Meet the Bohemians: Joe & Sam

By Sally Clark |

Joe Donovan and Sam Parkes both confess to auditioning for Moulin Rouge! The Musical, because they heard that the fabulous new Broadway production of the celebrated movie musical offered dancers a fantastic opportunity to extend themselves in a way that few musical theatre projects do. Both presumed to be auditioning for an ensemble role but was then cast as a “Swing” – which began a journey that they’re finding is as rewarding as it is challenging. But they are relishing every minute of it.

In theatre parlance, a “Swing” is a person who does not perform in the show every night but instead has been employed to go on if someone from the ensemble is unable to do so. For some shows the Swing might also have a small role that becomes redundant should they need to go on for someone else. In this show both are “Off-stage Swings” which Joe explains means, “they are kept solely for the purpose of a straight swap-in should someone be ill – so not available to play their part in the show that night!”

Karli Dinardo – an expat Aussie who now resides in the USA and was in the original Broadway production of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, as both a Swing and Dance Captain, before she returned to Australia to assist audition and rehearse this production explains the responsibility this way: “You are not on every night but the skills that you have to develop to be able to be self-sufficient and also a huge team player are really difficult. You deal with immense pressure and deal with changing pieces at every point of every day – (for this show) it’s really unique.” So, suffice to say, very few people have brain capacity or the calibre of ego that equips them to do the task well – let alone thrive whilst fulfilling the role. 

In other shows a Swing might have to cover 6 – 7 roles as part of their show track (all the choreography, singing, acting and costume changes relevant to each character), but in Moulin Rouge! The Musical the artists we’re celebrating here, Joe and Sam, each covers 9 roles. So, we are talking about the traffic for the entire show (every move that character makes on stage and every movement backstage to prepare them for getting back on stage) for 9 separate people! 

Sam, who had never worked as a Swing before tells, “Once the auditions had gone on, for a couple of days, I got the vibe they were looking at me for not just one single part. Joe, David and I cover 9 of the “Tails” Ensemble – which is all of them. We have different positions in which we would go on. There is a formula for who goes on at which point, according to who is off, but we both know all the roles. That’s right, Joe, isn’t it?” Sounds very confusing (and like a lot of work) – but Joe offers a simpler, although still mathematical explanation – “At first, I focussed on learning x 3 tracks, which were different from his (he points to Sam) x 3 tracks, which were different from David’s x 3 tracks. And, then once we all got a handle on our “first covers” we all then swapped over to focus on our “second covers” then your “third covers”. Which is how you learn all x 9 tracks!”

When I ask what it feels like trying to master all that work (my brain hurts just trying to compute how to remember so many variations of the same show) Sam smirks and offers, “It’s literally like from Day 1 in June when we started to when we finish this show its one long rehearsal. It never really stops for us and I feel like, in your head when you start this you want to say… “I can’t wait until I know exactly what I am doing for all my tracks. But, the realistic part of it is that with this show (and the way it is staged and how performers have been encouraged to evolve their characters) we will never stop learning so our job is to always make sure that we know what everyone is doing NOW – because that might be slightly different to what they were doing last week – so that’s why it feels like a constant rehearsal. 

Joe elaborates, “The show is a living breathing organism that keeps growing and changing. And, we also have such a diverse cast who are encouraged for individuality – so it does evolve over time. What (ensemble track) you might have checked in with 3 weeks ago could have evolved to something else and so we always have to keep checking in and watching the show constantly and updating our notes and updating how it has evolved, over time. But that’s what makes it such a rewarding thing to be a part of. We are constantly being challenged but this process also allows room for our own interpretation of that track – which isn’t usually the case when you are a Swing. At present, my favourite track is probably M8 which is David Ouch’s track, Pierre – the only named ensemble member who has a little bit of scene work with, Zidler. I feel like it’s got a pretty nice balance of acting and dancing. That role has a certain comfortability for me because it is not often you get to just be yourself on stage and I can bring an element of me to that role. I have an affinity with the nature of the role, so that is why I enjoy that role most.

Sam also shares what he is enjoying most, “They (each track) are all very different, and I like that because it allows you to give something different each time you go on. I don’t have a favourite, but I feel like there are a few I would like to get on for just so I can have the opportunity to be doing something different. Also, there are parts (sections of the routine) I haven’t been able to do in certain numbers, yet, so I’m looking forward to doing that track so I can get on stage and experience that and like that person gets to experience every night. The roles are all so different! And like Joe was saying – it all goes back to everything being so individual. Everyone is allowed to put their little sprinkle on each character, themselves, so it’s very special to jump into their shoes and have their individual Moulin Rouge experience”.