Matthew Lee Robinson is an Australian composer, lyricist and writer living in New York.
With the assistance of the Australia Council Music Fellowship, he is busily working through a two-year calendar of events, generating new musical theatre works across Australia, USA and the UK. He’s just returned from Toronto developing his latest musical, Atlantis, which, along with his other production Happy People, was developed with mentorship from multi Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, the Disney Theatrical Group, Manhattan Theatre Club and Ambassador Theatre Group. A dream creative endeavour that has Robinson flourishing on the International theatre scene, light years away from the average reality show that we met on. We asked him what 2015 has been like? The short answer: dedicated, hard work and the realisation of a dream.
TGW: How long has it been since you left Australia?
MR: I moved to NYC in late February. Washington Heights to be exact!
TGW: What was your main reason for heading to New York?
MR: The focus is creating new musicals, for which Broadway is clearly the centre of the universe. However, it’s also about the theatre culture that stems from it: the readings, workshops, concerts, theatres, events, cruise ships, theme parks and universities. A New York taxi driver once asked, “What do you do?” When I replied, he was thoroughly impressed and full of hearty congratulations. That says something about the city.
TGW: Do you have a big network there?
MR: Interestingly, I thought I did before I landed. I had fantastic relationships in some high end producing offices, but quickly realised you need friends you can call to talk about anything and everything. People move to New York to work, and work hard. Close friendships, as they should I suppose, take more time.
TGW: What do you miss most about home?
MR: I miss the space. Wherever you are in Australia, you get the sense you can take a deep breath and sit for a moment. Space, and seating, are at a premium over here.
TGW: What’s been your favourite thing/highlights moving to the States?
MR: It’s called the land of opportunity for a reason. I’m rapturously motivated, which suits the U.S.!
TGW: What’s been your biggest challenge?
MR: Realising that just because it’s a Western, English-speaking country doesn’t mean it’s culturally the same. There are subtle, critical differences which are easier to adjust to once you pick them out.
“Just because it’s a Western, English-speaking country doesn’t mean it’s culturally the same. There are subtle, critical differences which are easier to adjust to once you pick them out.”
TGW: Do you have any advice for other Australians looking to make a move to New York?
MR: Take a trip over a few times beforehand and understand the lay of the land. Find your people. If you’re an artist, gather everything along the way that proves you’re exceptionally gifted: articles, prizes, proof of being a judge in your field, YouTube screen snapshots. Americans have a chuckle when they hear I had to prove to immigration I was an ‘Alien of Extraordinary Ability’.
TGW: Do you call it home, for now?
MR: I certainly do. You can’t be backwards in coming forwards.
TGW: You recently came back for a very special engagement? Did it feel like you were coming home, or leaving home?
MR: Good question! It did feel like I was coming home (to Australia), but I’m very aware my future lies in the U.S. right now.
“Americans have a chuckle when they hear I had to prove to immigration I was an ‘Alien of Extraordinary Ability’.”
TGW: What’s next for you? What have you been working on?
MR: I’m continuing to develop my current musicals Atlantis and Happy People, fleshing out ideas for two new musicals, and starting to cast my upcoming November concert, as part of the Broadway’s Future Songbook Series at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Onwards and upwards!
New York based composer, lyricist and book writer Matthew Lee Robinson has won the UTAS Stephen Schwartz Songwriting Award, the Pratt Prize for Music Theatre, the Gilbert Spottiswood Churchill Fellowship, the $100,000 Australia Council Music Fellowship and been nominated for a Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work.
Photography by Aaron Williams.