Naomi Livingston has had a multifaceted performing arts career to date and her recent accomplishments indicate that she has many more creative contributions to offer. Livingston is a Sydney-based singer, actor, songwriter and vocal/performance coach with impressive performance credits in several professional theatre productions. I was fortunate to have a conversation with the talented WAAPA alumnus about her career, her family, and the exciting projects she has lined up.
Welcome Naomi, thank you for agreeing to talk with me. You’ve been very busy winning awards, writing new music, and winning a role in a major theatrical production! I want to talk about all of that but first, how are you feeling at this stage in the NSW stay at home order?
Tired! Haha. The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone and I’m definitely trying to keep everything in perspective because ultimately we have been very fortunate. We have our health and a roof over our heads. Saying that, it does feel scarily like a repeat of 2020 when I lost a major acting job, the debut of my solo show, and a good chunk of my coaching business. But, I’m trying not to “go there” and remain positive. I have, however, experienced a major lack of mojo! The mental and emotional load of lockdown is a heavy one! So I’ve been trying to be creative in other capacities, like furniture upcycling and cooking.
Those sound like great creative outlets in these circumstances. On a brighter note, congratulations on winning the 2021 APRA Professional Development Award along with Hugo Chiarella! Tell me about Paradise Road, and what this opportunity means for you as a composer.
Thank you! It was such a thrill and I feel exceptionally fortunate! The project is only in its infancy development wise, although we have been working on it for a little while now. It will be Hugo and my second project together after Evie May which was originally produced at The Hayes Theatre in 2018. It’s my second go at being a composer for a full length musical, which is quite a different skill set to what I’ve done before, writing stand alone songs here and there for theatre productions. So it’s an opportunity to get better, to try different things, to hone my craft!
That seems like an exciting challenge. You’ve previously composed for Sport for Jove Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare, created a new Australian musical, Evie May, and created your own solo show I’m Literally Losing my Mind, can you briefly describe your creative process from the initial idea to realising your work on stage?
Well, some of these tasks have been to build something off a given brief, to fulfil a specific function and create a specific feel. I work well under this structure because the boundaries of the brief allow me to be creative because I know within what bounds I’m allowed to play. For more open projects built from the idea up, like Evie May or I’m Literally Losing My Mind, it is a lot harder, because you have way more freedom and that, in some ways, can jam up my creativity. But, that simply means I just try more things until a path shows itself.
So, once the idea has been well brainstormed, often in collaboration with other colleagues, and the songs are now ready to be written, I sit down at the piano and just play. I sing, either using lyrics or improvising them, and find the sounds I like to start piecing the song together. Development then has to happen. Workshops, seeking guidance, playing with actors, musicians, directors, musical directors etc until we feel the piece has had enough rewrites to have it’s initial preview to an audience. But even after that initial season, further development is usually needed. But, that can be very difficult to make happen, especially here in Australia.
The resources for the proper development of new Australian musicals just doesn’t exist. Page to stage literally takes years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars. We rely heavily on the generosity of independent producers, theatre companies, colleagues, friends, family and the occasional grant.
Despite having limited resources in Australia, you’re beginning to build an impressive compositional portfolio. Later this month, your work will feature in Homegrown. How important are platforms and initiatives like these for original Australian writers of music theatre, such as yourself?
Essential! What Nick and Ben do, along with other initiatives, is so important. As you say, it provides us writers with a platform. It also builds a community for Australian writers, a chance to hear what other writers are writing, the stories that they are telling, the way they are telling them! It’s an exciting opportunity to create a dialogue about what we can make Australian Musicals sound and look like, and support each other through the process by literally being able to applaud their work, or to buy their sheet music, or to create a connection that results in opportunities down the track. Or, I don’t know, make a friend. Friends are important.
Friends are important indeed, as is supporting our arts colleagues who are creating original work. In addition to your recent achievements as a composer, you also feature in the latest cast announcement for Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera! Tell me about your role in this, and how you felt when you received this exciting news.
Thrilled! I’m playing Wild Woman and Confidante, and am cover for Madame Giry. After losing a big gig in 2020, it was a huge sense of relief to receive this opportunity. I haven’t been back on the big stage since finishing up with Les Miserables to have my second daughter and I’ve missed it terribly! I can’t wait to start. But, first we need to get theatres open and everyone who was already on stage, back on stage!
Yes! Fingers crossed for the live performance industry and its workers to make a safe return as soon as possible. As a woman working across many aspects of the performing arts industry, with a husband who’s also an accomplished performer, how do you balance family life with such a noteworthy career?
Good question. Family. I am entirely #blessed with amazing parents, parents-in-law and a sister who often jump in with the two girls when we are both working. Drew and I have been very fortunate to mostly alternate but sometimes the juggle does get really intense. But saying that, the nature of this work is that there are also times when there is no juggle and we have wonderful family time. The kids are pretty used to our changing schedules and are pretty happy to have their “village” around them.
That’s so lovely, it really does take a village as they say. You’re also a voice and performance coach, what practical advice would you impart on those starting out in their careers?
Adopt a growth mindset. Failures and mistakes are your teachers, alongside play and risk-taking. Back yourself and do the work.
Finally, what are your hopes for Australian artists and arts workers given the uncertainty and risk surrounding the arts and live performance?
Oh goodness. That’s a big question. I really hope, someday, that our government sees and feels our value and supports us as such. That we continue to grow the community of voices and stories we hear and see on stage. That people see themselves and find belonging in the stories told. That a career in the arts is still a valid and worthy way to live life!
Thank you Naomi for taking the time to share your story with the studio clients and readers of The Serenade Files.
You can learn more about Naomi Livingston’s creative work by visiting naomilivingston.com