THEATRE | Long as I can grow it

INTERVIEW

Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair are two of the greatest contributions of the '70s to theatre and pop culture and you've been in both. Absolutely, and for me to do both is very humbling. And touring with Hi-5 was also amazing. All around Australia and Asia, that was wonderful. Wonderful to be able to inspire kids through something you love -- performance. And they're so uninhibited. When we get older, before we dance look round to see who's watching. Not kids!

What did kids come up and say after Hi-5 shows? Lots of stuff but mostly they really love my hair. Can I have hair like you when I get older? They'd show me their latest dance moves. Hand us their drawings. Really sweet. And we'd get kids in wheelchairs and, guess what, they come to dance too and they absolutely get right into it. And even older kids, right up to 10 and 11, even 12, they'd still come and get into it right down the front.

The nude scene was a milestone for me. It felt very freeing 'cos all the other feelings -- of being judged and fear -- I let go of all that with my clothing.

JOE KALOU

Your background? Born in Sydney, first-generation in my family. Mum from England, Dad from Fiji.First instrument I excelled in was the flute. I did all my classical grades and played it throughout high school. Guitar as well. After that the ukelele. Really helped with Hi-5. People on kids' TV usually pretend to play guitar but it really helped to be able to pick it up and just do it.

You made some music short films? Yeah, a couple of those, which all began when I was doing a show with Jon English, called The Rock Show. The guitarist from that show helped me put it down and went from there. Crowd-funded the first one, just did a second one. Jon was a lovely guy, he was so down to earth, such a good bloke. He was one of my best mates. He was like that with everyone in the band. We lost him too soon. I can remember that day because it was such a shock. I was on my way to pick up a few shows in Tamworth and Dubbo and we hadn't performed together for a little while at that point and then suddenly we heard the news. It was devastating.

What was the cause of death? It was a bit muddied at the time. He was in hospital, due to his heart. One of the ventricles in his heart was not working correctly. We were in touch with him at the hospital and were thinking he was going OK. Then a couple of days later he had passed. Just awful. I'm good friends with his son and his partner, and we're in contact. They actually came to Jesus Christ Superstar and brought along Trevor White, who originally played Jesus alongside Jon English, which was amazing because I was playing Jesus.

Playing the role of Jesus -- pretty big shoes to fill. Indeed. And very special. I'm a religious man myself, so it wasn't just a role to me. It was wonderful to find that spiritual part of myself while I was doing the role of Jesus Christ.

Explain that? Well, I pray all the time. Finding that connection and almost a stillness in the character, to resonate love and acceptance. It really meant a lot to me. I just thank God for the opportunity to be able to portray Jesus.

What was the most moving scene for you? Certainly, the song Gethsemane in the garden was definitely a huge moment. Also confronting Judas. There was the struggle in being both divine and a man, and Jesus was both.

The show originally was criticised by churches for playing up his humanity and playing down his divinity. I can see why, but I feel that churches sometime kind of miss the point because if it did play up his humanity that's good, we need to find that side of Jesus Christ. He wasn't just divine. He's a wonderful God and a wonderful man.

What does Jesus mean to you personally? He;'s the footprint of how man should be and how man should act. Unparallelled caring for people. He died for us. He's a huge figure to look up to, not just because of his divinity, but the things he did. We should also try to be the best we can possibly be. Knowing that and going out on stage each night knowing so many look up to him. Not so much daunting, as noble, I felt honoured.

The poster for that show plastered all over Western Sydney was a stunning ad for your hair! Couldn't have been more appropriate for Superstar. Nor for your current show! You reckon it helped you get the job? [laughs] I certainly think it had a lot to do with it!

Superstar is timeless and has something to say to all times. But Hair is of its time, for its time. Locked into that time. What's it got to say to us today? Right, right. Well, today we still have bigotry, we still have homophobia. That's what it says to us today. A lot of the battle that we in the Hair tribe are fighting is about everybody being included, accepting differences and fighting for freedoms. Equality is still a fight that we are fighting in 2019. We've got marriage equality but there's still homophobia, absolutely. The plebiscite didn't come back 100 per cent. It did win but there are still a lot of people who disagree and that a person shouldn't be allowed to love another.

As a religious person do you find any challenges with this show? Not particularly. At the end of the day I'm an actor and I'm acting. But there are small moments. It's interesting actually, Paulini and I are both religious and there is a moment in the show where someone says something against Christianity but we just make it a part of ourselves to give each other a look to say 'What's he talking about, that's not how it is'. We let ourselves bleed in to our characters in that sense.

The famous nude scene. Why is that scene there? OK, that's the end of Act 1 where Claude is struggling with whether he should go into the army or not. He's been conscripted. He's standing before us all singing Where Do I Go? because he's lost. And then the tribe comes and shows that they're 100 per cent behind him and I guess the nudity is significant as a way to say we're here with you completely, we don't have anything holding us back, we have no labels, we are with you. The nude scene is obviously a big topic when you're doing Hair. But the reason we do the nudity is to say we support you and your journey and take your side with you.

It's pretty confronting for an actor, for anybody. How did you feel about it? Yeah, yeah, it was very confronting. It's interesting. I did have mixed thoughts about it.

After your first time did you feel worried, relieved, exhilarated, did you feel you'd achieved something? What were you feeling? Yeah, I felt it was a milestone that I'd achieved. It felt very freeing, it felt very good because all the other feelings -- like wondering if you're being judged or feelings of fear -- I had let go of all that with my clothing. We all walk off-stage together and, yeah, it felt really cool!

What do you do in the show yourself? I'm part of the tribe, my name is Flo, and my contribution to the show is that I have a few singing parts, a few different scenes, dancing in most of the show. I'm featured in What a Piece of Work is Man.

With words by Shakespeare! Yeah, a wonderful song. It's important to the show because it's a contrast to the slaying of people in war. "How noble in reason" is contrasted with the whole idea of why would man do this? Why do we fight? Indeed, how noble are we really if we do this to each other?

How is the show going over? It's so wonderful to see the people of the generation of Hair come and dress up as hippies. It's such an honour, and responsibility, to tell this story that people love. We get standing ovations. People are absolutely loving Good Morning Starshine, Let the Sunshine In. The applause after Aquarius after we start is always really huge. That's awesome. Paulini sings the absolute crap out of it, she's just incredible. Then we get great reactions after the song Hair. It's such a great song! Let the Sunshine In at the end is always just huge. All those iconic songs, Good Morning Starshine . . .

Gliddy-gloop gloopy, nibby-nobby nooby, la la la lo lo, Sabba-sibby sabba, nooby abba-dabba, le le lo lo, Dooby-ooby walla, dooby abba dabba, early-morning singin' song. You know the lyrics! Awesome!

What part of the show do you most look forward to personally? Ooh, that's a great question. Probably Hair, because it's so full of energy and it's so much fun to do!

This story Long as I can grow it first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.

Comments