We talk to the six finalists of the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award ahead of Monday’s Gala Concert!

The Rob Guest Endowment Award is presented annually to an emerging musical theatre performer selected by a panel of industry experts. This year’s recipient will be announced at a gala concert performance at the Sydney Lyric Theatre on the 14th November. We caught up with the six finalists in the week before to talk preparations, dream songs and what being the Award recipient would mean for them!

This year’s finalists are: Du Toit Bredenkamp (The Sound of Music), Hilary Cole (Kinky Boots), Linden Furnell (Kinky Boots), Stefanie Jones (The Sound of Music)Genevieve Kingsford (Light in the Piazza) and Matthew Predny (Kinky Boots).

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out you were a nominee?

Du Toit: My first thought was that they had the wrong number! Even after we clarified that I was indeed nominated for the finals I still couldn’t believe it! I was so thrilled and excited.   I didn’t even think about the stress or the amount of work or which songs to pick or any of the nitty-gritty stuff; I just thought “I am going to be able to sing on a huge stage with a full orchestra – how awesome is that?!”

Hilary: I had really bad phone reception when they called to tell me so I thought they were saying I hadn’t been picked. Then when I finally heard what they were actually saying I almost passed out with glee.

Linden: Are you sure? I had kind of written it off. I didn’t get past the first round the previous year and with everything else going on in life at the time, I resigned myself to just enjoy performing my songs and promptly try to forget about the whole thing.

Stefanie:  I was in Perth with The Sound of Music when I got the call. I was VERY excited, and I think I said ‘really?’ a lot too. And then of course I called my parents to share the good news.

Genevieve: I couldn’t believe it! I was overwhelmed to be in the top 30, let alone the top six. What an incredible group to be a part of.

Matthew: A wordless concoction of joy, relief, excitement, and a little fear. That same addictive opening night-like feeling that is part of the reason I’m in this industry.

Do you have a particular approach for your preparations for the 14th?

Du Toit: At this stage my main concern is getting on top of the text. I need to know the words and the accents so well that they feel like they are coming out of me involuntarily. If you think about the words you can’t think about the story of what you’re actually saying. I am also having a lot of singing lessons, because, again, the more you think the less you feel and the less you communicate.

Hilary: It sounds uber naff but I’m trying to listen to my gut as much as I can. The Rob Guest Endowment is a rare and precious opportunity to completely assess what you want to be as a performer, things you want to do in the future, specific areas of your craft that you want to improve. All my preparations come back to “Does this feel right?” “Is this the performer I want to be?”. If I tick both those boxes then come November 14th I’ll be a happy lady.

Linden:  Careful practice. I know for me that the first thing to go is technique when nerves and excitement are about. I am just aiming to try and get the whole thing so deep into my muscles that I can walk out on stage and focus on having fun.

Stefanie: I’m preparing as I would for any audition or performance. Of course in this instance there are a lot more elements involved like costumes and scene partners, but I’m enjoying putting it all together. I’m trying not to focus on the competition side of things and just on what I do best.

Genevieve: Lots practice performing in my bedroom and jamming out in the car. And of course singing lessons with my wonderful singing teacher, Carrie Barr.

Matthew: If you look at the Rob Guest Endowment Instagram page, you’ll see some very specific concert preparation posted by Hilary during her takeover week. Along with Bronte Florian, we decided to improvise an interpretive dance to one of my songs. It’s a must-see.

How are you feeling about your songs for the concert?

Du Toit: I have good days and bad days I guess. Some days I wish that the audience was right there with me (usually in my living room when I’m just singing the songs for fun) and other days I wish the whole thing was two years away so I can be more prepared! I am trying to take it one day at a time.

Hilary: Over the moon is an understatement. Google synonyms for ecstatic and you’ll find a video of me doing a jig. I worked solidly with the creative team to pick two contrasting songs that reflect my aspirations and what I love about musical theatre. It was a real team effort, and I’m super grateful to have had their input.

Linden: I love my songs. Glad they were chosen, although I would have relished the challenge of singing something in a more classical vein. But hey, stick to your strengths!

