I’m currently sitting on my back deck, basking in the warm Queensland sun and enjoying a moment of solitude, pondering the fact that it was only a few days ago that I was all rugged up sitting in the Adelaide Entertainment Centre with 4,000 other people watching over 600 talented young stars from South Australia do what they love in one of the largest productions of HAIRSPRAY ever staged on the planet.
It’s funny the difference a couple of days makes!
As I sit here, I’m scrolling through my email inbox – it’s filled with messages from parents of the talented young stars who were in the mass ensemble in the show in Adelaide. Every one of them makes me cry.
“My son is bullied relentlessly at school because he does ballet,” one of the emails says. “I can't thank you enough for helping him find a place where he belongs, and for teaching him that who he is is something he can be proud of.”
“My daughter has a long history of self-harming and self-loathing,” says another. “Being a part of this experience introduced her to people who are just like her and who care about her, and it has changed the way she feels about herself enormously. You have no idea what this show has meant to her and to our family.”
Can’t see the screen any more. Overwhelmed. Tears. There’s literally hundreds of other emails, just like that one.
It just makes me feel so grateful.
It’s such a privilege to be a part of something that’s having such a positive effect on so many young people across the country. I’ve always said that being someone else’s stepping stone is one of the highest honours in life, but this is on another level. This is something else entirely.
The HAIRSPRAY arena show exists because we wanted to create an experience for young creative performers all over Australia that would give them the chance to gain new skills, explore their passion and creativity, learn from the best in the business and show off their talents in front of thousands of people. But we also knew that by bringing these beautiful likeminded young hearts together, it would help them to know that they’re not alone. And that’s better to me than any show or song or dance routine or box office report or review or award. That’s transformational. That’s young lives being changed for the better. That's extraordinary.
I was a young creative kid myself once, not so long ago. So was Callum Mansfield. So was Dennett Hudson. So was Lauren McKenna. So was Simon Burke. All of us at the heart of this arena show remember what it was like. I recall being bullied at school because I liked singing instead of sports. I remember feeling like the outsider because I had different interests to the other kids. I know what that feels like. We all do.
As a kid who loved performing, there were very few people in my world who were willing to tell me that my dreams of a life in the theatre were valid. I had lots of people who told me I should be realistic; I should stop dreaming, get real, go do something practical. There were so many voices saying "You can't". So often it seemed like I was the only voice saying "You can". It was lonely, it was isolating, it was scary, but little by little, year by year, I found the way to move forward and to live the life I dreamed. And I found a whole bunch of other people doing the same thing, and we got together and decided that enough was enough. The young dreamers in this country deserve better than being constantly told "You can't!". We wanted to be the voice that says to the next generation, "You can! You can! You can!"
And so the HAIRSPRAY arena spectacular was born.
We created this experience as a way of saying to young people, "Don't listen to the bullies, you're great, you're valid, you're awesome. Go dream a big dream. Go do what you love. We love you. We support you."
We made it our mission to include as many young performers as possible in the arena experience, no matter their lack of past experience or prior training. We don't want anyone to miss out on this experience. We want as many young people as possible to hear the message of "You Can".
We built a week-long training bootcamp that all of these young creatives get put through many months before rehearsals commence, because we believe in developing their skills, not just pushing them on stage. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever been in a production like this, and what’s remarkable is that we can see how much they have developed - both personally and professionally - by the end of the first week of training!
We believe in these young hearts. It's the entire reason we're doing this. Producing a show of this size and scale with a cast this large and touring it around the country is incredibly difficult. It's never really been done before, so we're breaking new ground as we go. We endure the challenges because we believe the young performers of Australia are worth it. We know how much they need this boost of confidence. We know how much they need this validation.
We want to make a difference. We want to mentor these young hearts, help them on their way, connect them up with their idols, give them a chance to pursue their passion and live their dream. That's what we're all about.
So as I sit here reading these beautiful heartfelt messages from so many parents, I just feel nothing but gratitude. I cannot believe this is what we all get to do for a job. Moving around the country, making new friends and helping these young people on their journey is just the most incredible honour.
To all the young hearts who are reading this, in Brisbane, Newcastle, Adelaide, Perth and beyond, I want to tell you how much you mean to all of us at Harvest Rain.
To the girl who had lost hope and given up on herself….
To the boy who gets bullied at school…
To the kids who never felt like they belonged…
To the ones who had stopped believing…
Thank-you for coming on this journey with us.
Thank-you for allowing us to walk with you.
Thank-you for welcoming us into your cities, and into your hearts.
Thank-you for being a part of our big Harvest Rain family.
Don’t let anyone make you believe that you are small. You are BIG! So dream BIG! And remember….you can, you can, you can!