“It’s a musical. About a tree. Take it or leaf it.”
This is the tagline perfectly epitomising the new quirky comedy musical written and directed by two Monash University students, set to unveil their masterpiece at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
As I spoke to Dylan Marshall and Earl Marrows – two friends who met performing at university – they awaited their show’s opening night, where they will make their debut as writers and directors at one of Melbourne’s biggest annual events.
From what started as a 15-minute performance in front of their peers, the cast will transition from writing, composing and rehearsing in a Chadstone living room to having their musical Pining for Affection: A Tree Musical performed in front of a sold-out Butterfly Club.
“It’s scary because you’re open to criticism from everyone but also exciting because you’re open to praise from everyone,” Marshall said.
The often-cast aside tree character – the one who lingers in the shadows while the main characters soak themselves in the spotlight – is what motivated director Dylan Marshall to create something never seen before. “Someone always gets shafted and cast as a tree and I thought ‘I want to see a show about that guy,’” Marshall said.
The two friends did not expect their musical to reach anyone further than their circle of friends at Monash until it caught the eye of a producer for the comedy festival. It is this producer who planted an idea in their heads to, like the tree, aspire for greater things.
“The 15-minute version [of the show] was me trying to prove to myself it was something I could do, and even this version is still me proving to myself I can do it,” Marshall said. Whether or not their motivation in entering the festival stemmed from the bravery shown by their leafy protagonist, the pair said “stuff it” and applied. “It’s a first shot really, and that’s huge because it’s terrifying.”
“You think you can’t do shows like this but the only reason you think that is because you’re not doing it and we made the decision to actually do it,” Earl Marrows said.
Cast members regularly gather at Earl’s home in Chadstone to rehearse on a mock stage, set up in between the living room and the kitchen. Dylan sits cross legged at the bottom of the steps which separates him from his cast, his eyes fixated on his cast members while they perform like a shark watching its prey, critiquing every line said and every movement on a notepad made while Earl controls the music.
Dylan described the process as though he was “putting [his] heart on stage” for the world to see. “It’s nerve-wrecking because you feel vulnerable and open to criticism but as soon as someone laughs at a joke you’ve written or smiles after the show, you realise why you do it,” Marshall said.
Standing side by side with matching sunglasses and blank expressions while one holds a pot plant is enough to suggest that these two not only mean business, but that they’re going to have some fun along the way.
After getting used to performing for themselves throughout their careers, they now enter unchartered territory: one where the control they once had is taken away and placed in the hands of those on stage, their cast. “Performing comes very easy and naturally I’m usually very confident and in control – but when it comes to putting a show on stage you have no control,” Marshall said.
The musical will feature at the Butterfly Club from March 27 – April 1 with a cast comprising of Stephen Amos, Gina Elizabeth Dickson, Alfred Kouris and Ursual Searle, and, like the tree, these up-and-comers are heroes worth rooting for.