STAGES with Peter Eyers
Summary: STAGES is an opportunity for me to talk to a variety of people whose professional life is about connecting with an audience. I'll be chatting to a series of creative artists and practitioners about their career, their process and what matters - to them. Some have made the arts a lifetime pursuit, some explain how their career became a happy accident ... but all describe the challenges and demands - and ultimately celebrate why there's no business like show business! I'll talk to people from front of house and backstage - directors, designers, drag queens and doormen ... performers, producers and publicity. Whatever stages it takes to engage and affect an audience - or whatever it takes to carve out a career in the arts - we'll examine it in STAGES. STAGES is the recipient of the Best New Podcaster Award at The Australian Podcast Awards in 2019.
Jordan Shea is a Filipino-Australian writer and teacher working across theatre and screen. After debuting his first play, two days shy of his twenty first birthday, he went on to write plays across the independent sector. He then secured a place at the VCA in Melbourne, to study his master's degree in playwriting. Relocating back to Sydney, he has become a distinguished Asian-Australian voice in the performing arts. His credits as a writer include: Kasama Kita, The House at Boundary Road, Liverpool, CAGE, Barbaric Truth, Last Drinks, Little Differences, Cascadia and many more that have been developed by major companies, and independent collectives. He is currently one of the Philip Parsons Fellows for Belvoir Theatre. Jordan also worked as a producer, in venues such as the Chippen Street Theatre, the King Street Theatre and the Kings Cross Theatre. As a Director, he was responsible for Keating! which opened the Bryan Brown Theatre, Bankstown as part of the Bankstown Arts Festival. His passion for telling stories is palpable, along with an impressive appreciation of theatre history in Australia and abroad. There is no doubting his commitment to the work. And glowing reviews indicate a talent to watch. Jordan has also worked as a producer and director on several projects and today he is our enthusiastic guest on Stages.
In Part 2 of Stages conversation with Rhonda Burchmore, we traverse the extensive career highlights that run parallel to those of the musical theatre. Television variety and cabaret have rewarded her with many triumphs and other modes of artistic expression. Burchmore has forged a lengthy career in one of the toughest and most unforgiving industries; show business. Tenacity, heart and humour have been steadfast qualities that have enabled her to rise to the top and enamour audiences. Her one-woman show Red, Hot and Rhonda opened the Crown Casino in Melbourne. She was honoured with the Cabaret Icon Award at The International Adelaide Cabaret Festival and she continues to work with Mamma Mia alumni Lara Mulcahy in self-devised entertainments Abba-Solutely Fabulous and Partners in Crime. Rhonda was a spirited addition to many television variety shows that included The Don Lane Show, The Mike Walsh Show and Hey, Hey It's Saturday. These shows were screened live, depended on spontaneity and featured big bands. Rhonda is candid, warm and has the best laugh. She shares more of her magnificent story in this companion episode of Stages.
Rhonda Burchmore has chartered a career spanning 40 years and several genres. She is equally adept at cabaret, television variety and musical theatre, with extensive credits demonstrating consummate skill and audience delight. In 2019 she was very much in the public consciousness as we watched her traverse the many challenges and triumphs navigated in the sixth season of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Rhonda's tremendous tenacity, humour and heart shone through, placing her third and garnering much affection from camp-mates and audience. She has played stages around Australia and the West End, affording her opportunities to work alongside legendary performers such as Eddie Bracken, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller and Anthony Newley. She has given us star turns in the musicals Sugar Babies, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Mamma Mia, Stop The World I Want To get Off, Mame and The Drowsy Chaperone; and been celebrated as a solo performer with dynamic turns in shows such as Fever, Vinyl Viagra, My Funny Valentines and Everybody Loves Rhonda. Everybody does love Rhonda and she continues to delight on screens and stages. And as the critics attest, she just keeps going from strength to strength.
