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.
Caroline O'Connor is considered to be one of the foremost interpreters of musical theatre in the world. Projects have taken her from Sydney to Paris to London and the bright lights of Broadway in a vast array of leading roles, that are coveted by musical theatre performers at their peak. At 17 she won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London. The discipline and routine of such classes instilled in her a fierce work ethic that allows her characterisations to be delivered with boundless energy, masterful timing, consummate skill and infinite joy. Her range is impressive as seen by the varied and insightful performances she has given in an extensive career - Velma Kelly, Mrs Lovett, Fanny Brice, Mabel Normand and Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch, just to name a few. She's interpreted the works of Sondheim, Bernstein, Jerry Herman, Kander & Ebb, Jule Styne and Aherns & Flattery - indicating a versatility that demands an appreciation of style and technical dexterity. The mediums of theatre and film have also been embraced - in projects like Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and the Cole Porter bio-pic De-Lovely ..... she has also had two plays written just for her - BOMBSHELLS by Joanna Murray-Smith and SCARLETT O'HARA AT THE CRIMSON PARROT by David Williamson. The New Year brings many more exciting projects for Caroline O'Connor. STAGES was thrilled to spend some time with her, touching on these - and a career that continues to rewards her with great stories, mesmerising performances and a loyal audience. Ladies and Gentlemen, the one, the only - Caroline O'Connor.
The role responsible for the most important component of any Musical, is the Musical Director. From finding the best vocal talents, collaborating with a Director, sourcing and guiding musicians, interpreting scores and leading the show at each performance - it is a role that requires great communication, organisation and tremendous responsibility. Making her mark in this role is Lucy Bermingham. Born and Bred in our Nation's capital, Bermingham was raised in a large musical family. As soon as she could walk and talk she embraced her musicality and the instruments of voice and piano. Growing up she became the official accompanist for a choir, worked as a repetiteur in Amateur musical theatre, eventually conducting a succession of musical theatre pieces. Lucy joined the Australian Regular Army in 1996 and was a member of the Band of the Royal Military College and The Australian Army Band, Sydney - both with whom she travelled on several tours of duty to East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. She quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant in 2005 and became Captain in 2007. Leaving the Army she joined the staff of the Canberra Theatre Centre. Accompanying her brother at a professional audition, she caught the eye of a staff member who was impressed with her skill as a pianist. This instilled in her a confidence to pursue her dream to work in the Musical theatre. Moving to Sydney she quickly became a sought after Musician, taking the musical helm for dynamic and demanding scores of musicals such as 'Violet', 'Spring Awakening' and 'In The Heights' - winning Lucy great accolades for her perceptive and passionate work on these productions. 'In The Heights' opens this week in a return season at The Sydney Opera House. Lucy is once again leading the musical side of the production. STAGES spoke to her about the role of the Musical Director and the fascinating path that has lead her to her work today.
Martin McCallum's career trajectory has taken him from actor to stage manager to production manager to the Managing Director of the Cameron Mackintosh Organisation, overseeing the worldwide production of the English musical juggernauts, CATS, LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MISS SAIGON. As a producer in his own right he has fostered the development of musicals that include THE FIX, THE GIRLS, SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK and co-produced EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, the ballet, with choreographer Mathew Bourne. His working life has also seen a time at The National Theatre of Great Britain, working with Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Peter Hall; artistic directors with differing management styles and extraordinary vision. Martin has worked on over 500 shows and in an absorbing chat with STAGES, he shares his experiences on just a few of them and details an extraordinary life in the theatre.
