The Singing Bellbird

Music has always informed my writing process. I’m a singer and have been involved in musical theatre for years, so it’s hardly a surprise that I try to make my words sing and my sentences lyrical and easy on the ear.

It’s important to me that my writing not only reads well, but sounds beautiful. I like to read everything out loud as I edit, just to ensure the language is melodious.

A few weeks ago I was surfing the internet redrafting a section of my novel when I came across an audition notice for the 2016 Auckland season of The Phantom of the Opera. For those of you not conversant with musical theatre, Phantom is one of the most famous shows ever produced and one of the longest-running shows on both Broadway and the West End. The music is composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, he of Cats and Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar fame (among many others).

I saw it years ago in London, a young thing just embarking on her OE, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A friend bought me a ticket for my birthday. It was one of the cheapest tickets available, so I was way up in the Gods (theatre-speak for basically the worst seat in the house, right at the back in the corner and so high up that you risk toppling head first into the orchestra pit if you lean forward even a  fraction). Despite this, I was transfixed. It was the first major West End show I had ever seen and I will never forget the soaring music, the opulence of the set, the sumptuous costumes, the story and oh my, the voices of the actors.

So, I’m looking at the audition notice and I’m transported back to that heady moment in London when the overture begins and in my excitement I almost pitch myself into the strings section, and I suddenly think: I’m going to audition. I’m bloody going to audition. I haven’t sung for a while, and I haven’t been on stage for a couple of years, and I have no idea if I’ve still got what it takes, but I’m going to audition.

I detest auditions, by the way. Abhor them. Dread them. There’s something about standing up in front of your peers (because, let’s face it, if you’re a theatre person in Auckland, or have been, then it’s likely you’ll know someone on the audition panel) and being judged. I almost pass out from nervousness and then my throat constricts and that powerful sound soaring from my lungs while rehearsing at home becomes an apologetic squeak. And inevitably, I’ll trip, or the director will ask me to read a section of the script and I’ll completely screw up, or I’ll walk into the door on my way out.

Also, this was huge. This wasn’t just your local theatre group pottering about with an organ and a few masks. This was going to be a massive, professional-grade show in Auckland’s biggest and most beautiful theatre, the Civic. So it was kind of a big deal.

I had a few weeks to prepare. I nearly chucked the whole thing in two or three times, convinced I couldn’t do it. I nearly rang up the day before to pull out. So what got me through the door?

My daughter, actually. She does competitive Irish dancing, and before every competition she is very nervous (and very excited). But no matter how she feels, she gets up and she performs, and I am so very proud of her bravery and her willingness to risk and make herself vulnerable. And I thought to myself: If she can do it, so can I. I’m going to be brave like her, and I’m going to sing for her.

So I did.

And blow me down, it worked.

I got in.

Lee Child said once that “Writing is show business for shy people.” I love this quote and I can relate to it, because over the years I have become less and less of a theatre person and more and more of a writer. I’m very happy about that. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform in one of my all-time favourite shows in the Civic. Besides, I’m sure it will give me lots of new writing inspiration.

And since I’m going to be on the stage for a change, there’s no risk of me plummeting into the orchestra pit.

Hmmmm. Actually…

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