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.
Barry Dickins is fascinated by people and what makes them tick. He is a celebrated playwright whose work astutely portrays the marrow of Australian life, in deft characterisations of our idiosyncratic lifeblood and the telling of tales, tall and true. His talents extend to author, artist, actor, educator and journalist. His work is made up of acute observations and unique interpretation ... given titles that seem to bottle our essence with sublime perfection - THE HORROR OF SUBURBAN NATURE STRIPS, THE BLOODY TERROR OF DENTISTRY, BEDLAM AUTOS and THE BANANA BENDER. There is no doubting the immense contribution he has made to Australia's cultural life. Writing chiefly for the Independent sector, his plays have seen life in iconic venues around Australia such as La Mama, Theatreworks, St Martin's, Nimrod, La Boite and The Pram Factory. His work has also been featured on main stages at the Melbourne Theatre Company & Playbox Theatre. Biographical works riffing on the themes of Frank Thring, Brett Whiteley and Ronald Ryan have also received the Dickins pen. The Ronald Ryan story giving him the 1995 Victorian Premier's Literary Award. He also wrote a novel of Ryan - the last man hanged in Australia. Most recently he has examined the story of Sydney socialite and campaigner Juanita Nielsen. Dickins writes with inimitable wit, humour and lyricism and has the ability to find the ridiculous and jubilant amid pain. He is a true Australian legend. A great character of the theatre - and life - it was a delight to 'chew the fat' with Barry Dickins.
It was whilst enjoying a successful career in the U.S., navigating a series of guest roles in high-profile television shows like Homeland, Law & Order, Blue Bloods and The Newsroom, that Fiona Choi was offered a life-changing casting at home - that of Jenny Law, the passionate matriarch of the Law family in the SBS series, The Family Law. Equals part pathos and comedy, the character has become iconic and enabled Choi a unique position in the Australian television landscape; a middle-aged woman of Chinese heritage balancing the roles of Mother and Wife. It's a universal narrative but the show is a first in its portrayal of the loving but dysfunctional Chinese-Australian family. As can be the want of show business, it seems to have taken a couple of decades for Choi to become 'an overnight sensation'. She became hooked as a performer during her secondary education, going on to become an avid member of her University theatre organisation. As a graduate of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, her early career began in the commercial musicals Rent and Mamma Mia. An impressive theatre resume added recent forays at the Melbourne Theatre Company in The Lady in the Van and the August production of Golden Shield. Her present focus is the construction of a one-woman show celebrating Hollywood's first Chinese movie star and international style icon, Anna May Wong. The show, Dragon Lady, features Choi in an intimate performance that travels through Anna May's past and tackles her demons with scandalous reminiscences and sparkling musical numbers. Dragon Lady provokes questions about the struggles of cultural identity and the heavy price of ambition. Dragon Lady will premiere at The Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June, confirming Choi as a talent of great versatility and power. What a treat it was to sit down with Fiona to discuss Dragon Lady, The Family Law, the visibility of our Asian storytellers and Motherhood.
Elizabeth Butcher is a humble hero of the Performing Arts in Australia. An administrator of considerable brilliance, she has steered many of our Arts organisations to prominence, accolade, survival and celebration; nationally and on the world stage. She was the dynamic General Manager of the National Institute of Dramatic Art for nearly 40 years, and together with its Director, John Clarke, steered the school to become the flagship training ground for Arts practitioners. It was Elizabeth who found the site of the Sydney Theatre Company - an abandoned wharf in Walsh Bay - who upon discovery, knew it would be the perfect home for a theatre company. She was present at the beginnings of the Sydney Theatre Company and managed the move of the Old Tote Theatre Company to the newly built Sydney Opera House, for its finale season of plays. Elizabeth Butcher has served on countless boards including The Australia Council, The Seymour Centre, Playing Australia, and the University of Technology Arts Management Course Advisory Committee. She was Chairman of the Sydney Opera House Trust from 1989 -1995, a role that fills her with great pride. Essential contributions have also been made in positions on the NSW Government Cultural Grants Advisory Council and the Council of the University of New South Wales. It is a most remarkable resume and her achievements in Arts Management are extensive. It is her role at NIDA as nurturer, manager and business executive that has endeared her to many, and ensured that young artists received the best training and launch-pad possible. In 1984 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the Performing Arts. It was my great privilege to celebrate Elizabeth Butcher and her immense contribution to the cultural life of Australia in this episode of STAGES.
