STAGES with Peter Eyers
Summary: STAGES is the podcast that accesses a variety of people whose professional life is about connecting with an audience. A host of creative artists and practitioners reflect on 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! STAGES talks to talent from front of house and backstage - directors, designers, drag artists and doormen ... performers, producers and publicists ... teachers, technicians and talent! 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.
Hugh Monroe has been delighting audiences since childhood in a range of entertainments. A long resume demonstrates success and exuberant performance across stage, television, drag performance and Audio/Visual production. As a child he appeared in productions of Shakespeare, directed You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and flew 'across the skies' as an impish Peter Pan. You may recall him as a congenial presenter on the highly popular television show, Simon Townsend's Wonder World - a news program produced for a youth audience in the 1980s. At the other extreme you might have been witness to his antics as regular host of the piano bar at the iconic Albury Hotel on Sydney's Oxford Street. Hugh could sing, on his head, on the piano! His skill in drag has also allowed him forays into the musical theatre joy of Pageant and La Cage Aux Folles. The past decade has been spent in Children's theatre, nurturing audiences of the future and informing them via various theatre-in-education projects. Touring the country he introduces the magic of theatre to thousands of young people each year. Hugh loves a chat. And a story. It was much fun to share the microphone with Hugh Monroe, in this naughty but nice, Stages conversation.
Dan Slater is an Australian DJ and Producer based in the United States. He commenced his career in performance of another kind; as a dancer in various commercial musical theatre productions touring Australia and Asia. These shows included Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Shout, Chicago and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert - the Musical. Dan's love of music eventually lured him onto the decks, first as a hobby. In 2012 he won the Sydney Mardi Gras Spin Off competition and soon was delivering beats and rhythms to enthusiastic crowds on dance floors around Sydney. Determination, invention and obvious talent propelled him on to sets and residencies at some of the biggest parties around the world. He has been bringing his upbeat, chunky house sound to dance floors across the globe, and his talent for sculpting the energy of a party is in a league of its own. He draws from the progressive sounds of the European club scene, as well as the Latino fire of South America as he moves seamlessly between house, circuit, tech and deep house. Dan's foray into the studio for production has seen him produce remixes for Cher, Alfie Arcuri, Samantha Jade, Carmen Elektra, Zoë Badwi, Tim Campbell, Nat Conway, Britney Spears, Paulini, Ultra Nate and Marcia Hines. His first release, 'Minute Of You' saw him collaborate with JimJam, and featured soul diva Nalaya. He released 'Sold My Soul' and 'Respectable' with Australian singer-songwriter, Zoë Badwi Their next releases are 'I've Been Waiting' and 'Dirty Little Secret'. Dan is charming, passionate and thrives on his work. He is a master at his craft - conjuring a magic that provides an atmosphere and sound, commanding a place on the dance floor. Dan joined Stages from his home in Miami to reflect on a most unique artistry.
Maggie Kirkpatrick holds a unique place in Australian entertainment. She created one of the most iconic characters in Australian drama television history and simultaneously evolved into one of the most accomplished and admired theatrical leading ladies. Maggie appeared as Madame Morrible in the original Australian production of Wicked, which toured nationally and throughout Asia for seven years. Maggie manifested Madame Morrible for the run of the show. She has worked extensively with Australia's leading theatre companies, including STC (Major Barbara, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Ham Funeral, A Delicate Balance, A Cheery Soul, The Cripple of Inishmaan), MTC (Emerald City), the State Theatre Of South Australia (Farewell Brisbane Ladies, The One Day Of The Year) and Perth Theatre Company (A Passionate Woman). Maggie was directed by Michael Blakemore in Death Trap and has shared the stage with Sir Michael Redgrave (in JC Williamson's Voyage Round My Father), Susannah York (Shoehorn Sonata, London's King's Head Theatre) and Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) among others. Maggie's musical repertoire includes stellar turns in Irene, Anything Goes, Songs from A Side Show Alley, Singin' in the Rain and the West End production of Prisoner: Cell Block H; The Musical, not to mention several highly successful and long running, one-woman cabaret shows, The Screw Is Loose and Maggie Kirkpatrick...Still Here. Her television credits include, All Saints, Blue Heelers, Water Rats, GP, Home and Away, The Pacific and of course, Joan (The Freak) Ferguson in Prisoner. Maggie's feature film roles include Welcome To Woop Woop, Lillian's Story, Billy's Holiday, The Night of the Prowler and The Getting of Wisdom. Maggie has long been actively involved in raising awareness of gay rights receiving a DIVA Award for fund raising for the fight against HIV/Aids. She is a proud member of Actors Equity since 1961. Earlier this year Maggie released her memoir, The Gloves Are Off - The Inside Story from Prisoner to Wicked. It is a terrific read recounting a brilliant career, while also chronicling our vital stage history. Maggie is a treasured guest in this special edition of Stages - episode 150!
