A reinvented musical has its European premiere in Southwark this month – Luke Sheppard brings Working to the attention of the next generation. Daniel Perks catches up with choreographer Fabian Aloise and performers Liam Tamne and Dean Chisnall to chat about the relevance of the show today.

Never be afraid to pursue your dreams, to go after what you really want. Whether that be a marriage and kids, or the perfect career, you will constantly regret not trying. Working reminds its audience that dreams take all shapes and sizes – as do the people pursuing them (or not). Providing a better life for their children, working for the fun of it or even as an escape, Stephen Schwartz’s musical highlights the people that life can so often overlook. These are the adults that a younger generation refuse to be like, as they aspire instead to mimic their celebrity idols. The get rich quick, be famous fast millennials…

The theatre is full of hard workers that get nowhere. It’s also full of hard workers that have established themselves, made careers out of their toil and efforts. For this latest musical, I caught up with three such people – choreographer Fabian Aloise and performers Liam Tamne & Dean Chisnall – to hear about the level of work put in to this show and their careers to date:

Fabian Aloise & Gillian Bevan (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

How is it as performers working on a Stephen Schwartz musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s input, with Luke Sheppard at the helm? Do you feel pressure working with these kinds of people?

Dean: I think we’re very lucky because they took the pressure off us immediately in that sense. It seems like Stephen and Lin-Manuel have done similar – they’ve left Luke and Fabian to do what they want to do with it.

There are six principals – three men and three women. Of the men, it’s me and Liam and Peter Polycarpou; we just feel totally in awe of him. He’s a genius of his craft but also just such a lovely man, incredibly experienced and very, very funny. We got nothing done in rehearsals to begin with!

Peter Polycarpou (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Working is only playing a short run at Southwark Playhouse. Do you approach these shorter timescales with a different rehearsal mentality?

Fabian: I’ve worked for a long time with Luke Sheppard on other projects and shows and know that he likes to work in an organic playing field. We came in with specific ideas for certain characters and numbers, but then played with the skills the actors themselves had rather than trying to adhere them to specific things that we had already established.

Any piece of art, any show, is just a reflection of that point in time. Bigger shows have opened and changed throughout the course of their run. So, the only thing that you’re seeing is a Working after four weeks… that’s it.

Now we’re into performances we have to freeze the show and allow the cast to have fun with it to claim it. You back away and they take ownership of the show in a more tangible way – it’s their show now, not mine or Luke’s.

Any piece of art, any show, is just a reflection of that point in time.

 

Getting where you want to be isn’t easy and it isn’t instantaneous. Blood, sweat and tears; heartache, hard work and love have gone into all aspects of this particular production – from Stephen Schwartz, Lin-Manuel Miranda and other contributors, to director Luke Sheppard and choreographer Fabian Aloise, down to the actors themselves.

Six veteran professionals and six professional debuts – just like the show, the ones that have achieved their dreams and the ones still toiling to get there. This is a new addition from Sheppard and Aloise, updating the concept to the millennial generation of workers:

In this show, you have taken on six professional debut performances. Are debut performers up to the standards required for a show such as this?

Fabian: Luke and I had discussed from the very beginning how we were going to do this show differently to its most recent run back in 2012. We both decided that we needed to bring it to a younger generation – we wanted them to be fresh, but also capable.

So, we had hundreds of open auditions to find the right people that gave us a clear distinction between the older cast and the millennials, who are able to mirror each other’s abilities in acting, choreography and singing.

Kerri Norville, Izuka Hoyle & Nicola Espallardo (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Liam: Izuka Hoyle has just won the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award, so she’s really hot stuff.

I’ve been doing this for ten years now and I’ve been very fortunate to keep working. But sometimes you lose the feeling of why you originally got into the business. So, when you see their eyes on their first professional press night, it brings it all back, thinking this is why you do what you do.

 

Dean: Liam and I became veterans in the space of about two days! But they’re great, the energy and commitment and dedication, shows how grateful they are to be here. For them as well, what an incredibly special first job to create something, a European premiere and to work with people like Peter and Gillian Bevan in particular who are veterans of the stage. They bring something really energetic and fresh to it.

Gillian Bevan (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Now these three individuals are at the top of their game, but everyone has to start from somewhere. Everyone remembers starting out – the excitement, the fear and the awe that can be generated from stepping out on to stage for the first time:

Tell me about your professional debut.

Fabian: I was scared, mainly because I trained as a ballet dancer. My ballet teacher was the ballet mistress for the Australian Ballet Company, a woman who had danced with George Balanchine and who had served as one of his ballet mistresses.

She was the one who told me I wouldn’t make it as a ballet dancer in Australia. My height wasn’t enough to be put in the corps de ballet and my ability at the time meant that I wasn’t going to walk into the company as a senior soloist. She told me that I could waste years of my life trying, or I could audition for a visiting company of West Side Story – this was before Jerome Robbins had passed away.

I was absolutely devastated, because ballet was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Who thought about musical theatre if you wanted to be the next Mikhail Baryshnikov? At the time, yes, I cried; yes, I had an emotional breakdown; yes, I grudgingly went into an audition that I didn’t want at the time.

Art is a discussion – the minute you create a dialogue, that’s when art becomes beautiful.

I had never really sung before – I don’t even remember what I sang for my audition! I didn’t really take singing seriously, definitely not as much as I dance, so I was more nervous every time I had to speak or sing on my own, without a chorus of voices around me. 

The show opened up my entire career – that was the best conversation I’ve ever had with anybody in my life and I will always be thankful to her for that. As the years go on, you become more confident, develop as an artist – the dance side of it is just scratching the surface of what you really need. But at the same time, you realise you have this tool you never knew of, this acting ability that you learned through movement and never thought about that is now accessible to you. It’s been quite a journey since the first time I stepped out onto stage.

