On the Couch with Andrew Strano

Andrew Strano Arts Review On the CouchWho is Andrew Strano?
Ooh! That’s me! I’m him! I’m a writer, lyricist, improviser, director and a musical theatre performer. But, as is the case for lots of creative in Australia, I’m also a teacher, lecturer and a box office attendant. And a Harry Potter obsessive. This is beginning to sound like a demented Tinder bio. I guess most significantly I’m one of the two Artists In Residence at Monash University for the Pratt foundation this year alongside Lucy O’Brien, which means I’m doing a lot more writing and teaching (We’re putting together a brand new musical called Jack Of Two Trades) … It does mean I’m doing a lot less box office work though (sorry gang!).

What would you do differently to what you do now?
Right now at this moment? Sleep more. I feel like I could use about 8 more hours in every day. Writing a musical takes over every single bit of your life, and my sanity is starting to suffer. If I had that time I’d use it to sleep, but also to read! And see movies! And have a social life! Other than that though? I wouldn’t change very much at all. I know this might be insufferable to hear, but I love what I’m doing, even if it’s punishing me at the moment, it’s super rewarding. I’m writing a musical with a team of creatives I love and respect (shout out to Lucy who’s the ridiculously overqualified composer and my actual rock) and I’m also teaching (my other great love) – and in a field I’m passionate about – songwriting! So… Sleep more, but also do everything I currently am. I need a time turner.

Who inspires you and why?
My Grandfather, Jim Lawrie. He’s always had a way of saying things gently, and in few words – I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m not exactly succinct all the time. He’s a really beautiful example of positive masculinity. Caring. He’s patient and firm. He gives the best hugs, and sneezes the loudest I’ve ever heard. I have a lot of childhood memories of being squeezed in one of those hugs. Perhaps most wonderfully, he makes you feel like he’s genuinely listening to you. I’ve also seen him do something amazing, which is listen fully to an argument I know he disagrees with, and then ask them questions. He treata everyone equally. I love him a lot. On a more professional level, I have so much respect for Stephen Sondheim. I’m not alone here… He’s pretty widely accepted as a revolutionary force in musical theatre. With Sondheim it’s his strict technique, and his slightly grumpy honesty… His ability to write flashy lyrics that still feel like the characters he’s writing for.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Be more like my Grandad. And… Write stories that make people feel things and see the world from other perspectives. Help people realize we’re not as different as we think. And give more people bagels. I love bagels.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Hahaha speaking of bagels! NEW YORK. It’s amazing. Honestly, sitting in a Broadway theatre when the lights come down is like church to me. I cry. A lot. There’s something special about sitting in the dark with a bunch of strangers and feeling things with them. Experiencing a story with them. Being affected with them. And the Bagels. Dear me, the bagels.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Anything but the wheel! Honestly, the cafés. I’m a vegetarian, so my recommendations are coloured by that, but you should all go to St. Ali’s in South Melbourne (get ‘My Mexican Cousin’ – amazing corn fritters with Halloumi – i.e. HEAVEN ON A PLATE), Bowery To Williamsburg (The waffles! And the bagels!) or Manchester Press (The rainbow bagel!), but my new fave is the Serotonin Eatery. The gingerbread latte is earth shatteringly good. Or the bars! I don’t drink (it makes me vomit horribly. Too much information?), but The Butterfly Club is so wonderful. Lucy and I run the Piano Bar there on Fridays and the staff are some of my favorite people in the whole world. I’ve loved it since it was in South Melbourne. The reason I take people to these places – 1) It means I get to go, and 2) I love sharing things I love!

What are you currently reading?
I just finished the last installment in Robin Hobb’s epic 20 book “Assassin” series and can not recommend them enough. Epic Fantasy at it’s best. As soon as I get that time turner I’ll be diving into Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology”. Terry Pratchett is a favourite too. And it might go without saying, but Harry Potter. The audio books! Read by Stephen Fry! Stunning!

What are you currently listening to?
Sara Bareilles has an amazing live album Brave Enough. She’s so likeable. And talented. Oh gosh is she talented. The first draft of the book of Jack of Two Trades was almost entirely written listening to this album on repeat. Ok, I just checked my itunes info – I’ve literally listened to the album 61 times. That’s too much, right? What else… Ed Sheeran, Say Lou Lou – the new album by HAIM (this has bumped Sara actually)…

Recently Lucy O’Brien and I have become obsessed with how comedy musicals incorporate and ape other genres as well as reference other musicals to make things funnier (so far it mostly seems to be in the orchestrations), so I’ve been listening to Avenue Q, Legally Blonde, The Book Of Mormon… I’ve also been listening to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum a lot for inspiration. Those songs are so simple!

Oh and PODCASTS! I’m obsessed with Guys we F*cked, and Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History is elegant, clever, funny and insightful. He’s a wonderful storyteller. And he’s clearly as obsessed with food as I am. His episode on French fries is amazing.

Happiness is?
Time with people I love, and time doing things I love. And Bagels. Something that’s helped a lot recently has been detaching the concept of “being successful” from the concept of “being happy”. I find that doing the things I love is better as it’s own reward and that focusing on the process rather than the product means less pressure, more enjoyment and a better outcome.

What does the future hold for you?
I don’t know! I’m with Hermione Granger on this one… I don’t really trust attempts at telling the future. I know that I’d love to write more musicals, even though it’s one of the harder things I’ve ever done. And I’d like to teach that more too. I’m thinking about some time in NYC, but who knows.

Andrew has written the Book and Lyrics for Jack of Two Trades – which will be presented in the Drama Theatre – Monash University: 19 – 22 October 2017. For more information, visit: www.mapa.monash.edu for details.

Image: Andrew Strano (supplied)