Sunday, 2 February 2014

INTERVIEW with Kris Rawlinson - February 2014

If you're keeping up with current West End trends, you'll know that an evening spent in an intimate cabaret venue is the new way to enjoy the incredible talent that London's theatre-land has to offer. Right at the heart of it is Kris Rawlinson, a musical director who before he's even finished university has built up a pretty impressive CV. Kris took some time out of a busy schedule to chat about his experiences so far.

At what age did you first take an interest in music and what was the first instrument you learnt to play?
I was about four when I started to play piano. I actually only started because my sister was having lessons, and I was insanely jealous of her (she gave up pretty soon after…). I carried on having lessons through school, and learnt the recorder (as most kids do!). Since then, I’ve learnt the saxophone and gig in a soul band travelling around the country, which is a laugh!

You study music at university, was that because you just liked it or did you always know you'd like to be a musical director?
I’m studying Music at Goldsmiths in New Cross. Whilst at school, I always knew I wanted to do something music related; I used to MD quite a lot of amateur stuff, including school shows, local pantomimes, review shows, and full scale musicals, and even directed a few things too; it was something I just landed in by lending a hand as a rehearsal pianist, which led to arranging and then eventually MDing. As a person, I always have to be in control and aware of everything going on, so I suppose a musical director is the perfect job! I wanted to study music to further my musical knowledge, and am really enjoying the course. The modules are really interesting, and I’ve met a lot of great musicians and lecturers. I finish in April 2015, so not long left!

When you think of musical director, you don't really think of someone as young as you - do you think there's a call for more younger directors?
There will always be young musical directors working their way “up the ranks”. I’m not in any pretence that I’m going to breeze straight into a West End job – I’m enjoying working on some great projects, and some brilliant fringe/off-West End jobs and I’m happy to continue this for a while. Sometimes it’s good for people to work with different, younger musicians, who have had a different musical education to some of the West End greats. There are a lot of talented people out there all looking for the same job, but like anything, people will move on, and there will always be the next job waiting to be snapped up if somebody starts another one.

Tell us about some of the projects you've been involved in already...
When I moved to London in September 2012, I got involved with Interval Productions playing for a few rehearsals of their production of RENT. In February 2013, they approached me to talk about a new project they were co-writing/producing called Streets Project, and I got on board as MD and arranger. The show was brilliant and the music was incredible, and we were lucky enough to get a transfer to Hackney Empire for two shows. I was also Assistant MD for their next show, “Another Way” staring the beautiful Julie Atherton and Andy Coxon in September 2013. I’ve also worked as Assistant MD on Geek, The New Musical, which debuted at the Tristan Bates Theatre starring CJ de Moii (aka. Eggheads). I’ve also set up a few projects of my own including “West End Switched Off” that I’m sure you’ll hear about soon!

Some of the performers involved with West End Switched Off, including Jeremy Legat, Jordan Lee Davies, Chlöe Hart and Ambra Caserotti

You've teamed up with Ed Theakston to create Parallel Productions - tell us a bit about the company and what we can expect from it in the future?
Ed is one of my best friends, and is my right hand man, and always knows what I should do, so having him involved with Parallel was a no-brainer. We both have the same vision in regards to new work, and are both very passionate. We’ve got a lot of plans this year; we’re working on a series of intimate gigs, and will be producing some more Switched Off gigs. We’ve also got the big album launch for our debut album later on in the year, and will be working on a few other albums this year, but I can’t say much more! On a personal level, Ed and I are working on a few writing projects too which is exciting! Darren Bell has come on board as Associate Producer for Parallel, and we are working closely on a few secret projects after the success of A Very West End Christmas!

Congratulations on A Very West End Christmas! Who's idea was that? And how did you round up so many established MT performers?
Thank you! It was a day in summer of 2013 after I had been in the studio all day, and I had been chatting to Darren, who is a fabulous photographer, and we decided to do something for Christmas. Within a few weeks it went from a YouTube video, to a 5-track EP, and on the 14th October, 50 West End guests (including the likes of Cynthia Erivo, Michael Xavier, Simon Deacon, Jodie Jacobs, Chloe Hart) gathered at the St. James theatre and recorded something special. It was released on 15th December and money raised is going towards Great Ormond Street Hospital and Cry UK, with a donation to the Band Aid Charitable Trust. The recording process was fun, and there were definitely a lot of personalities to contend with, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle!

You can buy A Very West End Christmas! on iTunes here. (Yes, it's not always Christmas, but it's a good listen!)

Is there a lot of work out there for aspiring MD's? Or do you have to largely impress by creating your own work/gigs first?
If you know the right people, and have the right attitude, there is plenty of work out there, from rehearsal pianist, to teaching, arranging and orchestrating. There are lots of different paths to go down in terms of music; personally I love arranging and orchestrating, but obviously also love the feeling of a show or gig. I have a go-get-it attitude; if you want something, you have to achieve it yourself, and this is why I decided to set up Switched Off. It’s something I’ve always thought about doing, and last summer I was chatting to my bass player and he convinced me to just book studio time and do it. So I did! We’ve got our first album finished up and it’s being mixed and mastered at the moment! Because I am still studying at university, I’m not particularly looking for work, so I thought that whilst I can’t commit to a heavy rehearsal period, I have the time to think about other projects.

Are there any musicals that you'd particularly like to MD in the future? Or are there any new musical scores that you've been impressed with?
I have a very eclectic taste in musicals. I’ve always loved Wicked; I won’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it… I love it for many reasons; the story, the strong female characters, the score is incredible. So I guess MDing Wicked would be a dream come true – it’s probably the show that properly got me into going to the theatre a lot. I’m currently obsessed with Ordinary Days, by Adam Gwon, which I would love to MD. It’s a show about 4 people living in New York who’s lives all intertwine without them realising. One piano and four people creates so many possibilities in something that should be quite limiting, and the melodies are beautiful. “I’ll Be Here” is one of my favourite musical theatre songs.

Finally, we all hear performers advice on becoming an actor or a dancer but what advice would you give to aspiring musicians/MDs?
Go for it. There is always going to be somebody that’s better than you for a job, so when they get the job instead of you don’t worry. Things will always work out so don’t get put off. It’s about the right time and the right place, and networking and being a good sport will allow yourself to be in these situations. 

For more information on Parallel Productions, visit the website here. Or for West End Switched Off, click here

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1 comment:

  1. We downloaded this album for Christmas as we are fans of many of the performers featured. We made a hard copy which still plays in the car, partly due to laziness changing it to something less festive but mainly to do with how much we enjoy listening to the best of the West End. Thank-you Kris for producing it, great interview Scott. We look forward to what's next.