Liam Tamne (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Liam: It was quite nerve-racking to be honest. I had the opportunity to be a professional dancer or to go into musical theatre from my training at Laine Theatre Arts. So, I went into the company of Wicked in the second or third cast. Going into that I was petrified because I was first cover to Oliver Tompsett. I don’t ever remember the first time I went on as Fiyero, but I remember my first time in the ensemble. I will always hold that show as a special place in my heart in comparison with other shows to be honest – it’s your first show.

 

Dean: I left Arts Ed a bit early and did The Woman in White at the Palace Theatre. Critically it wasn’t particularly positive, but for me it was the greatest thing I’d ever done. It’s a very special show for me as well. You think you know a lot when you leave college, but I think I learnt more in my first day of rehearsal than I did in three years – that’s not being disparaging to where I trained, it’s just being out there that’s completely different. They can prepare you to try and deal with it but they can’t teach you what it actually is.

As the years go on, you become more confident, develop as an artist.

 

Does the first time performing onstage feel different to the first time on the creative team, where you see your vision realised?

Fabian: The creative team is scarier – as a performer, you want to do a good job for everyone that comes to see but also for your choreographer or director. For a long time, I was associate to other choreographers and you want to do a good job for them.

When it’s you at the helm of creation, you’re concerned with the masses and the weight on your shoulders is heavier. You want to make sure your ideas are clear; you want performers to understand what you’ve tried to create. It might not be as physical – obviously I don’t do eight shows a week – but on a mental level, an anxiety level, it’s through the roof. 

Huon Mackley, Izuka Hoyle & Nicola Espallardo (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Fabian, Luke and Dean now find themselves in the position of being individuals that the next generation look up to, the ones that drama school students dream of emulating and working with. This comes with responsibility and the opportunity to pass down advice on to the next group of industry professionals:

Fabian: Trust yourself. Listen to everyone’s feedback, but trust yourself at the end of it. Sometimes great feedback is not necessarily useful, you can’t often do anything with it. It’s important that you can decide which path to take.

I’ve worked a long time as Anne Reinking’s associate – she was the first person to tell me how scary it is to be creatively in charge. Some people might love it, some might hate it, but it’s the people that hate it make it art. Art is a discussion – the minute you create a dialogue, that’s when art becomes beautiful. As an artist in any respect, you need to know that we are put on this earth to push buttons and not just make pretty pictures.

As an artist in any respect, you need to know that we are put on this earth to push buttons and not just make pretty pictures.

Liam: It sounds quite harsh, but I always say that you have to love this industry to do it – if there is no love in what you do, you’re never going to succeed. That’s your drive, that’s what keeps you going. I wouldn’t do this if were just a hobby.

For younger actors, one thing I see quite often is that a lot of them don’t want to take a risk. I’m very fortunate to have done a lot of different jobs, but there are people who tend to stay in the same place. Sometimes, even if you don’t have anything to go on to, you have to take the risk and put yourself out for the next job.

As an example, my Dad is Kenyan-Indian and my Mum is Irish, but I went in for the role of Link Larkin in Hairspray. There were huge TV personalities there, but I believed that I was going to get the role and as someone of colour, I landed the role as a white character. They’re the sort of things you have to do – never be limited.

Dean Chisnall (image courtesy of Robert Workman)

Dean: If you have the ambition then go for it. Life is too short, too many people don’t follow what they really want to do. We actually reference that in the show and that’s another reason why it’s really special for us to do something like this. You appreciate what you do by being in Working – some of the characters have spent their life doing something they didn’t want to. It helps reenergise us.

I think also work hard, learn from people all the way through and be humble. The great thing about this show is that it’s honest, because it’s absolutely verbatim. We’re not playing characters, we’re playing people who said these words. We have the honour of going up on stage and doing this every night, speaking the words of real workers in America. It doesn’t get any better really.

 

Even the established stars have their idols and inspirations, the people that push them to greater heights and support them on their way. Whether family, friends or professional role models, it can be hard to keep working without the network to pick you up when you fall:

Dean: Mum and Dad brought me up to do what I wanted to do and what I enjoyed. I somehow found my way into this – it’s down to them that I’m here. I am from a little village in Lancashire, where growing up there was nothing to do in theatre. Only when I came to London, to drama school, was when I started.

Liam: Family is key. My inspiration started when my mum and dad splitting up – my nan took over the role of bringing us up and I needed something to do, I wasn’t dealing with it very well. I also wanted to be a role model to my little brother, I didn’t want him to feel like he couldn’t accomplish anything. When my nan passed away, that was my inspiration to keep going. 

Fabian: I like to think that I’m quite eclectic, I take inspiration from everywhere. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of my biggest icons was Bob Fosse – I worked with Ann Reinking for so many years and was introduced to his work through her. He aspired to come from a ballet background, but it was never meant to be because of the shape of his body. His attention to detail in creating his world drove him almost crazy at times.

On the flipside, working with Peter Darling, I realised that my brain is more important than my body. Reinking and Arlene Phillips enabled me to experience and workshop different movements with my body. But Peter is probably the most cerebral man I’ve ever met; he sits there and pushes buttons, approaching the work from so many different levels. By the end of it you don’t just know what you’ve created, you know why you’ve created it and what you’re trying to achieve.

If you have the ambition then go for it.

 

To read more about Working, playing at Southwark Playhouse until 8 July 2017, follow Working Musical on Twitter (@WorkingMusical) or visit the website – southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

To read Theatre Editor Daniel Perks’ review of Working, please visit his website – Culture By Night