What drives people to start a side-hustle?
For some, it’s for money; others might have a brilliant idea; but for others still, it’s entirely out of love.
For Ian Gerrard and his wife Lori, it was nothing other than the love of a great story to tell: that could be the only justification for the marketing director and his teacher wife to drop nearly half a million dollars to bring a story to life.
3 Weeks in Spring is an all-Australian musical about legendary Anzac soldier Jack Simspson and his donkey that will be showing in Sydney’s State Theatre from 13 August to 17 August.
But, like many side hustle stories, the journey from inception to fully-fledged musical involved more than a decade of hard work, closed doors, and personal financial sacrifice.
“The idea came when I was in a library about 12 years ago with my now 16-year-old daughter. She was looking at some books and I was browsing the shelves and came across a pamphlet about Simpson and his donkey,” Gerrard told Yahoo Finance.
‘Simpson and his donkey’ is an Australian legend, passed down generations, about UK-born soldier John Simpson who served in the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.
As a stretcher bearer, he was carrying wounded comrades on his shoulders on 26 April 1915 until he spotted a donkey and began to make use of the creature to carry his fellow soldiers.
Nowadays, Simpson has become synonymous for Australian values of mateship, courage, and bravery.
At the time, more than ten years ago, Gerrard was coming across the story for the first time – but recalls being “immediately captivated” by Simpson’s free spirit.
“I thought Simpson's story was worth telling and wanted to do it as a musical because I think there's something about great music that really touches people on an emotional level,” he told Yahoo Finance.
At first, Gerrard thought he would turn it into a school musical and took the idea to composer Russell Tredinnick, a teacher that used to work with his wife.
But as he sat down and started writing the story, the idea snowballed.
“I felt it was bigger than ‘just’ being a school musical, and that's when the risk – and expense – started to kick in.”
As with any side hustle idea, you have to take it to the people to see if it resonates. A few years ago, Gerrard tested the waters in a small-scale production in Penrith and received a standing ovation.
The production budget at the time was around $30,000, breaking even.
Finding a way to viably finance 3 Weeks in Spring was a long, hard slog.
Multiple attempts to attract mainstream producers or sponsors fell flat: Gerrard was told that new Australian musicals would not be picked up or that sponsorship money was already allocated.
“It became clear that the only option was to do it independently.”
Gerrard considered a number of theatres in Sydney, such as Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre, Seymour Centre, and the State Theatre. While the latter was the most expensive, it was ultimately the best choice.
“After doing the sums, it became clear that it was the best option to – hopefully – be able to turn a profit, and therefore reward the cast and crew for dedicating their time and talent to this project, as well as being able to best support a charity,” he said.
It had always been a goal for the musical to support the Anzac Foundation, a charity which funds the Australian War Memorial, Gerrard explained.
Gerrard describes his and his wife’s lifestyle as “comfortable”; both still retain their full-time jobs. But putting the production together has come at a personal cost to the married couple.
“The final cost will be around $420,000 to $450,000,” Gerrard told Yahoo Finance.
“We have remortgaged our home to be able to do this. It is a gamble.”
“We're taking all the risk, but we want to share any reward.”
It’s sheer belief in the story he wants to tell as well as the people involved in making it happen that drives Gerrard.
“We also believe Australian audiences do want to see Australian stories brought to life in a new, engaging, emotionally powerful way.”
The final act
Gerrard hopes the musical will be a tale that resonates with domestic – and hopefully international – audiences as much as it resonates with him.
“I think we've got a show that is profoundly inspiring. The Anzac legend is arguably the most iconic Australian story, but the themes in 3 Weeks in Spring are universal.
“It's about courage, sacrifice, unlikely heroes, love and loss.”
3 Weeks in Spring, involving 35 actors and 10 musicians, will be showing at Sydney’s State Theatre between 13 – 17 August with tickets starting from $74.90 a pop.
10 per cent of every ticket and a standalone soundtrack album will go to the Anzac Foundation.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure we treat the subject matter with sensitivity and respect,” Gerrard said.
“There was heroism and humour in equal measure in the trenches and on the home front, and we’re showcasing both to create a real musical experience.
“Following success in Sydney we aspire to tour the production nationally and internationally, so everyone has the opportunity to see it.”
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