Jacqui Dark and John Longmuir are usually found performing on stage in our biggest opera and musical theatre productions, but the two colleagues (and great friends) have recently made the transition to prime time television, appearing as members of The 100 – the huge judging panel on Channel 7’s new hit talent show All Together Now. They sat down together to look back over the show for Limelight, discussing how they managed the transition to television, and  how they coped locked up in a tiny room with 100 huge personalities, and each other, for long days of filming.

All Together NowJacqui Dark and John Longmuir with host Julia Zemiro. Photographs supplied

What are the major differences between working on television and stage?

JL: The amount of time that’s required to produce the work.

JD: Also the repetition. Stage is so immediate and in television you can rehearse one 10 second spot 20 times until they feel they have it just right. That gets exhausting and the thrill dissipates a little after multiple takes. That’s one of the skills we had to develop very quickly – keeping every take exciting and fresh. The constant supply of Minties, Lindt balls and Redskins helped. It was hilarious that early on our wonderful runners were gently asking if we wanted a stick of licorice, but by the end of shooting, they were just shoving stimulants in our faces yelling ‘SUGAR! RED BULL!’ to keep the energy levels up.

JL: We had a live audience in the studio, but it’s still not the same reaction you get when you’re up on the stage. It doesn’t feel like it actually reaches them – they feel a bit superfluous in a way. When you’re up there with 100 other performers, you can’t always guarantee that everyone is looking at you the whole time, wheras on stage if you’re singing and no one else is, they’ll all be looking at you.

JD: And also, you have a lot more contact with your colleagues. In The 100, we were a bit isolated in our little boxes and only had contact with those in the immediate vicinity. It was a bit vertiginous to peer over the sides too often – that set is HUGE! Our brilliant host Julia Zemiro (who we are all more than a little in love with) mentioned that we might need a Sherpa guide to reach the top levels!

The other major difference is that with the editing process, you don’t have control over the final product. On stage, you are of course shaped by the director and conductor, but ultimately you control your performance. On TV, they can edit to pretty much make you say whatevvvver they like!

JL: Well, like I said a million times to you during the shooting, Jacs, they can only edit what you actually say!  (both laugh)

Who was your favourite performer?

JL:  Tough question! I’d have to say Jessica. I know that sounds so biased, but just for having the nuts to get up there and sing Queen of the Night in a film studio and nail the top notes.

JD: That aria is notoriously unforgiving, so it took HUGE courage to attempt it in a studio. And she NAILED it! Cahones! I think my favourite was the Chinese opera singer, Jing. She presented Somewhere Over The Rainbow because it was a more accessible piece, but when I asked her to sing what she really loved, she launched into Chinese opera and blew the absolute roof off! I remember that moment in the studio – we all had goosebumps! ‘Tears and tingles’, I believe I said. And Tarryn. And you can’t go past Jared, Mr Oklahoma!

JL: I liked Jared. That was a case of ‘If we gave you $100000, would you use it to further your career? I don’t think that would have been the case.

JD: We both had a few favourites – it’s great!

JL: Yes! I also loved the Shirley Bassey impersonator.

JD: Yes! Gayna Tension. Absolute heaven! And the young rock dude with the amazing top to his voice.

JL: Oh, yes, he was amazing, but just needed a little more work. I also loved the three girls. Harmony In Three.

JD: Now they were interesting! They came across brilliantly in the studio, but not so well on TV.  So many people are asking why we did/didn’t stand for various people, but the experience was SO different in the studio.  Fascinating!

All Together NowJohn Longmuir and Jacqui Dark

Why did you agree to be on the show?

JD: I’ve done bits of television, but never something like this – never a whole season. Performers are constantly reinventing ourselves, and I feel it’s another string to my bow and also great exposure.  I was also very keen to bring opera into the mainstream. Opera and opera singers are so rarely represented on mainstream TV – they had both judges and contestants who were legitimate opera singers. Luckily, it’s become a hit show, with millions of viewers every Sunday night – even if were only featured for a short period (there are 100 of us, after all!), that kind of exposure is difficult to achieve in the world of opera.

JL: The thing that clinched it for me was that there were going to be no back-stories on the singers. When the concept was explained to me, it struck me as a true singing competition. We only knew their first names. It really just came down to who was the best singer. It also wasn’t putting a singer up against a magician. Everyone was a singer, everyone had the same amount of time … the simple kernel of it was a pure singing competition.

JD: Exactly! And as this show has proven, the voice alone is enough to move people. I have this gripe with opera too – managements around the world tend to try to make it ‘sexy’ or mould it into a product. They just need to trust the voice. The opera singer who appeared on the show made an immediate impact and everyone responded to that thrilling operatic sound.

