Get your towels ready.

10 Dec


I have accepted an offer to be a music director for Second City Theatricals aboard a cruise ship.

When I was preparing to move to Chicago, people told me that this work existed, and that I’d have a good chance at it. Getting this gig was a short- to medium-term goal for me, and I’m pretty damn happy: it’s a recognisable standard for music directors in Chicago and a great basis for landing future projects.

This contract is also a big reason I moved to the US: New Zealand doesn’t have this volume of work for comedy music directors. Chicago really is the centre of the universe for the most niche skill I have.

600-norwegian-dawn-Cruising-NYCI will be on the Norwegian Dawn from 21 February to 29 July 2016, with a one-month hiatus while the ship is in dry dock. In the spring, I’ll be plying my trade on the New Orleans-Cozumel-Roatán-Belize-Costa Maya-New Orleans route, and in the summer I’ll do Boston-Bermuda-Boston.

This is great for a whole bunch of reasons:
– I’ve always wanted to work on a cruise ship – or even set foot on one. I’ve never had the chance up until now.
– Out of all the cities in the United States I haven’t yet been to, the two highest on my list are New Orleans and Boston. And they’re just landing in my lap!
– I get to do improv and sketch full-time… for a time.
– Free board, free food. I should be able to save money pretty well.
– I escape Chicago’s winter in the middle of February. Yes please. Given that winter hasn’t properly started yet and it’s mid-December, it’s probably going to last quite late into April & May. Glad to leave that behind.

In the meantime, I still have plenty going on in Chicago. Come to some of my shows!

Hitch*Cocktails: every Friday 10pm, The Annoyance Theater, It’s an improvised Alfred Hitchcock-style thriller/drinking game. Tickets $20/$15, book here because we often sell out over the holidays.

VAMP: every Friday & Saturday 10:30pm, MCL Chicago. It’s all short-form musical improv. I lead a four-piece band for Saturday night shows, and the rotation of improvising singers are freaking amazing. Tickets $15, book here including for my birthday VAMP on Saturday 12 December, and a free show we’re videoing on Sunday 13 December.

The Great Annoyance Melodrama and Vaudeville Revue: Sundays 8pm, until 27 December, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a traditionally hokey Christmas story about a small town, a tall tree, and a meddling villain. Written and directed by C.J. Tuor of Hitch*Cocktails fame, I’m the composer and music director.Ask-Your-Doctor-Poster-400x499$12/$8, book here, it’s family-friendly!

Ask Your Doctor: Thursdays 8pm, 7 January to 11 February, The Annoyance Theater. It’s a brand new musical about pharmaceutical sales reps and the dodgy shit they do. Written and directed by Jillian Mueller, I’m the composer and music director. $20/$15, book here, we’re currently in previews.

PlayGround Zero: Fridays 7:30, 8 January to 5 February, De Maat Studio, Second City. This is a Writing 6 graduation show, written by students who have done the full one-year course at the Second City Training Center. Directed by Aaron Sjöholm, I’m their music director and composer. $12, book here.

And I’ll leave you with this video.

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Green Card Lottery time!

5 Oct

Hi world.

It has been a long time since I’ve written an update for this site. I’ve got a few things to post (like I really should update my About Me to reflect my various Chicago activities). In the meantime, let me link to the website of someone who does actually put fingers to keyboard: I present Andrew Allen’s excellent and comprehensive article How to Win the Green Card Lottery.

Both Andrew and I come from Auckland, and we were both selected in the 2014 intake of Diversity Visa Lottery winners – in fact our consular interviews were just one day apart. We were connected by mutual theatre friends, and we ended up on the same variety show bill before we emigrated. Andrew now lives in New York City, where he quickly found work as a theatre publicist. I now live in Chicago, where my rent is three times smaller.

So if you were wondering how I won the Green Card lottery, here’s the answer:
– Actually entering. (Entries are open now until November 3!)
– A lot of luck.
– Being meticulous with paperwork.

Go read Andrew’s guide (and my comments at the end) for a full run-down.


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Where is home?

22 Apr

The first Google Image Search result for "home", because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source:

The first Google Image Search result for “home”, because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source:

Where is home? I’ve flippantly said “Home is where your stuff is”, but that’s not the whole picture.

When you move countries, when do you actually move? When do you comprehensively separate day-to-day ties with your previous country and properly integrate into the new? This is a thorny question given that I came back to New Zealand for a two-week trip less than three months after settling in Chicago.

