Into the MELTing pot: Aly Lorén, Alex Woodward and Gavin Roach
In the leadup to MELT Festival, we recently had the opportunity to talk to a trifecta of amazing creatives, all of whom will have some amazing sounding showings at this year’s festival.
First, we spoke to Aly Lorén, a Melbourne based performer. Originally from Brisbane, Aly has been involved in the music scene for a while, and recent break-in to the theatre and storytelling side of performance, Aly’s show Share My Blankets is sure to be an emotional journey not to be missed.
Initially knowing very little about Aly’s background we asked what moved them to become a performer initially, “The way I normally describe it to people, is that, I’ve been a musician my whole life, since I was five years old and playing piano, and I’ve been writing music since I was about fifteen, I started writing music I liked when I was about eighteen, I’ve done pub gigs, I’ve played in bands, and I loved playing music for people, but one of my favourite parts was the stage presence, was making people laugh, making people feel included in my set, talking to people and bantering on stage, and I thought to myself [that] I’ve worked in theatres, I’ve worked at QPAC for a few years, I’m working at a theatre now and I really wanted to do that, so when I met Dirk [Hoult] who directs the show, it was his idea to turn my writing, my poems and my music into a stage show, so I think it just feeds me a bit more than just music does.”
Internationally Aly showed interest in “Portland where there’s an amazing queer community, and just perform before their weird and wonderful bands … I’d just really love to play with locals overseas, that’s where I see myself going if that was ever to happen” and they’d “love to be on a stage at a music festival like Coachella or in Glastonbury, I’d love to do a huge music festival like that. If any of those festivals do theatre performance as well, I’d love to do a show there … I’ve always wanted to be on a music festival line up, I just think it would be so much fun, playing to a big crowd is such a dream of mine, just to feel that energy. I guess because theatre is so new for me, all I’m really thinking about is the next step, but music, I can see myself always doing [that], and theatre I just need to believe in myself a little more I think.
Taking a step back from the future, we asked what her MELT Festival show “SHARE MY BLANKETS” embodies, “First of all, come and see. There’s a lot of things, it embodies me because it’s about my body. It’s a journey, I have been working a lot to try and reduce it down to one sentence … the whole thing is, it’s a coming of age coming out story, but more than that it’s an exploration of real human vulnerability … I want to show people that they are allowed to populate space in their own storytelling. So often people feel silenced [and] that others aren’t going to listen … I want to show people, that you can be one hundred percent, wholeheartedly and truly yourself with at least a few other people in this world. For some people, being your full authentic self can be dangerous out there in the world, but I want to show people that I’m not afraid anymore, I’m not afraid of my past and if anyone needs to feel like they have a space to be able to tell their stories, I’m here to listen and I’m sure someone else would be as well.”
We asked Aly what else happening at MELT this year, that they’d like to see or talk about, “I have a few friends here in Melbourne, one of whom is a writer and her play Cassandra and the Boy Doll that she wrote a few years ago, is going to be at MELT, which is amazing, I’m really proud of her, my very good friend Gavin Roach (whom we interviewed as part of this article as well) is performing The Measure of a Man, and my other good friend Jessi Lewis has an art installation called Cry [as part of MELT Festival’s Visual Art exhibitions], and I just can’t wait to see more of the Brisbane talent [that] I didn’t get to last year, and I just can’t wait, in between rehearsals, see how much I can see and hopefully stay on a bit after the show and check some out, and it’s going to be exciting and I can’t wait”
Aly’s parting words left us wanting to experience their story further, and with a lighter heart, “I left Brisbane for a reason, to come to Melbourne, and I’m coming back for a reason. I’ve grown a lot, and I also haven’t grown at all. I want to show people, that there’s no help growing older and wiser, you’ve just got to take things as [they] come, and sometimes someone tells you to do a theatre show and you just have to do it. Tell people your weird and wild stories. Is be yourself to cliché? I don’t know, be cliché, be silly, be yourself. People are going to love you, I’m proud of you.”
Find Aly here:
What: MELT Festival – Aly Lorén’s Share My Blankets
Where: Turbine Studio|Brisbane Powerhouse 119 Lamington Street,
New Farm QLD 4005
When: THU 17 MAY – 6:30PM
FRI 18 MAY – 8:30PM
SAT 19 MAY – 6:30PM
Full – $25*
Concession – $20*
Group (4+) – $20*
Suitable for ages 15+. Contains coarse language.
