A Conversation With Liam McIlwain

Interview with Come From Away Australia's Resident Director and Choreographer

Although many theatres across the globe remain shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the actions taken by Australian’s have met that major productions have been able to go forward with not only limited capacity but, in many cases, 100% venue capacity. This means that producers have been able to recommence their musical theatre tours, such as Newtheatricals, who were able to conclude their Melbourne encore season of Come From Away and have brought it up to QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, where the show held its first performance last night.

Ahead of the first performance, I was invited to a sneak peek of the show and had the opportunity to interview Come from Away Australia’s Resident Director and Choreographer. I invite you to continue scrolling down, to read the full interview:

Tickets for Come From Away are available to purchase exclusively through the QTIX Box Office, either online or by calling 136 246.

A Conversation With Liam McIlwain 1

You have just concluded your Melbourne Encore season. How did audiences react the second time around? And are you excited about bringing Brisbane nights to The Rock?

Absolutely. Very excited. You know, going back into Melbourne was, it was really special because, the people of Melbourne have really suffered in the last 12 months. And when the show reopened again, it felt as if almost like we were getting back to that community of people, because the only reason we were allowed to be back in theatres again, is because Melbournites had so selflessly put the needs of their neighbours ahead of their own and sacrificed so much so that they’re able to get control of the second wave. And it meant that late last year we were back in theatres again, and truly, I didn’t think that that is where we were going to be at the end of last year.

I’m really excited to bring the show to Brisbane because I’m from Brisbane originally. And so I have a lot of friends and family who get to see it here. And I think that Brisbane audiences will really take to the show.

So having been forced into a year long hiatus due to COVID-19, how’d you keep yourself busy?

Well, I was actually incredibly fortunate, and this was just dumb luck, that at the end of 2019, I was working on a job that I decided to leave and I decided to get back and study for a year. So I enrolled to do a master’s in 2020, and it ended up being a great decision because the entire industry shut down. So while that happened, I was actually very busy doing assignments and research projects and such.

So I was kept quite busy during 2020, and then was fortunate to come onto the Come From Away team late last year.

A Conversation With Liam McIlwain 2

What did you end up studying?

I did a masters of fine art majoring in directing.

What encouraged you to join the ‘Come From Away’ team?

I saw the show in New York in 2017 and I was really blown away by it. I think it’s a really unique, beautiful theatrical experience and not just the show itself, but even the story we’re telling on stage is really special. And I had some friends who were working on it. And so I was when I found out there was a position available, I was really, really quite interested. And I felt really fortunate at the end of last year to be stepping into this role, into this kind of show because our industry was just starting to open up again. We all felt very lucky to be working.

Is there anything special in the show you think viewers might miss the first time around which they should keep a lookout for?

There is so much detail in this show. You need to see it several times to fully appreciate it all. I think this is maybe, maybe this is a bit too easy, but I’m just going to challenge your listeners to see if they can find the homage in the set to the twin towers. Okay. So we’ll just leave that with you.

A Conversation With Liam McIlwain 3

What have been some of the highlights and challenges about bringing Come from Away to the stage?

The highlight is just getting to work on such a beautiful show with an honestly very generous and gifted group of performers and technicians. So that’s definitely been the highlight and seeing audience’s response to the show. The challenge is that the show actually, when you look at it, it’s deceptively complex.

It’s very, very complex because the pace of the show is so quick. There’s a lot of underscoring, there’s a lot of dialogue. There are so many different stories that the audience needs to follow. So just kind of keeping the show as tight as it needs to be is challenging. But thankfully we have a great team to do that.

What is your advice for anyone looking to enter the industry? Either as a performer, musician or as a creative?

Yeah, my advice would be do it, but I would say I really found this doesn’t work to everyone, but I really found studying very helpful – to be able to go away and spend a good deal of time cobbling together my own studying experience.

I did two years of a music degree, then I left and studied two years full time dance. But it was just kind of what I needed to do after I finished high school was really spent some time just focusing on myself that I was a performer at the time and refining myself and also allowing myself to grow, to be challenged, to experience different forms of theatre and dance and performance.

And that meant that I had kind of four years solid training before I went to enter the industry. And that has felt like it’s remained foundational for my whole career. so I would say find a great institution that you think you’ll do well at and try and get in. And work hard.


Thank you very much to Liam McIlwain for giving up his valuable time to partake in this interview, and publicist Cinnamon Watson for making this all possible!

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Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fourteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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