STAGES very first guest, launching the podcast, was the legendary Toni Lamond - a woman of abundant talent and huge heart. It is a delight that we are going to bookend this very first season with her son, Tony Sheldon; our final guest for 2018. Born into a family dynasty of performers it would appear that Tony Sheldon's destiny was pre-ordained. Recognition as a talented youth saw him perform on IN MELBOURNE TONIGHT with Graham Kennedy and join the workhouse in the Sydney season of the musical OLIVER. As a young man his career as an actor in plays saw him embrace a fast growing repertoire in roles as a sensitive young man - EQUUS, THE GLASS MENAGERIE and Peter Kenna's seminal Australian work, A HARD GOD. His break-out performance as Arnold Becker in TORCH SONG TRILOGY quickly followed. It wasn't long before he extended his playing into the Musical Theatre; a form that has been a life-long passion. Sheldon's engaging style, colossal charm and extensive appreciation of the form have provided us with perfect portrayals in shows that include THE VENETIAN TWINS, INTO THE WOODS, THE PRODUCERS, DAMES AT SEA and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. Most significantly, one role has taken him around the world, rewarding him with 'Olivier' and 'Tony' award nominations - that of transsexual Bernadette, the glamorous and resilient survivor, in PRISCILLA - QUEEN OF THE DESERT - The Musical. But not "everything has come up roses" for Sheldon ... long bouts of depression and personal upsets along the way have provided their challenges. He is frank, warm and always inspiring in detailing these. He is a true gentleman of the theatre; a captivating raconteur and a thoroughly nice man - it was an absolute delight to spend some time with Tony Sheldon.
Rod Dunbar has relished a life in the theatre. As a boy from Rockhampton he ventured south to Sydney and quickly established himself as an in-demand vocalist. He became a regular on channel 7's SING SING SING, hosted by Johnny O'Keefe. Rod toured the country, doing gigs with other high profile entertainers and attracted attention everywhere, due to national exposure through the new medium of television. Looking to expand the possibilities of his career, Rod was soon spotted by J.C. Williamson's Betty Pounder - and encouraged to pursue a career in musical theatre. Early work consisted of Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA, THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE and OLIVER; growing into an extensive career performing in productions of CHICAGO, COMPANY and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG for the Sydney Theatre Company, tours of ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT, SOUTH PACIFIC, BIG RIVER and SHOUT - his most recent performance being DIRTY DANCING. Along the way he experienced personal triumphs in the Original Australian productions of a YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN and GODSPELL. I spent a delightful Sunday afternoon with Rod as he reflected on an extensive career and offered advice on the longevity behind it. And reflected on the disappointment, when an industry you love, retires you. He is a font of knowledge and an engaging raconteur. Ladies and gentlemen - Mr Rod Dunbar
Maggie Blinco is an octogenerian who carries with her a life-time of experiences to fuel each character she plays. As an actor, she claims to be in a category 'all of her own' as far as roles go; especially when there doesn't seem to be many roles for actors in her age bracket. She didn't come to acting until late. Having done theatre at university, it wasn't until her late 30s that she turned professional. So how has she managed longevity in what can be a pretty tough industry? And what are the work opportunities like when you're in your 80s? Embracing all mediums; she has done it all - television, film and made her mark creating many wonderful characters in the theatre, from classical to contemporary repertoire. Maggie is also a fine cook! And a great raconteur! She is the inventor of 'dinch' - a Sunday afternoon gathering, between lunch and dinner, where she gathers a cast of impressive characters to 'chew the fat' and 'wax lyrical' over a tremendous banquet prepared by the perfect hostess - Maggie Blinco!
Long before the availability of 24 hour News cycles, Netflix, Cable networks and Reality TV ..... companion stations to the urban networks existed all over regional Australia. BTV6 in Ballarat was one such station, providing reach to the communities of Ballarat and Western Victoria. It provided local content to service the population - news, commercials and variety. Following in the mould of offerings in the major cities - IN MELBOURNE TONIGHT with Graeme Kennedy, THE DON LANE SHOW, and THE MIKE WALSH SHOW ... BTV6 came up with its own offering - SIX TONIGHT! Fronting the show was an unassuming chap who was thrust into the role, based largely on his experiences in the theatre and behind-the-camera work, at the station. He was very much learning an unfamiliar medium, on the job. The host of SIX TONIGHT was Fred Fargher ... and he quickly established himself as a Master of the form, and through this regional offering of television variety, was readily accepted into living rooms around Victoria. Fred sat down with STAGES to discuss his unique experience - the challenges of mounting a weekly variety show that went live to air - and also the rewards that it brought.
