History and theatre collide for Adam Stafford

Adam Stafford (left) as John & David Irvine (right) as Chris.

Adam Stafford (left) as John & David Irvine (right) as Chris.

Dual interests are colliding for Adam Stafford in his portrayal of John in Footlight Productions’ upcoming staging of the epic musical Miss Saigon. An avid follower of war history and a talented musical theatre performer, Adam is taking much pleasure in preparing for next week’s opening of the Geelong premiere of this iconic Schönberg and Boublil musical.

A graduate of both NIDA’s acting program and the Ballarat Arts Academy’s music theatre degree, Adam brings a vast range of experience to the Footlight company. Professional credits include the musicals Flowerchildren, Dancing Around Our Lives and Children of Eden, and a recent tour of China as a lead vocalist in a Four Seasons themed concert.

Adam’s history with Miss Saigon goes back some way, and finally having the opportunity to perform in this production has been a dream come true.

“This is one of my favourite musicals,” said Adam. “I actually ushered on the professional production six or seven years ago at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. So I’ve seen the show many times, and always wanted to be in it and play one of the male leads.

“Both the roles of Chris and John are really masculine, yet they get to display a lot of emotion. Playing John has been an amazing experience – it’s a great high-baritone sing and a really strong character. It’s great to have these kinds of roles in musical theatre.”

Adam particularly appreciates the deep subject matter of the piece and is hoping Geelong audiences will think about the meaning of the show’s narrative and its lasting relevancy today.

“I like musicals where the subject matter gets you thinking,” said Adam, explaining that Miss Saigon has that in spades. “The piece is still extremely topical even today with so many conflicts happening overseas.”

Taking on a role in a musical with such historical importance and potency carries its fair share of responsibilities.

“I delve heavily into research and character development, but once you hit the rehearsal room you leave that at the door and you explore the piece itself,” said Adam.

“This kind of role has been great as it has allowed me to further explore my interest in war history and mateship. It’s exciting for me to combine singing and acting with my pre-existing historical knowledge of the Vietnam War, and also learn some new things as well.”

When questioned on how his interest in war history came about, Adam explained he is fascinated by the varying ways in which people respond to the challenges of transnational conflict.

“I’ve watched a lot of war films, I’ve also written my own war screenplay,” said Adam. “War really brings out the best and worst in people. It tears apart people and it tears apart nations. It highlights the worst in them, it galvanises them to take all forms of action.”

Footlight Productions’ Miss Saigon opens January 23, 2015 at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre for a limited three-week season. Bookings at http://www.gpac.org.au or phone the box office on 5225 1200.

Adam Stafford was interviewed by Jacob Petkovic, a Professional Communications graduate of RMIT University and a member of the Footlight Productions Marketing Team.

Adam Gardnir’s ‘Vietnamese vision’

Adam Gardnir, Miss Saigon set designer.

Adam Gardnir, Miss Saigon set designer.

Footlight Productions have been wowing audiences for over a decade with their innovative set and costume designs for productions ranging from Cats and Les Miserables to Annie Get Your Gun and My Fair Lady. Footlight’s latest offering, Miss Saigon, will prove to be no exception when it hits the GPAC stage later this month, with a new addition to the Footlight team taking the creative helm.

Miss Saigon’s set designer Adam Gardnir is a new member of the Footlight family. This will be his first time working with the company, and he brings a wealth of experience and ideas to the table. A 2003 graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Adam has forged an eclectic career providing costume and scenic design for operas, plays, ballets, musicals and films. He has worked with the Victorian Opera, Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, the Australian Ballet and the Production Company. Throughout his professional life he has been the recipient of six Green Room Award nominations for his work.

Despite this extensive list of credits, Miss Saigon has been one of the remaining items on his bucket list. A lover of the musical since childhood, Adam is relishing the opportunity to bring his ‘Vietnamese vision’ to life.

“I’ve loved Miss Saigon since I first heard the music when I was about ten years old, ” said Adam. “The director Chris Parker rang at the start of 2014 asking if I was interested and I immediately said yes.

“I just never thought Miss Saigon would become available to me as it’s always been done as a professional Cameron Mackintosh production. Given the chance to design a show to such beautiful music, with a director like Chris, was an absolute no-brainer.”

For Adam, coming up with a design for any production always begins with research. Investigating the intricacies of the show itself, the theatre, and the producing company are the first three pivotal steps of the design process.

“I of course start with research about the show, its context and content – in this case Vietnam, the war, life as a soldier,” explained Adam.

“I also research practical things about the theatre. I want to know what the facilities and expectations of GPAC are. Questions like is there a fly tower, what’s size of the space, and so on. Then I conduct some research into the company, learning about the skills and capacities of the Footlight team.”

“And then you can finally start coming up with a creative concept of how you are going to form the show.”

Adam’s vision for Miss Saigon is one that has been in close collaboration with director Chris Parker.