I’ve got all sorts of contending dates.
– 27 December 2014: when I entered the United States on an immigrant visa and became a resident alien.
– 5 January 2015: when I reached my new home city of Chicago, and the room in my apartment.
– 7 January 2015: when I bought a bed in Chicago
– 14 January 2015: when I spent $573 at IKEA in Chicago on furniture and pillows and kitchen stuff
– 6 February 2015: when I did my first paid, taxable gig as a US resident
– Today, 22 April 2015: when I fly back to the United States after a short New Zealand return trip, and when I henceforth have no fixed future plans to return to New Zealand.
– 1 June 2015: the date from which I (hopefully) have Affordable Care Act health insurance, as opposed to travel insurance
– (unidentified future date, but probably some time in June): the date from which I’m earning more income from United States sources than New Zealand sources. I’m actually doing alright at this freelance composing malarkey, although I’m aware that may not last when I’m not showing my face at concert venues up and down the country.
– October 2015: when this year’s commissions have all received their first performances in New Zealand: the various Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano people; the Jade String Quartet; and the Westlake Boys High School choir Voicemale performing the full version of Howler Monkey at Prizegiving
– (unidentified future date): when I stop regularly listening to most podcasts from Upbeat and Standing Room Only
– (unidentified future date): when my Facebook algorithms serve me far more US/Chicago content than New Zealand content
– (unidentified future date, TBA when): when I have more Facebook friends in Chicago than in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, heaven knows when): when I intercontinentally relocate all my books from my parents’ house in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I have more United States Facebook friends than New Zealand friends
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I intercontinentally relocate all my stuff currently in storage at my parents’.

Tell you what, it doesn’t feel like it’s today. Five hours ago I finished a concert in Hamilton, and boarding is right now imminent at Auckland International Airport. Less than 24 hours after I land in Chicago, I’m doing a gig in the Chicago Improv Festival.

This week, I have rehearsals or gigs Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s a date line separation in there, but it really just feels like a busy week with a couple of flights and an intercity return trip thrown in.

And you know what… that’s pretty awesome.

I’m a jetsetting freelance arts person. Granted, I will probably need to find some form of stable day job once I return to Chicago (at least part-time), but you know those Chicago gigs this week? Most of them I was asked to do while I was out of town. People are remembering me in Chicago and obviously think I’m half-decent at what I do.

That’s pretty baller. International arts freelancer right here. Feels pretty good.

Feels better than Economy Class, anyway.*

* And thanks to the very kindly Air New Zealand check-in lady who let me get away with 23.7kg. You’re baller too.

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A quick trip home!

16 Mar

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:


I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists (with movements about Alfred Nobel, Nikola Tesla, Gertrude Elion and Ernest Rutherford), which I’m singing and he’s playing on piano. He and I are also working on Douglas Lilburn’s Sings Harry (as well as a few other rarer Lilburn songs), and performing them at a few concerts. Also, he’s quite a nifty wordsmith and comedy songwriter… these skills will also be on display.

Grooves Unspoken album coverYvette Audain‘s axes of choice are saxophone and clarinet. She’ll join me for the North Island première of my new Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano (a piece funded by the Wallace Arts Trust). She’s also a great composer who last year released an album of work called Grooves Unspoken, for which I did the design and layout.

This house concert is on Sunday 19 April, and you can book in one of two ways:
Secure your seat with a donation
– Reserve a place and donate on the night: or 027 472 3669

There’s a recommended donation set at $40: this is kinda necessary because I’ve had to pay for my flights back to New Zealand on this trip (long set in advance). I would love to see you there! RSVP on Facebook if you will.

Lunchtime concert at the University of Otago, Wed 15 April.
Pre-concert talk for the APO, Thu 16 April.
Lunchtime concert at the University of Waikato, Wed 22 April.
– I do a concert at 1pm in Hamilton, and fly out of Auckland Airport at 7:30pm. Doable.

PS I’m also in Seattle from 1 to 5 April. Will be nice to visit that city again.

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The extremely belated Chicago arrival post

26 Jan

I'll give you my mobile number on request.

I’ll give you my mobile number on request.

Hello world.

Today marks three weeks since I arrived in Chicago, my newest city of residence. It’s the first time I’ve lived outside New Zealand, and the first time I’ve set myself up in a city with so few connections.

If you’ve come to this website because I’ve handed you a business card in the last three weeks, welcome. I am indeed here in the city that you met me in. I live in Wicker Park – a neighbourhood sort of inconvenient to Lake View, where much improv takes place, but wonderfully hipster all the same.

