BWW Interviews: MacKenzie Greenwell on TAP DOGS, Dancing and Plan B
Tap Dogs has been a smash-hit musical for the last fifteen years, created by Australian dancer and choreographer Dein Perry. The show premiered in Sydney in 1995 and continues to dazzle audiences today. The show has played all over the world, including many successful engagements in Toronto. The current tour comes back to the city this week with two Canadian cast members in tow.
MacKenzie Greenwell has been dancing since the age of two and is enjoying his second tour with the Tap Dogs gang. He performed in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics and was a featured solo artist in West Coast Tap Dance Colletive’s 2010 Tap Day show. Prior to arriving in Toronto MacKenzie took a few moments to talk with BWW about the challenges that come with dancing in a dangerous and intense show like Tap Dogs, about what it’s like growing up aspiring to be a dancer and about whether artists should have a ‘back-up plan’:
Congratulations on bringing Tap Dogs back to Toronto! How’s it going so far?
Well we’re coming to the end of rehearsals and the show is coming together and looking really good. We’re all pretty sore but excited to get this journey started.
I would assume working on a show like this is one hell of a workout! Is that mostly because of the various obstacles and environments you dance within?
I think it’s a combination of being on ladders, metal and water but also the fact that there is no intermission in this show. The entire cast is pretty much dancing the whole show with only a couple of breaks – so you really have to have stamina to do our production.
You started dancing at the age of two, what has your progression been like so far?
I think I’ve had the same progression as most artists which is one in which you continue to grow and pursue your passion. I’m always looking to learn and I never want to feel like I’ve reached a plateau. I want to learn, grow and change. Because of that I make sure to keep rehearsing and honing my craft. As a young kid you start by learning basic steps and as you get older you get to take more responsibility for learning yourself. You find your own voice and define yourself as an artist.
Many young artists struggle with the pervasive notion of having a ‘back-up plan’. Do you think that a back-up plan is a hindrance to success or a necessity in today’s economy?
My personal opinion is that you can’t have a plan B. As soon as you start focusing on the plan B you usually end up getting trapped there. For me, I knew this was what I loved and I was going to make it happen no matter what. So while a back-up plan can be important, there’s never really a wrong time to go back and get one. But if art is what you love then you have to go after it because you never know what might happen.
Did you have one defining moment where everything paid off and you knew the sacrifices were worth it?
Definitely and I’m reminded of it all the time. It’s like a cycle, you’ll have your highs from working too hard and of course your lows as well. During the lows you just have to remember to keep working on yourself and know the highs will come again.
In recent years we’ve seen a decline in the art of tap dancing. Do you think a show like Tap Dogs can work to bring it back to a popular audience?
Definitely. I remember on the last tour we had so many kids coming to see the show and whenever I would see a boy come to the show excited it was inspiring. If we can reach out to even a few of those kids and make them want to do what we do that would be a huge success.
I remember being about ten years old and my Mom brought home a VHS of Tap Dogs and I was mesmerized. Here were these guys dancing in boots and in water and going up ladders and doing all kinds of crazy things. When I booked my first tour with the show I remember thinking back to my ten year old self with a bit of awe. For me along the path that I’m on now, seeing this show helped push me to get where I am.
You talk about dancing on ladders and in water and doing all kinds of crazy things – do you guys have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong mid-show?
Of course. I’m one of two swings who are always on the side and in costume ready to jump in at any moment. That’s my job, I have to know all the different parts so that if someone goes out I can immediately jump in and be ready to go. There’s obviously an extra element of danger in a show like ours but we are a tough cast and none of us like to be out so we push through a lot of the pain and injuries we might sustain. It’s simply a mentality that we have that keeps us going.
For people who have seen the show before, is there anything different in this production?
I think the show has changed over the years. I know the music has changed and some parts have been changed around, but I didn’t see it in Toronto before so I can’t say exactly what’s different. What I can say is that every time you see it, there is a different cast which will bring a whole new element to the show because everyone plays their roles differently. So it’s never really the same show. Even if you’ve seen it before you can come out and enjoy it all over again. If you’ve never seen it – it will be super exciting. There’s a reason for everyone to come.
Finally, what is the biggest piece of advice for up and comers in this business?
Listen to everyone and learn from everyone and never stop learning. Always strive to better yourself and continue educating yourself and within that you will continue to grow.
When and Where?
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
September 25th – 30th 2012
Tickets are priced from $25 to $89 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com.