Monday, May 23, 2011

Sydney adds another bow to its musical cap by securing world premiere of Strictly Ballroom musical

Only hours after discussing The Addams Family musical premiering in Sydney in March 2013, we have an even more exciting announcement from Events NSW; Strictly Ballroom the musical will make its world premiere in Sydney in September 2013.

In a style similar to Doctor Zhivago, producers have decided to test run a musical version of Baz Lurhmann's iconic film in Australia before it has to compete with the 'big boys' on Broadway or West End.

If Australian audiences are the guinea pigs I say all the better for us.

It means local casts and crews are being employed, which supports the great deal of talent we have in Australia.

Furthermore, international attention will fall on little ol' Australia to boost its musical theatre 'image'.

Best of all, the world premiere will help foster a theatre-appreciating audience who feel privileged to be the first to experience the show.

"Last week we announced Sydney was chosen for the Australian Premiere of The Addams Family. I said we’d bring major events back to Sydney - here's the proof," Premier Barry O'Farrell said.

While I hope he doesn't think we are stupid enough to think when he magically jumped into office in March this year all the important contracts that would have been milling for months (if not years) had been signed, this is another win for Sydney's theatre community.

All debts haven't been cleared yet, O'Farrell. If you give us a 1,500 plus seat theatre then I think you can start boasting about how you are moving Sydney forward in the right direction.

Addams Family musical to premiere in Sydney in 2013 but lack of theatre venues keeps more international productions at bay

SYDNEY has won the bidding war to the Australian premiere of The Addams Family.

The award winning musical comedy is set to open at the Capitol Theatre in March 2013.

Based upon the cartoons created by Charles Addams (made famous by the 1960s television series), it depicts a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre.

The show has enjoyed a successful run on Broadway since it opened in March 2010, having already grossed over $60 million.

Addams Family
has also been a crowd favourite among theatre circles, winning's 2010 audience award for favourite new musical and a 2010 Tony Award nomination for best new score (Andrew Lippa).

Minister for Major Events, George Souris, believes that considering Sydney is a 'global city' it should have world class musicals.

“As the preferred location to open this world-class musical in Australia, this is a clear vote of confidence by the producers in Sydney as a major events destination,” Mr Souris said in a press release.

Souris' comment hints at a long-standing rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney for the title of Australian musical theatre capital.

Sydney secured the Australian (and world) premiere of Doctor Zhivago this year, but Melbourne is clearly in the lead with Hairspray, Love Never Dies, Fame, and Mary Poppins- all recently premiering in Melbourne before touring to Sydney.

Events NSW estimates that popular musicals can generate around $3 million per month in revenue for the State or almost $20 million in direct economic impact over a 6 month run.

Yet it is surprising that NSW continually fails to win premieres that are known to generate the most buzz and revenue due to both inter-state and international travel for the first few months of the show.

Producer John Frost will be the first to tell you why- Sydney doesn't have enough theatres.

The Capitol and Lyric theatres are the only venues big enough to house large-scale productions, and the Theatre Royal (with 1200 seats to the Capitol's 2000) is often deemed too small.

Add the refurbishments due to begin on the Opera House shortly and you have the opera and ballet companies who also need new homes.

The result is that theatres are booked up with musical productions years in advance, with only a very limited number able to be shown per year (if companies are to be able to recoup their costs by having longer runs).

In an excellent article detailing this theatre shortage, Elissa Blake quotes Frost as insisting Sydney urgently needs another 1600-seat theatre- and not one "that sticks out like a pimple with nothing around it. It will need to be surrounded by apartments, hotels, restaurants and bars. The public has a ferocious appetite for big musicals and they need to be fed.

"But the government will fart around forever ... you and I will be retired before they approve a new building. The bureaucracy will drive you nuts," he said.

Sydney is set to host the premiere of Legally Blonde in June 2012, which is a positive step for the city. However, I think the greater problem amidst talk over 'winning' new shows is the underlying issue of lack of venues that severely blocks the flow of wonderful international and (arguably more importantly) local works. (The lack of venues and funding for the development of Australian musicals is a story for another time.)

While it is important to celebrate another international musical coming to Australia, especially so soon after its Broadway debut, I think at the same time it is also important to remind the State government of ways it could be championing over the Melbourne theatre market if it only invested in theatre venues.

It really is a case of a lack of State infrastructure blocking supply more than it is an issue of a lack of demand on Sydney audience's part. Consistently sold out houses at Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins and Doctor Zhivago have proven that.

