Twelve-year old Thea Sholl is one of three children playing the role of the drummer Freddy in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical School of Rock in Sydney. A multi-instrumentalist, who attends St Andrews Cathedral School on a music scholarship, Sholl is also a singer-songwriter who performs under the name Byrd, and who has had several songs on Triple J Unearthed. She spoke to Limelight.

Thea Sholl. Photograph supplied

Have you loved music since you were very young?

Yes, very young. It probably started with my brothers because I have two older brothers. They started from a young age, so I was like, ‘I want to do that too’ because I always wanted to be like them as a little sibling, and then I think the passion just grew from then.

I believe you started on the piano?

Yes I started with piano when I was four.

Were you composing even then?

I have always been making up little tunes with my Dad, and as I got older, at seven, I really started to produce my own stuff. But learning the piano really helped with that. If I hadn’t learned piano first I don’t think I would have been able to produce the same quality of music that I can do now.

You play quite a few instruments now. How did that happen?

Well, I started with piano first, I just wanted to take up an instrument. We had loads of guitars in the house and ukuleles. And I remember just picking [a guitar] up one day and Mum [writer Nikki Gemmell] saying, ‘do you want to do lessons with that?’ and me saying, ‘yes, of course’. And I also started playing the drums – except we did not have a drum kit in our house. But I just saw it as an opportunity to do more, so drums came into it and bass guitar.

Did you not have drums at home because it’s too noisy?

We got drums about six months ago, electric drums so you put headphones on [and people can’t hear]. I have just been practising on that like crazy and doing as much as possible.

You also play the church organ?

Yes, our school [is] connected to a cathedral so there is an organ in the cathedral next to our school so we can just walk across there for an hour lesson every two weeks and I do that sometimes.

Do you have a favourite instrument?

Well, it always changes because there are so many. At the moment it’s definitely drums because I am spending the most time on it and I have dedicated the most work on it, so at the moment it would be drums. Years ago, I would have said something different like piano or maybe even guitar, so it always differs, but at the moment I definitely prefer drums.

You said you used to make up tunes with your Dad. Is he involved with music?

The funny thing is my parents don’t know a single thing about music. They don’t play any instruments, they don’t know where me and my brothers got this from, but me and my Dad used to make up these goofy tunes, really whacky things, and I just loved those goofy tunes. And eventually it developed into a passion for song-writing, and then my Dad started singing my songs and that was fun.

You have three songs on Triple J Unearthed as Byrd?

I think it’s important to put your songs out because even after doing that I got a few people emailing me saying, ‘we’d like to work with you in the studio’ and something like that, so that was something big for me.

Brent Hill as Dewey Finn, and the cast of children in the musical School of Rock. Photograph © Matthew Murphy

How did you hear about the School of Rock auditions?

Well it was actually Mum reading a Melbourne newspaper and she saw [an ad for] these open calls and Mum was like ‘Thea would you like to audition for this?’ And I was like ‘why not?’ So I did a little video and sent it in. I’d never done anything like this before besides a school musical so we did that, and they said ‘hey we’d like to see you for an audition’. So, I went in with all the other kids and we just kept getting called back. And the funny thing is I auditioned for bass, drums and guitar and they called me back for bass. So I want all the way to the end with bass and then two weeks after the end of the audition they phoned us or emailed us saying, ‘hey we don’t think you’re that character, do you reckon you could try the role of Freddy, the drummer?’ I play drums so I thought it would be a good opportunity, so in those two weeks I was drumming every day. So I went to the audition and I met all the people, and then I got in and that was really nice.

Before you auditioned, had you seen the film?

Oh yes! Of course I’d seen the film. It’s a classic. I’ve seen it five times maybe.

There are three different casts of children. Are the other two children who play Freddy boys?

Yes they are. [The stage manager tells Limelight that a girl in London was cast as the understudy for Freddie but that Thea is the first girl to be cast in the role].

Do the three children’s casts all rehearse together?

It really depends. Usually we have Kuki [Tipoki] our rock coach and we go through the songs together. The two other Freddys, they went to Korea so they already knew most of the show, so for the first two days me and Kuki worked together and I learned all the songs. And then after I had [learned] them, we started rehearsing with the other Freddys, and that was quite fun. We do it all in a room and we take notes from each other.

Do the three of you each have your own style?

Definitely, we are all very different. We all play really differently so whether you are more advanced it doesn’t really matter because we are all playing the same things in our own styles so it’s all learning from each other as well, but we do not play the same, not at all.

How did you enjoy rehearsing a theatre show?

Oh it’s so much fun. Just getting up on stage, the microphones, getting in costume. [There are] so many little things, there is so much to take in, and it’s so much fun, especially meeting all the new people, who are really experienced in what they do. You learn so much from them.

The music has you really rocking out?

Oh yes! The music does rock. It’s being paid to live your dream every day!

Do you want to be involved with music in the future?

Well yes, I definitely want to do something to do with music or acting, whether it is continuing to go with musicals or making a living out of my songs, either one I’d be really happy with.

School of Rock plays at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre until January 31, and at Adelaide Festival Centre, March 20 – April 12, 2020