MTC Ambassadors is an annual yearlong enrichment and extension program for Year 11 theatre-loving students that offers participants a unique immersion into the world of a professional theatre company. Former MTC Ambassadors have graduated to professional roles with the Company – for instance, Margot Morales Tanjutco was Assistant Director on 2021’s The Truth – but when Jack Green steps into the shoes of Jaques de Boys in As You Like It, he will be the first Ambassador to tread the boards as an actor in a mainstage show.
How did you make your way into acting and theatre?
I was particularly sensitive kid – I still am – and my parents didn’t want me to be working as an actor. Maybe they thought I was too neurotic as a kid to cope. But they still put me in drama classes, around age nine. Around the same time I insisted on learning piano, and getting classical piano lessons. So I think they sort of intertwined, my worlds of acting and as a musician. Fortunately, in this show, I’ll have the opportunity to use both skill sets. And it will be my first professional theatre job.
You were an MTC Ambassador in 2016, and with this role will become the first Ambassador to take to the mainstage as an actor in one of our shows. Can you tell me a bit more about your experience with and memories of your time as an MTC Ambassador?
Once a month, we got to meet at MTC HQ; Nick Tranter (MTC Learning Manager) would bring in a guest who was part of the MTC community in some way: a lighting designer, a set designer, writer, actor, etc. We even got to meet Kat Stewart once (Mum was very jealous!). We’d have a sort of formal chat and enquire about their role, and then we got to see a fantastic show for free. It was such a buzz, and I got to do it alongside people just as geeky and interested as I was. AND they took us out of school early! Just brilliant. Very worthwhile philanthropism (thank you donors)!
I recall one time we met with Janine Snape, MTC’s Casting Director. A year after the program, after VCE, she entertained me for a sort of ‘mock audition’, which was pretty much a total flop from what I recall. I dropped a line here and there and was just a sweaty, pathetic, nervous wreck. I still cringe thinking about it. I remember thinking: well, she’ll probably never cast me in anything, but I’ve eaten those words because years later, she’s put me in a bloody Simon Phillips Shakespeare musical with half the team of Muriel’s Wedding, and featuring music from artists I’ve been hearing on the radio since Year 3. What a forgiving soul she is.
Being an Ambassador helped connect me to the Company, and I had more confidence going into an MTC audition (despite the above story!) as the Ambassadorship gave me a broader understanding of how MTC works, which in turn made me less intimidated.
I’ve gone in for costume fittings the last couple months at MTC HQ – where we’d have those Ambassador meets – and I’ve been hit with waves of nostalgia. I’ve since seen a couple more people from my school selected for the Ambassador Program, which fills my heart with pride. And while it’s been quite some time since I did the program, we all keep tabs on each other. A good handful of us have stayed involved in theatre or creative arts one way or another... Lily Everest does Arts Admin at Dreamhouse Theatre Company; David Youings was most recently assistant musical director for The Wedding Singer. An eclectic bunch, we are.
How else did the program influence your career path after school? We hear you started your own theatre company…
It helped solidify and validate the path I was on and put me in touch with other people who were also on that path in a similar phase of life. That was 2016 when I was an Ambassador, and soon after I got a job on Neighbours, and I got a job on Emo the Musical, so I was on a really good trajectory. In 2018 I had a sort of crisis because I thought I might have gotten into acting school, but it didn’t happen. I was really at a loss. I had self-confidence, but I couldn’t say ‘Oh, I’m going to be an actor now.’
So I tossed up a few ideas and eventually realised that if I couldn’t study performance where I wanted to study performance, it didn’t have to stop me. I’ve always loved creating so I started looking into what other creative pathways I could pursue. That’s when I got into Swinburne to study film, where I’ve specialised in sound design. I also started my own production company. I wrote a script, produced, directed, acted in and composed music for my own two little shows: I did an adaptation of Rumplestiltskin, and an adaptation of Puss in Boots. They were small, humble shows – I think we had crowds of maybe 50 people at best – but I’m very proud of them both. And it was a good exercise to prove to myself that I was able to do that.
What instruments do you play?
I started with piano. Then I learned ukulele and then graduated to guitar. The next was mandolin. I got an English strumstick as a gift, when I was maybe 16. I also started learning tin whistle. That’s how bored I was in lockdown: I’m learning a really annoying instrument! By professional standard, I can’t really fully play any instrument. It’s just a case of playing whatever I can get my hands on.
In addition to playing Jaques de Boys, you are also a part of the band. What's that like?
