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Kurtis Laing on Uniting NIDA Alumni for Tick, Tick… Boom!

Kurtis Laing (Directing, 2024) is the visionary director behind the upcoming production of Tick, Tick… Boom! on stage at the Old Fitz Theatre as part of the 2024 Late Night program. As the creative director of Good Time Theatrics, Kurtis has made significant strides in Sydney’s independent theatre scene. In this interview, Kurtis reveals how he honed his directorial skills at NIDA and discusses the exciting new project that has reunited his cohort.

Why did you decide to pursue your Master of Fine Arts at NIDA?

I didn’t necessarily think I was going to become a director after my Bachelors. I studied for my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Drama at the Queensland University of Technology, a course that really gave me a solid groundwork in many different facets of theatre making. So, when I graduated, I banded together with some fellow theatre-makers and started to just make stuff. There needed to be a director, so I volunteered and it genuinely kind of just snowballed from there. But I loved it. Couldn’t go back. After directing a number of student, independent and emerging productions, I wanted to hone the craft.  The reputation of NIDA’s MFA in Directing speaks for itself, having produced some of Australia’s foremost directors, and I really wanted to get access to some of that wealth of experience. 

Gabriel Sheehan as Sweeney Todd in the NIDA student production of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2023. Photo by Phil Erbacher.
Gabriel Sheehan as Sweeney Todd in the NIDA student production of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2023. Photo by Phil Erbacher.

Can you share some of the highlights from your time studying at NIDA?

My year at NIDA, to my surprise as much as anyone else’s, became what I and the other directors in my cohort referred to as ‘Kurtis’ big musical year’. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to be the ‘musical guy’ from my cohort. I used to perform in musical theatre (MT) a lot when I was younger, and I even came down from QLD to do a NIDA open course for musicals when I was twelve, we did Legally Blonde and Seussical the Musical. At one point I thought I was going to go into MT – before I realised I couldn’t dance. Getting to work on NIDA’s 2023 June production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street reinvigorated by love for the genre, however. It was directed by Constantine Costi (Directing, 2013) and it was really illuminating learning about directing text that incorporates music, within the confines of a production that emulates a professional production.

How has your training at NIDA influenced your approach to directing and theatre-making?

The methodology that is taught to us by Dr Benjamin Schostakowski (Directing, 2013) draws heavily on dramaturgy and collaboration with the actors and creative team to build a production that is shared and coalesced. It can be a very tempting first instinct as a director to be the band conductor, the Director with a capital D, but what I took into my directorial practice, is that a show that is built collaboratively is all the stronger for it. 

What inspired you to take on Tick, Tick… Boom! as a project, and what has the journey been like bringing it to life at the Old Fitz Theatre’s 2024 Late Night program?

The Late Night program at the Old Fitz is a really special thing in my opinion. The Old Fitz’s Artistic Director, Lucy Clements, and Executive Producer, Emma Wright, are dedicated to providing opportunities for emerging artists and innovative productions. Tick, Tick… Boom! resonated with me on a personal level due to its themes of creativity, ambition, and the struggles that comes with being an artist. It explores the idea that as artists, we have to fulfil a promise we make to ourselves. The show also explores the role artists’ friends and family have, and how they can support you, or question whether your dream career is unobtainable. 

Tick, Tick... Boom! by Good Time Theatrics playing at the Old Fitz Theatre.
Tick, Tick… Boom! written by Jonathan Larson. Performed by Good Time Theatrics, playing at the Old Fitz Theatre.

How has your collaboration with fellow NIDA alumni influenced the production of Tick, Tick… Boom!?

The ABSOLUTE best thing about NIDA is the people you meet. They will be your colleagues, collaborators and most importantly, friends. I met everyone involved in Tick Tick…Boom! through various NIDA projects. Associate Producer, Jo Bradley (Directing, 2024) was a colleague of mine in the directing cohort of 2023. Co-producer and Cast Member, Tessa Olsson (Acting, 2023), Cast Member, Hamish Wells (Musical Theatre, 2023) and Movement Director and Vocal Coach, Juliette Coleman (Acting, 2023), were all students involved in the 2023 production of Sweeney Todd. Another Cast Member, Brodie Masini (Acting, 2020) was also involved in Sweeney as he was brought on as an understudy for the titular character. Iris Wu, our amazing musical director, while not a NIDA student, was the MD for my graduate production of 21 Chump Street in the Festival of Emerging Artists. So, you can really track the progression of the cast and creatives of Tick, Tick…Boom! from my time at NIDA. A huge shout-out is owed to Tessa Olsson for being such an amazing creative partner and once again, dear friend.

Third-year NIDA students involved in the production include Stage Manager Tom Howieson (Technical Theatre and Stage Management), Lighting Designer, Poppy Townsend (Technical Theatre and Stage Management) and Sound Designer, Chaii Ki Chapman (Technical Theatre and Stage Management).

Rehearsal photos from Tick, Tick... Boom! Photo 1: Hamish Wells and Brodie Masini. Photo 2: Brodie Masini and Tessa Olsson.
Rehearsal photos from Tick, Tick… Boom! Photo 1: Hamish Wells and Brodie Masini. Photo 2: Brodie Masini and Tessa Olsson.

Can you describe your directorial approach and how you worked with the cast and crew to bring out the best in this production?

Collaboration is the name of the game. The biggest credit I can give myself is the Avengers-level assembly of a team I have managed to pull off. There is such a wealth of experience and perspectives in the room that what we have, first and foremost, is a show that everyone really cares about and that, I believe, are proud to call their own. 

What advice would you give to aspiring directors that are considering studying at NIDA?

Unfortunately, Cate Blanchett doesn’t wander the halls as much as I thought she might. 

But earnestly, it took me four tries to get into the course. It’s competitive and you might not get in the first time. But what it really boils down to is perseverance. To exist in this industry is to weather constant uncertainty but persevere in the face of that uncertainty. 

Tick, Tick… BOOM! is on at the Old Fitz Late Night program at 9:15 pm from 16 – 26 July. Tickets can be purchased here.

To support the show and to stay updated on the team, please follow goodtimetheatrics.

Applications for the Master of Fine Arts Directing are now open.