Grace McKenzie discusses Island Song, the launch production for Polyphony Performances, her new company founded with Poppy Brooks. It’s performed for one night only this Saturday 30 September 2017 at London’s Chelsea Theatre.
Tell me about your background and performance history.
I was born in Dublin and brought up in Ireland before moving to Glasgow at the age of 10. I have been performing since a very young age, first as a dancer and then musical theatre. Moving to Glasgow, I continued her work as a dancer, becoming one of the soloists for Performer’s Dance Academy in productions such as An American in Paris and Dance Macabre. I performed with Douglas Academy’s Senior and Chamber Choir. In 2011 – 2013, I became part of Douglas Academy’s Drama Society leading to two very successful productions of Cinderella and an original piece Cluedo. Becoming head of the society, I then produced and directed my personally penned production A Laddie, which was a Scottish panto/adaptation of Aladdin performed in aid of Yorkhill Hospital and Great Ormand Street.
In 2013 I moved to London to study BA Theatre and Drama at Royal Holloway University. Whilst studying I performed in several variety shows and summer cabarets. During this time, I launched my two radio shows, Coco Throwbacks and my own segment Geeble’s Genres. For the past two years, I’ve been working in London as a journalist, actress and musician.
How did you come together as a company?
I met Poppy Brooks through work. Brooks mentioned her intentions to produce Carner and Gregor’s Island Song and after attending West End Live together, she offered me the part of Caroline and the position of MD. After initial discussions about the upcoming production, we decided to form Polyphony Performances and run the preparations together.
Island Song is a rewritten show by Sam Carner and Derek Gregor, what made you choose this unfamiliar production over something everyone knew?
Poppy has had the opportunity to work with the composer and lyricist In the past and when I listened to their music I loved the humour and musicality of the songs. The story of Island Song is about five young people trying to make it in the world and as a 21-year-old (almost 22) trying to make it in London, it spoke to me.
This is one-night show is produced by Polyphony Productions (Poppy Brooks and Grace McKenzie). Any plans for longer running production in the future?
Yes, we would absolutely love the chance to put this on as a full-scale production. First, we want to show people what kind of Concert we can put on with no financial help and then gain some backers knowing we can do well.
What have been the challenges with putting on the production around other commitments?
The main challenge for me was finding times to suit everyone to rehearse. Poppy and I are regularly in communication and we catch up regularly regarding the plans so that side of it has been smooth. It has been casting and rehearsal schedules which posed a challenge.
You are performing at Chelsea Theatre? As a new company, did you struggle to find affordable spaces?
Yes, a lot of places expect money up front or for you to pay extra for tech etc. The Chelsea Theatre is a community run space which has provided a lot for us under one flat fee and any other extras are charged for. Other places wanted to charge for every individual thing, racking up a hefty initial bill.
Do you think the theatre community is doing enough to help new production companies or are you left to fend for yourself?
I find that there are a lot of new productions happening and new companies so It doesn’t always lead to a lot during your initial project. Once you’ve put on 2 or 3 things, people seem to be more supportive because you’ve essentially proven you’re serious. With things like Brighton and Edinburgh fringe, I think we have been brave to jump straight to a London audience but it’s where we are and where the end goal is, so why not take a leap?
What character do you play and are you quite similar or different from them?
I play Caroline and I do feel we are quite similar. I have experienced similar events in the past to her in the show and I believe we are both just hopeless romantics at the end of the day.