By Cameron Malcher
A tale of two worlds: Disney’s High School Musical by Blacktown Theatre Group
Attending the opening night of Blacktown Theatre Company’s production of High School Musical was an experience that reminded me of why I love community theatre, and ultimately why this site exists. Every professional arts or entertainment industry needs community support to keep it afloat, and to help train the next generation of professionals coming through. Where would the NRL be without thousands of kids dedicating their weekends to club games? Where would professional theatre and entertainment be without community groups giving younger performers a chance to experience the highs and lows of live performance? BTC’s High School Musical is a production that reminded me of just how important community support is to a thriving arts industry.
The production had its hits and misses. Among the positive aspects of this show were some simple yet effective choreography, an impressive consistency of costumes and a fairly minimalist approach to set design that provided a springboard for the imagination without being overbearing.
The biggest highlight for me was the sight of an enthusiastic younger cast getting to test their mettle in the realm of community theatre. While Tyler Hoggard brought a great sense of quirky charisma to the male lead role of Troy Bolton, and Ebony Black showed her vocal talents as Gabriella Montez, among a broad spectrum of ability and talent on display in the supporting cast there were some stand out performers; Justin McCormick as Jack Scott and Bernadette Glynn as Kelsi Nielsen supplied fun comic support throughout the show, while Jasper Newstead as Ms Darbus incited roars of laughter from the crowd.
Seeing a group of teenagers and young adults on stage playing teenagers and young adults reminded me of just how often we see adult performers in their 30s and 40s playing younger roles, which usually guarantees a more polished performance, but raises the question of where and how younger people are expected to gain any significant performance experience in leading roles if companies like BTC don’t provide opportunities like this. Speaking to members of the company after the show I found out that this show had drawn in performers from a wider geographic area than they were used to, with only 4 out of 40 cast members having worked with the company before. This suggests that there is a body of young performers out there looking for such opportunities, and I think supporting productions like this one are a great way to help build up future performers.
Where this production noticeably fell down was in the sound and lighting, which were the two aspects of the production contracted out to ‘professional’ companies. It is a common conundrum for community theatre groups that larger scale productions require more lighting and audio amplification and in the interests of protecting their expensive equipment, hire companies will usually insist on one of their technicians being on hand to handle/operate the equipment during the show. This can be a big expense to community companies, easily running into the thousands of dollars and representing half or more of the total production budget of a show (speaking from my own experience, not from any inside knowledge of BTC). But when performers are left in the dark by lighting cues that are frequently missed, or audio feeds are not being mixed to create a balanced sound (assuming that the singer’s microphones are even turned on in the first place!), it certainly casts a questioning light on the divide between concepts of ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ in the theatre world. Things came together more effectively for the second act, and I expect they will continue to improve rapidly over the opening weekend, but it’s a real shame that the most amateur thing about the show I saw tonight was in the domain of the professional technicians involved.
Overall, this production is not only a fun staging of a well-known Disney property, but a great effort from BTC to support and develop younger performers in the Western Sydney area.
The show is running for one more week, with full details available at www.blacktowntheatreco.com.