Talking Dirty with the Choir

Indian Ink’s biggest and boldest production to date, Dirty Work: An Ode to Joy, features twenty-two choral singers on stage.
But there’s a catch: the singers have never read the script. They discover their place in the story at the same time as the audience.
Big, bold and bonkers!

We chatted to four choir members from Dirty Work’s 2022 development season to get some insider knowledge of the process.
They dished the dirt – over tea and scones, of course. 

Four smiling people sit on a sofa in a warmly lit, comfy-looking room.

Left to right: Hamish, Zhen, Sher and Heather


How did you start singing in choirs? 

Hamish: When I moved to Auckland, I initially joined GALS Rainbow Choir because I knew it was an active LGBT group in the community, and I thought I had a decent singing voice and that it would be fun to join. I wasn’t wrong at all! It turns out that I love singing and have made wonderful new friendships along the way as a bonus! That was two years ago – since then, I’ve continued to take opportunities to sing outside of GALS, and Dirty Work has been amongst the most fun and interesting of those opportunities. 

Sher: I have always loved music from various cultures and languages. I would say singing runs through my veins. In fact, my Mum cultivated this love from when I was just a little girl.  

I enjoyed singing in a classical choir for a few months and just before the pandemic, I moved to SHE Choir, which is a contemporary choir incorporating pop, rock, and R&B arrangements. Incidentally, I also sing in a band. 

Heather: I’ve enjoyed singing since I was little, mainly in church. Some time ago a friend heard me singing and invited me to join GALS, Auckland’s Rainbow choir – I’ve been singing with them since 1995!  

I have sung in a range of overseas choir festivals such as Various Voices and had singing lessons in the past which were both anxiety-provoking and hugely helpful. I’ve also been in an 11 voice acapella group called Project, run by Wendy Moore. I’ve sung in a number of mass choir events e.g. Symphony Under the Stars in the Auckland Domain. And of course – I was in Dirty Work last year and loved it! 

I do (of course) sing in the shower + spontaneously make up new words to known songs to fit an event or occasion (but I’m not giving up my day job any time soon). 

Zhen: I actually had little experience in a formal choir before joining the Dirty Work one – I got into singing through karaoke (ha), then about 5 years ago picked up a ukulele to sing and strum along. I still love both!  

I attended a few social choir sessions in 2022 with SHE Choir, where word spread about the chance to sing with the Dirty Work choir. It’s been a good challenge for me – I hadn’t learnt a harmony part for so many songs before and I can’t sight-read music very well. But I’ve had a lot of fun giving this a go, which is why I’m back again this year! 


What was your Dirty Work experience like last year? 

Hamish: The way that it was all set up behind the scenes – with the little prompt, and all the little booklets of things to do – I just felt very well supported by the crew. And the whole thing had been arranged in a way that felt very seamlessly put together. It felt very easy to be a part of. 

Zhen: The improv part made it really exciting! A lot of the time when you’re performing for something, you practice the whole thing over and over again until you know it by heart. But, even just being part of it and watching what was going on – and sometimes, [there’s] a little bit of adrenaline too: “Am I actually doing what I’m meant to do?”- that made it really special to me. 

Sher: By the second performance, you’re quite familiar with what’s happening and then you can truly listen to what the actors are saying. I think that spontaneous reaction that you have is actually more exciting. You’re not just sitting there following a prompt. You’re actually part of the cast. 

Hamish: It felt like there was a really good amount of time between songs that we were involved in to flip through the bits of music and pages or just reshuffle things on the desk, so it was nice to have a buffer in between our highlighted moments.  

Sher: Yeah I had my flask of peppermint tea and stuff to make it my own. 

Hamish: I was really excited before each show to see, where am I gonna sit; who am I gonna sit next to, what sort of chaos is gonna go on in our corner? 


Did you have some favourite moments on stage? 

Sher: The cast, they were brilliant – the way they addressed us all, you know? I love how they did that! 

Hamish: I love that our actual names were used. Because then they would just be like, “Oh, what are you drawing there, David?” And David’s like, “Oh, you’re talking to me, agh!” It was good, it was very clever. 

Sher: I think the audience – from what I know, from people I spoke to – absolutely loved it. They were just like, “I can’t wait for the second season!” 

Hamish: The actors were so charismatic, gluing it all together… When we come in and do the rehearsal beforehand, and the actors are all there, it’s a really good way to just bring everything down to a settled level of comfort amongst everyone on stage. And then by the time you’re actually coming on, it’s not quite so fraught. 

Sher: I think what was joyful was the chemistry between the actors. You’re doing your stuff, whether you’re doing a crossword or whether you’re not doing a crossword or whatever, but you are tuning into what’s going on with the three of them. The whole thing was the highlight, really.   


When you were asked about participating in this year’s season, how long did it take you to decide? 

Sher: A minute! A heartbeat! 

Zhen: Basically when I got the email I just went “Yep, sure!” 


Did you feel integral to the production? 

Hamish: It just felt like we were as valued as part of the crew, and your communication was really good. And the actors were all really lovely and just welcoming in the space… it was really good energy. At the end of it all, when it was all finished, I just had this big, sinking like, “Aw, it’s over!” That was a big part of why when you sent the email out, I was just like “Yes, I’m gonna do it again,” because it felt like such a cool wee family to be a part of for a bit. 

Heather: It felt very supportive. They’re not just gonna stick you out there on your own in front of 99 other people and say, “Sing the Humming Chorus.” The communication was fantastic. Just felt so held. Along with the food and things, I just felt very cared for. 

Sher: It’s an honour to be part of this thing, for me. 

Heather: I was just thinking, back in the day – in my rocking chair here – this is really like Starlight Symphony, Symphony Under the Stars… I mean, what other opportunities are there for people from a huge range of choirs to come together, rehearse together, sing, perform in anything? You get to meet new people, chat to people, find all these connections… It did create that community of people who sing in choirs. 


What was the post-show gathering like? 

Heather: It was really nice to meet with other people, other singers but also friends, family who were watching… just that chance to chat and debrief was really nice. And I loved what you did at that last performance, where you invited all of us to come along, that was so much fun. 

(Jude): So much pizza and it still wasn’t enough!  

Heather: There’s never enough pizza. There’s never enough. Gosh, one of life’s rules. 


Dirty Work is playing in Auckland, Nelson, Christchurch, Wellington and Tauranga from 16 June – 20 August, 2023.

For more information and showtimes, click here!