Raised on classics like Oklahoma and The Sound of Music, it’s hardly surprising that Ian Nisbet ended up in the world of musical theatre. Sara Coen spoke to the PhD student about combining his love of music with research.
It’s a passion he can’t quite explain.
“Nothing makes me happier than watching shows, talking about shows, thinking about shows and writing about shows,” Ian said. The 27-year-old is completing a Master of Philosophy in musical theatre at ACU’s Melbourne Campus, and has just helped direct the University’s production of Into the Woods.
“During high school, I was involved in plenty of amateur shows where I discovered that I had a natural flair for voice. I can sing, but I can’t dance or act to save myself, so I had to get creative and learn to participate in other ways.”
“In 2009, I started reviewing shows for a national magazine called Stage Whispers and I am currently editor-in chief of Theatre People – a national website consisting of news, reviews and biographies relevant to the theatre community.
“I’ve developed a genuine passion for research, with a particular interest in musicology – the scientific study of music, as distinct from training in performance or composition,” Ian said.
“In my honours year of a Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Music at ACU, I completed a 15,000-word thesis on the musical Rent, investigating the musical melodies and attached symbolism. It was the first study of its kind in the world and a shortened version is due for publication in Studies in Musical Theatre, an internationally renowned academic journal of musical theatre research.
"Inspired by the fact that I could make a unique contribution to the global knowledge base, I began my current thesis investigating compositional techniques in the early works of Jason Robert Brown – one of Broadway’s most prolific musical theatre composers.”
Ian’s research compares 58 songs, bar by bar, to establish compositional development across Brown’s first three musicals – Songs for a New World, Parade and The Last Five Years – and is supervised by performing arts lecturers Roger Hillman and Dr Tim McKenry. “In identifying and cataloguing the processes that make up Jason Robert Brown’s compositional techniques, Ian’s research is helping us to understand more about contemporary music practice,” Dr McKenry said.
“Jason Robert Brown’s music is representative of a vibrant compositional tradition that has been marginalised by the broader academic discourse surrounding musical research.”
For Ian, performance and research are inextricably linked.
“Being actively involved in the musical theatre scene in a variety of different ways informs and enriches my research,” he said.
“I’m inquisitive by nature and often find myself asking questions about music and life. Research is a perfect way to both combine and educate others about my passion for musical theatre from behind the scenes.”