I’m attending Wicker Park Fitness and working with a personal trainer there; I’m enjoying coffee at Intelligentsia on Division, The Wormhole and Brü; and I’m eating regularly at Sultan’s on North Ave and Chicago Bagel Authority on Belmont.

I came to this city to work as a music director for improv, comedy and sketch; and other related things around that. I’ve acquired a few regular shows as MD:
The Second City Teachers’ Jam (Tuesdays 10:15pm, De Maat Studio)
– House Party (Wednesdays 8pm & Sundays 7pm, ComedySportz)
and starting on 6 February:
– Hitch*cocktails (Fridays 10pm, The Annoyance).

Playing at Drop The Mic, a show at MCL. (source)

Playing at Drop The Mic, a show at MCL. (source)

I’ve also done occasional one-off performances:
– Drop The Mic at MCL Chicago, performing my epic Belgian waltz Dry July
– SalsaSketch 2015 with Salsation at Gorilla Tango Theatre, in which we devised/rehearsed/performed 25 minutes of sketch in a day. I played a French chef/teacher and Pope Francis.
– And there’s a one-off revue at Second City on Friday 20 February, for which details are a little sketchy right now!

And I’m taking two classes:
– Level 1 at iO. It’s nice to go back to basic principles, especially in an improv tradition which is quite different to my own.
– Writing 1 at The Second City. This is a great bombardment introduction to sketch writing. I have homework for the first time in a long while.

– The first week was really quite cold (got as low as 0F, or -17C) but without big snow storms or huge wind it was manageable. Since then it’s been pretty mild. I’ve heard people say “winter is coming” quite a lot. Sometimes in a Game of Thrones style.
– So many theatres have their own pianos/digital pianos here. I mean, I’ve bought my own, but I haven’t had to schlep it anywhere yet.
– Chicago hot dogs. They’ve got all the trimmings and are quite marvellous.
– The El train is great. The buses are patchy. I rely on some buses, particularly the 72 (North Ave).
– When the weather is cold in New Zealand, you feel it inside the house as well. When you step out your front door, you’re only feeling 80%. Chicago, as most of the US, heats its dwellings properly. I can quite happily walk 15 minutes in -10C because I’m warm at either end of my journey.
– Free delivery on SO MANY ITEMS when you order online.

I was well laden.

I was well laden.

– IKEA. I had quite a time shopping out in Schaumburg. I spent like $573 on furniture and bedding and stuff.
– When it’s been snowing and the footpathssidewalks turn to slush, there’s etiquette around tracking your outside shoes too far inside.
– Cheap shavers from The Warehouse are inevitably 240V only, and will not last all that long being charged on 110V American power. At least I didn’t make the same mistake in reverse, which may result in molten plastic.
– This is the Midwest. Basically everyone has a college football allegiance.

In summary:
– I’ve been here three weeks.
– I’m making connections bit by bit.
– I don’t need a day job just yet but probably will after my April trip back to New Zealand.
– I’m invested too heavily and sold too much of my New Zealand life to be in Chicago for anything less than the long haul.
– We’ll see! It’s a fun adventure.

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New-ish photos!

24 Jan

These images were taken by Kate Little, an Auckland photographer beloved of New Zealand’s comedian community. Thanks to the New Zealand Comedy Trust for kicking in some subsidy with these.

I’ve been using these all over: 9746 is on my business card, 9797 is my LinkedIn profile pic, and 9856 & 9858 are just fun!

If you need to promote anything me-related, you’re welcome to use these photos with a credit to Kate Little. Wonderful!

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Robbie’s arbitrarily selective list of “new music” in 2015

10 Oct

newmusicEven though I’m not going to be in Auckland to hear (almost) any of this, I’m indulging in habit once more to produce a list of “new music” in the 2015 concert calendar. The APO, the NZSO and CMNZ have all released their seasons quite close to each other.

Points to note:

  • Lilburn 100. I can’t find an official website for that but I presume it’s being run through the Lilburn Trust. Old Gordon was born in 1915, so there’s plenty of his music around in the 2015 season. Quite a lot of chamber music that we don’t hear all that much, and OMG Michael Houstoun’s doing the Chaconne live!
  • Britten 102. You’d think it was his anniversary too, but no. Just coincidence that quite a lot of Benny-Boy is turning up.
  • I’m not bothering with putting in nice photos to break up the long list, since I won’t get to see any of it. Well, except my own pieces and Corwin Newall’s one (obv) and the Dutilleux cello concerto in April. Long story.
  • Kimmo Hakola is a mad bastard. Kari Kriikku is slightly less mad but still incredibly awesome. Well done NZSO for that concerto.