JL: And when she changed gears into the ‘pop’ section, people were confused that opera singers could actually sing other styles.

JD: I know!  What a surprise!

JL: It’s such a pity that opera singers aren’t always asked to do other things because people think it’s impossible for an opera singer to sound anything but operatic.

JD: Which is just nonsense. You’ve seen our cabaret …

JL: Yep. And your karaoke.

What was it like working with each other 13 hours a day?

JL: (hysterical laughter) John was delightful!

JD: Jacqui was a portrait of restraint!

JL: I keep wondering why they don’t use more of our private chats … and then I remember some of the things we said!

JD: We’re close and we’re also very different, and have different tastes … which has led to some heated 3am texting, as I recall … (laughter). I was actually very glad it was you, because I very much value your integrity and honesty. I know that whatever you say, you are honest to a fault.

JL: Sometimes brutally, yes. But everyone’s different, and has a different opinion, and I value everyone’s opinion. … well, mostly. I’m reading a book right now about decision-making, and the page I posted to Twitter was about giving someone feedback. We get this ALL THE TIME.  The reason that I’m so good at dealing with criticism and seem to have a thick skin is because in the rehearsal room, every day, you’re getting mini-criticisms for hours at a time. Because every decision you make that someone disagrees with is a criticism, and over the years you do develop a very thick skin to criticism.

JD: Well, you have to, or you don’t stay in the industry long.

JL: But it means that when we give criticism, it can sometimes come across very blunt; because we’re so used to it we’ve got higher tolerance for it.

Were you ‘cheapening’ your brand by taking part?

JL:  My brand was cheap to start off with!

JD: We’ve been cheap for years!

JL: I did worry about that actually, but I think in today’s world there is no such thing as cheapening your brand. I think if that’s the way you think about things then you are elitist.

JD: The most successful opera singers are the ones who reach out and connect with the public. That’s not a cheap thing to do.

JL: I know that I’m a serious opera singer. I’ve walked one of the most famous stages in the world plenty of times.

JD: That line about ‘Even the opera singers stood up!’ We weren’t the mean judges! We love pop, we love rock, all the other genres. It’s such a false perception that we’re hoity and judgemental. Having said that, if a contestant had insane amounts of vocal fry they were dead to me.

What was the most difficult part of the experience? What was it spending 13 hours a day in a small room with 98 other performers?

JD: Funny that those two questions are together! (laughs). Yes, there were 100 big personalities in one tiny room, so it sometimes got rather loud. It was just lucky that the majority of those huge energies were coupled with beautiful and humble hearts , so many new and wonderful friendships were formed.

JL: Just check my Twitter feed and you’ll answer that question! There were some massive personalities in there, of which we were two. Isn’t it funny that the bigger the personality, the smaller the ego? And the smaller the talent, the bigger the ego?

JD: That’s so common though, isn’t it? It’s usually the huge names who are the most glorious. The smaller the talent and the less successful the artist, the louder they sometimes try to be in vying for attention.

JD: Our job was to be supportive and to give our opinions in a constructinve manner. It just wasn’t really about our performing skills.

JL: Yes. If you want to be a contestant on the show, go and audition!

JD: Another tough part was the schedule. We’d rock up at sparrow’s fart in the morning, race through hair and makeup, dress, learn the opening number, then pop downstairs for lunch.

JL: Curry!

JD: Curry. And then shoot and shoot and shoot. There was so much hanging around and repetition – that was more exhausting than anything. Of course, it’s all worth it, but to folk used to the immediacy of stage, it was a new skill set to master.

Would you appear on the show as a contestant?

JD: No.

JL: Me neither. Not because we’ve already gotten to a place in our careers where we wouldn’t need to, but because I don’t think I would do well or get very far.

JD: I just feel that putting yourself up on a television talent contest is a very specific thing to do. I absolutely applaud the courage of everyone who does it, but I think that if it goes badly, it goes really badly, and there’s often no coming back from that.

All Together Now

What is the best piece of advice for any young singer?

JD: Don’t take criticism personally. The people who don’t succeed are the ones who hear a criticism and blame everything and everyone around them, rather than thinking ‘Why has this person mentioned this? Is it valid? How can I use it to improve my performance?’] I would also say persistence. Youre going to get knocked back more than you’re going to get accepted, so hang in there.

JL: I’ve got a card in my wallet that was given to me by my very first singing teacher.  I’ve had that since I was 16. It lives in my wallet. (see photo above)

JD: Oh my God! That is exactly the quote I live by. That is so gorgeous!

All Together Now was won by Brisbane’s Lai Utovou at the Finale on Sunday November 25