The second creative mind we had the chance to probe, was none other than Alex Woodward of Understudy Productions, who have been producing some amazing shows since 2016’s Edges – A Song Cycle to December 2017’s A Very Naughty Christmas. Alex himself having directed, produced and performed both theatrically and musically since 2010.
As with all performer interviews, we had to start at the very beginning and asked what the genesis of Alex’s performing pathway was, “I suppose I’d always been brought up in a creative household, my father was a photographer originally, and my mother’s in television. I think when I was young  performance was a real outlet for me and it provided me a home and sense [of belonging], I found it was the only way I could really express how I felt, I wasn’t good at doing that in other settings. With music, I found a way to express myself in a way that was productive and creative. “
As well as where he hopes this pathway will lead him, “One day I’d love to perform alongside actors and artists on Broadway … [Seeing] influential artists like Ben Platt in a show called Dear Evan Hansen was just amazing, and the level of commitment they have to telling a story through song just blows me away.”
“With me, it’s interesting because performing is only half of what I do, I love producing as well, and that’s what I’m doing with Bare at MELT [Festival], and if I think about it like that, there’s just so many things. Shows like Cabaret, a show like Dear Evan Hansen, I would love to put that on one day, I don’t think I ever will because the rights will be blocked for ages.
We asked what his current production for MELT Festival embodies “Bare embodies a lot of the mental health issues that come about in the LGBTI+ community, one of the main reasons I wanted to put Bare on is, with this recent postal opinion poll that recently happened in Australia, I’ve seen so many of my friends around me suffer needlessly because their rights were put to question across Australia. Their validity, to be who they are was questioned and I saw horrible things, I saw friends who had pride flags outside their houses had swastikas drawn on their fences, had offensive letters written and stuck on their cars and hurled abuse at, at pride rallies, and this show tackles and discusses the difficulty some people face in coming out and I think that is just such a relevant thing in Australia. Obviously, I’m very excited at the result that came of the survey, but I still think it’s important to acknowledge and really look at those things that happened, and this show really ties in to what did happen, so I think it’s very poignant to the time we’re in, in Australia right now.
We asked Alex how he felt about the atmosphere of MELT this year exemplifying the celebration of the outcome of 2017’s postal plebiscite vote, “Absolutely [fantastic], and I think it’s a fantastic venue for it, Powerhouse has always been a strong of the LGBTI+ arts and MELT Festival is a big part of that, and even right now they’re giving a wedding away to a queer couple as a celebration of the results or the survey and the laws that have been put into action. I think it’s fantastic that the survey resulted in the way it did, and I think that for some people, they needed that. But it hurts me so much to see the pain and suffering people had to go through in order to get that, and I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
We were curious if there were any strong memories of any past shows that Alex had been involved in that he could tell us about, “I did a show once, that was very emotional, the crux of the show ended with the main character dying and I always thought it was very interesting when the lights came up at the curtain call, and you’d look at the audience and most of the audience would be in tears, and it was really interesting to see that the audience had gone along the same emotional journey as the characters and seeing that they’ve made a connection with those characters.
That’s the point of theatre, it’s to make a point, it’s to express an opinion, it’s to influence opinion [and] to encourage conversation and encourage change.”
And closed the interview with his words of advice, “Come and see Bare” he laughed “it’s a really fab show. We’ve got a band of six, a cast of seventeen really amazing, professional performers from Brisbane, we’re really trying to encourage music theatre in Brisbane. We have this incredible creative team, with Sue Rider multi Matilda Award winner, Luke Volker, our music director, is one of the most amazing MDs I know.
I think it’s going to be really magic and I think it’s going to hit a lot of people [emotionally], so I would encourage everyone to come”
Find Alex Woodward here:
What: MELT Festival – BARE: The Musical
Where: Visy Theatre|Brisbane Powerhouse 119 Lamington Street,
New Farm QLD 4005
When: WED 24 MAY – Fri 25 May 7pm
SAT 26 MAY 1pm + 6pm
SAT 02 JUNE 1pm + 7pm
Thu 24 May (Preview) – $45*
Fri + Sat Evenings (Adult) – $59*
Fri + Sat Evenings (Concession) – $54*
Fri + Sat Evenings (Group 5+) – $54*
Wed, Thu, Sun + Matinees (Adult) – $55*
Wed, Thu, Sun + Matinees (Concession) – $49*
Wed, Thu, Sun + Matinees (Group 5+) – $49*
Suitable for ages 15+. Contains coarse language.