On with it!

New Zealand “New Music” Composers’ Music

BLACKMORE: The First Time I Stood [WP] – Milla Dickens, APO/Hamish McKeich – 25 May, Museum
BODY: Melodies for orchestra – APO/Andrew Gourlay – 27 Aug, ATH
COWAN: [new work] [WP] – NZTrio – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
ELLIS: Relish in Immature Bombast – Tim Noon, Jono Sawyer, APO/David Kay – 11 Apr, ATH
ELLIS: [new work] [WP] – Yvette Audain & Robbie Ellis – 19 Apr, Rannoch
FARR: From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs – Atamira Dance Company, APO/[conductor?] – 14 Oct, Aotea
FARR: Shadow of the Hawk – Edward King & John Chen – (18 Aug HAM, 22 Aug WLG)
S FISHER: [new work] – NYO/José Luis Gómez – (2 Jul WLG)
HARRIS: Fugue for piano [WP] – Michael Houstoun – 2 & 4 Oct, ATH CC
HARRIS: Piano Quintet [WP] – Stephen De Pledge & NZSQ – (16 May HAM)
HARRIS: Variation 25 – NZSQ – (16 May HAM)
HARRIS: Violin Concerto – Ilya Gringolts, APO/Garry Walker – 19 Feb, ATH
LILBURN: Allegro for strings – Turnovsky Jubilee Ensemble – 12 June, ATH
LILBURN: Aotearoa Overture – APO/Rumon Gamba – 18 June, ATH
LILBURN: Chaconne – Michael Houstoun – 2 & 4 Oct, ATH CC
LILBURN: Diversions for strings – Turnovsky Jubilee Ensemble – (18 June WLG)
LILBURN: Sonata for violin & piano (1950) – Natalie Lin & John Chen – 30 Aug, ATH CC
LILBURN: Symphony No 2 – NZSO/Christian Lindberg, 2 May, ATH
MANDENO: Au Revoir [WP] – Jarvis Dams, APO/Hamish McKeich – 25 May, Museum
MARGETIĆ: Lightbox – NZTrio – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
MORGAN: Seeking Answers to the Riddle [WP] – [Horomona Horo?], APO/Hamish McKeich – 25 May, Museum
NEWALL: Scientists [WP] – Robbie Ellis & Corwin Newall – 19 Apr, Rannoch
NORRIS: Claro [WP] – NZSO/Christian Lindberg – 2 May, ATH
PSATHAS: Corybas – NZ Chamber Soloists – 23 May, ATH CC
PSATHAS: Island Songs – NZ Chamber Soloists – 23 May, ATH CC
TAYLOR: burlesques mécaniques – NZTrio – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
WEBSTER: Your Letter [WP] – Elizabeth Mandeno, APO/Hamish McKeich – 25 May, Museum
WILLIAMS: Symphony No 1, Letters from the Front [WP] – George Henare?, Madeleine Pierard?, NZSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 Apr, ATH
K YOUNG: In Paradisum [WP] – Patricia Wright, Graduate Choir, Choir of Holy Trinity Cathedral, APO/Kenneth Young, Tim Gruchy – 4 Mar, ATH
K YOUNG: [Gallipoli Armistice commission] [WP] – St Kentigern College Choir, APO/Hamish McKeich – 25 May, Museum

Living Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

J ADAMS: Short Ride in a Fast Machine – APO/Garry Walker – 19 Feb, ATH
BERNSTEIN/FOSS: Prelude, Fugue & Riffs – APO/Eckehard Stier – 16 July, ATH
BOURGEOIS: Oesteoblast – Aucktet – 10 Aug, St Michael’s Remuera + 11 Aug, Takapuna Methodist
CORIGLIANO: Flute Concerto, Pied Piper Fantasy – Adam Walker, APO/Eckehard Stier – 5 Nov, ATH
CRESPO: Bruckner Etude – Aucktet – 10 Aug, St Michael’s Remuera + 11 Aug, Takapuna Methodist
HAKOLA: Clarinet Concerto – Kari Kriikku, NZSO/Miguel Harth-Bedoya – 6 Nov, ATH
LEDGER: War Music [WP] – Madeleine Pierard?, NZYC, NZSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 Apr, ATH
LÓPEZ: Perú Negro – NZSO/Miguel Harth-Bedoya – 6 Nov, ATH
MÁRQUEZ: Danzón No 2 – APO/Andrew Sewell – 7 Mar, Govt House
J SANDSTRÖM: Echoes of Eternity – Christian Lindberg, David Bremner, NZSO – 2 May, ATH
SCIARRINO: No 2 from Sei Capricci for violin – Justine Cormack – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
SØRENSEN: Trumpet Concerto – Tine Thing Helseth, APO/Eivind Gulberg Jensen – 6 May, ATH
STAUD: Für Bálint András Varga – Vienna Piano Trio – 23 Oct, ATH

