Oh Captain, My Captain

 Hairspray is currently AussieTheatre.com’s featured show, and we chat to cast member Kirby Burgess about the show and her role as Dance Captain… 

 Hairspray is currently AussieTheatre.com’s featured show, and we chat to cast member Kirby Burgess about the show and her role as Dance Captain… Kirby BurgessLittle known to most outside of the performing arts industry, the role of the Dance Captain is paramount to the success of a musical theatre production. At only 22 years of age, Kirby Lee Burgess has undertaken the hefty job for Hairspray – The Musical, currently playing at Sydney’s Star City. As Dance Captain, Kirby is responsible for ensuring that the show is, in her words, clean and tight. This includes drilling the ensemble to make certain that the choreography is continuously polished, and if a cast member falls ill, re-spacing the ensemble to maintain smooth transitions in the dance pieces. Kirby reveals that “the Dance Captain puts on a lot of hats, basically, to try and fill in wherever there is a need and to keep things running smoothly.” Beyond these practical responsibilities Kirby’s role also sees her act as the voice for the cast, she says ‘when there are small issues that cast members might not feel comfortable talking about or how to handle, they can come me and ask for help.’  Kirby admits that she was particularly lucky in this production as the resident choreographer gave her an opportunity to sit out and watch the show to take notes. This Kirby believes was really important, “I can see things from a different perspective from the audience because I am a cast member, but it is also important for me to see the full picture.” The Dance Captain is a demanding role to manage as it entails creative aspects which can be tricky to juggle as a cast member. As these two facets are vastly different sides of the industry it can be a balancing act.  “You’re a part of a cast but you also have, I wouldn’t say an authority role, but a part to keep the team in line. It definitely requires balance.”, she says Needless to say, performers aren’t always considered the most laid-back personality types. This could complicate the role of a Dance Captain, however Kirby believes that the Hairspray team is fortunate in their cast dynamic. 
“The dynamic works really well… Everyone has a lot of support for each other and pride in the production.”  Kirby does confess however, that the role has been a big learning curve for her. With big show biz personalities she has had to hone in on how to communicate with people: “Not everyone is the same”, she says. Kirby’s demands as Dance Captain are further intensified as she is one of the few on-stage swing cast members and is similarly the understudy for Tracy Turnblad. This has meant that Kirby has learnt most of the Caucasian roles in the production, male roles included, in case a cast member cannot perform. To date, Kirby has played every female Caucasian role she is the swing for.  This would seem an incredibly challenging assignment but Burgess says that she retains the choreography and script through practise, not through pen and paper study. Thus the process of learning the lines and the individual nuances of each role has been eased by simply rehearsing.  “It’s more of a physical thing for me rather than an academic”, she explains.  Kirby’s introduction to musical theatre was at the tender age of three. Having just moved into a new suburb her parents thought the best way for Kirby and her older sister to make friends would be to get involved in the local theatre group. Unknown to her parents at the time was that from this chance encounter with local theatre Kirby would kindle a lifelong love of performing.  A secondary career plan was never considered. For Kirby, it wasn’t optional. Her love of performing meant that no matter in what capacity or how successful, she would be committed to pursuing a career musical theatre. “It has never occurred to me that I would do anything else, even if I was struggling for my whole life, I would rather do that”, she said.  Kirby’s professional career launch came at the age of 18 when she won the prestigious ASCAP/Talent Development Project scholarship and was whisked away for elite musical theatre training in the home of the musical: Broadway. As a part of the program the final workshop was to perform a cabaret piece. From her performance Kirby was scouted and asked to participate as the only international act in Broadway’s Rising Stars Celebration – quite an incredible feat considering that she was the youngest performer. After her Broadway experience, Kirby’s first professional gig was in the ensemble for Australia’s production of High School Musical. Kirby learnt a lot from this show, “I didn’t really know musical theatre or how it all ran… The show didn’t go for as long as we hoped but it didn’t matter. It was a wonderful experience”. Now with some professional productions under her belt, Kirby is experienced and wiser. When asked about her tips for young aspiring performers Kirby says that it is important to accept the element of rejection that constant auditioning brings:
“You won’t get the job more than you will get the job, accept this early on or this may not be the career for you”, she warns.  Questioned about what role’s she would love to play in the future Kirby replies anything that is a triple threat. She cannot decide which of singing, dancing and acting she enjoys most.  “That’s like asking which child you love more!”, she laughs Strong female characters such as Velma Kelly in Chicago or Nancy in Oliver are roles she would eventually like to land. In terms of a long term career in musical theatre, rather than moving toward choreographic or directorial work, Kirby sees herself always in a performing capacity. “Performing is definitely where the heart is”, she said.  Somewhere on the horizon she hopes for a Helpmann award or even a Tony award. With raw determination, commitment and hard work on her side, such achievement is certainly not unforeseeable.
  Hairspray The Musical Now playing at Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney For Bookings, click here 

Emily Canon

Emily Canon is a Melbourne based contributor, she studied Media and Communications and loves to support the performing arts industry as an avid audience member

Emily Canon

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