Threnody – A New Musical at The Vanguard in Sydney

Threnody; noun, plural, a poem, speech or song of lamentation for the dead.

Threnody at the Vanguard on September 2

Threnody is an experimental new musical written and directed by a team of 2013 NIDA graduates headed by Michael McStay, and on show at the Vanguard in Sydney on September 2 as a part of the Sydney Fringe.

The show follows a Crime Journalist (Lauren Pegus) as she investigates the death of a Young Girl (Zoe Jensen). Exploring the death in a metaphorical fashion, the Young Girl comes face to face with a Dark Angel (Emele Ugavule) who allows her to relive her last moments alive in order to confront questions of sexuality, sanity and ultimately fault.

With a score, book and direction all by Michael McStay, caught up with the busy man for a few questions:

Where did the first impulse to write this story spring from?

Crimes against women are an epidemic and this is an aberration that simply should not be. Jill Maher springs to mind and I frequented Swan Street in my youth. But this is not the play’s focus.
What we are tackling is the fascination society has with the brutalisation of women. There is also an uncomfortability with the sexuality of women that is being broken down now but still exists inherently.
The work isn’t a women’s rights piece nor does it provide any answer to these conundrums.

I think the project started when I bore witness to Imara Savage’s production of ‘Woyzeck’, the version adapted by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and Kathleen Brennan. Looking back, as I sat there I could feel myself being changed.

The man behind it all - Michael Mcstay
The man behind it all – Michael McStay

Why have you written this as a musical? Why Music?

Music is useful to me for a myriad of reasons. It helps me create extreme contrast, atmosphere, sympathy without sentiment, transcendence, and much more. It is an ineffable thing.

What I have created for this story is a song cycle, as opposed to a score. This creates a unity for each song that is completely separate and whole for that particular time frame. It is only when the cycle is complete that the wider context becomes visible, and one can see how the songs themselves fit together. This is in keeping with the way the characters interact – completely unique, at times jarring, all keys in a broad spectrum. The style of music draws influence from blues, gospel, folk, vaudeville, and the experimental.

What has your reception been like from the industry?

Most people are very kind, and more than willing to give. I made the decision to do this on my own terms, and so there is little immediate support. That’s what it’s about though – showing the industry that we are creators, and we will create with nothing. I’m bankrolling the entire project with the money I saved from ‘Mother Courage’. This is what I love to do, and I want to do it as fervently and indefatigably as I can. I don’t think that is an especially brave thing. It’s just me, and the people I collect around [me] have that same passion or obsession or chemical imbalance, whatever it is. (Author Note: Michael last performed in Belvoir St’s June season of Mother Courage and Her Children.)

I have made a lot of connections over the years, through NIDA and working. It doesn’t sit right with me though. I prefer to think about these ‘connections’ as just friendships. The artists I have met whose work I admire, and who have an interest in my work – that’s a more significant and genuine relationship.

There’s a blind faith you have to have in yourself. That’s a nightmare to me, so I have to make sure there’s absolutely nothing I can second guess before I start to reveal the work. That goes for a reading, a run of the show, the actual performance, everything. But when it all comes together and the magic happens, it feels so goddamn easy.

Cast: Ryan Carter, Zoe Jensen, Sarah Jane Kelly, Andrew Lindqvist, Lauren Pegus, Bailey Thompson and Emele Ugavule.

Date Wednesday, September 2
Time 8:00pm
Tickets Adult $15.00 | Concession $10.00| Pre-book $10.00
Venue The Vanguard, 42 King St, Newtown
Venue Website

Chris Fung

Hailing from the wind-blasted steppes of Mongolia, Chris Fung is a highly accomplished mathematician, award-winning potato grower, and habitual liar. Two specialities which have lent themselves perfectly to his current career in Musical Theatre. Chris met former AussieTheatre Editor Erin James when they were both cast members of the Australian national tour of 'The King and I', wherein Chris was fortunate enough to understudy and play the title role to 25 audiences at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. 

The King that is, not Mrs. Anna. 

Chris studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (B. Musical Theatre), at Sydney University (B.A. in Performance Studies and Education) and at the School of Hard Knocks (B. ing a very bad man that nobody wanna mess with)

Chris Fung

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