‘What is decreed must be, and be this so.’ Over Genovese Coffee in the Qatar Airways MTC Lounge, Alec Steedman discusses his entry into professional theatre and the journey he took to get there.
Alec Steedman, 21, has spent the tail end of 2018 performing alongside a handful of his idols in a professional debut that has exceeded all expectations. Playing the role of Curio, a violin-bowing attendant of the Duke Orsino in MTC’s production of Twelfth Night, has been an industry break like no other; one that could possibly render everything else he does uninteresting, he jokes.
Steedman’s musicality sparked when he took to singing alongside his father, who would regularly bring out his guitar in the living room. At the age of five, the family uprooted and moved from Sydney to Cairns, where Steedman became eligible for an initiative rolled out by the State Government to test primary school students’ musical abilities, the results of which provided Steedman with a full scholarship to learn a musical instrument.
‘I desperately wanted to learn the violin, but Mum had to plead with me to actually practice,’ he says. ‘You sound like a dying cat for the first three or four years...I’m a persistent person, but it’s that classic story of me needing to thank my Mum now.’ Music was a logical calling for Steedman, though. ‘I’m not sure that the violin necessarily came very naturally to me, but I think reading music and hearing music – tuning and intonation – I’ve always sort of had a knack for that.’
Playing the violin led to singing in the choir, which in turn led to performing in Eisteddfods. Before Steedman knew it, he was landing lead roles in Cairns community theatre productions. ‘I got the theatre bug from community theatre…definitely. I played Oliver in Oliver and Louis in The King and I, and as soon as I did those shows, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.’
Steedman moved to Melbourne at 17, where he only knew his aunt and uncle. His migration south was prompted by an offer to join the Victorian College of the Arts’ highly selective Music Theatre program. ‘In Cairns, I was a big fish in a small pond, so moving to Melbourne where I was the exact opposite was very eye-opening and quite tricky for me to navigate.’ This move led to some resistance initially, he admits. However, by the end of his time at VCA, he’d come to the conclusion that his particular combination of skills was unique to only him. ‘There are so many talented people out there. So all you can do is be the best combination of what you do. We all act, we all sing, we all dance and we all play musical instruments, but no one is ever going to do that combination of things the way you do. So if you own that and have confidence in that, you’ll make it through.’
Going into rehearsals, Steedman had already committed his lines to memory, coming off the back of a co-op production of Twelfth Night for Melbourne Shakespeare Company, where he played the same role. ‘It’s been a big six months of Curio,’ he says laughing. The notable difference rehearsing and performing with MTC is the scale of everything, he explains. ‘The first thing is that the facilities at MTC are incredible, which is such a luxury. They had a to-scale set in the rehearsal room from day one, and the stage management team are so onto everything. Someone will say, “I want flowers.” And the next thing you know, there are flowers in the room.’
The rehearsal process acted like a second schooling for Steedman. At 21, he was still pinching himself to be thrown into a room with a number of actors whose careers he had dreamed of emulating. ‘I’ve learnt a lot from everyone in the cast, not just [Director] Simon [Phillips], about rehearsal room etiquette, and playing. It was really interesting to see the way these incredible actors go about bringing a piece of theatre like this together. Everyone throws a lot of great ideas into the directing process. Simon has the final say of course, but everyone contributes. It was great for me to see this process unfold.’
Musically, it was also a dream come true, working alongside wunderkind composing duo Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, and esteemed musical director Ian McDonald. The second act of Twelfth Night sees Steedman join former Men at Work frontman and music legend Colin Hay on stage for a Jacobean jam session. He says it has been an undeniable highlight of the whole experience. As far as first breaks go, it's been a good one, he claims. What's next for the quadruple-threat is unknown. ‘I’m just going to follow the work and see where the industry takes me.’