Michael Butera well remembers the butterflies flitter-fluttering in his stomach when the chance to join the cast of Barnum (featuring master Walter de Backer as the lead) suddenly presented.
It happened in early 1998, with preparations for the College musical underway. As Michael, then a Year 8 student recalled: “Mum tried to convince me to audition for that musical at Parade, but I pulled out. I wasn’t confident, I was just too shy”.
“I can’t exactly remember what happened the next year, but I think I sang in a music class run by Mrs (Barbara) Bibby,” Michael said. “She took me to see Mr (Martin) Macaulay (Parade College’s Director of Music), who suggested that I audition for a small part in Pirates of Penzance.
“Anyway I got the part and it just snowballed from there. It’s why I look up to Mr Macaulay. Other than my parents, he was the first to say ‘You’re good at what you do, you can do it’.”
Beyond the College gates, Michael resolved to act on Mr Macaulay’s advice by performing in theatre and writing songs. On the strength of this passion, he embarked on what would be a six-year musical odyssey to Canada - his recent return having been driven by a need to reconnect with family, amongst them his older brother Adrian (1989), in the old stamping ground of Mill Park.
“I came home at the end of 2016, having been away since 2010 and Montreal was my base,” Michael said.
“Montreal’s people are primarily French-speaking, which was challenging in its own way . . . then there was the temperature which drops to minus 40 in winter, so it was a real learning experience.”
Michael had initially resolved to pursue his musical career in London until a cousin domiciled in Canada’s largest city in Quebec province paid an impromptu Melbourne visit.
“I’d never met her before, but we generated this great friendship all of a sudden,” Michael said.
“At the time she said ‘Before you go to the UK come to Canada first – you can stay with us, you’ll have family there to support you (even though I’d never met them) and I know some people in the (music) industry’. So I followed her advice and gave up everything I had here.”
In Montreal, Michael was exposed to all manner of industry types, including record label reps who’d jetted in from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Along the way he recorded a few singles and a couple of music videos, and penned a few tunes.
As he said: “I took some time to write for myself. I wrote a bunch of songs and I think I came up with some of my best material”.
In respect of the songwriting craft, Michael capably addresses themes of love and heartbreak (and whatever else in between), and it is here that he often turns to the metaphorical.
“I love using metaphors,” Michael said. “There’s a song called ‘Alice’ which is based on Alice in Wonderland. The whole song is all about jumping in and taking a risk as she did, and I built a song around that idea.
“That song is a special song to me. I listen to it reinspire me whenever I’m feeling a bit unmotivated.”
Though Michael was a kid of just six when he first belted out songs at Ray’s Academy of Modern Singing in Coburg, it took some time for the penny to drop that he could actually combine his music with secondary school commitments.
But by 2002, in what was his final year at Parade, Michael earned a leading role as Judas in the College production of Jesus Christ Superstar – and in the New Year he’ll play the part of Lonny in Rock of Ages at Altona’s City Theatre - “the biggest part I’ve had since Judas back in the Parade days”.
Without question, Michael’s dedication to duty has been truly tested since his Australian return.
“It is challenging,” he conceded of trying to get a break in the industry, “and I’ve looked hard for musicians online, just trying to find a guitarist or pianist who is interested.
“But I’d like to think that I’m a very open-minded person – and I’d be open-minded to working with musicians, producers, arrangers and being involved in the network.”
To listen to ‘Alice’, click here