Tony Taylor migrated to Australia from the UK. He has found great personal reward through participation in the performing arts. Commencing his career as a Drama teacher, an invitation to participate in an improvisation workshop lead him to become an original member of the seminal Australian Performing Group at The Pram Factory in Melbourne. This crucible of creative energy would launch some of the country's leading actors and playwrights. At The Pram Factory, Taylor was part of a theatre collective and found acting and creative roles in the premiere of David Williamson's Don's Party and the iconic Hills Family Show; a vaudeville themed entertainment that enjoyed considerable success and a wide tour. The Hills Family Show brought him to the attention of Sydney practitioners and extensive work at the Nimrod Theatre Company followed. As did the original Australian production of The Venetian Twins and a lifelong partnership with a fellow actor. A life in the theatre has also seen Taylor contribute dynamic performances in productions of The Life and Adventure of Nicholas Nickleby, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Man of La Mancha and The Importance of Being Earnest. His writing accomplishments swim in a range of genres - drama, revue, comedy, cabaret and children's theatre. In this episode he recounts the development of the riotous comic work, The Popular Mechanicals. Needless to say, it is an extensive contribution to theatre in Australia and Tony Taylor shares vast anecdote and history in this candid and illuminating episode of Stages.
Brian Thomson is approaching his 50th year as a Set Designer, contributing to a vast number of productions and platforms globally. He is Australia's most prolific designer, creating scenic worlds to tell stories across a range of platforms - theatre, opera, film, musical and concert. In this companion episode of Stages we revisit his work with Barry Humphries and Kylie Minogue, and the staging of Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the musical, in theatres around the world. Along the way he has collected a Tony Award and worked with a host of great talents. He has designed for large canvases and small spaces. Recent work ranges from the intimacy of The Old Fitz theatre with Krapp's Last Tape to La Traviata on Sydney Harbour, which alas succumbed to Covid's tragic interruption. Brian is eloquent, engaging and erudite, providing fascinating insight into the work of the Designer, and also anecdote from vital contributions to the Arts across several decades.
Brian Thomson made his theatre debut in 1971 when he designed set and costumes for Jim Sharman's celebrated production of As You Like It for the Old Tote Theatre. The tribal musical Hair quickly followed, beginning a succession of iconic productions constructed for impresario Harry M. Miller. Brian designed settings for the original Australian and London productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. He also designed the cinematic staple, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a cult classic that continues to charm audiences through generations. In 1996 Brian Thomson was awarded the Tony Award for the Broadway production of The King and I. The production also played The London Palladium having originated in Australia. The Thomson resume is considerable recording a vast repertoire of work for stage, film and live performance. He has worked for many of the Nation's major theatre and opera companies and in 1999 designed Kylie Minogue's Intimate and Live Tour. He was a Supervising Designer for The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games also. A Brian Thomson design guarantees immediate transportation to the world of the play. His aesthetic is informed, unique and seductive. He is a prolific stage designer and it was our pleasure to record this episode of Stages and capture an extraordinary life in the theatre.
Born in the UK, Robina Beard wanted to be a ballerina and after migrating with her parents to Sydney in 1949, continued training in the Cecchetti method. She has contributed to many art forms and roles over an extensive career in Australia. Robina Beard has graced Australian stages and screens for several decades. She is familiar to generations of Australians as Madge the Manicurist in the iconic Palmolive commercials in which she uttered the familiar catch-phrase - "You're soaking in it." She has carved a fulfilling career as a performer, creative and teacher. She can now add author to the list with the recent publication of her autobiography, My Life: you're Soaking In It. Robina provides us with a first hand account of the Entertainment Industry in Australia from early jobs working as a television weather girl, a score of shows with J.C.Williamson's and at the Phillip Street theatre. She has filled the role of Resident Director and served appointments as a teacher with NAISDA and the Australian Ballet School. In this conversation we draw upon a lifetime of dance, musical theatre, drama, television and Arts education. At 83 she is vibrant, engaging and an endless source of laughter and fascination; having achieved many of her dreams but missing out on others. She describes opportunities and moments rife in a rich life and rewarding career.
The Canberra Times identified Bill Stephens as one of 75 people who had shaped the National Capitol. He is one of the region's best known theatrical personalities, and although his career was in Hospital Administration, it has been through his passionate involvement in the performing arts nationally, that he has made his most important contribution. He has carved a lengthy career as a Theatre Director with theatre companies in Griffith and Canberra. For 15 years he was Cabaret Producer and Artistic Director at the Queanbeyan School of Arts cafe. The School of Arts Café became the longest established cabaret venue in Australia, attracting a host of sterling talent and enthusiastic audiences. As a Theatre Critic and Writer he regularly contributes reviews to the Canberra Critics Circle blog, and reviews productions of musical theatre, cabaret and dance for City News, and Australian Arts Review. Bill has also contributed feature articles on theatre to 'Stage Whispers'. Bill has had extensive experience presenting radio programs of interviews, reviews, music and news. Since February, 2019, he has been producing and presenting weekly episodes of the arts program, In The Foyer for Artsound FM. Commencing in 1985, Bill has been an interviewer for the National Library of Australia's Oral History Program, specialising in the performing arts and preserving vital conversations with artists across all disciplines and roles. In 2017 he was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia - for services to the performing arts. Bill has spoken to everyone and now it's my treat to speak with Bill - and learn more about the passion and energy that has sustained him over several decades in a passionate pursuit of the performing arts and its practitioners.
