Video transcript
Director's Commentary - Beyond Spectacular - Interview with Featured Artist Arlo Sim

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(Music playing)


ARLO SIM: (SINGING) There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy. They say he travelled very far, very far, over land and sea. And, he said, the greatest joy you'll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.

Good day. My name's Arlo Sim. I graduated from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts last year, so 2019. I've been a featured artist in the Schools Spectacular from 2017 to 2019. I think my first immediate reaction of finding out that I did get into Spec in 2017, I envisioned myself on that stage, and I was so scared. I was thinking, 'How on Earth am I going to be able to perform up there?'

Seeing performers up there years beforehand - in Arena Choir and Core Choir - I tried to envision myself up there. But, it was difficult because I didn't really have a lot of experience in performing to large amounts of people. So, I think the main feeling was fear, but also a level of excitement and hope that I would grow as a musician.

SONJA SJOLANDER: Arlo's a fantastic example of what a Schools Spectacular journey can be all about. He just grew and grew through those years. And, to watch the maturity and the sophistication and the polish that he had in his final year of Schools Spectacular, it was just really heartwarming. I feel really proud when I watch these kids really grow and blossom through the opportunity, and to see them make so much of every moment.

And, he took every bit of feedback on board. And, he really, he really tried to develop himself and improve himself, I think artistically, personally, and obviously in that professional arena. He was just an absolute joy. It's incredible to look back at Arlo at his first audition. I'm just remembering what he was like then, such a cute little fellow, and really didn't have a clue about that big arena performance world.

ARLO SIM: (SINGING) Oh, so you're weak or I am, you doubt I'll bother reading into it. I probably won't, left to my own devices. But that's the difference in our opinions.

SONJA SJOLANDER: But, he already had that innate musicality, a real incredible personal charisma and an innate music awareness, that I think it comes from his family's experience. And, he'd cultivated that through his own school experiences and through The Arts Unit experiences. And, I could see that he was hungry for more.

ARLO SIM: (SINGING) . . . you're feeling right at home. I wanna make you move with confidence. I wanna . . .

It's hard being under that much pressure at the auditions. And, I couldn't help comparing myself to the other singers. But, I think you've just got to step back and look at it and say you're all there for the same reasons. And, if you don't get in, you don't get in. It's not your fault. And, just knowing that you tried your best, that's enough. There's lots of factors that go into choosing a specific person for an audition. And, sometimes it's out of your control.

SONJA SJOLANDER: He was nervous. [laughs] And, that's completely understandable. But, he was also really inward. He was swaying. And, his eyes didn't know where to look. And, he was caught up in his own headspace of how to get through this thing. And, I say that because where he got to was the opposite of that. The shoulders are down. The stance is strong. The eye focus is there. He knows all about the ins and outs of the industry, of the business. He's performing to the live crowd and to that TV audience. And, he's just got it nailed.

And, that didn't just happen. That was years and years of him working hard for it, and figuring it out, and absorbing all those experiences and all those techniques, and coming up as a really polished performer. And, I think that's what some people forget when you go into the audition process. We're not necessarily looking for that polished result then and there. We're looking for someone who's ready to be polished, to be nurtured, to grow, to develop, and if they come with some strong foundation, but with a propensity to learn, then you've got the gift of the making of the artist right in your hands.

It's funny because I think a lot of students come in, and they're worried that they're not going to be what we're looking for. But, actually the opposite is true, because we have a show. And, we're desperate to find the people. [laughs] If we don't find the right people to cast for the show, we don't have a show. So, when you walk into the room, we're going, 'Geez, I hope you're it. I hope you're the right one. We really need you.'

And so, we're absolutely backing you 100% going, 'Please be everything that we think you can be, because that works for you. And, that works for us.' So, I think it's a matter of flipping the mindset. And, rather than going, 'Oh, they don't want me,' walk in going, 'They absolutely made me for this.' And, that's what you offer to us.

CHOIR: (SINGING) So, change yourself into a towering church, and I'll be your bright chandelier.

ARLO SIM: So, I've been part of The Arts Unit Senior Singers and Junior Singers since probably Year 6. I feel like that's a really important part of my musical abilities. And, it laid a foundation and stuff to build on. I think choral singing is really important, being pressured to blend with people and trying to make one sound out of 50 voices. But, yes, Singers really helped. I feel like that was a segue into being part of Schools Spectacular, because they did do Core Choir and Arena Choir. And, they do auditions for that. And, that was my first - I dipped my toe into it. And, I just loved it. Yeah, that was where it all kicked off.

SONJA SJOLANDER: I think what you can see from Arlo, as well, is that he took every opportunity he could to grow. So, he was looking for opportunities in different areas of the performing arts, not just at school, not just at community, but anything he could get his hands on to develop his skills and experiences. And, he kept building on that and putting it into the next performance aspect that he had. That's why his growth was so exponential. And, in the audition process, that's what you're looking for, somebody who's ready to take every opportunity onboard.

