I am an Adelaide based freelance writer passionate about sharing fun and interesting experiences, with a particular focus on live theatre.
Interviewing the masses
Following the success of their previous arena spectaculars Cats, Hairspray and Grease, Harvest Rain Theatre Company are currently touring their latest arena spectacular, The Wizard of Oz, around Australia, and recently made a stop in Adelaide for a short three show season.
Each of Harvest's productions feature a mass ensemble of 700 young performers, and I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of these performers, Kyle Marusus, who has recently finished performing in Wizard of Oz, and has previously had the privilege of performing in the mass ensemble of Harvest's Grease and Hairspray also. This interview is detailed below:
Where did you first discover your love of performing and the arts?
Watching The Wizard of Oz and The Little Mermaid when I was younger. I lived in those worlds. They introduced me to the world of the arts.
But when Wicked came to Adelaide in 2011, that's when my love of the theatre began! Ever since, I am obsessed with ALL the musicals...I still think Fiyero should be with Glinda, but whatever. She gets to have the Swarovski crown and wand, so who's the real winner there?
What made you choose to perform for Harvest Rain in the first place? What was it that attracted your attention the most?
Before they announced Hairspray, I was familiar with them from their YouTube channel and they did vlogs of their Wizard of Oz production they produced at QPAC back in 2011/2012, and me being a huge Wizard Of Oz geek, I watched their behind the scenes videos and thought what an amazing company they were, and I loved how much work they actually put into their productions, even back then! Then, when I was scrolling through Facebook one night in 2016, I saw an advertisement from them to audition for their Arena show Hairspray, and it all started from there!
What is the selection and audition process like? Please could you explain how applications and auditions have operated previously, in your experience? How long did you have to wait before you found out whether you received a part or not, and how do you specifically, prepare for an audition? The audition process is actually really fun and doesn't feel scary as one might think. We learn a small portion of a dance from the show we are auditioning for and then perform it in front of the panel. They are really supportive which is really helpful! It doesn't matter if we don't fully understand the choreography, just as long as we have fun with it.
It's not a long waiting time to find out if we received a part; we find out via email if we have received a part, and from memory I believe it is a few days.
What does the rehearsal period look like? More specifically, could you please mention how long is the rehearsal period before performing for an audience, frequency of rehearsals, and how long each one runs for? The rehearsal period changes for each production. For The Wizard of Oz, we had the performer's compulsory boot camp weekend at the end of last year, where we train and learn different choreography in preparation for the show, and then we had about two weeks of rehearsals before the first performance. Sometimes I worry that I won't be able to learn it all in time, but Harvest Rain work their magic and somehow we are all prepared, ready to go on Opening Night! Each rehearsal is different, so times change; some were full days, some were a few hours, but they all fly by! That's what happens when I'm having fun and doing something I'm passionate about!
How do you manage learning the choreography, and do you have any tips for learning it quickly?
To be honest, I am not the best dancer, and I would not even call myself a dancer, except for when it comes to mermaid dancing (Rebel Wilson - Pitch Perfect reference). My tips for actually managing the choreography is just have fun with it. I try and look at what others are doing if I am not really getting the grasp of it, and I just give it a go. It's all about having a positive and professional attitude. I don't put pressure on myself as everyone is in the exact same boat, so I give it all I've got.
How does it feel for you to be performing alongside professional choreographers and actors? This must be quite the privilege. It's the best thing in the whole entire world. I am a HUGE Wicked fan, and let me tell you - when I first saw Jemma Rix standing on stage as Teen Angel in Grease, I just about passed out! She was literally my teen angel. To this day I am still shocked that I never damaged my vocal chords after hours upon hours of me pretending to be Jemma in Defying Gravity! The amazing thing though, is that they treat us as part of the family, and it's so nice that they treat us like one of them. It's truly the best experience ever.
Which musical number from the show is your favourite? PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE, you'll never get an answer out of me, how could I possibly decide??! But if I really had to, it would be Munchkinland.
Which scene from the show is your favourite, and why?
The finale. It's so beautiful when we are all singing Over The Rainbow, standing together still. No movement, just song. In my heart, it feels like a massive loving tribute to Judy Garland.
Which character from the show is your favourite, and why?
I should say Dorothy (because Judy), but who doesn't love the Wicked Witch?! Now that is most definitely a dream role! She's so evil, and mean, and FUN!
Which is your favourite costume, both of the ensemble and the lead characters, and why?
The poppy costume for me. It's light and there's not heaps of clothing required, just a green unitard. Whereas for Emerald City, I need the hat, glasses, jacket, pants, the list just goes on!
Regarding the lead character, it would be the Dorothy dress and ruby slippers. It's iconic. And reminds me instantly of watching Oz with my family. Brings back so many memories!
What do you enjoy most about working with Harvest Rain?
There's so much I could say about them and how amazing they are. But to keep it short, I love how they support each and every one of us! They teach us so much, and they are an excellent training ground, as they genuinely care and want us to succeed! I owe so much to them. I wouldn't have gotten this experience from any other company. If I could perform with them for the rest of my life, I would! How does everyone feel about a 60 year old mass ensemble member?