An accident in her youth, could have ended the performance career of Chloe Dallimore. She was not going to let that happen. A determined focus and the discovery of pilates therapy, ensured that she would heal herself to then be available to take on the world - and more. Dallimore is one of our most cherished performers. Roles in The Producers, The Addams Family and Thoroughly Modern Millie have engaged audiences and demonstrated a practitioner of considerable skill, charm and joy. Any meeting with her, on stage or off, will guarantee a smile, a full heart and the precious gift of having met a special human being. She is selfless, generous and also an incredible overachiever. When not gracing our stages, she currently serves as the National President of MEAA (the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance), guiding the organisation through a myriad of challenges from imported artists and saving theatres to establishing diversity, equity and safety in the workplace. It's a role that keeps her very busy - but Dallimore is committed in representing her fellow performers to achieve fairness and reward. She is also an accomplished businesswoman and has continued her great appreciation of the benefits of the pilates technique, with managing her own studios. We should all be so lucky to know a champion like Chloe. I very much enjoyed this catch-up, giggle and passionate discussion with Chloe Dallimore.
A variety of performance roles in the ranks of JC Williamson produced musicals, Australian television and theatre restaurant, gave Jan Russ a first-hand knowledge of the actor's craft. Her great charm and passion for talent, ultimately lead her to a role in which she was able to guide and nurture many actors as they entered residency in one of Australia's most iconic locations; Ramsay street, Erinsborough. For almost 30 years Jan was the Casting Director of the television juggernaut, Neighbours. Preparation for such a pivotal role was contributed to through a vast array of experiences. Jan sang and danced up a storm in productions of Charlie Girl, Godspell, Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof and The Man of La Mancha; all presented by 'The Firm' and guided by one of her mentors, Betty Pounder. Broadway almost beckoned and a stint in New Zealand saw her working on screen and off - leading to an opportunity to become the country's first female Floor Manager. Returning to Australia saw further performance opportunities in the rigorous demands of theatre restaurant, offering an experience of working live with sometimes unpredictable audiences. Casting came calling at Crawford productions - the production house responsible for an extensive repertoire of great Australian content. A move to the Grundy organisation gave her a casting role overseeing the population of Wentworth Detention centre in the iconic series Prisoner. But it wasn't long before she was on the ground floor of a new series, originally titled Living Together, that was to go on to become part of the echelon of Australian Television history and make its mark around the world. Jan possesses an infinite knowledge of the craft of acting on stage and screen. She is a living legend and a fine raconteur who converses with enormous joy and ardour; giving STAGES a fascinating insight to the business of casting and a unique journey in the theatre.
In a very brief time, Alex Berlage has confirmed himself as a practitioner of tremendous skill, imagination and originality. As a highly accomplished and multi- awarded Lighting Designer and Theatre Director, he has navigated an impressive trajectory seeing him shape classical works, new Australian repertoire, self-devised creation and the musical! He is a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Production, returning three years later to complete his Masters in Direction. Delivering a focused and creative flair since childhood, it would seem that his career was always assured. His production of the musical 'Cry Baby' at the Hayes in 2018, garnered a swag of Sydney Theatre Awards. He returns there shortly, breathing life into the musical version of Brett Easton Ellis's macabre and sardonic tale of a New York investment banker - 'American Psycho'. Berlage's production is bound to captivate, challenge and enthral. He has guided the new Australian works 'Home Invasion', 'The Van De Marr Papers' and 'There Will Be a Climax' to the stage, embracing the collaborative experience and finding the nuance of each. As a Lighting Designer he has worked on stages main and fringe - the next being a production of 'The Lord of the Flies' at The Sydney Theatre Company. His productions command easy engagement and seduce with a vibrant and quirky aesthetic - guaranteeing audiences, delight and reward. He is passionate. He is original. He is an intelligent theatre-maker. He is Alex Berlage.
