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News / Theatre & Performance

This new musical about pop superfans could be your next obsession

Fangirls Belvoir 2019 supplied
Photograph: Stephen Henry

There’s a story that Australian writer and performer Yve Blake has told more than a few times about when inspiration struck for her musical Fangirls. It’s the sort of bonkers tale that bears repeating.

“Four and a half years ago, I met a 13-year-old girl who told me she’d met the man she was going to marry and that his name was Harry Styles,” Blake recalls. “I laughed, and she said: ‘You can laugh all you want, I’d slit someone’s throat to be with him. I love him, and we will be together.’” 

That’s a pretty shocking thing to hear, but Blake found the girl’s absolute conviction strangely inspiring and started a deep dive into fangirl culture, particularly related to boy bands and the hottest one of the early 2010s, One Direction. She discovered all sorts of stories, from the beautiful to the disturbing (like the time fans erected a shrine on the Los Angeles freeway where Harry Styles vomited), but what really shocked her was the way the world responded to young women expressing their passions.

“Words like ‘hysterical’ kept getting thrown around,” she says. “Why is it that the image of boys screaming their lungs out at a football match might be labelled differently to an image of a group of women screaming their lungs out at a Justin Bieber concert?”

Yve Blake in rehearsal for Fangirls. Photograph: Brett Boardman.

That message really hit home when the great tragedy of 2015 struck and Zayn Malik left One Direction. “I saw how fangirls were criticised for being upset about it, and really gendered language was used to describe their grief,” Blake says.

By that point, Blake had well and truly jumped on the fangirl wagon and had started putting pen to paper for her musical: an unlikely celebration of fangirls that invites audiences into their world of pop devotion. It will have its Sydney premiere at Belvoir in October.

“When I met these young fangirls, they spoke about what they cared about in life or death terms, and I thought ‘oh my God, that’s the stakes of an opera; there’s a hectic show in this’,” she says. “What’s been really fun is building the show like a Trojan horse. It appears to be one thing, but actually smuggles in all these others you don’t expect… I strongly feel that watching teenage girls love something without fear or apology is inspirational. I don’t think it’s embarrassing. I don’t think vulnerability should be a dirty word.”

Blake plays Edna, a 14-year-old schoolgirl in love with Harry, the dreamiest singer from the world’s biggest boyband, True Connection. When the band announces they’re coming to Edna’s hometown, she hatches an elaborate and daring plan to form that connection and win his heart. While her quest might seem ridiculous, Blake uses music to entice the audience to invest in every moment of Edna’s journey and feel all the feels of the True Connection devotees.

“The score needs to sound as adrenal as it feels to be 14,” Blake says. “It needs to have soaring pop synths, but they need to sound so legit. It can’t be musical theatre’s version of pop, it needs to be real dank beats.”

To hit that sweet spot, Blake has brought in EDM producer David Muratore to take care of the poppier moments and vocal arranger Alice Chance to add some authenticity to the moments when fangirls lift their voices in praise of Harry – in seven-part harmony, of course.

“I call the score, like, a Beyoncé concert meets rave, meets church,” Blake says.

Blake has been on a long journey crafting the show, which has been in the works for four years. As with pretty much any new musical, the show has been written and rewritten, and musical theatre heavyweights have offered advice every step of the way. According to Blake, the software she’s used to script the show recently revealed she’d written 390,000 words in total.

“Whatever people see on stage, I think it’s very fair to say, is less than ten per cent of all the writing I’ve ever done,” she says.

Fangirls rehearsal. Photograph: Brett Boardman.

It’s an enormous amount of work, but Blake has the boundless passion and energy you’d expect of a fangirl, and she is on a mission to ensure younger audiences find a similar passion for live performance.

“I fell in love with theatre as a teenager, but I very much felt, when I was coming to theatre that I was coming to someone else’s house where I had to take off my shoes, be quiet and behave,” she says. “The place didn’t belong to me; the stories didn’t resonate with me often. It was so important to me that I made a show where teenagers walk in and it’s their house.”

Of course, there’s a history of sparkly, pink-hued works of theatre and music being dismissed as vapid – despite their objective smarts – but Blake isn’t deterred by the potential of traditional theatre audiences baulking at Fangirls’ feminine and girlish aesthetic.

“In one sense, I don’t really care, but in another – my dad is a 70-year-old dude, and every step of the way I’ve thought to myself: how do I make this a show for him as well?”

Blake has spent much of her twenties writing Fangirls, but she already has a number of future projects in the works. She’s developing Fangirls into a TV series with Clerkenwell Films, the British company behind Misfits and Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World. She’s also writing a feature film for Aquarius Films, the Australian company behind Lion, and developing a musical podcast about Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th-century pioneer for women’s rights.

“If people don’t know who she is, they should google her, because she’s the baddest bitch in history.”

Does that sound a little like a fangirl talking? Well, why the hell shouldn’t it?

Fangirls is at Belvoir October 12 to November 10.

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