yell and they scream and they clap and they dance… and you can’t get any better endorsement then that.
From Strictly Ballroom the Musical to even The Lion King or the upcoming Sydney Leg of Matilda, it seems like there are more and more opportunities opening in major productions for children to become involved in theatre. What do you see as the benefits of involving children in productions?
There’s lots of benefits I think. Genuinely the kids have fun on this, which for me has to be the driving force. As a parent I’ve got two children of my own, I would always want to know that the kids were having fun. My daughter did a small part in Love Never Dies, which is a musical I did in Sydney and Melbourne a couple of years ago, so I know first hand what its like in every aspect.
They genuinely have fun, they gain experience that you can’t get anywhere else, you can’t get in any drama school or any dance school. It’s really hands-on and in-front of an audience, and they get a foray into a magical adult world which they love as well. And they are really really well taken care of in this environment, they’re well protected and they generally have a great time. Sometimes its much harder work for the parent than the child actually, driving them in, picking them up, staying up late to get them home. But its a pretty rewarding experience for everybody I think.
When you are looking for Queensland’s Kylie Hastings and Luke, what particular qualities are you after?
I think they have to just look like kids. We want them to be good dancers, and singers and good little actors, but we just want them to just look like a couple of suburban kids up there. That’s Baz’s vision for them. He doesn’t want them to look overly preened or refined in any way – he wants them to look like they have just come in from the backyard. So fresh faced, effervescent, lots of energy and cheeky personalities perhaps.
So out of curiosity, once you have selected your four Kylie’s and four Luke’s, how much training do they go through before they get onto the stage.
Well it sort of depends. In this situation, not much at all. Which is one of the things we are looking for today, we need really switched on kids who are able to pick up direction and choreography quickly. Because we will literally teach them their entire show in a week, and then in the days following that they’ll be doing technical rehearsals on stage with the rest of the cast to put them into the show. So its a very short process for this one.
If we can pull it off, it will be impressive.
Is this the same as the Melbourne and Sydney legs of Strictly Ballroom?
Each process has been slightly different. In Melbourne they joined in January and I started working with them in November. We did a week in November and then they had about a month to refine it and remember it, and they had a lot of rehearsal material to go over. And then by the time they came back into the show in early-January they were ready to go. So, each process of putting the children into the show has been a little bit different. This one will be on speed-dial, so we really do need some pretty cluey kids.
For those who haven’t seen Strictly Ballroom yet, how important are their roles in the show?
They’re actually much more important than we think they are. Its really interesting what they bring to the stage. Having children in musicals is logistically quite a challenge because we have to have four sets of them, we have to rotate them, and they can only work certain hours and things like that. So we’ve toyed with the idea, as has Baz, about what the show would be like if we took the children out of it. And we just realised we would lose so much, they bring so much to the stage, they bring in effervescence and they have a cheeky personality that is uniquely Australian. These kids come on the stage and you know immediately where you are and when/what year you are. They also bring comedy, I think people just love seeing kids dancing. They definately bring a cheekiness, and in the end they kind of save the day. I don’t want to give away the ending, but if you have seen the movie you will know that Kylie kind of saves the day a little bit. So, in terms of plot they’re integral as well.
Its interesting you bring up some of these points, as one of my relatives went down to see the show. And one of the first things she did when talking to me about it was open the program and tell me those kids were brilliant.
Yeah, that’s great! You only have to listen to the curtain calls actually, and almost the biggest applause is reserved for the children. They always get a great round of applause when they come out, and people genuinely love them and I think they are impressed by what they bring.
Finally, given how many years of experience you have in the industry, I was wondering what advice you could give for those looking to be involved in stage musicals.
Be really proactive I think. We’re in a really great time in that there’s more opportunities than there ever have been I think. There are more shows, I think music theatre is having a bit of a resurgence at the moment, so there’s lots of auditions. Audition, Audition, Audition. Do your classes. Definitely hone all of your skills. Gone are the days I think where you could get into a musical just by being a really good dancer. You really need to be a good dancer, you need to be a good singer and you need to be a good actor – because all of these skills are called upon these days. Musical theatre roles are more challenging then they have ever been, so hone your triple threat skills and be proactive, get a show together, put a cabaret together, get out in front of an audience because nothing will teach you more than that.
Thank you very much for your time!
I would just like to pass on my thanks to Sharon Millerchip for giving up some of her time pre-auditions to speak with me regarding Strictly Ballroom and their children’s auditions which took place last weekend.
I would also like to thank the QPAC Marketing team for helping organise this Q&A, and for inviting me to attend the auditions briefly on Saturday.