Dead Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

BABAJANIAN: Piano Trio – NZ Chamber Soloists – 23 May, ATH CC
  Adagio for strings – APO/Alejo Pérez – 22 Oct, ATH
BARTÓK: Dance Suite – APO/Ilyich Rivas – 14 May, ATH
BARTÓK: String Quartet No 5 – Brodsky Quartet – (18 Mar HAM, 26 Mar WLG)
BARTÓK: Violin Concerto No 2 – Benjamin Schmid, APO/Rumon Gamba – 18 Jun, ATH
BERIO: Folk Songs – Fiona Campbell, APO/Ilyich Rivas – 14 May, ATH
BERNSTEIN: Songs from West Side Story – Anna Leese, APO/Andrew Sewell – 7 Mar, Govt House
BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes – NZSO/Thomas Søndergård – 22 May, ATH
BRITTEN: Poème – Brodsky Quartet – (18 Mar HAM, 26 Mar WLG)
BRITTEN: Simple Symphony Op 4 – Turnovsky Jubilee Ensemble – 12 June, ATH
BRITTEN: Suite for violin & piano Op 6 – Natalie Lin & John Chen – (18 Aug HAM, 22 Aug WLG)
BRITTEN: Violin Concerto – Anthony Marwood, NZSO/Thomas Søndergård – 22 May, ATH
COPLAND: Clarinet Concerto – Julian Bliss, APO/Eckehard Stier – 16 July, ATH
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man – NZSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 Apr, ATH
DUTILLEUX: Tout un monde lointain – Nicolas Altstaedt, APO/Eckehard Stier – 16 Apr, ATH
GERSHWIN: Girl Crazy – APO/Eckehard Stier – 16 July, ATH
GINASTERA: Pampeana No 2 – Edward King & John Chen – 30 Aug, ATH CC
KHACHATURIAN: Excerpts from Gayane Suites – APO/Andrew Gourlay – 27 Aug, ATH
LIGETI: Cello Sonata – Ashley Brown & Sarah Watkins – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
LIGETI: Cordes à vide – Sarah Watkins – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
LIGETI: Melodien – APO/Gergely Madaras – 26 Feb, ATH
LUTOSŁAWSKI: Concerto for orchestra – NZSO/Miguel Harth-Bedoya – 6 Nov, ATH
NANCARROW: Sonatina for piano – Sarah Watkins – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
PIAZZOLLA: Libertango – APO/Andrew Sewell – 7 Mar, Govt House
POULENC: Organ Concerto – David Briggs, APO
RUSSO: Street Music – Corky Siegel, APO/Eckehard Stier – 16 July, ATH
SCHOENBERG: Accompaniment to a cinematographic scene – APO/Giordano Bellincampi – 8 Oct, ATH
SCHOENBERG arr Steuermann: Verklärte Nacht – Vienna Piano Trio – (16 Oct WLG, 22 Oct HAM)
SCULTHORPE: Earth Cry – William Barton, APO/Andrew Gourlay – 27 Aug, ATH
STRAVINSKY: Firebird – APO/Richard Gill (unwrap) – 13 Aug, ATH
STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite (1919) – APO/Giordano Bellincampi – 1 Oct, ATH
STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella Suite – APO/Eckehard Stier – 9 July, ATH
STRAVINSKY: Rite of Spring – NZSO/Jaime Martín – 27 Nov, ATH
TAKEMITSU: I hear the water dreaming – Katie Zagórski, APO/Kenneth Young – 4 Mar, ATH
TIPPETT: A Child of Our Time – Indra Thomas, Victoria Simmonds, Nicky Spence, Derek Welton, Voices NZ Chamber Choir, NZYC, APO/Eckehard Stier – 21 Mar, ATH
WALTON: Cello Concerto – Jakob Koranyi, NZSO/Jaime Martín – 27 Nov, ATH
WEBERN: Four Pieces for violin and piano – Justine Cormack & Sarah Watkins – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)
WEBERN: Three Pieces for cello and piano – Ashley Brown & Sarah Watkins – (7 May PN, 9 May WLG)

