Streets of Your Town: The Journo Project
Streets of Your Town
Callan Purcell on being Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton
Callan Purcell on being Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton

Welcome to nearly the end of January my Wandering Journo tribe! Thanks for joining me on the next chapter of podcasts and news from fascinating people who I meet from all around Australia.

With the mega-hit musical Hamilton officially opening its Brisbane season this week, this episode of Streets of Your Town podcast is highlighting one of Australia’s brightest new musical theatre talents.

I was lucky enough to speak to Callan Purcell—the man taking on one of the most renowned roles in musical theatre—Aaron Burr—in the Australian production of the worldwide phenomenon that is Hamilton.

Aaron Burr is Hamilton’s nemesis in the show, and this young Indigenous performer is rising confidently to the challenge of fleshing out this pivotal character.

Even though Purcell has performed the lead role of Alexander Hamilton in the Sydney run when he was acting as understudy for Jason Arrow, he’s excited about the opportunity to make the character of Aaron Burr his own in the Brisbane leg.

“I think what I appreciate a lot with Aaron Burr is his ability to be steadfast and stoic and have this, he emulates integrity, which is also his downfall because there is that pride in him and that stubbornness,” he said.

“We see that you can live a duality of truth where you can shine, but people next to you can shine just as bright and if not brighter, and you can learn from that. I don’t think Burr does, and that’s the tragedy of his story."

It’s a story that’s come full circle for Callan, showing his determination to succeed right from when he first got standing room only tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway, and came out buzzing with the belief that he would one day perform in the musical.

He still has the ticket from the show, with the promise he made to himself written on the back to prove it.

“By the time it got to interval, I knew that this was something that was totally different, from an audience perspective, but also an artist’s perspective,” Purcell said.

“And knowing that it was coming to Australia—it wasn't just a possibility, it was a certainty that this was something I needed to be part of.

“So I grabbed a pen out of my bag and I scratched on the back of the ticket ‘You are going to perform in this’.”

He has shown his performing chops since by performing for the past two years in a range of understudy and swing roles in Hamilton, overcoming Covid disruptions to show his ability and now be given the responsibility of lead.

Purcell is revelling being part of a show that is celebrated around the world for challenging culture stereotypes and minority representation through diverse casting.

He is a proud Wiradjuri man, who was born on Darkinjung Country in Gosford and grew up at Newcastle on Awabakal country.

He said bringing his First Nations heritage to the role is crucial.

“By being a First Nations person on this production, what it does, it—certainly in the long game—tells producers and the people in power that we can be in stories beyond just our own personal experience,” he said.

“And by doing that, it empowers and inspires young people to understand that there is a life in the arts for them, not just for people of privilege or people who are related to other people in the arts industry.

“I think what it does, it brings a nuanced complexity to this show. Because if it didn’t, then I’m not doing my job and I’m not upholding my responsibility of what I’m putting back to the community. And I know as a lighter-skinned Aboriginal man, I have a privilege next to my darker-skinned brothers and sisters, so what can I do to make space when having this opportunity to be a leader in a production like this?

“It also gives fire power, because we know that this show started in the 1700s, as in the storyline, and it’s the same King George that was trying to occupy these lands where America was trying to begin, as the same King George who ordered the fleets to come over here and colonise this country.

“So it’s quite telling actually that we see that the same kinds of events were happening in different parts of the world.”

While Hamilton has developed a worldwide cult following, Purcell encourages everyone to give the show a go even if they’re not familiar with the founding fathers story; which he says has surprising relevance in an Australian context.

“When I first saw it, I was interested in how it could appeal to the masses, but it does, and it’s testament that it’s not a historical musical,” he said.

“It’s a musical about moments in history which reflect moments of humanity through everyone. And I guess asking, what we are doing with ourselves on this planet? And we’ve got an opportunity to make change and inspire and be inspired, so what are we going to do with that?”

I was fortunate to meet a bunch of people in this Hamilton production’s wider world! Here I am with (left to right) Associate Producer for Michael Cassel Group Annelies Crowe, ABC presenter Kelly Higgins-Devine, and Hamilton swing performer Shewit Belay at a welcome lunch that the Hamilton production team put on early last week.

Making more Waves

The Making Waves podcast is now up on Apple podcasts!

And in one of the MOST exciting developments for me of late—the podcast I have helped produce for the past two years is now up on Apple Music—with Spotify to come soon!

Making Waves brings water stories from around Australia. As my wonderful Making Waves host Marnie Ireland says in the trailer:

Making Waves is an independent podcast amplifying the lesser heard perspectives of First Nations people, communities and water practitioners. We hear about connections to the places we live, work and love from around this diverse country.

From the saltwater Country of Rubibi / Broome and Mandingalbay Yidinji / the wet tropics and Great Barrier Reef to freshwater Country of Narrm / Melbourne, Meeanjin / Brisbane and the UNESCO World Heritage Budj Bim cultural landscape / Lake Condah, Making Waves brings you water stories from across Australia.

And here’s the intro to the series!

All things water. For First Nations People, water is a sacred source of life. The rivers are the veins of Country, carrying water to sustain all parts of our landscape. The wetlands are the kidneys, filtering the water as it passes through the land. At the most fundamental level clean water is a basic need for healthy humans, animals, plants and aquatic environments. There are so many interesting (and sometimes competing) demands for water. This podcast explores water from a range of diverse perspectives—amplifying lesser heard voices.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support of my audio adventures my wonderful Wandering Journo Tribe! I plan to keep bringing you slices of Australian audio life through 2023—and your support of this newsletter keeps my tank filled in Mildred the Cantankerous kombi!

Hope to see you on the road soon!

And please hit me up with any interesting people or ideas you think would be great for Streets of Your Town podcast. It’s as easy as hitting reply to this email!

xx Nance

Streets of Your Town: The Journo Project

Streets of Your Town

From the Wandering Journo at Stories that Matter Studios this is The Streets of Your Town. The podcast that takes you on an audio journey through theatre of the mind highlighting a different slice of Australian life each episode.