People and Places
29/10/2020
Musical theatre creates cultural connectivity

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Mark Featherby annoys the crap out of his wife Georgie. While singing in the shower, that is. Warbling takes centre stage in this family’s life, where theatre, law and midwifery merge energetically to form a serendipitous flow of performance. Laughter plays a starring role too. Moving to Red Hill in the early ‘80s and now settled in Mount Eliza, Mark makes time for things that he loves even when there is none. Lunging across lawyering commitments, not-for-profit theatre interests and family obligations, this 66-year-old has no intentions of slowing down. You can tell he enjoys a challenge as his voice charges down the phone: 

“I have a law firm in Rosebud with my business partner Greg Russo and it’s been good to me. I mainly handle commercial concerns and work across different areas. I wasn’t a wonderful student. My father was a great sportsman and I was mad for it too. I played cricket with the Melbourne Cricket Club and was offered my articles after graduation with a firm in Hastings – as long as I agreed to captain the Hastings cricket team. My son Harry is becoming a lawyer too.”

This Altona-born and raised boy with three children began singing lessons when his two young daughters, Jessica and Madeleine, began theirs at eight and five respectively. Mark continues: “Georgie and I were at a local production in Frankston in 1999 and there was an ad about auditioning for Les Misérables with PLOS – Peninsula Light Operatic Society. I told her I was going to start singing lessons too and we – both the girls and I – were going to be in Les Misérables. Georgie, who is a midwife, thought that was hilarious as she is a classically trained singer, but we all got in. I established not-for-profit Stella Entertainment in 2003 and produced Paris – A Rock Odyssey with the help of Jon English at the National Theatre in St Kilda. We revived that show in 2017 at the Melbourne Recital Centre and Madeleine played Helen of Troy. There’s been multiple musicals produced in between, including The Mapmaker’s Opera, which premiered off-Broadway at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2014. I’ve always been a supporter of theatre and am dedicated to promoting Australian work and talent. I now work with Jonathan Madgwick and a great team under the title of Music Theatre Melbourne.”

Whether Mark’s walking the streets of Mount Eliza with an audio book or hitting a round of golf, this admirer of  The Book of Mormon and Come from Away musicals is always thinking on his feet. Music Theatre Melbourne has recently been running a writers’ competition under the banner of COVID: THE MUSICAL and it’s down to three. Could be just what the doctor ordered. Ha! Judged by an Australian panel plus mega musical theatre composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, of Wicked, Godspell and Pippin fame, the winner will have their work produced and staged. Exciting.

Mark wraps it up: “The brief for the competition was completely non-prescriptive,” he laughs. “The performing arts were already facing huge difficulties before COVID-19. There has to be new ways of doing things coming out of this. Perhaps combining performance with technology or more smaller productions. Who knows?”

Not me. But the show simply must go on. Livelihoods and cultural connectivity are at stake.

LIZ ROGERS 

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