Have you ever performed in another production not mounted by Harvest?
I've been in high school productions, but they are nowhere near the level of Harvest Rain, obviously.
But they were such fun experiences. I played The Lion in The Wiz and that was just the most fun ever. I would love to re-visit that role one day!
If somebody is considering applying to audition for a production with Harvest Rain, what would you tell them?
Do it! What have you got to lose? Nothing! YOU have EVERYTHING to gain! Working with extremely talented performers, learning skills you would not learn anywhere else. Just audition! Performing in a Harvest Rain production is probably the most fun thing you'll ever do. And when it's over, you'll feel a bit down but just remember that you were part of something special. And the friendships you build, and the people you perform with, professionals in the industry, people just like you who are starting out. It's fantastic!
The ensemble have frequent costume change within the show's two and a half hour duration, many of them quick changes? How are these changes managed backstage? What does it look like?
There's definitely heaps going on. This year, Harvest Rain gave us costume boxes which we could decorate, and we put all our costumes in there so it made it easier to get to our costumes quickly and they were in neat order! A special thanks should go to the parent volunteers because they provided so much help and support! Thank you!!!
As for what it looks like backstage, well, when one sees hundreds of Troll wigs heading towards them, they know they're definitely not in Kansas (or Adelaide) anymore!
It must be a challenge for mass ensemble director Marcelle Wallen to manage an ensemble of 700 people. What does that look like for you backstage? How is such a large number of people managed backstage and managed so that the entrance and exit of the ensemble is smooth?
Marcelle is literally Wonder Woman! I have no idea how she does it. Not only did she reply to every single one of my emails, but she was so helpful and supportive, in fact, all of the Harvest Rain team are! I wish everyone could actually see how much work gets put into these Arena shows. It's insane! I have no idea how they do it. They're the real Wizard's of musical theatre! Special mention also to Callum Mansfield for being the best choreographer since Fosse! I mean, have you even seen what the Mass Performers do?! It's incredible!
Kyle Marusus is one of 700 mass ensemble performers. Photo: Glenn Pokorny. Source: Supplied.
How do you warm up and prepare for every show, and then wind down after a show?
To warm up, I'll try and do some little vocal riffs and jump around in excitement which is probably not too good because I should really be saving my energy.
I'm still learning the best way to prepare for the shows, but winding down is my absolute favourite. I eat, drink and then sleep! And then repeat for the two show day!
Being honest, I'm probably one of the most laid back performers, but I really should try and get into a strict performer's routine. I'll get to it eventually!
Harvest are mounting We Will Rock You next year. Have you any plans to audition for this show?
Audition time is booked in! Can't wait!
So, what do you do in your everyday life when you are not performing, what do you like to do to relax?
Nothing special really, pretty much do what many of us do, and search for a job! I also talk to my friends and annoy them with my musical theatre knowledge and set goals for myself. Pretty boring really! To relax, I watch all of the Broadway.com vlogs (personal favourite is "Fly Girl" backstage at Wicked on Broadway with Lindsay Mendez - 10th Anniversary Elphaba - showing the musical theatre geek in me here!), and I listen, watch and learn from all the greatest performers and try to soak up as much as possible from them (my idols and inspirations: Judy Garland, Amy Winehouse, Lea Michele, Ariana Grande, Naya Rivera and Estelle Getty - Sophia from The Golden Girls), and I watch heaps of soaps - Bold and the Beautiful, Neighbours, great way to learn about acting! And then when I just want to really relax and not focus too much - I'll watch The Real Housewives - New York, Beverly Hills, Melbourne take your pick - I love them all! Favourite housewife of course is Gina Liano!
Do you have any ambitions for your future in the arts? Do you see yourself pursuing a professional career in the arts?
That's the dream! I would honestly love to have a career in the arts, but as many people would know, it isn't easy. It's hard work, and everyone wants to do it, so fingers crossed it works out! And if it doesn't, I can be found standing in the lounge belting out Defying Gravity .
If a person is considering seeing a Harvest Rain production, what would be your advice and why?
Come and experience the magic for yourself! It's so special. There's nothing else like the Harvest Rain productions.
Everyone just needs to experience it for themselves, I can't put it into words. You'll have the most fun ever. A truly fun time in the theatre.
Is there anything else that you would like to add that you think might be of interest to readers?
I would just like to say thank you for reading this interview and no matter where you see a Harvest Rain show, it will be a very unique experience! AND a very special thank you to everyone at Harvest Rain for making the Arena shows the best experiences of my life. The joy it brings to not only me, but to everyone who participates is just THE BEST feeling in the world!
Thank you for your time today, Kyle. I wish you all the best with We Will Rock You.
The Wizard of Oz Arena Spectacular arrives in NSW at Qudos Bank Arena on January 25, and in ACT at AIS Arena on April 25. For tickets, click here.
To read the review for the Adelaide season of Wizard of Oz, click here.
To follow Kyle's adventures on Instagram, visit @kylemarusus