24 hours to curtain: a musical marathon

The show was a disasterous success. Picture: WAYNE SMITH

By Danielle Kutchel

Putting on a musical theatre show in just 24 hours – from casting to performance – sounds crazy, right?

Well, it is – but that’s no reason not to give it a go, according to Windmill Theatre Company president Sean van Geyzel.

The Hallam-based theatre group did exactly that: from Friday 21 May to Saturday 22 May, the company organised a performance of Rock of Ages non-stop from start to finish.

The idea behind it was to Covid-proof the theatre, Mr van Geyzel said.

The pandemic has presented an unacceptable risk that has forced the theatre company to postpone one production three times now.

But out of the ashes of these disappointments, director Danny Ginsberg suggested something novel: putting on a musical in 24 hours, allowing the group to circumvent the worry of rehearsing and waiting for a show for four months.

Mr van Geyzel said a theatre group in Brisbane does something similar, with their whole production team in on the idea so they can plan ahead of time.

Down at Windmill though, just one person – Mr van Geyzel himself – knew what the show would be, and he managed to keep it a secret for three months until show day itself when all was revealed to the cast and crew.

A big part of the show’s success, Mr van Geyzel said, was putting together a larger-than-usual production crew to get some preparation done beforehand – despite them not knowing what the musical would be and what props and costumes would be needed.

“People thought we were crazy, no one believed the prop team didn’t know,” he laughed.

The company also auditioned ahead of time – but in an unusual twist, those auditioning didn’t know what parts they were trying out for.

Then on Friday 21 May at 8pm, all was revealed and the cast and crew got down to work.

The cast was informed at around 10pm that night and quickly began learning their songs and scripts.

Choreography was thought up and taught on the fly.

Designs for sets and costumes were quickly decided on, as people’s ingenuity and resourcefulness blended together.

Across 24 hours the team ran on pure adrenaline with only minimal caffeine.

At 7.58 on Saturday 22 May, just two minutes before deadline, the cast walked off the stage after their final rough run.

Not long after that, the audience entered the auditorium and the show began.

“The show itself was in one sense a disaster,” Mr van Geyzel said.

“It’s physically and mentally impossible for 47 people to learn a 2.5 hour musical and execute it in 24 hours.

“That was one of the other nice things about it; you’ve got a lot of really talented performers. In this case they had to embrace the fact that not only was it going to not be perfect, it was guaranteed to be completely wrong.

“It was freeing to a certain extent to not have that pressure.”

There was a ‘helper’ in the form of a teleprompter at the front of the stage which helped keep things on track when lines were forgotten.

In a way, Mr van Geyzel said, it became part of the show and the audience embraced the safety net.

They also loved the show.

“Right from the very first song the crowd was on their feet.

“We had three standing ovations which is something I’ve never experienced in my time performing,” he added.

“Danny afterwards summed it up so perfectly; it was a real triumph in overcoming the doubt in oneself, the team the process, an experience less about theatre and more about community.

“From my point of view of sitting at the top of one of bigger comm theatre companies in Melbourne, it warms my heart.

“It was really nice for this experience to have been something where the whole community spirit was brought to the forefront.

“This was purely getting everyone who loves theatre all together and creating something out of nothing in no time.”

So would they do it again?

Mr van Geyzel said it’s not off the table.

“It’s like if you ask a woman who is giving birth ‘would you have another baby’, the answer in that moment would probably be not right now – but as time goes on you forget about the trials and tribulations of it all and look at it with rose-coloured glasses!” he said.

“Never say never, we’re not going to do it again in a hurry but certainly it’s something we’d consider down the track.

“It was like the musical theatre event of running a marathon.”