WAAPA graduate (and AussieTheatre regular columnist) Stephanie Wall has a coffee with performer fellow WAAPA grad Hayden Baum this week to talk about the ins and outs of working on a large scale international tour.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of working in the theatre is being able to perform all over the world to a huge variety of audiences. As diverse and celebrated as theatre is here in Australia, it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to work overseas, meeting new people with a shared love of being a on stage. I spoke with Hayden Baum, a 2016 WAAPA Music Theatre graduate about his professional Music Theatre debut in the Korean tour of CATS.
Tell us a little bit about the audition process
I started in a dance call with about thirty boys in Sydney, learning sections from the ‘Jellicle Ball’, as well as doing some extra things like tours and tumbling. From that they (the creative team) can gather an idea of which particular cat you might suit. I then sang two songs and went back in to learn some tap. On the way home I found out I’d be heading back in the next day; and here are three songs to learn overnight!
The next day was about six and a half hours of dancing and singing. We were all going from studio to studio quite quickly, learning different sections of the ball, partnering, tapping. My brain felt absolutely fried but I was just enjoying it all. Around the five and a half hour mark I got to sing my prepared material, which actually turned into me sight singing even more material from the score. Then I was finished and I left feeling there was literally nothing more I could have done.
I found out a few weeks later as I was picking a friend up from the airport!
How many auditions had you done before CATS?
I think it was my third professional MT audition that was actually in front of a panel. Everything else I had done had been self-tape submissions and auditions at Uni. I much prefer doing it in the room, but it’s much easier sometimes to re-record if you’re not happy with how you’re singing on a particular day! (laughs)
Was this your first time auditioning for an international tour? It was. I’d submitted before for a few Australian tours but nothing was ever this far from home. It’s a huge thing to pack up your life and move to a country you have no connection to. I also think that ‘fresh grad energy’ makes you fearless. That you’ll go anywhere as long as you’re just DOING something.
Tell us about your character that you play, and any other roles you cover
I play Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, which was on the famous dream role list! I get to be happy and frantic and love every minute of playing this part. Skimbleshanks is also one of the older cats in the tribe it means I don’t have to be constantly crawling or sitting on my knees. My number in Act 2 has so much detail in the text and also the choreography that I am constantly finding fresh things in it each performance, which is fun. I also cover two other tracks in the show; the Rum Tum Tugger and Ademutus/Macavity.
Rum Tum Tugger is really fun to play. He’s another character that is based around having a laugh but with the energy of a rock star. He is definitely less frantic than Skimbleshanks which is nice, and his vocals allow me to have a riff which I love to do.
Admetus/Macavity is very different because it’s two characters. It’s more of a dance track than the previous two roles. In Act 1 as Admetus I get to be chilled out, have a good time with the tribe dancing and singing at the ball. Act 2 is a quick change into Macavity. He gets some crazy additions to his makeup and a big Tina Turner-esque wig. After doing the fight scene, there’s an even quicker change back into Admetus costume/wig which includes taking off the additional makeup you’ve put one maybe ten minutes prior. Finish the show back as Admetus.
Had you seen any other productions of CATS prior to working with the show?
I saw the most recent Australian Tour of CATS in 2015 and from that I knew I wanted to be a part of it someday. It’s a bit surreal to be performing with some of the people from that cast now.
What does a typical day in the life of Hayden / Skimbleshanks look like?
A typical day would probably see me waking up and doing something that isn’t related to the show in any way, whether it’s going to the gym, shopping, even just watching a movie is nice. I head into work 2 – 3 hours before the show because my makeup takes about an hour each day. Warmup is half an hour then getting into mic, wig, costume, and finishing all the stripes on my makeup takes about another 45 minutes.
Doing the show means I’m pretty much soaked with sweat for 3 hours so there are bags of paper towels for every time you run off stage (which is not often) to pat yourself dry… yum, right?! Hand held fans are my best friend at interval too! My backstage show is constantly changing on tour because of different theatres, so you find what works for you with your backstage traffic. By the end of the show I always have such a great sense of accomplishment. There’s also nothing like taking off your wig and make-up after a double show day.
I normally get home about 11pm and just veg out. Whether it’s watching Bachelorette with other people from the cast or just having late night cereal, everyone has their way of coming down after CATS.
Tell us about your experience of covering roles?
I can’t stress enough about doing the homework on cover roles. Watching the actors you cover work in rehearsal is such a gift because they’re getting the direction first hand. Watching how they develop the character over the rehearsal process/performance season is definitely a great help for you.
The first time I got to do one of my covers was the weirdest feeling but you definitely know more than you think as well. It also gets easier after the first one is done but important to keep going over it because you never know when you’ll be thrown on.
Any stories from unexpected things that have happened on stage?
There’s quite a lot of interaction between the audience and the cats in this show. We prowl through the audience numerous times so that’s where most of the unexpected things happen. I’ve had people with pet toys, chocolate bars. Lots of children either get really freaked out or will get out of their seat to hug or pat you.
Onstage though there is a lot of freedom in this show with the interactions you have with other cats. Tails have been tied into knots by kittens, or you just stack it by slipping in someone’s sweat puddle. When covers/swings go on it’s also interesting because they might be in a slightly different space than what you’re used to. Keeps you on your toes for sure.
How do Korean audiences differ from Australian audiences?
The Korean audiences are amazing! There is a respect and love that they have for this show and for what we do as actors. It makes you focus so much more on the storytelling when you’re performing to approx. 2000 people whose first language is not English.
How long were you rehearsing for Cats before you left for Seoul?
We had about 5 weeks rehearsal in Seoul before heading to Gimhae for another 4 weeks of rehearsal, tech and previews. Opening in Seoul around the 9th of July.
What the most exciting thing about touring overseas?
I’ve loved meeting all of the new people and creating this family over here. The costume/wig girls, crew, our beautiful company managers and stage managers. It really is an amazing cast and crew to be on this adventure with.
What is the least fun thing about touring overseas?
The language barrier is tricky at times. Also being away from family and friends is difficult especially when it comes to special events like birthdays or maybe even your friends’ first BIG show. I don’t know, there are so many pro factors they kind of make everything worth it.
You spent some time in Seoul, and you’re now on your touring leg of CATS. Have you had to alter anything in your routine to ensure you’re just as energised/prepared each night?
We spent 10 weeks performing in Seoul, 8 times a week (sometimes 9 times a week) which has made the touring leg quite nice. Schedule is a bit shorter as we are in a venue for a week at a time. You’ve definitely got more time to go out for dinner and sightsee. But nothing has really altered that much. Having my daily show routine keeps everything in check, I feel.
What advice would you give to ‘soon-to-be’ graduates about to take on the industry?
The main advice that has stuck with me and I tell myself constantly is ‘everything happens for a reason!’ You may want something so badly but if it doesn’t happen, it opens up an opportunity for something else that could be even better! Also – hard work pays off!