Singing in the Streets

Busking has a strong connection with Melbourne. It is difficult to walk around the city and not stumble upon a talented musician plying his trade to the myriad of people walking past – or a giant bunny playing the electric bass. But this connection with busking also applies to the new musical Once that is about to hit Melbourne, a connection which will hopefully leverage some new audience members.

London Cast of Once Busking in the Underground

London Cast of Once Busking in the Underground

Once is a rather different show. Devoid of immense changing sets and a lavish pit orchestra, this production is about as diametrically opposed to the current shows playing in Melbourne as is possible. Set in an Irish pub, the musical tells the story of an Irish busker on the verge of giving up his music until he meets a generous Czech immigrant who inspires and believes in him.

Based on the incredibly popular independent film and winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, this show has been a huge success on Broadway and the West End winning numerous awards. However, despite this success, it has never forgotten the roots of the story – something which may account for its tremendous popularity.

The countdown has begun for the Melbourne production which opens on October 4th. And that means that it is time for some publicity. So this week, some of the stars of the upcoming show headed down to the buskers’ paradise, Degraves Street, in a bid to win an honourary busking licence from the City of Melbourne.

This is not the first time that Once has taken to the streets to promote its accessible offering with the West End cast performing at peak hour in the Tube to raise awareness. The stunt always attracts quite a crowd (as the buskers are professional world-class performers) and highlights the new visitor to the entertainment scene, but it also conjures some important connotations that are linked with the show in potential ticket buyers’ minds.

Not many shows could pull off busking as a publicity stunt. Sure, there are outdoor performances at big events such as the Melbourne Cup Carnival and festivals at Federation Square. But I can’t really see The King and I performing in a corner of Flinders Street Station.

Once is different. Due to the stripped down nature of the show and storyline surrounding busking, it is an easy step to go from the Princess Theatre stage to an iconic and edgy Melbourne alleyway. And adding this busking association to the show is invaluable to its future success.

There are many people out there who appreciate music but find that musicals aren’t their cup of tea. We all have our favourite genres and we all have genres that we aren’t particularly partial towards. But in order to get these people into a theatre, there has to be some understanding that this isn’t the traditional high-kicking chorus line kind of show.

Through appearing in unconventional locations and busking to people on the street, this show is able to achieve these associations. The show features widely enjoyed pub-style music. It is more similar to buskers on the street than it is to the big budget Lion King. And going to see the show is quite unlike any other theatrical experience.

This street-side sample of the entertainment is incredibly important for widening the catchment of potential audience members and then convincing them that this offering will be right up their alley. It will always initially face difficulties getting the ideal demographic into the theatre, but publicity strategies like this one are the perfect first step towards removing these potential barriers before some incredible word of mouth can kick in!