ARLO SIM: Yes, I did Solo Vocal Camp for 3 years. And, I think that was a really big step for me. It was quite early on. But, I feel like it led me to delve into not only singing the song well, but also analysing the lyrics. Our tutors would make us go through the lyrics and find bits of emotion that related to us. And, I think that was one of the most powerful things that I've used, because the whole song is connecting with an audience. And, without that, you're just singing a song.

It was really good being able to do open mic night, performing in front of a bunch of people. It's the same age, loving the exact same thing that you love. And, you're all passionate about it. And, I think the support from not only the students, but also the tutors, was also really good. And, I think it's super powerful. And, I think it was really important for me as a musician.

SONJA SJOLANDER: One thing about The Arts Unit activities is it offers students the opportunity to learn and grow amongst like-minded peers, so people of their own age, with their own passions, with a similar mindset and hunger for growth. And, that's a fantastic cultivating area for you to really feel supported. One really great, supremely valuable opportunity is the Solo Vocal Camp because it cultivates solo vocal talent with a view to enabling these students to be more confident, more prepared, have more techniques and skills under their belt for large-scale performance events or leadership events, like the lead in a musical, or the lead of a rock band or something.

When I attend camp I'm blown away by the energy in the space and the camaraderie and the spirit and the support and respect and enthusiasm. It's just absolutely infectious. You can't help but just grin from ear to ear when you go into that camp space. And, I can see why the students get so much out of it. The other thing that I always tell students is to say 'yes' to opportunities. Even if it feels daunting at first, if you say 'yes' to an opportunity, and that opens a door for you, you just never know where that might take you, where that might lead.

One classic example of taking opportunities - saying 'yes' to something that you don't even know exactly what you're in for - is when Arlo said 'yes' when I said to him, 'Would you be open to flying in the air as we open 'The Greatest Show' while you're singing that high tenor line? And, I looked into his eyes. And, with just a small amount of fear and a much healthier amount of opportunity, he went, 'yes.'

ARLO SIM: I was very excited to be told that I was getting put in a harness. I thought, 'Well, this is a bit of fun. This tracks a bit of excitement into the show.' Little did I know how difficult it would be. It was so hard, having no support, no grounding. That was really hard to sing the high notes up there. But, I think my first reaction was very excited. But yeah, then it sunk in a few days later that I would be flown across the stage in the first few minutes of the show [laughs] while singing.

I think as it went on, it definitely got easier. One of the first times I went up midshow, just before I went up, I decided it would be a good idea to drink a whole bottle of water. And [laughs] I started going up. And, I felt the liquid in my body come up to my chest. And, I was leaning over, and I thought, 'Oh no. It can't happen. It can't come out.' [laughs] But yeah, it definitely did get easier once the shows went on. And, I felt a lot more comfortable doing different things, leaning forward more and - but I think the look on the people's faces, that I was rising above, in front of me, that fuelled it for me to put on a good show.

We only ended up doing the rehearsal for the harness lift itself, I'd say 3 nights before the show. So, we didn't have a lot of time - I didn't have a lot of time to practise it and sing up there with it. So, that added a lot of pressure into the works. And, I knew I just had to get it right. But yeah, it was definitely a highlight of the show.

SONJA SJOLANDER: It's an incredible challenge to be involved in the Schools Spectacular on any level. And the featured artists, that's only amplified. It's not about just singing a song. There is so much groundwork that is done to enable the layers of that performance. And, then on top of that, there are so many layers to enable the spectacular nature of the event to occur. We've got people that are flying through the arena on aerial challenges. Olina Loau, when she did that fantastic piece, 'Never Enough,' and she was elevated a huge number of metres above the floor in this gigantic dress. I've only seen Kate Miller-Heidke do it since.

And, to watch her take that challenge on at the young age of I think 15 or 16 and still belt out this incredible song, that was very genuine and very heartfelt, is absolutely mind blowing. She's harnessed in underneath that. You can't see it. But she's got her bike shorts on. I don't think she's even got shoes on because it's all about that outer layer and what comes from inside out. And, she's got the click track in her ear. And, she's trying to be aware of the musicality in Steve's direction as the Musical Director.

She's got the challenges of the balance, so she doesn't tip too far forwards, or back. She's raised to a certain point. And, then there's actually a little bit of a jolt when it hits that peak point, which you can't afford to hear in either her sound or in her face. But, she has to keep going with this incredibly professional aplomb. And, she does. She nails it.

And, then you've got the 3 girls in the opening of 'Stars,' who get lowered down on this massive industrial platform, that are showing all sorts of sass and attitude, akin to a pop culture performance. Just incredible, the level of maturity and sophistication and multitalented aspects of that role. And, we give them the challenges because they're capable of it.

And, if they're heading into the industry, that's the kind of professional prowess that we aspire for them to have. And, we know, because the industry gets back to us to say that Schools Spectacular is an incubator for young Australian talent. And, we're very proud that we give them that groundwork and that foundation and these opportunities to really learn and grow, so that they become very capable professional artists.