Jacqueline Dark grew up in Ballarat, Victoria - a precinct that fosters participation in the arts and hosts a collection of community theatre companies, choirs and orchestras - all with the intent to practice excellence and provide opportunity and experience to the enthusiastic novice. A youth spent performing in amateur musicals, theatre restaurant and operetta afforded Jacqui an opportunity to play - and discover the power of performance. Standing out as a dynamic talent, it seemed imperative that she would be called to a career in vocal performance and the stage. Roles in musical theatre and opera followed - along with a swag of awards - all confirming Dark as a practitioner of note. After completing a Bachelor of Physics degree, she gave the classroom a brief stint. But the urge to perform professionally propelled her to the Opera Studio at the Victorian College of The Arts, where she graduated with First Class Honours. Her performance experience also encompasses cabaret, and the concert platform - all handled with aplomb and easy calibration. But perhaps her most significant role is that of Mother; a role she pursued in her early 40s. Incidentally, another role as Mother, came along shortly after by way of a revival of The Sound of Music. I've known Jacqui for several decades - there is always a lot to catch up on! It is a great joy to be in her company. She radiates warmth and wisdom. We commenced our chat - in a galaxy not so far away - at the beginning.
Although portrayed as TV's Mr Nasty, Craig Revel Horwood is anything but. He is a wonderful raconteur, a generous spirit and a thoroughly charming bloke. That's not to say that he doesn't enjoy playing the role of Villain - as evidenced by examining his CV - countless pantomimes in the UK playing evil Dames, a lead role in the fourth instalment of the Nativity film series and his return to the West End in a celebrated production of the musical Annie - playing the gin- soaked, top-dog of the orphanage; Miss Hannigan. Horwood is a jack-of-all-trades - and a master of them all. A career beginning in Australian musical theatre in productions of West Side Story, La Cage Aux Folles and Sugar Babies has seen him extend his creative talents into the West End on Crazy For You and Miss Saigon as performer and resident director - eventually claiming the creative positions of Choreographer and Director on productions around the world, in his own right. Gigs at the Lido and the Moulin Rouge in Paris prove his versatility and the range of his talents. But the role that has brought him universal attention, and unwanted celebrity, is that of the acerbic-tongued judge on UK's Strictly Come Dancing and the current season of Dancing With The Stars in Australia. His many Australian friends and family have relished the opportunity to spend time once again with Craig. Horwood is a dynamic and thoroughly engaging personality - his passion for his work is enormous and his consideration for any art form he tackles is reverential. What a delight it was to sit down with Craig Revel Horwood. Dare one say ... it was Fab-U-Lous!
Tony Geappen has been a regular presence in commercial musical theatre for 50 years. A reliable character actor, blessed with a strong tenor voice, he has regularly been understudy to our great Musical theatre actors - and gone on 'in the role' many a time. Commencing a career in his youth, he was a child actor who performed on radio and in pantomime. A stint in London furthered performance opportunities and allowed him to work alongside headliner names like Ray Milland, Veronica Lake and Winifred Atwell. Tony was employed regularly because he was - reliable, prepared, professional and passionate about the business, He has appeared in an extraordinary number of musicals. These include FADE OUT FADE IN, SHOW BOAT, ANYTHING GOES, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, SWEENEY TODD, SCROOGE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, ME & MY GIRL, EVITA and APPLAUSE - just to name a few. That's a lot of nights at the theatre and years spent touring - but it's also makes for a lot of fascinating anecdotes. STAGES could not let a chance go by, without talking, to the charming Tony Geappen.
After a successful period performing in major musicals around the country for a number of years, Andy Dexterity decided it was time to press pause for a bit and re-evaluate what he had to offer creatively - what more was there that he could contribute as a story-teller? The next theatrical phase of his career was to see him fuse his skills in dance, physical theatre, education and sign language into an engaging invention, allowing him to communicate with an audience in a uniquely visceral way. A celebration of this performance style lead him to a series of fabulously engaging video clips on youtube. These brilliant broadcasts on social media lead to choreographic engagements that incorporated Auslan - the physical language of communication. Andy was soon serving a term as the 'Mayor of Wiggletown' - the home of the highly successful children's entertainers - 'The Wiggles'. And whilst exploring and developing his unique brand, he was invited to be a presenter of a highly regarded TED Talk in front of a world-wide audience, leading them in a performance of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. A new chapter is about to emerge with a move to the States where he hopes to follow a path similar to his heroes; Fred Rodgers, Walt Disney and Jim Henson. Anything is possible! So how exactly did all of these opportunities come about? What is the story that has contributed to Andy Dexterity? One can't help but be enthused by Andy's contagious positive energy. We poured the champagne to toast his new adventure and recorded this thoroughly engaging conversation.
