“It’s usually good if people like you,” says associate musical director Giustin MacLean when asked about the qualities of good music director. This laughing response comes at the tail end of a more serious list of qualifications: the ability to play piano, understand the inner workings of the human voice and, of course, leadership.
“At the end of the day, the music director is the one in control of what you’re hearing singing-wise, and band-wise,” he explains.
MacLean, a fourth-year philosophy specialist at the University of Toronto, began working with Hart House Theatre last year as assistant music director for the The Wedding Singer, and has returned this year to act as associate music director for their upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s just one of the many students who are working on the production, and who take advantage of the volunteer opportunities the theatre offers.
“I’m the associate music director, so what that means is that as an assistant I would have normally just done what Anthony [the music director] told me to do, but in this case I sort of, in conversation with Anthony, decided what we were going to do with the music, and then sometimes I taught it and sometimes he did,” he says.
Sitting beside MacLean in the small, cosy basement office of the theatre is assistant director and third-year drama and psychology student Rebecca Ostroff. Ostroff volunteered with the theatre last year, acting at different times as a soundboard operator and assistant stage manager.
“It’s different depending on the production, depending on the director,” she says of her role as assistant director. “For a show like this before we even started rehearsals Luke [the director] got me to do a lot of research-based stuff, looking at the key players… how we could see them more as archetypes and not Biblical figures.”
“Once we started rehearsals, little things would come up,” she continues. “Some nights he’d be like, ‘find all the versions of this song so we can decide what lyrics we’ll use’… there was a lot of note-taking, talking to the thousands of people involved in this show, making sure people are on the same page.”
When asked if her role involved a certain amount of shadowing, she enthusiastically agreed: “Oh yeah — I’m basically following him around and learning so many things all the time.”
Jesus Christ Superstar
Ostroff explains that, for the upcoming production of the classic ’70s musical, director Luke Brown “… wanted to take the traditional storyline and move it forward into the 2010 Occupy Wall Street movement.”
In the show, the role of Jesus will be transitioned into a modern context.
“Religion aside, he’s really just a guy who challenged authority, people followed him, and then he was brought down,” explains Ostroff. She says that, ultimately, he was a central figure with different ideas that people flocked to.
“Maybe it’s because he was really charismatic, maybe it’s because he has really great abs,” adds MacLean — there is a brief pause in the flow of the interview where they both agree on this physical characteristic of lead actor David Michael Moote.
“People in hoodies on the streets of Toronto, frustrated with corporate greed,” continues Ostroff, describing the show as speaking to universal concepts of fickleness, greed, and how people respond to having their rights taken away from them.
In terms of the show’s musical vision, MacLean says, “The band is supposed to perfectly compliment the musical… there’s no beginning and end between the music and the staged musical.”
“The vision for the music is the same as it is for the show… to keep it relevant and to keep it fresh,” he says, adding, “I think we have that sound. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of music written in the ’70s, it sounds like it was written in this generation.”
Opening night and beyond
When asked about where they see themselves in terms of theatre, Ostroff and MacLean had different answers.
“I like acting, but I’m getting really into the writing side of things… I’m really into playwriting,” says Ostroff. “This [experience] was like, I wanted to see how things worked from this side of things… I just feel like storytelling in general is something I’m interested in.”
For MacLean, things are simpler: “This is what I want to do, I want to music direct,” he says.
When asked what comes next in moving towards that goal he responds, semi-jokingly, “Hell.”
“[With] music directors it’s really just about… who you know. You network as best you can; you hope that the right people come see you do stuff. There’s not necessarily a practical way of doing it, you just have to sort of go for it,” he explains.
Regardless of how they’ll engage with theatre after the show, both students are extremely thankful for the chance to work with Hart House Theatre.
“I’m just dabbling right now,” explains Ostroff, “It’s amazing the opportunities Hart House Theatre provides us with.”
When asked about opening night of Jesus Christ Superstar, Maclean describes, “It’s going to be worth seeing both because it’s extremely visually cool, but on top of that it sounds great, it’s packed with talented people and the message is really cool.”
“I was talking to one of the other people who are working on this the other day… you’re working on theatre and there are so many moments when you get bogged down in the little things, and then there are moments when everything comes together and it all seems worth it,” he says, adding, “This whole show is one of those moments for me.”