Home Grown Song Spotlight

Every two weeks the Home Grown Spotlight will shine the followspot on one of the Aussie originals available for purchase on the Home Grown website. Featuring fun interviews with writers and performers to give everyone some backstage insight into what it takes to create new Australian musical-theatre.

This week we’re talking with . . .

Song: A Thousand Tales

Composer: Shanon Whitelock

Where to find it:

Question Time with Shanon Whitelock

Scheherazade sure had a lot of tales! What are the challenges and benefits of writing a piece based on a pre-existing story?

Certainly a challenge is finding a new and different angle on an old story, but what has attracted Wendy Waters and I to this project are the characters involved in the original folklore. And whilst we’re basing The Last Tale on Scheherazade, her stories and the people around her, we’ve set the show 10 ten years later; Scheherazade has become a beloved, larger-than-life political figure (sort of like Princess Diana) and the King is powerful, but hated. It’s created a fascinating dynamic to play with.

As a composer, writing for the lush soundscape we know of the Middle East has been my favourite part. I’ve been “toying” with all of these ethnic rhythm beds and locational instruments; creating a sound that is somewhere in between traditional Arabian music, the Arabia that Hollywood created through the epic film scores of the 20th century and contemporary musical theatre.

Tell us about working with your collaborator, Wendy Waters! What does your show look like and what is your spin on your source material?

Every collaboration is different. Usually I write music and lyrics and the other person creates the book and dialogue, but Wendy just has this way with words – as though she’s creating a poetic work of art. And it’s perfect for the project! Especially when Scheherazade is singing. You can imagine that a character with such a creative mind would have a fairly specific (and eloquent) voice. 

Setting the show later than the original story has given us a lot of license. The song “A Thousand Tales”, which is sung by Scheherazade, is from the perspective of a brilliant woman who has imagined a thousand adventures as she’s told each story, but never lived one – never fallen in love – never left the palace. As the lyric suggests, it’s like a bird in a cage watching the world and singing about it, but never flying through the air and experiencing it.

What is your favourite piece of advice that you have been given about writing?

I’ve received two pieces of advice that I take with me into every project. Firstly, Lynn Ahrens (of Ahrens & Flaherty) told me in a workshop to “tell the story that you can tell.” She meant that as writers we can’t just tell ANY story, we have to find the stories we understand and can realise and portray, that way we’re still using our own voice and the finished project will have “heart”. And secondly, Stephen Schwartz once said about lyric writing to “be as specific as you can, because it’s the songs that define the characters – when the song starts, I think, ‘oh NOW I’m going to learn about this person.’” I’ve found both of those rules have served me well and certainly changed the way I write. 

Find the sheet music to A Thousand Tales at, along with many more Australian songs from some of the country’s top writers. See you in two weeks!Shanon Whitelock