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A short time and a sweet time

14 Sep

Yesterday was the closing night of Short+Sweet Song 2014 in Auckland. I was the Artistic Co-ordinator – a job that I in essence created for myself. A bit of back story:

Short+Sweet is an internationally franchised festival of ten-minute theatre pieces. It’s been running in Auckland since 2010, but last year they added Short+Sweet Song, an adjunct category for musical theatre. I entered a two-hander called Annie & Joshua:

It was not a large show last year: only five pieces in total. I went to the producers and said they needed a specialist to run the Song side of things, and suggested myself. They gave me the job: Artistic Co-ordinator.

logo-song-green-backgroundThe job was to encourage submissions and expressions of interest from writers, directors, musical directors and performers. We ended up with nine pieces in total (review 1, review 2). There was everything from 10-minute excerpts of projected longer pieces (Monopoly – The Musical! and Love and Other Mysteries), an adaptation of a student film (A Girl Like Maria), a story formed around songs by the director’s friend’s band (This Paper City), plays with songs (The Might of Aphrodite, Henry & Hyde), and another piece that went freely in and out of speaking and singing (Cushion).

The Judges’ Choice was Flatmates, a sung-through trio musical written by Wellingtonian Rose Duxfield, directed by Katie Flood and musically adapted by Zac Johns. I’m very glad that Rose had come up to Auckland for the final night – she wasn’t expecting to be showered with quite so many certificates and bottle prizes.

Karaoke Heaven won the People’s Choice Award. Written by Jun Bin Lee (script and backing track), it starred Amanda Grace Leo and Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwaho as owner and trainee waiter of a karaoke establishment, promoting their venue. This is the second year that Jun Bin has won the People’s Choice Award – last year’s Ninja musical had arguably catchier hooks than Karaoke.

It’s been really satisfying putting this together, building the festival, and spreading the word. The musical theatre community in Auckland is a strangely hybridised and often disconnected beast of occasionally professional, establishment amdram, “emerging theatre practitioner”ish and high school – in fact many private high schools have larger production budgets than some professional shows. It was valuable for my own connections as well as those between those different strands.

Best of all, the casts of the nine different pieces didn’t stay siloed; they interacted and socialised together. They had common warm-ups, they shared dressing rooms, etc etc. I think Short+Sweet’s new venue has really helped. While the Herald Theatre at the Aotea Centre is a nice enough space, spending time within the officialness of a Council-controlled environment like Auckland Live can be stifling. We’re now at TAPAC in Western Springs, which is a small, friendly, nimble performing arts centre with a common foyer area for users of the theatre, hirers of the rehearsal rooms, and audience. I’ve also noticed much greater cross-over support between the different weeks of Short+Sweet (Theatre, Song and Dance), which can only be beneficial.

Someone else will have to be Artistic Co-ordinator next year since I’m leaving the country, but they’ll have great help: Festival Producer Sums Selvarajan, Stage Manager Max Thompson and Technical Designer Michael Craven are utterly professional and hugely helpful, as is everyone else on the team.

I paid tribute to them (and others) just before the awards were handed out last night, in the form of a parody of all nine S+S Song pieces. (I rewrote lyrics to the same music, and sang and played from the piano.) Sardonic reflections on the tech and dress day aside, it sums up my feelings accurately.


[Karaoke Heaven]
If you love singing, then you should know
How magical Short+Sweet Song can be!
Nine great pieces in a single two-hour show…
Sweet, this all came together!
This song is for all of you
Who have been part of Short+Sweet Song.
We put out the call, and you came running;
Now Short+Sweet Song is bigger than before!

[The Might of Aphrodite]
We spread news everywhere, hoping that you’d notice us:
The Big Idea, at TAPAC, and on the side of a bus,
But we were fine; we got our nine
Submitted pieces in.
With directors, writers, MDs, actors,
This thing’s full of win!

[Monopoly – The Musical!]
A nice little slice of theatre,
Just ten minutes or less.
A nice little slice of theatre…
Plus or minus 30 seconds, I guess.
It’s going great, it’s going sweet,
I simply cannot wait to meet
All the beautiful people in this slice of theatre!

[The Might of Aphrodite]
It made us feel all special
That so many folk would join,
Though I got kinda nervous when I saw that a person
Had a singing flesh-tone groin…

[A Girl Like Maria]
Easy running was the pre-production;
Easy running with amazing producers.
I went to them to ask for 32 lapel mics;
They said, “Go fuck yourself, do you think we’re made of money?
We’ll just get actors with impeccable projection
Over pianos and keyboards and tracks,” and I said,
“I want a piano with a big motherfucking sheet,”
And they said, “Yeah, we can do that.”

