Performers Poppy Brooks and Grace McCabe bonded over a shared love of West End Disney hoodies and all things theatre when they were working a temp job. Poppy had the seed of an idea for a concert version of Carner & Gregor’s “Island Song” and asked Grace to come on board as a performer and musical director, and Polyphony performances was born. I chatted to them ahead of their first concert at the Chelsea Theatre this Saturday.
What made you decide to set up your own company?
Poppy: We realised we worked well together and that our two, sometimes contrasting, styles combined well to make the show something it couldn’t/wouldn’t have been if we had done it alone.
What advice would you give to performers thinking of producing their own work?
Poppy: Planning is essential, even planning for plans falling through!! Also be open to creative suggestions, it might be something you never thought of at the time but it could also be what makes the show.
Grace: Plan everything out, make sure you have pre-empted everything so that you aren’t stressing over the producing alone and can still work on the creative side.
Tell us a bit more about “Island Song in Concert”.
Poppy: Our five characters are all young and passionate and looking to make their mark on the world. Some with their career, some with love, some with their name in lights. I feel a lot of young people, especially of our generation who work so hard for everything we get, will be able to see a bit of themselves in the show.
Why have you chosen to produce this piece?
Poppy: I had had the opportunity to work with Sam and Derek (the writers) on their music in a masterclass with the Hidden Theatre Company earlier in the year and some songs from the show were worked on here. The music and comedy writing instantly caught my interest. Once I’d listened to the whole show I was hooked.
Grace: The music won my attention very quickly and we didn’t want to wait. I have had previous experience as a director, choreographer, MD and producer before so we thought, meh why not?
How are rehearsals going?
Poppy: We are very pleased with rehearsals! Working around several performer’s schedules is always a bit of a juggle but things are coming together very nicely.
Grace: Rehearsals are going well, all the solo numbers are looking great and the ensemble numbers are coming together very quickly due to our talented cast members.
What are the challenges in the show?
Poppy: Definitely juggling schedules and how to do the songs justice in a concert format. We often have to take a moment to stop ourselves because it could very easily turn into the fully produced musical without meaning it to. You just want to keep adding a bit more and a bit more!
Grace: We have two big challenges at the moment. The first is that with five very busy performers, setting up a cohesive rehearsal schedule has been tough but we have managed it. The other challenge is our size and reputation as a company is only just starting. We can’t afford the big signs in the street or posters across town so we are relying on word of mouth to draw our audience in.
Do you have a favourite song/moment in the show?
Poppy: There is a section in the finale that I just love!
Grace: I personally have to say my favourite song is Sing But Don’t Tell. I have been in a situation similar to the character in the song and our actress Sarah is a great character performer that it will be a very funny moment in the show.
How do you manage to do the jobs of producer and performer at the same time?!
Grace: Previously it’s been difficult but with PP because I have Poppy with me every step of the way, it’s not hard to split up the tasks. We can each take a step back and work on our own characters because we know the other will be ready to provide advice from the production side. Then when we need to switch, we do.
Do you have any new plans for polyphony performances in the pipeline?
Poppy: We have a few but nothing solid yet. We will probably need a little time for sleep and a glass of wine first!
As you know, I credit Julie Andrews as my hypothetical guru of musical theatre perfection… If you had to pick a guru or gurus from the world of theatre (real people or characters), who would you choose and why?
Poppy: Audra McDonald for sure! She always seems able to make the role her own whilst making it look so effortless. It’s something I admire a great deal.
Grace: Barbara Streisand! Singer, Moviestar, theatre star. She always stuck to her guns, did what she believed in and didn’t bend to other people’s ideals and I love her for that!
What life lessons have musicals taught you?
Poppy: Even just believing (in something or yourself) can make life that little bit more magical!
Grace: Music can make everything that little bit better!
Do you have any show tune (or other) lyrics that you live by?
Poppy: “I’m through accepting limits ‘cause someone says they’re so”
If Julie Andrews was your agony aunt, what would you ask her?
Poppy: do you stop the negative moments creeping in on the (much more numerous) fabulous moments?
Grace: How do you know when to take the leap and give up the day job to do theatre full time?
What are a few of your favourite things?
Poppy: My books, ice cream, my cake decorating things and cooking.
Grace: My Guitar – Deacon, My whale tail necklace, my DSLR Camera and my Nana’s ring handed down to me.
If Mary Poppins measured you with her special tape measure, what would it say?!
Grace: Small but Feisty!
Poppy: Slightly peculiar in the best ways!
How do you solve a problem (like Maria, or otherwise)?
Poppy: Ask my mum! Even if I disagree with what she says, it atleast means I know what I do or don’t want to do about it!
Grace: Pro con lists are my thing, for a creative person I do love a good list
To finish off, I have my classic Julie themed quick-fire would you rather… ?
…fly a kite or climb a mountain?
Poppy: Fly a kite
Grace: climb a mountain
…be thoroughly modern or practically perfect?
Poppy & Grace: Practically Perfect!!
…dance all night or sit absobloominglutely still?
Poppy & Grace: Dance all night baby!
…Feed the birds or put tuppence in your bank account?
Poppy & Grace: Feed the birds.
…sew or run?
Poppy: Sew every time!
…jam and bread or lots of chocolate?
Poppy & Grace: CHOCOLATE!!
…talk of dreams or show me now?
Poppy: Talk of dreams.
Grace: Show me now!
Polyphony Performances first project Island Song in Concert is at the Chelsea Theatre on Saturday 30th September 2017. Book your tickets here.