As someone who thrives on being meticulously organised and methodical on finishing tasks, the description for Lou Wall's Melbourne International Comedy Festival show sent shivers running down my spine. In 18 years, Wall as amassed an unfinished to-do list of 923 items. And they have been haunting her. In Lousical the Musical, she sets about finally checking these items off her list.
The number might be extreme, but Wall assures me that it is not as horrific as I imagine it to be and she is optimistic of culling the list down to zero. "I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds! I have been making to-do lists since 2002 - when I was 5 years old. So naturally there are lists from the early 2000s that have totally meaningless tasks on them such as “find a toy for show and tell” and “pray for grandma”," she recalls. "Then I’d say there are roughly 500 tasks that I haven’t completed but are no longer relevant, for example from Year 12: “Get a 99 ATAR” and “research biomed uni courses”. That leaves me with 200-ish left to get done – I will be completing all of these in the show. Although this seems as if it's a super chaotic existence, I am a perfectionist and I strive towards a high level of organisation, at any one time I don’t think I’d have more than 10 pressing things to do."
However there are some items on her list that she thinks are better off forgotten about, for acceptable reasons too. "When I moved to Melbourne I worked an awful hospitality job in a café literally run by Aussie mafia overlord Mick Gatto (Mick was really nice though). It was not the best job and after two years I plucked up enough courage to walk out," Wall recalls. "But I was in such a hurry that I didn't collect my pay for the final month I worked. That has been on my to-do list for years, hanging over me like a burden. The pay most certainly doesn’t exist anymore, it’s probably been used to fund a drug cartel or something, but I always wished I went back and got it."
Wall has been involved in numerous productions and often in various capacities, including performer, writer, producer and director. While performing was her sole initial passion, over time, she's discovered a new outlook on working in the arts. "I used to think that being on stage was my #everything, but the older I get, the more I realise that maybe it was the key to unlocking all of the other juicy roles. Many people in theatre work a bunch of different roles out of necessity, e.g. they can’t find a director so they’ll do it themselves, or there is no budget for a producer so they’ll take it on. Personally, I love working them all!" she tells me. "Earlier this year Jean Tong, James Gales and I had a development of our new show Flat Earthers: The Musical at the Arts Centre Melbourne and it was the first time I wasn't there as an actor. I still wrote it, directed the music and helped produce it, but I wasn’t performing and I was like "wowwww you can be in theatre and not have performance nerves?" I’m kinda addicted to that feeling now and looking forward to palming off my work to better actors! It’s a thrill!"
In true dedication to her art, when asked how she creates a show, if the songs guide the narrative or vice-versa, Wall chooses to answer using a list:
"1. I always start with a title. Contentious, but I’ve never written a show without having a title determined.
2. Then I develop a concept for the show.
3. Then I write a list of everything I want the audience to feel, almost like an intention for the show. I never want to do something without purpose. In Lousical the Musical, I want it to make people who suffer from procrastination anxiety to feel seen, but I also want them to be entertained and for it to feel like it's a mini pop concert.
4. Then I have an existential crisis, procrastinate for a few weeks and consider cancelling the whole thing. This is an integral part of my process.
5. Then I craft the songs – music and lyrics always at the same time, always in chronological order. I’m a perfectionist, so my first full draft tends to be the one!
6. Then I’ll make a trashy music demo on my laptop or a voice recording of me playing it live.
7. After that’s done, I’ll send it to a friend/co-writer to master and produce the track. If it’s going to be played live then I will rehearse the shit out of it.
8. After I’ve written the songs (for a 60 minute show I generally go for 6-8), I’ll put them in an order, reshuffle and repeat until I’ve found its flow.
9. Then I’ll add the in-between bits. Sometimes I use previews to figure this out, improvise a little and lock it down for opening night.
10. And that’s it!
But I will say the hardest part for me is definitely starting to write, getting past the fear of the blank page – if I can beat procrastination then the world is my oyster. I talk a lot about procrastination in my show. It’s a big theme."
And Wall doesn't lie. Even when she's backstage an hour before she's due to go up, the Queen of Procrastination is working as hard as ever. "If it’s a show I’ve written, I am usually rewriting absolutely everything, making bold costume changes and trying to memorise my lines whilst putting through comp tickets for that night at the box office. It’s chaos," she says. "I used to despise this pre-performance madness and put myself down for being unorganised, but as I have gotten to understand my anxiety better, I realise that it’s this chaos makes me tick. I need that high octane, stressful environment to produce the goods. Just before I go onstage I will drink a can of coke (I hate this habit but whatever) and stretch my hamstrings. I really must stop drinking Coke though because it makes me burp A LOT, but that’s also part of my charm."
1) When did you realise you were funny?
I entered a stand-up competition when I was in Year 12 at my tiny community theatre in the country. I’d never done any sort of comedy before so looking back it was an incredibly naive move that I can’t even imagine making now. Surprisingly it went super well and that’s when I was first like… oh maybe this is a thing?!
2) What is your favourite word?
I love cygnet. Great aurally, rarely used and has a lot of near rhymes so great for rap.
3) If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends assume you had done?
Absolutely 100% be for being a public nuisance. I love to do shit like swim in the NGV fountain and try and get into CBD offices by holding a clipboard and saying I work in “maintenance”. To be honest, it’s shocking I haven’t been locked up yet!
4) If animals could talk, which would be the rudest?
Geese for sure. Cagey, insolent, haughty and aggressive. I have no time for them.
5) Which character from a TV show most reminds you of yourself?
Scooby Doo from the hit series Scooby Doo. Big, wildly chaotic, cowardly and perpetually hungry. But also the titular/eponymous character in his own series because ego, duh.
Venue: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Season: 26 March - 5 April | Tues - Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $22 Conc | $20 Preview and Tightarse Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne International Comedy Festival