Lastly, we chatted with unapologetically open and expressive, award-winning performer Gavin Roach. Directing since his production of Wolf Lullaby in 2006, Gavin has been producing and performing, with his show Confessions of a Grindr Addict receiving some very interesting reactions (more on that further down), and now bringing his very personal show The Measure of a Man to MELT Festival 2018.
Once more we delved into the past to the inceptive beginning of Gavin’s creative life, “I was always an attention seeking child, so I realised that theatre and performance meant I never really had to grow up, never had to lose that idea that people are going to keep watching me, and then as I got older I really was attracted to the idea of storytelling, I like sharing stories, whether it be mine or ones that really resonate with me. I love Australian stories, I love telling our stories and I firmly believe that inside everybody is a story that needs to be told and shared. That’s kind of what attracted me to theatre and to performance and storytelling.”
We wondered aloud who Gavin would love to perform alongside, if anyone, “The dames, Dame Judy Dench, [Dame] Maggie Smith and [Dame] Hellen Mirren, that would be just my everything. Director-wise Yaël Farber, who is a South African director, [she] is incredible and I adore, I would love to be a part of anything she does. For me that would probably be about it, my dream has always been to be on the [Royal] National Theatre stage in London, nearly every year I do a pilgrimage there and I just love it, I love everything about the building, I love the brutalist nature, I love the performances that are there, they’re daring and exciting, I can’t get enough of it.”
And what plays he’d dream to be involved in, “I’d always love to be a part of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, I adore it, it’s an amazing Australian play. Now I’m just trying to go through my library, I try to buy a play a week, so I’m trying to think of all the ones that I would do from there. There’s this amazing play called Les Blancs, which I saw two years ago, which deals with very violent racism and the idea of destabilising the British empire, and I think that if I ever got the privilege to be part of something like that, I could just, theatrically I could die happy.”
His words of advice for budding performers and producers of stage productions and shows, “Always be kind, always be on time, always be respectful to the venue, but mainly just to ignore everyone else, everyone’s going to tell you that it’s an impossible dream, but it’s not a dream, you can make it into a reality. I think we always get told that it’s this impossible hobby that we need a backup for, and I think the best advice, the advice that I wish I’d got, was not to invest so much into the backup, is to invest into what you’re wanting to do, which is performing and you’ll find a way, it won’t look like a standard job and it won’t look like a nine to five employment situation, but it will be different and it will be yours and you can do it, you just have to figure out a way.”
We asked what The Measure of a Man was all about, “It’s all very much based on my life and I think what it embodies is a look at the alternative to what we sometimes see, an alternative look at sexual anxiety to body image to masculinity to what it is to be a gay man in a society that can sometimes be very sexually focussed. It very much so, gives the alternative look of what it’s like to be somebody that doesn’t quite fit into the community that they strive to fit into.”
And any memorable experiences in past performances he’d be willing to share with us, “One of my very best friends came to the show and within the first three lines got up and walked out. Which was fine, we joked about it after, but my breath caught for a moment. It’s because within the first three lines I give over the measurements of my penis at thirteen and now, and they just kind of went wide-eyed and were like “nope!”, got up and walked out.
I do love walk-outs, I think they’re always my most memorable ones. I remember in Edinburgh, where I had my first ever show Confessions of a Grindr Addict, the whole front row got up and walked out once I started speaking. I remember doing a show in Tasmania, where when I took off my beanie, I’ve got a very tightly shaved head, all I could hear was a little voice in the audience of somebody saying “Oh, and he’s sick too” and I wanted to stop the show then, because it doesn’t get any better, that is comedy gold, I’m done.”
His parting words to close the interview out were words we couldn’t help but share, “Get behind MELT, it’s a great festival and I think the more people that go, the bigger and broader and bolder the festival can be, but I think it’s in a very beautifully unique position, to be bold, to be unashamed and to be wonderfully queer and I think that there’s so much there, that audiences will get out of it, my show included and so many others. Clear what you can for those two weeks and jump in and just really get involved and hear the stories that need to be told. “
Find Gavin here:
What: MELT Festival – Gavin Roach’s The Measure of a Man
Where: Graffiti Room|Brisbane Powerhouse 119 Lamington Street,
New Farm QLD 4005
When: THU 17 MAY – FRI 18 MAY – 7:15PM
SAT 19 MAY – 7:15PM + 9PM
Full – $25*
Concession – $20*
Group (4+) – $20*
Suitable for ages 16+.