Dean Carey began his professional career in Melbourne, acting in a series of television and stage productions. However it is the pedagogy of Acting that has consumed Dean for over 35 years, teaching the craft and associated performance skills. He has enormous passion and respect for the process of the actor and has subsequently become a stand for powerful and meaningful performance, nurturing actors to fully explore, grow and be their best. Dean has taught in the United Staes, the United Kingdom, France, Brazil, Russia, Singapore and New Zealand. He is the author of the much acclaimed , The Acting Edge, The Actor's Audition Manual and Masterclass. He has served appointments as Head of Acting at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, where he also taught on the staff for several years. Several generations of actors have benefitted from his guidance with Dean also completing teaching stints and/or direction at the Victorian College of the Arts, the Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. In 1987 he created an Advanced Diploma in Performing Arts, (Acting) becoming the Founding and Creative Director of the Actor's Centre Australia. Yesterday, The Actor's Centre celebrated 33 years of operation! In this riveting chat we discuss the training of actors, Dean's penchant for science fiction stories and the birth and growth of ACA. Bravo Dean and Happy Birthday ACA!
Shaun Parker graduated with a science degree but it was dance that became his vocation. He is an award winning choreographer, dancer, actor and counter-tenor whose work has explored a vast range of performance platforms. He is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts and a former member of Meryl Tankard's Australian Dance Theatre. In 2010, he founded Shaun Parker & Company, becoming Artistic Director and a dynamic advocate for dance. The company creates critically acclaimed dance productions, which are renowned for their integration of stimulating choreographic forms, arresting musical scores and theatrical invention. Their work has graced national and global stages. Parker's choreographic works include KING, REMOTE, In The Zone, Am I, Happy As Larry and The Yard. He is fêted for his dynamic, youthful work that "is so cutting edge it actually wanders off the edge of any single-word definition". (The Daily Telegraph) Shaun Parker & Company has found various ways to continue working and maintain connections with both its dancers and its audiences during this time of physical distancing. Shaun is this week's guest on Stages. He elaborates on creating a dance experience online and the role he relishes; steering an innovative dance company with a passionate commitment to education and creating work that connects with audiences to deliver strong social impact.
Neil Gooding is an international theatre Director, Producer and Writer. He was the originating Chairman and one of the founding members of the Hayes Theatre Co in Sydney. He is the head of New Musicals Australia and in 2002 established his own company, Neil Gooding Productions (NGP). Directing highlights include the Australian premiere of Stalking The Bogeyman, the World Premiere concert version of Paris, the World Premiere of The Red Tree, Church And State, Passion, the World Premiere of The Hatpin, Truth Beauty And A Picture Of You and High Fidelity; the national tour of Thank You for Being A Friend; as well as Side by Side by Sondheim and Diciasette. As a Producer, Neil's work internationally includes: Back to the Future the Musical at the Manchester Opera House; the New York production of Handle with Care starring Carol Lawrence; The 39 Steps (Union Square Theatre in New York); Alan Cumming's one-man version of Macbeth; Church And State (New World Stages, NYC) and participation in the Broadway productions of It's Only A Play; The Empire Strips Back and The Ferryman. In London's West End, Neil was a producer of the hit Australian play, Holding the Man. Neil is also the author of the musical Back to the 80's which is now produced hundreds of times around the world every year, as well as the newly released Popstars. Next week he directs the Australian premiere of Who's Your Baghdaddy? (Or How I Started The Iraq War). Due to the present Covid-19 restrictions, this stage musical has been reimagined to be performed online. It's a daring new way to reach an audience but necessity is often the mother of invention. Neil Gooding joined us from New York to discuss the show and a trajectory in the theatre that is reaping great rewards. www.baghdaddymusical.com.au
Belinda Giblin recently celebrated 50 years as an actor. Growing up in Tamworth, the daughter of parents who were prolific practitioners in community theatre, early exposure to the arts guaranteed her chosen vocation. Extensive ballet study through her childhood resulted in an offer of scholarship to the Australian Ballet School, but it was a life upon the stage, in another artistic expression that won. She has navigated a career that has allowed her a broad repertoire of performances. With the iconic Crawford Production house, she found roles in the television police dramas Division Four, Homicide and Matlock Police. She has also perfected the art of the soap opera in programs like The Box, The Sullivans and Sons & Daughters; where she gave us the villainous Alison Carr. Giblin continues dips into the genre with her present residency in Home & Away's Summer Bay as Martha Stewart. Her range can also be seen in stage performances that have covered Comedic Farce, American Drama and the Classics. Giblin defines the last decade as probably the most exciting she has experienced as an actor with acclaimed turns in Blonde Poison, Doubt, The Turquoise Elephant, Family Values and John. Belinda Giblin is this week's guest on Stages, reflecting on an craft that is always surprising, sometimes disappointing, frequently erratic but never dull.
