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June 27, 2024

Adelaide to host Eurovision (almost)

Australian performer and producer Glynn Nicholas talks with CityMag about his new show, community-minded theatre and avoiding being sued by Eurovision.

  • Words: Helen Karakulak
  • Pictures: supplied

Song Contest Almost Eurovision is what it says on the tin, with a bit extra.

The production has a mission to reach local songwriters, build community and get as many punters as possible to the theatre for an affordable price.

“Even though we’re not sanctioned by Eurovision, we know that they like us,” Creative Director Glynn Nicholas tells CityMag.

The Gen Xs among us might recognise Glynn best from his days busking in Rundle Mall in the 80s, presenting on Here’s Humphrey, or playing characters like Pate Biscuit and more alongside Shaun Micallef in The Glynn Nicholas Show and The Big Gig.

In his early, curly-haired days Glynn was a mime artist and street performer. This picture was taken in Rundle Mall in 1980.

For Song Contest Almost Eurovision, and its original iteration, Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision, Glynn made sure he was legally in the clear before the show took off.

“I did a lot of research talking to lawyers saying how can we get around Eurovision coming down on us and they said ‘well, just make it clear that you’re not affiliated, make sure you’re not using any of their logos or any of their colours’,” Glynn says.

“I said, ‘what if I call it almost Eurovision’ and they said, ‘that’ll do’.”

Song Contest Almost Eurovision follows the format of a Eurovision final, where 11 countries compete and the audience – who are allocated a country to barrack for on entry – vote for the winner.

“The ethos of Eurovision, which I love, is celebrating cultural differences,” Glynn says.

“It was put on after the Second World War to help to heal a war-torn Europe, so people who a few years previously were shooting each other are now singing in a competition, different languages, different costumes. Of course, it’s now completely dipped in cheese and rolled in glitter.”

Song Contest Almost Eurovision is a family show, hosted by a character called Petunia Pikmanos and set in Belarus, a close neighbour of Russia.

“Because of disputes with the Kremlin, they don’t have any heating and they don’t quite have the money to put on the typical Eurovision… it’s another big joke.”

Glynn says you can’t vote for your own country, but you can bribe your neighbouring audience members to and it generates quite the competitive spirit.

“Let’s say they’re given Germany, in an instant, they play the game, they go and get German flags and clappers and they want Germany to win,” he says.

“The benefit of the show is that all the countries and the contestants really want to win so you never get a dud performance, and I cannot tell you the goodwill that is generated within the audience.” 

Glynn Nicolas these days.

The show is more than a decade in the making, with the first production of it at Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2006. Since then, it’s toured the Edinburgh Fringe and the UK, including three months in the West End where it caught the attention of Eurovision’s producer, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

“I found out that the head of the EBU had come to see the show with a view to close us down and I got a call from him the next morning, and I was shitting myself, thinking ‘I hope my lawyer was right’,” Glynn says.

“He met with me, and he said, ‘I came to possibly close you down, but it’s very clear that you’re not saying you’re affiliated with us, I absolutely love the show’.”

From there, Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision was invited to perform in Lucerne, Switzerland for the EBU’s annual conference.

The international reception for the Aussie’s production was a warm one, with supporters of the show including theatre owner and producer Cameron Mackintosh and comedian and host Graham Norton.

Glynn even managed to get the late Irish–British Eurovision commentator Terry Wogan to record an advertisement for the show in exchange for six bottles of “the best Australian wine” – which CityMag was assured included a South Australian variety.

“People said to me, ‘look, Terry Wogan won’t do anything for less than 10,000 pounds’, I thought, ‘I’ll try anyway’…he said ‘alright, I’ll do it.”

The show will be at the Arts Theatre in December 2024 but between now and then Glynn is running a Kickstarter to crowdfund and will engage communities within SA to find local songwriters to fill four slots in the song contest.

“We’re just going to grow this organically and if different community groups or cultural groups would like to be involved, they just need to get onto the website and get in touch,” he says.

“It’s all about creating the community who will back a show such as this, which is open to all these minority cultural groups who never usually get involved.

“We need four new songs, and they can be representing any country, because once the songs are accepted we have to create the backing tracks and all of that, so there’s a bit of work to be done so we don’t want to overcook it for the first year.

“We don’t know who we’re going to find online, but I know we’re going to find something amazing.”

Glynn says if they get hundreds of submissions, then to determine the winners that make it in the show, they’ll hold heats in different parts of the city and potentially in the regions as well. He’ll engage councils to help find talent and host heats at town halls that can be live-streamed to build online momentum.

The Kickstarter funds will go towards the community investment element of the show, which includes creating the website and hiring out rooms for the heats.

The Arts Theatre in Angus Street was built in 1963, and is the backbone of many community theatre groups. This picture: via Facebook

Glynn says performing the show in the Arts Theatre will fulfil the “sticky carpet” vibe the show has about it.

“I like [the Arts Theatre] for a few reasons; it’s comfy, it’s not exactly sticky, but it’s got that kind of feel to it, it’s not too expensive so we don’t have to cover the massive costs of renting the venue and also the key thing is that we can use our own ticketing system,” he says.

Glynn says most commercial musical theatre tickets can be as much as $180 or more, and that 85 per cent of people can’t afford it.

Rather than setting ticket prices based on the exorbitant prices of putting on a commercial musical, Glynn is working backwards, with ticket prices starting at $49 and going up to $89.

Based on how many people they can seat in the theatre at that price, Glynn’s challenge is to build the show for half of the potential revenue it could earn.

“Sometimes people equate cheaper with lower quality and that isn’t necessarily the case, I like the idea of us being a cheap and cheerful commercial musical theatre.”

You can support the show via Kickstarter and keep up to date on their website.

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