In 2012 I was visiting my home town of Ballarat and attended the Ballarat Lyric Theatre's production of HAIRSPRAY. Playing the part of 'Link Larkin' was a dynamic young man who could sing, dance and act with equal aplomb and radiated a quality that allowed him to command the stage and the audience. He was concurrently completing his VCE, and harbouring a desire to become a professional performer. Cut to 2018, and that young man, Todd Jacobsson, has found himself cast in the new Australian production of WEST SIDE STORY as Tony; and given the opportunity to sing some of the best known songs in the musical theatre canon. Along the way he has certainly served an apprenticeship - working with 'The Production Company' in Melbourne, travelling the world whilst working as a ship performer and garnering a hugely sought after role in the Australian production of THE BOOK OF MORMON. He was also a 2018 finalist in the Rob Guest Endowment. STAGES spoke with Todd in the final weeks of the Sydney season of THE BOOK OF MORMON. By now, he is in rehearsal for WEST SIDE STORY - opening in Melbourne on April 9th, prior to an extensive tour that includes international seasons. It is a thoroughly engaging conversation and reminds us all of the joy and excitement of entering the wonderful world of the professional theatre. And that there is no tried and true way of achieving success. We all find our own path and tend to it with hard work, self-belief and incredible passion - all of which Todd Jacobsson possesses in abundance.
A life's work in performance has seen Penny Larkins depend on the voice. Carving a career as a singer with acapella group The Janes, studying in the Musical Theatre course at WAPPA and long runs in musicals that include MAMMA MIA and THE BOY FROM OZ, has taught Penny why the voice is such a valued and vital instrument for both the singer and actor. But performers are not the only ones to depend on voice .... We all rely on our voice.... as a means of communication, a manifestation of emotion, a tool of survival - the need for vocal expression exists on a myriad of levels. In 2017, Penny entered NIDA to complete a Masters in Voice studies; giving her an intimate and complete appreciation of the workings, maintenance and power of the voice .... Which leads her now to continue a navigation and exploration of the immense potential of our vocal power. Penny provides a fascinating insight to our primal animal expression. We sat and talked, discussed, conversed and sang all things voice.
John 'Robbo' Robertson is a true gentleman of the theatre. A showman of great charm and ability, he has been at the forefront of commercial theatre since 1956, when he dropped a career in accountancy to enter the business of Show! Just like the character of Leo Bloom in Mel Brook's THE PRODUCERS, the Accountant turned Producer - but 'Robbo's career trajectory saw him commence first as a Stage Manager on The Tivoli Circuit, building his career in a number of roles and working with key production houses including Rudas Productions, J.C. Williamsons, and Kenn Brodziak. It was at The Adelaide Festival Trust where he truly evolved as one of the country's most successful Impresarios - steering them with extraordinary hits such as EVITA, BARNUM, OKLAHOMA and SONG & DANCE - musicals that captured the audience's imaginations and made theatre-going, an event again. As a Director and Executive Producer with Cameron Mackintosh's Australian Company, he oversaw the arrival of the English juggernauts CATS, LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MISS SAIGON. Musicals which changed the way in which the product was assembled, produced, marketed and presented. Known to everyone as 'Robbo', John has garnered a reputation as a much loved and respected Producer. He continues to be called upon for his sage advice as a consultant and mentor. After all, he's been there; done that ... many times over. In 2003, Live Performance Australia presented John Robertson with its James Cassius Award in recognition of his contribution to excellence in the Performing Arts. The Australian Performing Arts would certainly be the poorer without the instinct, drive and passion of 'Robbo'. I had the best time in conversation with John. Enjoy!