Review: Mary Poppins the musical in Sydney- magical and fun to boot

AS the audience packed into the Capitol Theatre to see Mary Poppins last night (Sunday 22 May) there was an excited buzz swarming around both children and adults alike.

Of those that I spoke to, women gushed over how they had grown up with the Disney film (based on the stories of Australia's own P.L. Travers) and were excited to re-visit that moment of their childhood. The children simply couldn't wait for the spectacle to begin and milled around the front of the stage to look into the orchestra pit covered by a semi-translucent black cloth.

Part of the joy of seeing live theatre is the sense of community and solidarity you feel with the hundreds of people who have chosen to switch off their televisions for one night and get dressed up for a few hours of live entertainment. Most people gathered with their family or friends have the biggest smiles written on their faces as they anticipate what lies behind the large stage curtain.

The audience weren't disappointed.

From the first scene, an unmistakable energy and fast pace was set as the cast zipped through the show, from big number to big number.

There is so much to entertain and delight in this show. From the characterisation of 'practically perfect' nanny, Mary Poppins, who is playful and witty yet maintains a (dare I say it) darker, more mysterious charm, to the bright and bubbly Bert who melts the audience's hearts with his cheeky smiles and sprightly jigs.

Both Verity Hunt-Ballard as the leading lady and Matt Lee as lovable Bert do a fantastic job, each serving their characters very well while at the same time adding a spice of their own personalities to the mix. I particularly enjoyed Hunt-Ballard's 'Mary Poppins' voice which had a more nasal and twangy sound that gave Poppins a bit more edge, as well as the unmistakable dancing talents of Lee whose tapping is a joy to watch. Veteran performers Marina Prior, Phillip Quast, Judi Connelli and Debra Byrne also head up a fine supporting cast.

Classic numbers like "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Step in Time" all packed a punch and got the feet tapping with their lively beats. New songs such as "Practically Perfect," "Brimstone and Treacle" and "Anything Can Happen" composed specially for the musical are all fabulous additions which fit seamlessly into the show and rival the above ensemble numbers for best tune.

Favourites for me were "Jolly Holiday," which launches the audience out of the stale and dull world of the Banks family into the imaginary world of heightened colour that Mary Poppins adventures in and out of throughout the show.

"Step in Time" was also visually spectacular, with Lee literally climbing the walls and tapping on the roof of the theatre as one of the many tricks the production has in store. The number is especially captivating due to its tempo changes that slowly draw the audience into the world of the chimney sweeps on the rooftops of London and then quickly blast them into the no longer peaceful but exciting world above with snappy, high-energy dance routines.

"Anything Can Happen" ends the show on a wonderful, magical note, with Mary Poppins flying out into the audience. Not only does the song deliver a heart-warming message, but the stage craft of its delivery quite literally gives you shivers. The moment Hunt-Ballard took off from the stage and flew right above my head while looking down and smiling to the audience with Poppins' trademark elegance and poise will stay with me for a long time. It crystalised for me what is so special and enlivening about musical theatre- that no matter your troubles of the day or worries over what is to come, in the almost three hours at the theatre, you can leave them behind and engulf yourself in an imaginary world filled with so much pure joy and happiness.

The yet unspoken hero of the show is the first class staging, lighting and sound design, costuming, and special effects. The production is a visual feast, but it goes one step further with its clever set design. Most enchanting is the large dolls house that literally opens out to be the Banks' home, within which holds many tricks. From a kitchen that can in one moment almost completely fall apart to then be re-assembled without the human hand moments later in "A Spoonful of Sugar," to the bottomless pit of Mary Poppins' bag in "Practically Perfect," there are many 'wow' moments. Even sitting in the front row it was hard to pick out all the secrets behind the tricks.

Mary Poppins in many ways epitomises what musical theatre is about- a big heart. The show holds appeal to all ages not only because of its didactic storytelling and memorable showtunes, but because no matter how old we get, I think we can always find the child within us that revels in bright, beautiful colours, magic tricks and mystery. Mary Poppins is all those things, and is totally fun to boot.

The show is testament to the top-notch productions Sydney and Australia are capable of putting on. We know how to entertain audiences and put 'bums on seats,' and we have loads of talented people who a brimming with energy to do it, so here is to the long and healthy life of musical theatre in Australia. Hip, hip hooray!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Aussie business wins coveted Webby Award for best employment website

AN Aussie business that claims to be the “eBay” of jobs was voted best employment website of the year by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences overnight.