In a relatively young life, Harry Cook has demonstrated a dynamic and charismatic persona, achieving much. He has chartered a successful career as an actor, garnering impressive accolades in a number of feature films. He made his screen debut at 17, playing opposite Hollywood Star, Geena Davis, in the coming-of-age tale; Accidents Happen. Harry is also a passionate activist for LGBTIQ+ rights and visibility. He chronicled his own traumatic coming-out story in the engaging memoir, Pink Ink. The book won acclaim for its honesty and warmth. Further gigs have seen Harry acting alongside Sam Neill and Bryan Brown in ABC TV's Old School and in the cult thriller Caught Inside with Peter Phelps and Ben Oxenbould. Most recently he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the prestigious Film Out, San Diego for his role in the feature film Drown. Ever present on social media, he continues to chart a full and fulfilling life. Harry communicates his staunch support of many issues, his great love of family and his affectionate obsession with a bulldog named Poppy. Next month Harry's new book, Finn, Rye and Fireflies is released. The young-adult fiction book tackles aversion therapy and continues his goal to increase the visibility of LGBTIQ+ characters across all platforms. Harry is a passionate story-teller and is candid about his personal and professional journeys. He provides terrific reflection in this episode of Stages.
Benjamin Northey is the Chief Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and the Principal Conductor in Residence of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He has previously held the posts of Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Resident Guest Conductor of the Australian Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. Born and raised in Ballarat, he embraced music as an expression from an early age. Flute, clarinet and saxophone were instruments of choice. An appetite and enthusiasm for further exploration saw him develop skills in arranging; and pursue piano, trumpet and violin to add to his developing skills set. Northey graduated with performance studies in classical saxophone from the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. He followed this promptly with a Master of Music study in Conducting, from the Victorian College of the Arts, and continued study abroad. With a progressive and diverse approach to repertoire he has collaborated with a broad range of artists and he is adept at a terrific range of musical styles. And Benjamin Northey likes nothing more than to lead an audience through a sensory experience of music. He does it with passion, pride and perfection. Benjamin Northey joined me in a passionate discussion that considers the musician's process; and ponders the present performance pause and absence of an audience.
Perth seems 'a million miles away' from New York City, but it frames the journey of Carmel Dean; a musical practitioner of intellectual and creative power. She has been applauded extensively in a variety of roles that include Composer, Musical Director, Arranger and Pianist. Early training in classical piano and study at The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, confirmed an ambition harboured by Carmel. She wanted to create, write and perform music, chiefly in the genre of musical theatre. In 2001 she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States and subsequently graduated from NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program. A dynamic approach to her work and an easy charm saw her triumph in a succession of creative tasks; transcribing, teaching and accompaniment, building collaborative relationships and demonstrating solid instincts. These experiences soon lead to roles in Musical Direction. As Musical Director, she has guided the Broadway productions of If/Then, Hands on a Hardbody, American Idiot and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Off-Broadway credits include Everyday Rapture, Vanities and Elegies - A Song Cycle by William Finn. As Composer, Carmel's first musical, Renascence, was produced Off-Broadway and was named Best New Musical at the 2018 Off-Broadway Alliance Awards. A song-cycle titled Well Behaved Women had its premiere performance in New York at Joe's Pub in January, 2020. Carmel Dean is a remarkable musician and an inspiring woman. She is incredibly eloquent. We connected with Carmel remotely, to traverse her extraordinary career thus far, and obtain a fascinating insight into the construction of a Musical narrative.