Stefanie: I really am very excited about my songs. One I’ve been singing for quite a few years. It’s an absolute favourite of mine and it’s proven to be quite successful in auditions too! The other I’ve only performed once – in the RGE Semi Finals – but it’s wonderfully contrasting and shows a different side to me most people wouldn’t have seen before so it’ll be a lot of fun.

Genevieve: One of my songs I have been performing for years and can sing standing on my head, the other I’ve taken a risk. Fingers crossed it pays off! This is a massive opportunity and I want to show everything I can do.

Matthew: If the interpretive dance hasn’t convinced you already, I’m feeling pretty excited. I get to play two vastly different roles and tell parts of two very different stories on the one night.

What would being the recipient of the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award mean to you?

Du Toit: I would be so thankful. The Rob Guest Endowment Award opens up so many avenues for furthering your training and gives so many opportunities to work in the industry, that receiving the award would mean the beginning of big things in my career. It would also mean that the hours of practice, and the time and money my parents put into my training and study, was all worth it. It would make me very happy, because it would be a dream come true.

Hilary: It would be a huge honour to follow in the footsteps of the previous recipients. As well as the financial freedom enabling me to study from the best of the best, it’s an extra boost of encouragement to work hard and take my skills to the next level. I’ve learn so much about myself doing this every year. This is my fifth time entering the competition and it’s almost become a yearly pilgrimage, a moment where I get to work on new material and challenge myself. I guess what I’m saying is to win would be the sweetest cherry on top, but without the cherry I still have a killer ice-cream sundae.

Linden: Winning the Rob Guest Endowment Award would be an enormous affirmation and an open door to real growth. I began on this path later in life than many and at 28 am still a relative newcomer to the Australian scene and I have a lot to learn. Aside that, truth be told I’ve fought with a great deal of self doubt over the last couple years and this award would be an incredible bolster to my confidence; a rocket blast of assurance that folks believe in me, will get behind me and that I do indeed have something unique to offer the Australian (and hopefully international) industry.

Stefanie: The great honour I have of being a top 6 finalist would be amplified enormously if I were to be announced as this years’ winner. The Rob Guest Endowment Award is the only one of it’s kind in our country, and to have a chance to join the line of exceptional past winners is very exciting indeed. This award and what it can offer is truly invaluable, and it would mean so much to me to have the chance to represent Rob in this way. The Award would of course assist me greatly in honing my skills and reaching the highest level of performance I can, but I know no matter what result the night brings, the Endowment will be in safe and well deserving hands.

Genevieve: It would make an immeasurable difference to my professional and personal life. Pursuing your dream comes with so many challenges, the Rob Guest Endowment would be the ultimate leg-up.

Matthew: It would be a great honour and an even bigger responsibility, joining one of the most important legacies in our industry. It would also feel like a kind of validation and would help keep those actor-insecurities at bay.

And finally, if you could pick any number from any musical and have the full shebang on stage with costumes and backup dancers and glitter and sparkles what piece would you choose?

Du Toit: I would have to say the closing number of Act 1 for Pippin. It is my favourite show and Pippin is my dream role. Plus the song is absolutely epic so I would love to sing it with the full orchestra and huge ensemble and magic tricks and cool costumes and everything!

Hilary: That would have to be ‘Show Off’ from The Drowsy Chaperone. With an endless budget I’d have extravagant costume changes, trap doors, aerial tricks, magic, a huge chorus, all while singing a hilarious, big, belty song. A real glitter out your ears kind of number. *Sigh* Dreams.

Linden: Hahah, easy: I Am What I Am – La Cage

Stefanie:  Well, lucky for us we get to do that soon! Sing our favourite songs with a full orchestra and lights and costumes! But if I were to choose something else and had an unlimited amount of people and resources, I think anything from Mary Poppins involving flying over an audience would be super cool. So magical!

Genevieve: Roxie from Chicago is the first song that comes to mind. The celebration of a woman embracing her independence, albeit under questionable circumstances, in glitter from head to toe and Fosse choreography and a sea of dancing fellas…. Fabulous!

Matthew: The finale from Sunday In The Park With George (Sunday). It doesn’t necessarily say “glitter” or “sparkle” or “backup dancers” but to play George and hear an entire company sing the words “forever” would give me life.