Clyde & Co partner Alena Titterton talks about how musical theatre became her forte.
Not many people can list lawyer, singer, songwriter and musical theatre composer on their résumé. However, for Alena Titterton, these roles naturally complement each other.
Titterton, 33, is a partner at Clyde & Co in Sydney, specialising in workplace health and safety law. It’s her job to create risk management strategies for businesses to help them prevent health and safety incidents. She also responds to incidents when they do happen – from HR problems to workplace fatalities – and then prosecutes or defends the businesses involved.
Her job sometimes involves attending coronial inquests and other emotional experiences, so between clients, Titterton lets off steam by playing her keyboard, which she keeps in her office on the ninth floor of Clyde & Co. After hours, she goes home to compose and sing songs for a full-length musical production she is creating.
“Music is such a therapeutic thing for me,” says Titterton. “I can go home after a tough day and write a song to process the world and the tension I’m feeling. It gives me huge relief from the pressure of my career. And it probably saves me a lot of money in therapy bills.”
Titterton grew up on the Sunshine Coast and has loved piano, singing and musical theatre since she was very young. Videos of her running around the house carrying her doll and singing unintelligible lyrics at just three years old confirm this. Her parents and their eclectic record collection inspired her love of 1970s singer-songwriters such as Elton John, Carole King and James Taylor. However, these days she appreciates many genres.
“I listen to opera, classical music, electronic music – even Taylor Swift,” says Titterton. “I know some people think Tay Tay is a bit of a sell-out, but I love her and think she’s a fantastic songwriter.”
Titterton began learning piano when she was five and started singing in choirs and performing in school musicals during primary school. She joined the Young Conservatorium at Griffith University in Brisbane when she was just 14. A highlight of her early singing career was performing the Australian national anthem at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane for the final of the Rugby League Tri-Nations tournament.
“I don’t recall what year it was or anything about the game, because I know nothing about sport,” she says, laughing. “But I can picture vividly being in the middle of this huge stadium with 80,000 fans singing along. It was amazing.”
Being a bright spark academically, Titterton graduated school early and had a couple of years to kill before she turned 18 and could audition for the acting course at Queensland University of Technology. She decided to study law and psychology to fill in the time.
“Once I finished law I thought, ‘I may as well do a graduate program and get my practising certificate’,” says Titterton. “Before I knew it, I had caught the bug for safety law and I became really passionate about making workplaces safer. All of a sudden, it’s a decade later and I’m a partner in a law firm.”
Titterton began as a graduate lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright in Brisbane, before moving to Sydney to work for one of her professional heroes, Australian health and safety law guru Michael Tooma. She joined Clyde & Co as a partner in February 2016.
Titterton has even found time to compose her first short musical, which was performed at the Short+Sweet theatre festival in Sydney in 2015. The comedy show, called Lockout – The Musical, is not about lockout laws, but based on an hysterical true story about Titterton and her friends running late to a theatre show.
“People loved it; it was pretty hilarious,” says Titterton. “We ended up spoofing the entire musical theatre genre. It was really fun.”
The experience gave Titterton the confidence to embark on writing a full-length musical, which she says is coming along slowly but surely.
“These days, I travel a lot for work and I write more on planes, trains and automobiles than anywhere else,” she says. “I have often wondered why that is. I think it’s the forward motion of travel. It kind of pushes me along.”
While some lawyers go for a run to unwind, Titterton says she uses music to release stress or work through emotions. Last year, after reading in the news about the suicide of 13-year-old Tyrone Unsworth in Brisbane, she wrote a song to process her grief.
“I read his story and I just cried,” says Titterton. “The fact that it was 2016 and there was a 13-year-old boy who couldn’t imagine how to get out of a bullying situation in any other way than by committing suicide. I couldn’t sleep after that story. So I sat down the next day and wrote a song.”
The haunting piano melody, which is on Titterton’s YouTube page and called Tyrone, is a stark contrast to the songs on her EP, Alanka. This debut collection contains four upbeat tunes that match Titterton’s usually bubbly personality.
“People often say to me, ‘You’re not the usual lawyer’,” says Titterton. “And I think, ‘What does that even mean?’ There are all these negative connotations of being a lawyer – of being stuck-up, arrogant, a know-it-all and that sort of thing.
“I’m not just a lawyer – I’m a human, too. Having this passion for music helps people realise that.”