Date of Award

3-4-2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Performing Arts)

School

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Advisor

Jonathan Marshall

Second Advisor

Luke Hopper

Third Advisor

Andrew Lewis

Abstract

This research project is interested in the communicative transaction that occurs between actor and audience, in theatrical performance, and how this relationship can differ within nonmusical, and musical theatre. In non-musical theatre, for example, there can be a very intimate and immediate “dialogue” between actor and audience, that can alter each moment of a performance, making possible a unique co-creation between the two entities. In this way, no two performances are ever alike, the actor “reads” the audience and adjusts their performance according to specific responses from them. This communion allows a flexible elasticity in the outcome, and the actor, in this case, can have absolute control of the timing.

In musical theatre, however, control of timing can be taken out of the hands of the actor, the integrity of the transaction between them and the audience can be compromised, and therefore the performance can lose its potential for uniqueness and originality. Music itself, with its inherent structure, rhythm and tempi can dictate the flow of many elements during a musical theatre performance often compromising, or even disallowing flexibility or any sense of improvisation for the performer/s. This makes the musical theatre performer’s task - that of, creating a seemingly spontaneous and organic performance, guided by each audience’s unique contribution, marrying at least three disciplines of acting, singing, and dance - a much more challenging task.

The project has investigated the ways in which the musical theatre performer, the actor/singer/dancer negotiates these hurdles, as compared to the actor in non-musical theatre. How does this performer navigate the requirements of each discipline to create a performance with the same sense of integrity as the non-musical performer? How too, can one create a production of a musical that enables the same sense of audience investment as in a nonmusical production? Finally, how can we train our musical theatre students to have a greater understanding of the actor-audience relationship, particularly given the limitation of the number of actual performances for each production?

The cornerstone of my “Practise as Research” was a production used as a vehicle to explore and exercise my findings. At the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), with the assistance of nine 2nd Year Music Theatre students, I reimagined a production of David King and Nick Enright’s musical Mary Bryant. An audio/visual recording of one of the performances is included as part of this thesis.

I directed the original professional production of Mary Bryant at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre in 1998. Although favorably reviewed and a financial success, I was at the time, unsatisfied with the results, particularly with concern to the performer to audience interaction. This new production therefore tested and demonstrated ways of improving and responding to these shortcomings through original and unique processes, bringing about some expected but also unexpected results. The findings will be of interest to directors of musical and non-musical theatre, and to teachers of musical theatre, particularly those teaching the acting component.

Available for download on Friday, July 12, 2024

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