Dusk Masthead

I don’t need a hero

Emma Grey

“I don’t need a hero. I can save my own world.”

There was a moment before last week’s opening night of the musical I’ve co-created with composer, Sally Whitwell, where I stood up the back near the sound desk and thought, ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ I looked at the extraordinary staging (donated by Infinite), the concentration on the faces of the rookie student crew operating complex lighting, sounds and effects and the lights in the eyes of the excited cast who were about to portray my imagined characters on stage for the first time, while the expectant audience poured in through the doors… and I was nervous (understatement!)

Would this work?

If it doesn’t work, what does that mean about all the countless hours and hopes  and lost sleep invested in this creative project as a whole, over the last four years?

None of this is necessary! It’s all made up and out of my head (story) and Sal’s head (music). We could all be at home on the couch watching Netflix and not putting ourselves out here and risking potential flopping/criticism.

This wasn’t an exercise in being deliberately self-deprecating. This was genuine fear. Because this project has always meant more to me than being just another book.

Creativity has filled part of the enormous void left by my husband after his death last year. As I’ve plummeted to the depths of grief, Unrequited and my hopes for its creative success has always been right beside me, in the dark, while I was desperate for light. Whether it was the book or the show or the sequel I’m writing now, it was always there to escape into.

I had more invested in the musical working than I realised, until those moments standing there before it started. If this didn’t work … I didn’t want to imagine how scary that concept was. It wasn’t about ‘failing’ (I’ve done that and bounced back plenty of times). It was about the ‘whole’ of Unrequited, which has always been bigger than its parts.

The lights went down, then up, and what unfolded exceeded our wildest dreams. This school workshop production which, this time last week, we hadn’t run through from beginning to end with people still gripping their scripts and learning lines, burst onto stage and just worked.

unrequited-feature

It more than worked, actually. I’ve never been a part of something quite like it. Each performance existed inside a bubble where we all seemed to suspend disbelief and enter a fantasy world where Sally lavished her spectacular music on the audience, and pulled us into my story. It felt warm and light and uplifting and joyous and magical.

There is a line, sung by the lead, Kat Hartland, near the end. She’s been horrendously betrayed with the theft of her original song and let down (she thinks) by the boy she’s fallen for. As he scrambles to fix it, her best friend explains to Kat that he’s trying to rescue her.

She sings:

I can see my future
Now I begin to know
What I’m here for
I don’t need a hero
I can save my own world
I can go it alone
I’m building my own armour
I can defend my own

It got me, every time. There’s something about watching my character sing these lyrics written by Sal, after I’ve stood in front of the audience and dedicated the performance to the man with whom I was travelling through life… I was just covered in goosebumps—bizarrely galvanised by my own fictional character’s strength of character, and by a seismic shift in the direction of her career, and mine. The newfound ambition and sense of purpose that I shared with her in that moment felt extraordinary.

Then we’d come to the end, and starry-eyed tweens would approach the cast and creators for autographs and a chat and, in every case, their excitement wasn’t about the gorgeous romance in the story (which we crush on, hard), but about our careers: performing, writing, composing, playing. Their questions were about creativity and inspiration. They wanted tips and ideas, and shared with us about their dreams and journals and projects. It was magical.

Everything we’d hoped for about the project was coming true: our strong female characters, played and written by strong females (who have all the normal doubts and fears and enormous challenges to face), were inspiring creative young girls right in front of our eyes. For an hour or two, we’d all left everything that worries us at the door, and participated in something exhilarating.

The wonderful cast from St Clare’s and St Edmund’s colleges, directed by the powerhouse that is their teacher, Vanessa Johnson have, quite simply, handed us our dream. We’re intent on taking this show as far as you can take a show in this world.

We can see our future.
Now we begin to know what we’re here for.
We don’t need a hero. 

Read a review of our opening night here. We’d love to speak with anyone who might like to join us on this ride—schools, theatre groups, TV and film producers, sponsors—anyone. We’ve come this far, and the learning curve ahead is very steep, just the way we like it. Thank you to absolutely everyone who was involved. 

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son.

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