Melbourne born soprano Maureen Howard was beloved by audiences and critics alike. At twelve years of age, she was a regular voice on the weekly 3DB Radio programme Swallows Juniorsand she later won the Vocal Section of television's Swallow's Parade. Though she studied singing from an early age, she wanted to be a hairdresser and, it was serendipitous that one of her 'clients' was associated with the two major theatre entrepreneurs J.C. Williamson and Garnet H. Carroll Management. A simple conversation during a hairdressing appointment gained Maureen a stage audition for J.C.Williamson at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne . They had just opened their production of My Fair Lady. The following week, the same 'client' arranged an audition for Garnet H. Carroll at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne and she was immediately offered a contract for Chorus - and later 'stand-by' for Marian the Librarian - in The Music Man. As would occur many times during her early career, Maureen went on in the star's role. In April of 1961, she was cast in Lock Up Your Daughters with an additional song especially written for her character by the conductor Dobbs Franks. In August that year, she performed in Loesser's Most Happy Fella with Inia Te Wiata and Ronal Jackson. Later that year, Garnett H. Carroll Management cast her as June Bronhill's 'stand-by' in The Sound of Music and, again, Maureen was frequently seen in the role of Maria. In 1962, Maureen Howard won First Prize in the celebrated Sun Aria and left her contract for The Sound of Music. She was a frequent face and voice on television especially on the popular Sunny Side Up in 1963. After study, a year in Italy and then London - with the noted teacher Vera Rózsa - her operatic career started with Puccini's Tosca in 1967 - starting her career at the top - with the Elizabethan Trust Opera. The production opened at the Perth Festival on February 11th and featured Reginald Byers and the Hungarian baritone Alexander Major as Cavaradossi and Scarpia along with the twenty-seven years old Maureen Howard. Her operatic debut was a success, with one critic writing "She may not be as imperious as some Toscas, but she certainly is more vocally secure than many ... A powerful voice which is always beautifully controlled, and dominated the stage." The same year, she performed Zerlina in Don Giovanni with a stellar cast featuring Neil Warren-Smith, Marcella Reale, Rosemary Gordon, Robert Gard, Ronald Maconaghie and John Germain. It was a controversial production directed by the young Jim Sharman. A production of Die Fledermaus as Rosalinda (and June Bronhill as the maid, Adele) was a hit with audiences. Next came performances of Venus in Tannhäuser, Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Liù in Turandot, Micaela in Carmen and the cover of Minnie in the Australian premiere of Puccini's La fanciulla del West. Her career reached a new high with her assumption of Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly in 1969 with a new production mounted especially for her talents. As a company member, she was also cast as Felice in Wolf-Ferrari's School for Fathers, Josephine in HMS Pinafore, Elsie Maynard in Yeoman of the Guard along with Giulietta in a concert version of The Tales of Hoffmann. Along with Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, the roles of Nedda in Pagliacci and Musetta in La bohème fitted Maureen Howard to a tee. To many audiences, her performances in all three roles have never been surpassed by an Australian born performer. She created Musetta in the famous La bohème production by Tom Lingwood in 1971. "Maureen Howard's Musetta stole the show ... she has the wonderful ability for stance, stage presence and poise of hand which just fix one's eyes upon her." During the following season, she performed her first Mimi in the same production. Her debut as Nedda came in 1972 and she was usually cast alongside the Canio...
Commencing his working life with a passion for teaching, John Nicholas Saunders is presently established as the dynamic Director of Education and Community Partnerships at The Sydney Theatre Company - a role that sees him guide the educational experiences for young audience members who attend the plays in their current season. It is a role that also takes him into schools, guiding teachers and students; and travel, around the world, presenting keynote addresses and attending conferences and meetings. No slouch, he is always on the go and has served time on the committees and as president of Drama QLD and Drama NSW. He currently serves as The President of Drama Australia. John has also co-written THE SCHOOL DRAMA book developed by the STC - as an approach to teaching literacy through drama. He has conducted countless workshops and when pushed - has managed to get in some shopping and bag the odd bargain - all of this while completing his Doctorate in Drama Education. John is great company and STAGES talked with him about the importance of Arts subjects in the curriculum and why he sees Drama and the Theatre, as significant sources for learning.