A young performer's passion is frequently ignited through their engagement with the Arts, at school. Performing Arts teachers recognise and nurture a passion in their students that may one day lead to a professional career in dance, music or drama. A performing arts experience at school also supports the child whose ambition may lie in other industries, providing essential social, personal and analytical skills. The role of the Drama Teacher is immensely fulfilling but equally demanding. It exists beyond the curriculum in co-curricular programs, experiences and productions, generously offered by teachers to foster an appreciation of theatre, culture and the joy of play-making. Jane Simmons has over 25 years teaching experience. She is embraced as a leader in Drama education and is recognised as a generous source of advice, encouragement and practice. In her present role as Performance Officer at The Department of Education Arts Unit, she has produced State drama festivals, camps, ensembles and workshops. Jane has coordinated professional development courses and is an experienced director, administrator and marker. In 2011 she created a social network site, Drama Peeps. The site is a valued resource for the Drama teacher, offering support of pedagogy and nurturing community. Jane also has extensive stage experience. She has performed sold out shows at the Sydney Comedy Festival and is a dynamic presence at Theatresports competitions. For a period she wrote an insightful blog reviewing theatre, called Shit On Your Play. The blog garnered a wide readership from discerning theatre goers and many practitioners from MainStage and Fringe companies. In 2015 Jane received the Australian Council of Teachers leadership award, recognising her excellence and expertise in the arts. Jane joined Stages in a celebratory conversation of the Drama teacher and illuminating reflection on what lead her to a career in arts education.
Dolores Dunbar possesses an energy that equals that of her teenage students. In her role as Head of Musical Theatre at the McDonald College of Performing Arts she contributes to the development of the next generation of performers with a knowledge garnered from extensive industry experience in a variety of roles. A first foray into the business came from an extensive tour with Slim Dusty. The 'smell of the greasepaint' ignited her passion and confirmed her ambition to work in the theatre. She made her professional stage debut in the Australian company of Funny Girl for J.C. Williamson's. A stack of shows followed for Dolores, including My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Les Miserables and Shout. Other creative roles have seen her choreograph the immensely successful Australian production of Nunsense, that saw several companies and endless 'nuns' perform and tour the work. She has served in Company Management roles, saved the show with script in hand and directed productions of Eurovision, Copacabana, Sweet Charity and Grease. She is always ready with an amusing and celebratory anecdote, that serves also as a brilliant history lesson. Dolores is a walking encyclopaedia of our musical theatre past and the many characters who have inhabited its stages. She is terrific company and a passionate supporter of young talent. Dolores Dunbar is today's special guest on Stages.
When Tim Chappel was 13, he was mesmerised by the beauty and creation bursting from the pages of an edition of Vogue. This awakening steered the young artist away from aspirations of becoming a botanist and pointed him towards the alchemy of a hot glue gun and glitter, fabric and fabulousness; and into the world of costume design. Tim Chappel is one of Australia's leading costume designers and has designed for feature films, TV series, theatre, musicals and music video clips. He was awarded the Academy Award, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award and an Australian Film Institute Award for his costume design of The Adventures of Priscilla , Queen of the Desert. For the stage musical adaptation, Chappel was rewarded again with Broadway's coveted Tony Award for his inspired design and creation. His extensive design credits include the films Miss Congeniality and Today You Die; Television product such as Australia's Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars; the stage productions Gypsy and Funny Girl and Music Videos for Cher, Missy Elliott and Matchbox 20. It is a career that has reached beyond Australian platforms to be showcased in the West End, on Broadway and in the celluloid splendour of Hollywood. Chappel continues to create vivid worlds on various canvases. He relishes too, the opportunity to train a new generation of costume designers, imparting a knowledge built on invention, spectacle and an inimitable style. Stages was thrilled to meet Tim and to garner a unique insight into the art of the costume designer and to reflect on a celebrated career. The Stages podcast is available from iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa.
Lee Young was born James Stevenson Young in Scotland in 1928 His mother was a concert soprano and his father an amateur actor. Lee became stage struck at a very early age, fascinated by his father's make-up box and collection of false beards. An unsuccessful audition for the Entertainment National Service Association (he was too young), brought him to the eye of an auditioning agent who was handling Scottish Variety dates. He booked Lee's dance act to appear at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr. Keen to appear in a West End show, he successfully auditioned for the legendary Windmill Theatre and subsequently commenced a career in London theatres, clubs and revues. He has anecdotes aplenty concerning a galaxy of stars that he has either worked with or been on close terms. These include Frankie Howerd, Richard Burton, Marlene Dietrich, Benny Hill, Terry Thomas, Danny LaRue and Mrs Mills. In 1953, Lee made what may have been the first rock and roll record issued outside the United States when he recorded the song Rock, Rock, Rock. Lee settled in Sydney in 1971 and quickly established himself as a much loved and respected part of the show business fraternity 'down under' in theatre restaurant, revue and as a popular headline cabaret performer on the club circuit. As a theatre performer his credits include Stepping Out, Blithe Spirit, King Lear, Dad's Army - the musical; and Arsenic and Old Lace where he toured with Gwen Plumb and June Bronhill. Lee is a much-lauded member of the distinguished theatrical group The Glugs, who in 2019, awarded him the Rodney Seaborn Lifetime Achievement Award. An hour in his company is a valuable history lesson and contagious inspiration. Ladies and Gentlemen .... Mr Lee Young.
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.