Midlandia has a great variety of shows, none more unique than 360 Allstars which brings together a hugely talented cast of non-traditional performers from around the world in a way you’ve likely never seen before. It’s a highly skilled celebration of all forms of rotation. SIAN CHOYCE spoke to one of these talented performers, Gene Peterson, ahead of their season which runs from Thursday March 23 – Sunday April 2 as part of Midlandia. All ticketing info for evening and matinee performances available from midlandia.com.au.
How did you guys decide to put the show together? There’s lots of you from different backgrounds and art forms, all highly awarded and regarded in your respective fields…
Yeah, it’s all my fault. I had the idea a few years ago. We’ve been touring around the world for five years now. I wanted to create an Urban Circus. So, replacing stereotyped, traditional circus art forms with contemporary urban street style. Instead of acrobats, we have breakdancers. Instead of a juggler, we have a basketball freestyler. Instead of a unicyclist, we have a BMX rider and so on. And, I guess thinking like a kid at a candy store, it was exciting to think about getting the best in the world in each of these art forms to come together and create an all star cast. So I did a lot of research and reached out to some of the most talented people in the world in each of these art forms and as such we’ve got a dream team cast from right around the world. We’ve got the two-time world champion BMX rider from Hungary. We’ve got two different breakdancers, both of whom are world champions. One’s from Las Vegas, the other’s from New Zealand. We’ve got others from UK, Europe, Asia, America, Australia and New Zealand. Very, very lucky to have such talented, incredible artists committed to the show. One big happy family!
It certainly is an absolutely all star cast. I wanted to ask how aware of everyone’s profile you were before you put this show together? Obviously as you said, you did plenty of research…
Yeah sure, that was the casting process, researching their profiles and finding out who was the at the top of their game and world class in different disciplines. That wasn’t the whole casting process, obviously there are many things to take into consideration when you’re putting on a theatre show. You know, if they have the right skill set and are also able to be a performer, let alone win a BMX world championship. You need someone who’s comfortable onstage and can deliver an excellent performance. And also, I’m an artist in the show as well as as the producer and director so I want to be surrounding myself with people [whose company] I’m going to enjoy for the next five years, 24 hours a day. It’s a very important consideration, picking good people that you’re going to get along with and putting together a group with a nice dynamic that are going to get along.
So, there was no Australian Idol type situation? You sitting behind a desk with a button to press telling the guys if they’d progressed to the next stage?
[Laughs] No, no in room casting. Just a few too many weeks of YouTube and a lot of Skype interviews!
It’s sounds like you did you homework. I like your description of the show as an “Urban Circus”. Obviously, traditional circuses aren’t around as much anymore, but there’s still a big interest in large variety type shows like Cirque Du Soleil. You guy have have put your own twist on that kind of idea and its proven extremely popular. Did you have a love of the circus as a kid? Was that a big part of what inspired the show?
Ha, “twist”…360..very good [laughs]. I actually, as a kid, had been to Cirque Du Soleil and was absolutely blown away [and] inspired by that. And I was lucky to have seen quite a few shows from a young age. Before I was creating shows, I was also touring in shows as a drummer and keyboardist. So I sort of had a lot of behind the scenes knowledge of how to put a show together and what it takes to tour a show. Once I’d toured with a bunch of companies and been involved in the creative process of putting a show together I sort of unintentionally developed those skills. Having put on a few smaller shows to find my feet as a director before this show, I was able to mount a bigger show like 360 because I had good rapport and relationship with venues and stuff. Fortunately, it’s all come together. There’s certainly a lot of hard work involved, but you have to be grateful for the opportunities you get and and the outcomes that go your way because there’s a lot of other people working very hard that might not be in my position. So, I try to always be mindful of that and acknowledge the wonderful opportunities that I’ve been lucky to have.
That’s very humble of you! It can be a bit of a rarity in performers sometimes, it’s very refreshing to see.
Well, I’ll save the diva for on the stage! [laughs]
As you said, you’ve have been drumming and touring and producing and composing and being part of shows yourself for a long time. How did you find writing and putting together music for the show and having to incorporate things like the movement of the artists? Was it very different to how you go about writing music normally?
Yeah, totally. Well first of all, I should mention, we’ve got this crazy all star cast of world class athletes and performers from all over the world, and one of the all stars we have is Sam Perry. He’s the other musician in the show and he’s a Perth local. Collaborating with Sam to create music for the show was a whole heap of fun. He’s a phenomenally talented local loop artist and musician and to work with Sam was a real pleasure because we complement each other well. It was different than writing music just for the sake of writing music, because we had to be very mindful of the performers’ movement and the flow of the performance. Music in a big way dictates that, it has continuity, it has variety. Even just small things like making sure different each piece is at different tempos, there’s different keys. Having the energy rise and flow thought the show so it works as a whole composition, not just separate tracks was something we were mindful of in the process.
Would you say the music drives what the performers do or would you say there’s some tricks that have a rhythm of their own that you have to work to?
It goes both ways. There are times in the show where I’m following the artist and I know what trick they’re about to do but I’m waiting and watching to try and mark that trick in their time. But, there’s also times when the performer is waiting on our musical cue to begin. There are some tricks that are difficult enough though without the performer having to worry about them keeping to time, so we work with their timing there. It’s a collaboration for sure. We’re all onstage together, there’s no separation between performers and musicians.
Sounds like an awesome process to be a part of on and off stage. Now, because there are so many different disciplines and you’re all touring together, does anyone ever switch it up and decide they want to try someone else’s forte? Say a BMX rider deciding to have a bit of a breakdance one night?
Over the last few years the guys have all picked up some of each other’s art form and it’s been incorporated into the show. Right from the get go, we were looking at what movements marry up between acts. How can we get these acts working together and create a really contemporary style show. There was never enough time in the rehearsal process for these guys to master each other’s arts. What you’d get there would be a world champion at one thing, being a complete amateur at another and it takes years and years and years to become a professional any one of these things. But what we’ve seen over the years is them having the ability to pick up bits and pieces from each other much faster than say you or I would just based on their existing skills and the way they possibly crossover. So, it’s been really cool to see things evolve that way, from messing around offstage to having something good enough to put into the show.
Being a Perth local, has Sam shared any must see or must do things while you’re in town?
We’ve got a couple of days off in the middle of the season, so we’re considering heading over to Rottnest Island. So, that’s on the cards. Other than that, obviously going to check out Scarborough and a few other places. But we’ll leave that in Sam’s capable hands. I know he’s excited to play in front of a home crowd.
Now, just to stir the pot, because I’m only speaking to one of you today…who would you say has the hardest job or does the most work in the show? Taking into consideration the difference in everyone’s individual skills set…
Um… I’m trying to think about this because I want to give the right answer here… I think actually (I’m going to have a big cop out here), the reason no one has a tougher act than anyone else is because we’re all collaborating. If it was down to individual acts, you could say, “well, doing 1000 flips is harder than spinning a ball on your finger so breakdancers over Basketball Man,” but throughout the piece everyone gets in and does a bit of everything. It makes it hard to say whose thing is hardest because everyone’s kind of doing everything! [Laughs]
That wasn’t a cop out, that was a lovely answer.
All I can say is, it’s not me. I’m just hitting things in the background. Just up the back hitting things and having a great time. Best seat in the house, getting to watch the show. I’m not doing any work! [Laughs]