By Luke Voogt
An online audience can be more “intimate” than a live crowd, according to Geelong musical theatre power couple Natalie O’Donnell and Simon Gleeson.
“In some ways, it breaks down the barrier between the stage and the audience,” O’Donnell told the Independent.
“It feels a little bit more intimate than being in a massive theatre.”
The couple returns to the Geelong stage on Friday in the Where Creativity Meets Home live-streaming series for the first time since COVID-19 hit.
O’Donnell and Gleeson have starred in scores of musicals across Australia and London’s West End, including Mamma Mia and Les Misérables
But being mostly home-bound during the pandemic, they have been keeping a close eye on fellow thespians and musicians performing in Geelong Arts Centre’s free live-streaming series.
“From what I’ve seen it’s quite interactive with the audience,” O’Donnell said.
“The people that I have spoken to that have done it said it’s such a great experience.
“Geelong Art Centre’s technical team have trained themselves with all these new skills to bring this digital medium to audiences.”
Her husband looked forward to seeing feedback from their audience.
“Instead of getting applause you get digital [comments, likes and messages],” he said.
“You can choose to turn them off – some people find it very confronting. But usually it’s a really nice thing.
“Generally, the people that tune in are lovers of music and know what they’re clicking on.”
“Hopefully there’s not too many angry faces,” O’Donnell laughed.
“I’m sure my mum will be very kind with her comments.
“It’s our connection with the audience when the audience can’t be there.”
The couple has done some shows from home during the pandemic.
“Originally everyone was doing Zooms in their loungerooms,” Gleeson said.
They also joined a couple of larger live-streaming gigs in Melbourne before the city went into stage 4 lockdown.
“We just did a song here and there with those ones,” Gleeson said.
“We were all in masks pretty much until we walked on stage, so it was a different feeling.”
But Friday’s free live-stream will be their first onstage appearance solely as a couple since the pandemic began.
“We’ve called it Live in your Loungeroom,” O’Donnell said.
“Hopefully people can snuggle in on Friday and watch.
“You might be cooking your dinner and have it on in the background or you might sit down to watch it as if you’re actually in the theatre.”
The couple will perform a mix of music theatre favourites and jazz classics from their extensive stage careers.
“It’s so lovely to be in a theatre space and have an opportunity to perform again,” O’Donnell said.
“It feels like a privilege – it’s not lost on us that a lot of people are doing it tough.”
The show also was about giving hope to performers and theatre-lovers alike, Gleeson said.
“Theatres are weirdly sacred spaces for us performers. Whether you’re doing it digitally or live, your heart rate goes up when you perform.
“There is an end in sight and people will get back to seeing live theatre again one day.”
And with their children Molly, 13, and Rafferty, nine, showing signs of the “theatre bug” the couple hope they could join them onstage in the near future for a live-stream, or even a live audience.
“We’ll work on that for next time,” Gleeson said.