A chat with emerging musical theatre artist, Katie Swan, from the contemporary duo ‘Forrester & Swan’ about the future, Japan, firsts and lasts.
Contagious laughter ripples through the small gathering of friends and family eagerly awaiting Forrester & Swan’s garden show. We lounge on mattresses and pillows dimly lit by the string of fairy-lights and lanterns strewn above our heads. A hush falls over the intimate crowd as Katie Swan and Tim Forrester, the talent behind the contemporary musical theatre duo, exit the house and approach the keyboard and microphone arranged a a leg’s stretch before us. Tonight, they’re sharing the most delicious bites of their musicals, Join the Dots and Waves.
“I’m so used to the heavy lights and the feel of being on stage in a theatre, that it’s really special when I get to do a backyard concert. I love that garden concerts are generally so intimate and chilled-out, the vibes I’ve experienced at these types of shows have been really open and loving. You can see everyone’s faces, there aren’t any lights, there are no walls and it’s all pretty natural. I guess I’m just about being real and sharing my music and stories with others. I love the theatre, I studied to be a performer, but I’m always more nervous when doing a show in a theatre,” Swan said.
The 22-year-old creative hailing from Brisbane recently graduated from Federation University’s Arts Academy in Ballarat, where she played a combination of leads and swings in Urinetown, Smash Hit and Thoroughly Modern Millie. “In Ballarat, I changed and grew so much. I guess, by moving to a new city, 1800km from your home where you don’t know a soul, I was kind of forced to grow up in a lot of senses,” Swan said. “I really had to find and cling to my core beliefs and values, and from there I really felt like I started to own who I was.”
When it comes to comparing Brisbane’s emerging art scene to Melbourne’s thundering creative vibe, Swan said, “I really admire that Melbourne has the facilities to cater for more professional theatre at any one time. It’s also a larger scene, there’s so much going on and I, personally, have more contacts down there. I feel like in Melbourne, people just get things done. I could say to Tim, ‘let’s do a show,’ and so we’d call some people and be performing it in a month.”
Forrester & Swan’s garden show was a rare gem of an evening for Brisbane audiences, as even though Melbourne already supports and promotes a bucket-load of independent theatre, its sunny sibling up north could use a kick-starter. “There is a lot of talent in Brisbane, and it’d be awesome to see the independent theatre scene continue to grow here.”
The content of the team’s songs range from sucking at baseball to awkward first dates and your relationship with your parents. No matter what topic they’re covering, each song knows exactly which heartstrings to tug at, either leaving the audience with a wide smile stretched across their lips or eyes flooded with sparkling tears.
For her part in the duo, Swan pens the captivating lyrics, while her other half composes the music. “When writing solo, I generally always write lyrics first. Sometimes a vocal line or a melody will come as I write, but music almost always comes last. When I am working with Tim, however, it is always different… and a pretty organic process, so I wouldn’t say there is a set method to our madness.” From their vast collection of songs, she most treasures Mermaid Song. “It’s got a very different feel from our other songs. The song is about a merwoman toying with the idea of loving a human. It’s pretty dark. I like dark.”
For me personally, Circles takes the cake. The sweet melody of drawn-out notes accompanied by simple, lilting piano chords leaves an abundance of space for the audience to fully comprehend the in-depth storyline. A second song to be highly praised is If You Knew Me. I ‘m evidently not the only person playing it on repeat, as the song was chosen to be published in the AMEB Musical Theatre Grade 3 book, an exciting progression for the team. “We couldn’t tell anyone, as we found out almost a year before it was actually launched, so Tim and I just walked around smiling like idiots for a couple of days, and then we kind of forgot about it with the craziness of third year at the Academy.”
As for the future, Swan is packing up and heading back to Melbourne mid next year to begin a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy, in which she aims to “Use creative art therapy in healing and recovery.”
“I’m passionate about mental health and helping people, and seeing how prevalent mental illness is in the arts, that passion has grown and grown over the past few years.”
As if a Bachelor Degree wasn’t enough, Katie’s also in the early stages of writing a cabaret and planning another show with her partner-in-crime. When it comes to working with Tim, Swan said “I was so happy to find someone with the musical skill I lacked in order to bring so many of my song-visions to life. We make a pretty good team.”
Katie singing Circles
Swan recently returned from a trip to Japan, in which she spent three days hospitalised thanks to a throat infection. Nevertheless, she’s already booked her next trip for early 2017. When I asked her what she loves about the country of cherry blossom trees and chopsticks, her reply was “Everything. Everything.”
“I really love the diversity of the culture and the landscape. One minute you could be looking at the crazy Tokyo skyline, and then you could be on a train through the Japanese mountain districts, completely immersed in nature, and it is absolutely breathtaking either way.”
“When I was there in October, I did a lot of writing. I didn’t have a guitar with me, but you may hear some future songs inspired by my time in Japan.”
Keep an eye out for these future songs or check out their full range of sheet music at:
FIRSTS AND LASTS
First time you met Tim: Apparently we were in the same ‘introduction’ group at university, but I don’t remember him. SO weird. The first time I remember really talking to him was in the student lounge at uni in 2013 at a Wine and Cheese night held by the LGBTQI committee. We joked about teaming up and writing songs together. About 6 months later, we did.
Last time you laughed: This morning I laughed so much at my dog who epically failed at jumping up onto my bed.
First solo you ever sung: The first solo I sung was Super Trouper in the finals for my school talent show… I was 10 and I love Abba and Elton John more than anything. Oh dear.
Last food you ate: Vegan mushroom and spinach pasta. It was pretty amazing.
First broken bone: I broke my right arm when I was 8.
Last emoji you used: The green frog.