Aussie website beat recruitment website to win both People’s Choice and Judges awards in the Oscars of the internet.

Freelance workers bid on dream jobs – which include everything from proofreading a novel to managing a company’s accounts - posted on the website by businesses from around the world.

“It’s just like eBay, but instead of buying and selling goods, you are buying and selling jobs,” said the website’s CEO Matt Barrie.

Bids have gone as high as $20,000 on some dream jobs, with $30 as the minimum starting price.

The website targets small business owners in emerging online industries such as web design, internet marketing and copywriting that rely on the internet to recruit temporary workers cheaply.

Sanjay Dange from India makes almost a million dollars a year building websites won on, and currently hires 80 of his own staff to meet rising demand.

Mr Barrie said he was “overjoyed” and proud of the achievements his company has made in just two years since it opened with one employee.

It has since grown to a staff of 85 primarily divided between its Sydney and Manilla offices, with the business of outsourcing online becoming increasingly popular as the demand for quality, low-cost labour grows around the world.

“ empowers entrepreneurs to start new businesses and, at the same time, helps [existing] small businesses get things outside their expertise done,” he said.

The CEO, who this year was crowned inaugural BRW Entrepreneur of the Year, plans to continue expanding the site by setting up physical websites dealing in local languages with local support in as many countries as possible.

“We want to be the next eBay of jobs,” he said.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

U.S Air Force takes social media seriously, and for good reason

The United States Air Force take social media seriously.

So seriously the Air Force Public Affairs Agency has devised a 'Posting Response Assessment' to assist those contemplating commenting on people's blogs.

The flowchart looks like something straight out of a personality test found in Girlfriend magazine. Are you a morning person? If yes, progress to the question on the right, if no, answer the question on the left.

It is quite quaint and considered, and recognises the various things that motivate people to comment on news sites and blogs.


Beyond supplying colourful posters that Airmen and women can pin up on their computer desks, the U.S Air Force have gone one step further.

They have created a new role, Chief of Emerging Technology, whose responsibility is to develop effective communication strategies to engage Airmen and women and the general public in meaningful and informed conversation.

One such strategy has been "counter-blogging," where defense personnel counter negative opinions about the US government and the air force in the blogosphere by relaying their own experiences on the field.

The Royal Australian Air Force has an internet presence as well, with Twitter accounts, YouTube channels and RSS feeds, but I think the USAF's 'commenters guide' takes the cake.

As much as you could joke about government's being clued on to trolls (despite how much trolls seemingly take pride in the belief other people are oblivious to their stupidity), I think active online engagement with the general public is an essential communication strategy for government departments in the current digital environment.

More and more people are flocking to the internet to have their opinion heard as engagement structures within political parties whittle away.

Yet despite this glorified re-birth of the public sphere via digital information technologies, there has been much scholarly criticism of the poor quality of debate online.

John Downey in "Participation and/or Deliberation? The Internet as a Tool for Achieving Radical Democratic Aims" notes that more often than not, people seek out and find comfort in online communities who toe a similar line to them.

In these instances, the quality of debate and range of views presented is significantly low.

Scholars Van Alstyne and Erick Brynjolfsson go so far as to label this activity in the blogosphere as a cyberbalkanisation, where individuals glue themselves into electronic enclaves that reflect their initial preferences and find confirmation of their beliefs.

This is arguably just as unhealthy for democracy as the often bipartisan bias you find in the mainstream media.

The USAF's strategy for emerging communications is an important one.

By directly engaging with the community in online forums and blogs, official government bodies can cut through the stuffy rigmarole of their PR departments.

In doing so they not only give defense personnel the opportunity to create a little transparency in what they do and quell persistent unfounded rumours, but, perhaps most importantly, they actively educate the general public.

People don't want to be spoken 'down' to by high and mighty government departments. Instead, messages have a greater chance of hitting their mark if they are delivered in a more personal and relatable way.

Read more about the theories of online engagement here:
Downey, John (2007). "Participant and/or deliberation? The internet as a tool for achieving radical democratic aims," in Dahlberg and Siapera (eds) Radical Democracy and the Internet: Interrogating Theory and Practice. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Marshall van Alstyne (2005). "Global Village or Cyber-Balkans? Modelling and Measuring the Integration of Electronic Communities," Management Science, 51(6). Pp.851-868.