Forging a career in performing arts isn’t easy. The competition is fierce, and in Australia, the industry small. A lifetime of performing seems even less attainable when compounded with the inability to identify with anyone in the landscape. This was the case for a young Jarrod Draper, a proud Wiradjuri man from Orange, NSW.
Draper didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming the next Hugh Jackman; he fell into musical theatre by pure chance. When a local production of The Boy From Oz was casting, his friends in the theatre community went to audition, and with competitiveness ingrained in him by his sporting family, he thought he’d go along to give it a go too.
“My parents talk about this story all the time,” he laughs. “I was on my way to basketball training, and they call telling me that I got the role. Mum pulled the car over and was like, ‘are you sure you’ve got the right kid?’ because I’d just gone along for a bit of fun, and she didn’t believe them.”
Though his introduction to the stage was less out of passion and more out of opportunity, Draper knew immediately that this was what he was meant to do. He’d found his home. But, he came to terms with the reality of a career in musical theatre early on. “It’s always difficult because when you don’t see yourself being represented anywhere, you don’t necessarily feel like it’s achievable for you,” he says. “Growing up, I never saw an Aboriginal person in a mainstage role.”
Draper persevered despite not having a role model to look up to in his particular stream, landing a spot at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). During his time there, he not only honed his skills but started laying the foundations of something much bigger. As the first Aboriginal person to train in and graduate from the musical theatre academy, Draper was well on his way to becoming that role model he never had.
“I’m very proud to be the first of many Aboriginal people that — I hope — go through [WAAPA] in the future,” he said. “It definitely made my time take on a different meaning other than just being there to train for myself and for my own artistry. Then I realised my purpose was to pave the way, to be the first to make a difference. That’s what I think my stamp on this industry is — to try and impact change and have those meaningful conversations about what it is to be Aboriginal in this industry.”
When the curtains raise on Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Crown Theatre for the first time on Sunday, February 26th, Draper would have come full circle. Stepping into the role of Toulouse-Lautrec — the loveable artist and bohemian who teams up with Christian to try to sell his musical to the Moulin Rouge — he’ll be performing mainstage, right back where his journey as a leader and role model began. Following on from the enigmatic Timomatic, who played the role in the sold-out Sydney season, Draper is excited to bring the part into his own.
“It’s been a really interesting journey with the character of Toulouse. I’m reframing [the role] in a way that is Jarrod now; in a way that I’m able to take ownership, while also paying homage to the lovely people that have played it before me. I’m taking bits and pieces of that, but then also bringing some Aboriginality to it as well”. It’s just another layer added to the dazzling chaos of the multi-Tony-award-winning show.
A high-octane love story based on Baz Luhrmann’s hit film, Moulin Rouge! The Musical envelops you in splendour and romance, eye-popping excess, glitz, and grandeur.
As the lights dim and the familiar bassline of Welcome to the Moulin Rouge kicks in, you’re transported back to an early 1900s Montmartre, where bohemians are rubbing shoulders with aristocrats, and forbidden love is brewing. It’s glitz, and it’s glam, and it’s all set to a score that’ll have you dancing in your seat. “It’s the plot and the songs that we know and love — like Roxanne and Your Song — but then you’ve got a modernised version of that movie as well. There are new songs that are added from artists like Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Adele”.
When asked what Perth can expect of the show, Draper puts it best: “It’s like a train. But, once you start, it doesn’t stop. Put your seatbelt on and off you go. It’s madness. They can expect the movie that we all know and love, but times 1000. It’s dialled up to 1000”.
The Perth season of Moulin Rouge! The Musical opens at Crown Theatre on February 26th and runs for nine weeks. Tickets are available for purchase through Ticketmaster and start from as little as $69.00. Alternatively, try your luck on the Moulin Rouge! The Musical Lottery for a chance to purchase tickets at an exclusive $30.00 price (available only on the TodayTix app).
Feature image credit: Michelle Grace Hunder