“Chris Parker is an interesting director because he looks at things in a very operatic way, ” said Adam. “He looks at a musical and he wants to find the big idea in each scene. That’s what I love about Chris’ work.

“When we designed each scene, we obviously had to have the realistic elements such as the prop detail in order to maintain the story telling, but we were also concentrating on the big picture. We want to keep the audience’s imagination alive, we don’t want to be pounding them over the head with too much detail.”

While Adam takes a backseat role in the construction process, he is constantly negotiating and workshopping new ideas with the construction team.

“There is a lot of back and forth between the workshop,” said Adam. “I physically don’t build or construct the set, but there is a lot of collaboration.”

With the bulk of his recent work taking place in the professional industries, Adam has found his time with Footlight Productions to be an easy transition into the amateur theatre scene.

“There are probably amateur theatre companies where they do experience skill shortages, but Footlight is not like that,” said Adam. “The company is set up very well. The history is there, the professionalism is there.

“That’s exactly why Footlight is seeing some of their cast members moving onto professional productions within the space of twelve months, like Lisa Hanley being cast in Once. That succession is no accident. I think it’s really obvious that pro directors like Chris Parker and Martin Croft, who have worked with Footlight, are providing those linkages into the professional circuit. ”

Footlight Productions’ Miss Saigon opens January 23, 2015 at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre for a limited three-week season. Bookings at http://www.gpac.org.au or phone the box office on 5225 1200.

Adam Gardnir was interviewed by Jacob Petkovic, a Professional Communications graduate of RMIT University and a member of the Footlight Productions Marketing Team.

Meet Mikaila Briggs – Geelong’s new leading lady

As Footlight Productions prepares to stage the Geelong premiere of the acclaimed Boublil and Schonberg musical Miss Saigon, a new leading lady is emerging on the Geelong musical theatre scene. Mikaila Briggs, a recent graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, is getting ready to step into the mammoth role of Kim ahead of the show’s opening next January. Mikaila recently sat down with us to discuss her preparations for the role and why she loves this classic musical.

The role of Kim in Miss Saigon is often cited as one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, characters in contemporary musical theatre. Kim has been a dream role for Mikaila Briggs for a long time, and she is relishing every minute of this opportunity provided to her by Footlight Productions and director Christopher Parker.

“I really love this character,” said Mikaila. “I’m so enjoying finding Kim as a character. She goes through so much in the space of a two hour show.

“Even though there’s a sort of naivety and vulnerability to her, she’s a character that is incredibly brave and incredibly strong willed. Kim is so determined, the drive within her is so strong and she will do pretty much anything. That’s why I love her – she has such a pure mind, but that doesn’t make her weak. These are qualities you don’t see a lot in the big female lead roles in theatre.”

Quizzed on her favourite moments in the show, Mikaila praises the entire Miss Saigon score, the historical context surrounding the show, and the beautiful message of the piece.

“The entire production is magnificent,” said Mikaila, “but I do really love the number ‘Last Night of the World’. It’s a real moment in time – the two leading characters are so desperate to hang on to their love, yet still being very playful.”

Preparing oneself to play in a huge character in a huge musical is of course no easy feat. Although formal rehearsals only begun a couple of months ago, Mikaila commenced training for the show shortly after she was cast in August.

“When I found out I got the role, I did train a lot and worked with a vocal coach going through all the songs and the material. I wanted to get on top of it as soon as possible so I could have it in my body – rather than being in rehearsal and still be worrying about a particular vocal technique or remembering a certain lyric. Instead I’m now able to focus on what’s happening in the scene.”

Mikaila’s time studying music theatre at WAAPA has been nothing but useful for taking on this kind of task.

“The things we learnt while performing in the various shows at WAAPA have been extremely valuable – working with different directors, incorporating our acting tuition into our own professional work, finding our own way of getting into a character and finding a scene.”

While she can’t wait to hit the theatre in January, Mikaila is adoring the rehearsal process and all the preparations for opening night.

“It’s been amazing,” said Mikaila. “It’s really great working with everyone. “We started off meeting as an ensemble and working together, getting comfortable with one another. Then we’ve been branching off with the other main characters and workshopping individual scenes.”

A newcomer to Geelong theatre, Mikaila is also taking great pleasure in working with new people, both amongst the cast and the creative team.

“I love meeting all the new people – hearing where they’re from and what shows they’ve done. It’s nice that those in Geelong theatre have done so many productions together, yet they still welcome new people into their circle.”

Footlight Productions’ Miss Saigon opens January 23, 2015 at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre for a limited three-week season. Bookings at http://www.gpac.org.au or phone the box office on 5225 1200.

Mikaila Briggs was interviewed by Jacob Petkovic, a Professional Communications graduate of RMIT University and a member of the Footlight Productions Marketing Team


Mikaila Briggs pictured with co-star David Irvine who plays the role of Chris.