"I approach music from a place of embodied emotion, using sound as a tool to reflect different and complex emotional states. The live music is used to support the text, evoke different environments and to reflect the characters’ internal worlds. The music really becomes the second presence on stage, it becomes a storyteller", says cellist Simone Seales about music in the show MEMBER, that they created with Ben Noble. This show, and artistic pair BULLYACHE's (Courtney Tyler Deyn and Jacob Samuel) debut production TOM, both incorporate music in exciting ways to tell queer stories and bring audiences together.
The theatre and music combination is a familiar one, and for good reason. As Seales suggests, it is a powerful creative device that communicates what words can't. It also fundamentally shapes how artists make a show. BULLYACHE explain: "We start with the music, what feels right to us and how it supports what we’re trying to approach. Making the work is us trying to understand the show and trying to understand ourselves. The fluidity of music allows that".
The music also plays a key role in conveying queer narratives. MEMBER tells a true, traumatising story from Australia's queer history. Noble shares, "During the haunting period of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, known as the 'gay-hunting' era in Sydney, gay men were specifically targeted, hunted down, assaulted, and even killed. Shockingly, over 80 murders occurred during that time." Given this trauma, Seales adds that, "live music can provide an anchor point. Unfortunately, we are still exposed to queer hate crimes and hate speech, to the point that some of us may have become dissociated from it. Live music gives people the opportunity to open up to the raw emotions that exist in the present and in the past".
Member, photo by Deryk McAlpin
TOM is grounded in more recent history. BULLYACHE detail, “we started during the pandemic along with our sobriety as an act of us coming together to create something beautiful that embraced a journey of healing.” The show also demonstrates how varied the use of music in performance can be: "we make working class, queer reconstructions of classical texts through the lens of a pop music video. We use music videos as a vehicle to communicate our ideas to audiences. Their iconography, pacing, and layering are tools that we use to experiment with theatre".
As well as communicating stories, music has the ability to bring people together in ways other forms of performance don't. Think of the euphoria at raves, gigs, and even a good karaoke session. Seales notes "it encourages the audience to pay attention in more than one way, and gives them the ability to connect in more than one way. If someone cannot connect to the text, then they can connect to the music". BULLYACHE recognise this, as well as the dual function of performance and its component parts: "ultimately we want to entertain and engage our audiences with groundbreaking work where each element could stand on its own."
By variously drawing on text, video, and dance in addition to the artists' queerness and commitment to music, TOM's audiences will get the myth of Orpheus, the DWP, and "a melodramatic, deconstructed pageant of exhaustion. Faggotry, pop music, slutty Nijinsky and commercial-dancing". MEMBER asks, "what leads a person to be drawn into the herd mentality? What leads a person to commit an act of violence?" Ultimately, these two shows use music well beyond the more familiar queer forms of musical theatre, drag and cabaret, to thrilling effect.