Lisa Condit spoke with Mark Irwin from Choir of Man about the show, his career, mental health and more. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Lisa: Thank you all for listening today. This is Lisa Condit and we are with Mark Irwin from The Choir of Man. The Choir of Man is coming to The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory on Sunday, February 6 at 6:30pm. I’m excited to have you with us, Mark, welcome!
Mark: Thank you! Thank you for having me. How are you?
Lisa: I’m doing fantastic! I just watched your B-roll video and I got so excited. I’m like, “Oh, I love that song that you guys are singing in perfect harmony.” I’d love for people to know more about Choir of Man. I think that there are some people who may not have heard of you before, so can you tell us a little bit about the group and how you came to join The Choir of Man?
Mark: Of course! First, I can tell you about the actual show itself and then I can tell you about how I got involved. Basically, we’re called The Choir of Man – we’re nine normal guys in very diverse and very out-there-on-our-own ways. I’m from Ireland, you can tell by my accent. A couple of us are from Ireland and we’ve got a couple of English guys, a Welsh guy and we actually have an American guy with us on tour as well. Basically, it’s set in your stereotypical English/Irish bar and we all sing songs, dance and play instruments live on stage every night. We have an Irish guy called Conor and he’s the poet in the show, so he’s the one that ties all the songs together with his dialogue and speeches.
The Choir of Man takes people on a journey through a night in a pub, but it’s not like your typical pub in terms of what happens in a pub. We have a really good, strong underlying message about men’s mental health and that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.Mark Irwin
Mark: My character, I play “the romantic” in the show, and there’s a point in the show where I’m down about something, whether it’s a break-up or whatever. It’s all about helping each other out and knowing when your mate isn’t feeling well and getting him to talk. There’s a very strong message in the show about solidarity, inclusion and diversity. We’re a very diverse case in terms of where we’re from, our ethnic backgrounds and our personal backgrounds, and it’s just a very honest show. I’ve seen the show, I’ve watched other guys perform the show before I joined and you’re laughing, one minute you’re crying, you’re dancing and it’s a mix of emotions for the audience member. At the end of the day, you leave on a high and we always finish on a high. That’s basically the logistics of the show itself.
Lisa: Mark, this is right up my alley in every way that you’ve described. I love English and Irish pubs so much, you have no idea. I’ve only been overseas a few times, but have enjoyed it every time. It really is a completely different experience than what people think about when they think of the American bar scene.
Mark: Exactly! I know about all the different bars in America and it’s so different. An English and Irish pub background is so different as well. The live instruments aspect actually comes from the Irish background. When you go into an Irish bar, nearly every other bar you walk into, there’s some sort of live music, whether that’s a guy, a girl or a band up singing or whether it’s just people bringing their instruments to the pub and having a session. We sing songs ranging from Adele to Guns N’ Roses to Sia, and we sing a beautiful Irish song called “A Parting Glass” at the very end of the show. We cater for everyone, and it’s a funny one because a lot of the people coming to the show might not know a lot about it. The word “choir” actually puts people off of the show because when you think of the word “choir,” you think of people stood on stage singing the gospel and things. It’s very different than that, and the name might throw people off, but I promise you, there’s definitely something in there for everybody.
Lisa: It’s interesting! You’re right, people might have a misperception or misconception of what the show is about because of the name Choir of Man. How did the show get that name?
Mark: This is my fourth time doing the show and I’ve been around for about two years now. Don’t quote me on this, but I think the show is about five years old. There are two guys called Nick Doodson and Andrew Kay, an English man and Australian man, and they’ve worked on projects before. They had a conversation and Nick had the idea for a show, and all they knew at the time was that they wanted it to be set in a pub. He openly says himself that he loves singing and he loves pubs, so therefore, that’s where the idea came from and it kind of grew from that. Even now, when you look back at where it started and where it’s come to now, like the versions of the show that are on cruise liners and other touring versions where they have a full band in the show as well. In our touring version in America, we all play our own instruments live, so there’s various versions of the show in terms of the setting of it, but every show is the same and all the songs are the same. I was lucky enough to work through the pandemic last year, I was at the Sydney Opera House in January last year in Australia for ten weeks. Then during the summer, I was in a production in Coventry, England for ten weeks. Before that, I was on the Norwegian Encore for six months doing the show as well. So, this will be my fourth time doing the show and my second time touring America.
Lisa: I am totally going to be there with my daughter and my friends because we’re all going to love it. I think it’s such an important message of mental health and being able to talk about the things that are bothering us. I love the fact that it is all men, hopefully breaking down some of those barriers so that people are more comfortable. As you’re describing the show to all of us, I’m reminded of that musical Once. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see Once or not, are you familiar with that musical?
Mark: I auditioned for Once years and years and years ago, I’ve been in the industry for about 10-11 years now. Once was an audition I did about six years ago. It was for an Irish production and an Irish show. Sometimes it was on the West End but they were doing a small production in Ireland, and I wasn’t fortunate enough to actually get offered the job but I love the music. I play the guitar as well and I love sitting down and playing the music of Once. It’s quite similar in terms of the setting, it’s set in a pub, but the difference is that Once is very heavy, I think, but Choir of Man has sad parts but also uplifting parts. We give our free beer in the show, as well, because we have a working bar on stage. There was a period where people came up on stage, like in Once before the show, and a barman would hand out beer or root beer wherever we may be in America. Because of COVID, we can’t have people on stage but we have managed to come up with a creative way of still getting beers, or whatever the drink of choice is, to the audience members.
When you walk into the theatre to sit down, we want you to feel like you’re walking into the pub. It’s not like you’re coming to see a show and you’re sitting there with your Playbill; it’s different. We want you to feel like you’re walking into this pub and the audience is an extended version of the pub.Mark Irwin
Lisa: I love the fact that it is uplifting because you’re right, Once is a little heavy and sad. I think we can all do with acknowledging the sadness but leaving feeling joyous and happy. I wouldn’t feel too badly that you didn’t get the part in Once because your resume speaks for itself. It looks like you studied at the London School of Musical Theatre and you received the Andrew Lloyd Webber scholarship. Now, that’s a name that we all recognize.
Mark: Yeah, Andrew Lloyd Webber is, like, the king of musical theatre. I studied the classical singing for ten years and it just wasn’t giving me that feeling that I thought I would have when I was on stage. As much as I love singing that kind of music, musical theatre and dramatics always just gave me a feeling of elation. You’re on a high for a couple hours after a show, and I decided to change career paths in that perspective. I was lucky enough to be offered the Lloyd Webber scholarship for London and it just kind of snowballed from there. The Choir of Man has been a massive card for my career, and I’ve been very lucky to tour America before with an Irish production called Celtic Nights. I’ve walked on the West End and toured a lot of Europe, but The Choir of Man is a different one, it’s hard to explain. I have a lot of friends who actually want to be in The Choir of Man, it’s such a family. We are nine guys on stage and a lot of the time, people say, “You’re really good actors! You come across like you’re really best friends.”
But, the thing is, we are all best friends. I met one of my lifetime best friends from doing The Choir of Man. It’s just that kind of show and what we show on stage is real.Mark Irwin
Mark: Yes, we’re all performers and we’re all actors but I play myself on stage, so my name is Mark and my character’s name is Mark and vice-versa for the other guys. There’s no real acting involved, we’re just being ourselves.