[Music playing]

And the challenges aren't just technical or aerial. The challenges can be really personal too. Some of this material that the students are singing about, it really taps into their vulnerability and what they've personally dealt with in their life. And, don't forget, most of them are going through adolescence. Goodness me, add puberty on top of that, that's quite a challenge for every single one of them. And, some of the material needs them to really be brave about that, and to really be confident and comfortable within their own skin, to be able to relate to one another and tell a story or connect with another performer on stage authentically. Think about the kids at this age and what we're asking them to do. That's a very sincere and very personal challenge.


ARLO SIM: (SINGING) You know I want you. It's not a secret I try to hide. You know you want me. So, don't keep saying our hands are tied.

I think 'Rewrite the Stars' would definitely be a favourite of mine. It's a hard song to sing. It's quite high. But it's a beautiful song. The melody is amazing.

(SINGING) Stop me, if I decide that you're my destiny? What if we rewrite the stars, say you were made to be mine? Nothing . . .

SONJA SJOLANDER: This particular moment is really special. And, you can see the connection between them. It's very real. It's very authentic. And, they worked hard for that. The trust that they put in one another was extraordinary. And, I'm so proud of both Arlo and Olina for the faith they gave one another, for the way they backed themselves, and they worked together with their energy and really put themselves on show there - a very mature thing to do. And, the results are absolutely stunning.

OLINA LOAU: (SINGING) You think it's easy. You think I don't wanna run to you.

SONJA SJOLANDER: I think it's incredible that Arlo and Olina maintained their focus and their personal story, which was a new story they developed, but related to 'The Greatest Showman.' While out there on the floor, you have the incredible talents - the featured dancers Caitlin and Billy - recreating their moment related to Romeo and Juliet. And the storylines, the trust, the camaraderie, the support of all 4 of them working together was just absolutely out of this world.

ARLO SIM: It was super hard trying to just get out of your comfort zone and do it. And, I think Sonja made it quite easy because she just said, 'You guys have just got to do it. You're professionals now. And, it doesn't mean anything. But, you've just got to put your head forward and do it.'

ARLO AND OLINA: (SINGING) Say that it's possible. And, how do we rewrite the stars, say you were made to be mine?

I think we both felt a bit uncomfortable at the start. It was a bit hard to get that up close and personal. But, it just grew as a performance. And, we knew that we've been told to do a job. And, we're going to do it. And, we've just got to be mature about it and just suck it up. But, it was definitely difficult to - it was definitely a difficult thing to do.

SONJA SJOLANDER: It's incredible just how easy they make it look. But, really they're working so hard for that. And, that's what the artistry is about as well. If you can make it look easy, that anyone goes, 'Oh I could do that, I want to do that' - that's amazing. But, you have to put in the hard work to make it look that easy. And, I think the fact that they do that so well is one of the reasons why that will always be one of the most special moments of Schools Spectacular.


[Music playing]

ARLO SIM: (SINGING) There was a boy, a very strange, enchanted boy. They say he travelled very far, very far over land and sea. A little shy and sad of eye . . .

I definitely had favourites throughout the show, multiple. But, my Number 1 was definitely 'Nature Boy.' Being able to perform next to John Foreman. I have so much respect for him. He's just so skilled and knows exactly what he's doing. And, it was so much fun being able to connect with him and vibe with him on stage because that's what performing is. Performers vibe with each other. And, it's a lot of fun. Especially that song, it was a lot of fun being able to improvise, and improvise with him, and take ideas from what he's doing melodically and put it in my own line.


SONJA SJOLANDER: One of the most inspiring things every year is to unearth the talent, to find what that particular year, that cohort offers up. And, even though Arlo had been with us for a number of years, he had never come to us in an audition with a song like this. And, we'd never seen his jazz skills and his scat singing the way he did. And, when we heard that, we went, that just has to be on the main stage. So, giving him that opportunity, that vehicle, that platform to showcase his talent was an absolute joy.

And, we're always looking for that. We're looking for the unique special capacity that the students have, so that we can showcase that to the world. And, we can really serve them in giving them that vehicle. It's just as important as every single one of the 5 and a half thousand who get so much out of their one moment in the spotlight to showcase themselves, to stand up and be proud of themselves and to feel good about being a part of something that's so much bigger than what they are.

But, they are part of that. And, together we have achieved these results. That's what's 'spectacular' about it. That's what's so mind blowing and life changing. And, that's why we come back year after year to do it again.

ARLO SIM: (SINGING) . . . over land and sea. A little shy . . .

I've always loved performing. And, I think I would always find myself on The Arts Unit website, looking at all the different clips and all the different opportunities, having jazz orchestras and jazz big bands and all of that kind of stuff, choirs, junior choir, senior choir - I think there's something for everyone there. There's clips on there of performances which I would find myself watching throughout the night. I definitely would spend a lot of time on The Arts Unit website. And, I'd encourage everyone to have a look and see if there's anything that resonates with you. And, have a listen. Have a look.

(SINGING) . . . and be loved in return.



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