Meet the Bohemians: Des & Keian
No matter how big the stage, Des Flanagan, who plays the love-smitten lead, Christian, and Keian Langdon, an ensemble member, will never forget their fun upbringing in small country towns where they were inspired to follow their dreams.
Des Flanagan has wonderful, carefree memories of growing up in the former gold-rush town of Beechworth, once a haunt of Victorian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang. “It was so great living in a country town where everyone knew each other and encouraged you in whatever you did,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade my time in Beechworth for the world. I loved riding my bike around town and hanging out with mates at the lake.” A sports fanatic, Des made his mark in hockey, tennis and football, and racked up grand finals in hockey and tennis. “Sadly, the closest I got to a football grand final was as a 16-year-old water boy for the senior Beechworth Bushrangers who won that year,” he says.
Like Des, Keian will always cherish his country upbringing in the tiny village of Nabiac on the NSW mid-north coast, population 1,000. He spent time fishing, riding his bike, cross-country running and dancing, and he knew his way around the supermarket shelves — his parents owned the supermarket where he worked in the holidays. “I loved the sense of community in Nabiac and how everyone knew each other,” Keian said. “It was such a safe and supportive atmosphere to be a kid and enjoy adventures.”
Both Des and Keian were introduced to the arts at a young age. Des loved performing in school productions at Wangaratta’s Galen Catholic College and gained experience at some of Beechworth’s iconic festivals. “Live music was prominent in Beechworth. My favourite event was the Celtic Festival that encouraged communal singing and dancing,” he recalls. “It was a liberating experience to be among people of all ages sharing a song and dance. I can even remember busking on the streets one year.”
Des grew up alongside many musical families and was always encouraged to perform. “It felt like an offering, a thank-you, and a way to bring joy. I imagine this is why I love entertaining people so much,” he says. His plans to study international relations and agriculture were scrapped after a teacher suggested a career on the stage. He was soon accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts and fell in love with all aspects of musical theatre. After graduating, Des appeared in “Neighbours” and Grease – The Arena Experience, followed by an outdoor production of West Side Story for Opera Australia. He was nominated for Best Lead Actor for the short film Rabbits at the Black Bird International Film Festival in New York.
For Keian, his love of dance evolved after signing up for lessons with a local dance teacher in the old Wallamba agricultural hall. “I was always dancing around the house and watching music videos, and I wanted to do dance lessons, but I was a bit nervous I would be teased by my uncles and friends,” he says. But my mum encouraged me, and I signed up and loved it.”
Keian learnt jazz and tap, and soon knew he wanted to pursue performance as a career. He studied at Sydney’s performing arts high school, The McDonald College, and later joined the Queensland Ballet, dancing in classical ballet and contemporary dance productions. Keian then headed overseas, and in 2013 he joined the Oper Graz Tanz in Austria performing in West Side Story and Carousel. Returning to Australia, he enrolled in a business administration and exercise science course but missed performing and travel. He got both when he joined a cruise line and ventured the world for five years, which he says felt like a dream.
While Des was also off exploring the world after uni, he jumped at the chance to see Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway, where he decided then and there that Christian was his dream role. He sees many parallels between Christian and himself: both are from small places, thrust into a whole new world and not afraid to show emotions. The audition process took 12 months, until he finally got the call confirming the role. “I screamed and yelled,” he said. “It was so exciting!”
Des hopes audiences leave the show feeling reassured of the importance of the arts and how exciting storytelling is. “The show is spectacular,” he says. “It’s all about being inclusive of others and how acceptance of individuals in a collective is so important.” Des believes he is lucky to have found a career that makes him feel complete. “The cast click so well, and there’s a great camaraderie among us,” he says. “It’s been such a tumultuous time with so many obstacles that have been overcome and I just love being onstage.”
As for Keian, after three local auditions and a final Zoom call from New York, he heard the good news while in Nabiac with his family. “We all went to the pub for lunch. I felt it was a turning point and what I have always been working towards,” he says. “As an artist, it offers scope to really peel back the layers and be yourself, and it is so beautiful to see everyone shine. It brings people together and has a message that encourages acceptance and love for one another.”
So will these two ever shed their country roots? Never, according to both. Keian, who describes a Nabiac visit as a “mini reset” providing perspective, says he will always be a country boy at heart. And for Des, whenever he’s in need of a country fix, it’s back to Beechworth, where there are memories on every corner.
About Sue Wallace: Sue Wallace is an award-winning journalist, who is based in Albury beside the Murray River. She writes for national and international publications about travel, people, arts and country life. www.thefinerthingsintravel.com MORE IN THIS SERIES