Luke Hunter - Musical Director, The Rocky Horror Show

Luke Hunter
'I started to teach while I was at uni and when I was directing productions at university I enjoyed fostering the cast and getting the best out of them.'

Luke started his career on stage performing in Fame the Musical, Shout! and Oh! What a Night. He then moved into musical directing which has taken him around the world and behind the scenes on some of Australia's best productions.

He is now working on The Rocky Horror Show which is currently showing in Melbourne.


 

 

What is your musical background?

My parents put me into music classes when I was five years old. When I was at high school my goal was to play the flute in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, so I'm certainly not following my childhood dream. Flute was my music major at Monash University, but then I decided there were other music avenues that were more appealing.

What made you change your mind?

I've always been really interested in both sides of a show. I'm really interested in theatre and I always performed in high school musicals. My minor at university was in drama and I started out as an actor so my career has been a mix of both. I hope that in the future both avenues will be open to me.

What was it that appealed to you about musical directing?

I have a real love of music theory. Composition was very interesting to me, as was conducting because you analyse musical structures, which you don't necessarily do if you are just performing. I'm also a people person. I started to teach while I was at uni and when I was directing productions at university I enjoyed fostering the cast and getting the best out of them. As a flute player, I was locked inside a rehearsal room for six hours a day by myself. Being a social person and a team player, I felt something was missing.

What do you do as a musical director?

I am responsible for anything musical in the production. For The Rocky Horror Show, we did about 12 months pre-production before we were in rehearsal. There were lots of meetings with the director and choreographer talking about what our version of the show would be. I was responsible for overseeing the re-orchestration of the show – this is a new version of Rocky Horror and we really wanted to make sure that it was new from the ground up. We went through an extensive casting process and then I was responsible for rehearsing the cast and the band. Now the show is open I conduct it seven of the eight times a week. I also teach understudies and make sure the show stays as fresh as it was on opening night.

Is it a full-on job?

It's a lot of hours. I think the most stressful part of the job is the technical rehearsal period in the lead-up to opening night because a lot of things change. We need to finetune the production, which can mean making really big changes at the last minute. During the technical period in Sydney, I would be there at 10 am and wouldn't leave until 3 or 4 the next morning. Then I'd go home and write charts before being back at 10 am to do it all again.

How do you work your way up to being a musical director?

I think people come at it in different ways. I have an assistant who conducts one show a week so I can watch and take notes. He also teaches understudies. A lot of people who become musical directors come from that assistant position. Generally conductors are keyboard players first. They might spend a few years playing on shows before getting an assistant musical director or second conductor position, and then work their way up from that.

I came at it a little bit differently. I was working as an actor and by coincidence I had the same musical director, Charlie Hull, in a string of shows I was performing in. Charlie became a mentor and I learned a lot through working with him. He knew that I had training so when he was looking for a musical director to take a show out on a regional tour he gave me the job. There isn't a musical director degree that you can do and people come at it from very different angles. I think it makes it interesting that musical directors all have a different story to tell.

How long do you usually work with a show and how do you find new work?

It's a lot of word of mouth. Rocky Horror is being produced by two producers I haven't worked with before, but I have worked with the company that looks after the general management. This is the longest I have worked on one show because there was a year of pre-production and I imagine we will have run for at least a year by the time we close. I have worked on things before where my first day was the first day of rehearsal, the show ran for six weeks and then it was all over. You hope that the show goes really well and that you get a long life out of it and when it closes there is another job just around the corner.

What has been your career highlight?

I think Rocky Horror is the show that I'm most proud of because it's a brand new production that an Australian creative team has regenerated. As an up-and-comer I was proud to be teamed with Gale Edwards, the director, and John O'Connell, the choreographer, who both have serious credits in this industry. As an actor, I don't think anything will ever compare to getting into Fame which was my big break – being so green and welcomed into the industry was very special.

What other opportunities are there for musical directors?

Musical theatre is very specialised. If I was going to conduct and direct outside of musical theatre I would want to do a lot more training. Classical conductors have a different set of skills, so if I was going to move that way, which I don't think I will, I would want to go and get my Master's and do a lot more technical work on the way I conduct. A lot of musical directors teach and I have also done projects for the Victorian College of the Arts which has been fantastic. I also have a Bachelor of Education so I think, if anything, I would move sidewards and take a job in a music department in a school.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your career footsteps?

It can be a tough field to get into. Making contacts with people who are in the industry is a really good way to go. It does go by word of mouth and it's really important to become involved in amateur shows to make contacts and get a really good idea of what's required in the industry. It's a friendly industry and people seem genuinely keen to help out.


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