[Love and Other Mysteries]
(bong bong) Tech day!

The day is bright and sunny!
The sun’s a ball of energy,
But we’re stuck inside, it’s funny
How pasty our skin can be.
So Max is sorting props and set
And Craven’s got every fresnel.
We keep on going to swiftly get
Through this phosphorescent hell!

[Henry & Hyde]
Cause we’re a mean machine,
A theatre-making mean machine!
Figuring out that change of scene
And how to get that cyc so green!

[Karaoke Heaven]
And nothing suits us better
Than getting a 7-foot-4-tall love heart through 6-foot-6-high double doors.

But we’re here for you,
We’re here for you,
Whatever scene and set changes you do.
At least until your 45 minutes are through!

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Twenty minutes down, you’ve barely started lighting;
Haven’t yet decided where that chair goes.
Thirty minutes down, it’s time to start a full run
So you stop and start, continuity blows.
Forty minutes down, you’re barely halfway
And everyone’s frustration grows and grows…

[This Paper City]
You’re all like:
“Take your time, now rewind, now do it again, rehearse it right yeah”

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Forty-seven minutes and we’re giving the hint
That you really don’t have time to complete a new run.
Fifty minutes down and we’re telling you “Get off,”
There’s another team waiting, I think that you’re done…

[This Paper City]
Cause we’re all
Running on empty (running on empty)

I’ve got no idea how I’ve managed to survive this long.
Have we finished tech times yet? Oh it’s now the one with the giant dong.

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Sixty minutes out and we’re giving the briefing
Telling all the cast how to do curtain calls.
I get a little note, all of you should come forward,
But I only tell Amanda, not the rest of you, balls!
Forty minutes out and we’re having sound issues;
Craven’s banging his head against a digital desk.
Twenty minutes out and it’s getting no better;
Why’s the stage-right foldback not fucking routing?

[This Paper City]
Craven is just hanging on!

[A Girl Like Maria]
Cause he’s got leather jeans on!

[Love and Other Mysteries]
Zero minutes out, Craven’s swapping out the mixer;
Using old equipment is often the best.
Twenty minutes late… but I couldn’t care less…
Cause your pieces get going… and they’re bloody brilliant!

If worse came to worst, this could have been a mess,
But directors, you minimised all of my stress.
(Though I can’t say the same when I gave Sam a fright:
I forgot to plug his keyboard in opening night.)
As I conclude this self-indulgent review,
I just want to say thank you.

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Fact of the Day, Day, Day, Day, Day

20 Aug

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is an organisation I’ve had plenty to do with since I was a teenager. They played my first orchestral compositions (now blessedly forgotten); they ran the New Zealand Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra when I played double bass, their concerts introduced me to such key works as Mahler 3, Concierto de Aranjuez and the West Side Story Symphonic Dances; and that’s all before I’d left high school.

Now I’m an adult[citation needed], I’ve done damn near everything for the orchestra except play in it. Composing, arranging, MCing, pre-concert talks (like next week’s concert), video production, tutoring high school composers for APOPS, and I regularly present radio broadcasts of their concerts on Radio New Zealand Concert (e.g. in two weeks’ time).

Yesterday, I added “conducting” and “fronting for commercial radio” to my APO CV.

Fletch, Vaughan & Megan present the breakfast show on the Top 40 station ZM, and one of their regular segments is “Fact of the Day”. The three of them perform the musical intro sting live every morning:

Last week they pondered having it performed by an orchestra. Long story short:
– ZM is part of The Radio Network
– TRN’s parent company is APN
– APN publishes the New Zealand Herald
– The Herald is the naming rights sponsor of the APO’s 12-concert Premier Series
– TRN talked to APO Sponsorship
– APO Sponsorship talked to APO Artistic
– APO Artistic talked to me.

The Artistic Planning Manager might have been thinking of these vocal mockups from 2011. They were part of my proposal to write the piece that would become Relish in Immature Bombast:

This isn’t thaat far apart from what Fletch, Vaughan and Megan do every morning. A few more voices, a few more octaves, but just as out of tune!

I did two different arrangements: one straight as per their style, and a sad version “for serious facts”.


(I actually worked on these arrangements while in the broadcast booth for Bach’s St John Passion.)