I’m floored. Caught in the Crowd (by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttal) was part of the soundtrack to my primary school years. Like all great pop, their music is familiar, and complex (like a lot of good Shakespeare!)
How are you finding the process, and working with Kate and Keir’s music?
Our Musical Director Ian McDonald has been very gracious in entertaining my queries from an early stage. He encourages the band to bring in whatever instrumentation we have – we’ll be trying out that strumstick my mate from England gave me – and as we work he’ll be exploring options and arrangements; it’s great fun, and wonderfully collaborative.
Regarding Kate and Keir, there is something magic about sitting in my bedroom playing around with things they’ve composed for a very specific and exciting purpose, and being one of the few to be familiar with that work before anyone else. Because of the context, it’s not just a song you’re working with; it’s a Shakespeare lyric set to original music that is both retrospective of the 16th century, and exciting for contemporary ears – and it’s all designed to bubble up to this vision of a grand show of joy and love and escapism. So as I’m practicing, I’m not just hearing music: I’m seeing the show, I’m getting a feel for the intended impact of the song. It’s cathartic and exciting.
And it’s a great honour but daunting nonetheless to be recreating the guitar styles of Keir Nuttall – he is just ruthlessly skilled on a steel string. I’ve had to confront my old enemy: the flat-pick (which is a tool I’d frankly avoided because I was scared of it). Just emulating the guitar work he’s given us too has really had me looking at my playing differently. Before this show, I’ve always gone for autumnal and maternal sounds on guitar. Keir can do all that, but goes further; his style is so lively and punchy. And fast. Good lord, I’ve never had to strum so fast in my life. I’m worried my wrist will dislocate.
I’ve binge listened Kate’s Child in Reverse album so much this last year, first as a way of familiarising myself with her body of work, but then it just became fun. She sings these lyrics in Little Roots, Little Shoots that are just packed with theatrical imagery, taking on characters, and the anticipation of something awesome budding.
As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays, with its own songs but Kate and Keir are obviously creating new music for it. What can you tell us about the music they’re creating?
I’m convinced they are one of Australia’s most powerful songwriting entities. Their combined influences and skills make them the perfect vessel for something as sacred as Shakespeare. They take the original Shakespeare lyric, and weave together a new tune around those words. I can’t spoil anything specific but it’s really pure magic how it’s coming together. The songs are pleasing to a modern ear, but you could almost believe that that was the tune to the words back in 1599. It’s so fresh, and so timeless. I mean, if you have a listen to their O Mistress Mine from Twelfth Night, you know what’s on the menu: pure gold.
I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re decent actors as well. They have to interpret the text, like any actor would, and render something that feels authentic, taking into account the rhythm and feel of the words, and then they go further and assign it musical qualities.
We’re in the pastoral genre for As You Like It, meaning that the play taps into the drama of pristine, courtly characters finding themselves in the paddocks and forests with the earthy shepherds and hunters, and you might argue that there’s this bizarre parallel in their work – Kate and Keir are themselves very accomplished songwriters, and they’re plunging their hands into this meaty, folksy, earthy world of As You Like It, designed to, as the title clearly explains, entertain the masses. The result is music you want to sing along to while you’re drunk in an Irish tavern, underscored by some deceptively complex and informed songwriting.
As You Like It is thematically very contemporary and relevant. What do you love most about it?
I’d never come across As You Like It until being cast. I didn’t even know Shakespeare had music! And when I started reading, I was shocked it was written more than 300 years ago. Having just come out of uni, I can attest to the investment young people have in concepts and discussions around gender and sexuality and expression. This play deals with all of that. Shakespeare might be a time traveler!
But what I love most about the play is that it has a recurring default to joy and love and laughter. When I read it, I smile. I think it’s a gateway drug for those on the fence about theatre or Shakespeare in particular. It’s just so fun and ridiculous.
What do you love most about performing, what keeps you going when things get tough?
In theatre, particularly, you feel alive because you’re excited, you’re scared; the adrenaline’s going, something could go wrong. And it’s your job to make sure things don’t go wrong, or to recover if things do go wrong. I love that. I think maybe I’m a thrill seeker in that way; I’ve never liked roller-coasters but I’m just a thrill seeker. Honestly though, I don’t know for certain why I keep doing it. From an objective view it is a totally insane thing to subject yourself to. I guess I just love the rush.
MTC Ambassadors program is generously supported by the Youth Ambassadors Giving Circle of Donors.
Published on 8 November 2021