Then came the recording. The three ZM DJs, plus a cohort of videographers, soundies and social media folk, turned up to Philharmonia Hall in Mt Eden. They had their fun in and around the orchestra’s rehearsal space following the full orchestra’s James Bond rehearsal, while the Operations team, with their usual military precision, took exactly 15 minutes to clear the room of extraneous players and set up for an 18-piece string orchestra.

Then it was on me! I’m not a conductor by training or even by habit, but I did get to do these dozen bars as my professional orchestra conducting debut. Was a bit scary demonstrating musicality in front of full-time players who know me more as a composer and general loudmouth, but I got through it by summoning all of my conducting training (one semester with Dr Karen Grylls, nine years ago… I think I got an A- or B+).

It’ll be used for Fact of the Day on air tomorrow morning at about 8:20am, and it’s also in a video on! Click through to enjoy my conducting, Vanessa Carlton piano skills, and general social media fronting.

Freelancing. It’s a fun job.

Update: It’s in the morning show podcast, listen from 44:48)

Speaking of Vanessa Carlton, I uploaded this yesterday:

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Get out please Robbie, head overseas.

1 Aug

So, news.

Uniquely American objects.

Uniquely American objects.

I have a US green card. Well, I have a thing in my passport which entitles me to enter the USA within the next five months and hold permanent residency.

It was nearly two years ago I entered the Diversity Visa lottery on a whim, but my number came up (literally) and I went for it. It’s been a long process – from entering the lottery to entering the United States will be 26 months all up – but hardly an arduous or harrowing one. All in all, if you meet the criteria and are careful and conscientious with your paperwork, getting from the chance stage to the “heck yes I got me a green card” stage is straightforward*. My interview at the US Consulate had remarkably few questions for me to answer – just a two-hour wait while I read some Thomas Mann.

So I am moving in less than five months. Today I booked flights from Auckland to New Jersey to see my sister and my nephew (who is currently -6 weeks), and following that I will migrate westward to Chicago and settle there.

What a lovely view.

What a lovely view.

Why Chicago? In short, because the North Side of that city has the highest concentration of comedy, sketch and improv on the planet. Three of the best improv shows I’ve ever seen were during a short stay in Chicago last year. Also, thanks to the heritage of The Second City, there’s great respect for the role of music in comedy.

Furthermore, just this year there have been all sorts of venue expansions for the better:
iO is relocating from two stages in Wrigleyville to their new four-stage home in Goose Island, with one theatre dedicated to a new sketch revue from TJ & Dave;
The Annoyance has just moved from Uptown to Belmont;
– The Second City is expanding its premises in Old Town;
– and least of all, but most excitingly for me, Chicago now has possibly the world’s only theatre dedicated specifically to musical improv and musical comedy.

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for "improv troupe stock photo".

This image, on my own site, is 14th in my Google Images search results for “improv troupe stock photo”.

However, there is a wider question: why improv? To compare to other things I’ve done and could pursue overseas, it’s not as stable as a job as a radio producer or presenter; it’s not as well-paying as composing (assuming you can attract commissions); and it’s a lot more niche than music recording and production.

But out of all those things within New Zealand, there are many composers, lots of broadcasters, and plenty of people who produce music, yet there are very few of us who do musical direction for comedy. There are even fewer who play music for improv. If I’m going to pursue something, it should be the thing that I am the most specialised in. The United States is a big place with potential careers that simply do not exist here in New Zealand, and you don’t just turn down a green card.

This is a daunting time – I’ve never moved countries before, I’ve never sold a large proportion of my worldly possessions, I’ve never calculated rent by the month, and figuring out the United States’ health insurance systems scares the crap out of me. Also, January is not exactly the warmest time to move to Chicago. Regardless, I am finally fulfilling every middle-class kiwi’s destiny by living overseas.

I will hold a massive farewell bash in Auckland on Saturday 13 December (also my 30th birthday), and departing New Zealand exactly two weeks later. In the meantime, you should give me lots of well-paid work, cause I’m freelance and I need the money.

This is happening!

— — —

* As long as, like me, you are an educated, healthy, white, middle class male native speaker of English with a sensible haircut, a clean criminal record and no visible piercings or tattoos, and are not a member of any organisation to the left of the Labour Party. It also made life administratively simpler that I am unmarried, have no children, and have never lived in a country other than New Zealand. And it helps I live only 35 minutes’ walk from the only US Consulate in this country. Your mileage may vary, but in most cases you have nothing to lose by applying. DV-2016 opens October 2014.

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