Frank Van Straten is a performing arts historian, author and a former director of the Performing Arts Museum in Melbourne. You've probably read one of his insightful commentaries on the history of a musical or play, in a program you purchased whilst visiting a theatre. Van Straten was the first archivist of the Performing Arts Museum (now the Performing Arts Collection), at the Victorian Arts Centre, and was the director from 1984 until 1993. For many years he researched and presented ABC Local radio's Nostalgia segment, broadcast on Melbourne's 774 and the ABC Victorian Regional Network. He has acted as the Historical Consultant for Graeme Murphy's dance musical TIVOLI, and given his vast knowledge, has accepted invitations to contribute information to considerable books, speeches, biographies, performances and exhibitions. In recognition of his services to the performing arts in Australia Van Straten was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1999. Frank's passion for our performing heritage is palpable and his knowledge is supreme ... with an ability to talk at length on any subject to do with the performing arts in Australia he is the ideal guest on STAGES.
I once heard Lisle Jones remark "I am married to the Theatre, but the Ballet is my mistress!" He is a man who relishes any discipline as long as it can produce a good story with clarity, passion and skill. An accomplished actor and director, he is from a school where you served an apprenticeship, learning how to craft your work on the job. By watching senior actors and devouring any experience that came your way. His was a time when an Australian actor would be obliged to travel to England to carve a career and further opportunities. After a time in London, in various roles, he was drawn back to Australia with a unique proposition - the opportunity to head an actor-training course in Western Australia. For 12 years Lisle Jones oversaw the Acting faculty at The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the training of countless successful graduates. His students included Marcus Graham, Frances O'Connor, William McInnes, Robert Taylor and Hugh Jackman. At age 88, he continues to teach acting ... a craft in which, he says, "you can never stop learning" ...... he is driven by his passion, an immense curiosity and a desire to make the actor the best they can be. Lisle has immense knowledge, an opinion on everything and many wonderful anecdotes. For those who know Lisle, you will find this conversation enlightening, great nostalgia and re-affirming - if you are about to meet the man - sit back and enjoy. You are in for a treat!
Maureen Elkner has been singing since the sixties. Carving out a career as a rock/pop vocalist, she began her professional career in a trio called The Chiffons. After singing back-up for John Farnham and providing vocals on Russell Morris's classic 'The Real Thing', Maureen found her great success with the chart climber 'Rak Off Normie' - the follow up single to Bob Hudson's novelty hit 'The Newcastle Song'. Maureen released 7 singles and two albums through the 70s and also found success as an actress and comedienne in the original Australian productions of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. A short-lived season (2 performances) of the musical OH CALCUTTA!, saw her arrested along with the entire company. Maureen also entertained the troops during the Vietnam war; venturing into enemy territory to relieve the soldiers of the horrors they were navigating. It's a fascinating story and STAGES was delighted to sit down with the inspiring Maureen Elkner.
Peter Fitzpatrick has managed to complete the impossible - a double biography of a father and son who were adept at leaving very little personal information. Peter has managed to garner copious information however, through the detective-like approach of the curious biographer. Using these discoveries, he has recorded perfect portraits and also extended our insight, by installing creative but inspired accounts of what it was to be these men, at crucial stages of their brilliant lives. He couldn't have picked a more disparate and fascinating familial duo 'The Two Thrings' is Peter's biography of both Frank Thring Senior and Frank Thring Junior. These two men had considerable influence in the evolution of an Australian entertainment industry. Frank Senior was a sideshow conjurer turned film impresario, who gave the nation its first foray into celluloid storytelling. Frank Junior, the son, was a flamboyant and outrageous actor of distinctive voice and girth who made his dent in Hollywood and returned to Australia to chart idiosyncratic roles in the theatre; eventually succumbing to self-parody and sorrow. They are a father and son, who never really knew each other but who forged similar careers in story-telling; sharing a considerable likeness in physicality and in their protection of self. Peter Fitzpatrick is a former adjunct professor of Performing Arts at Monash University, a writer, and a director of theatre - he was awarded a National Biography award for his account of the two men - THE TWO THRINGS. He joined STAGES to expand on our knowledge of this showbiz dynasty and to ponder the process of writing, and the craft of biography.
A facebook post from actor Tom Campbell recently gathered much traction. He cited that the entertainment industry was making much-needed advances in embracing racial, gender and sexual diversity in its casting decisions but was failing in its representation of actors he described as having "non-normative bodies". You see, Tom was born without a hand. Not that this has ever been a concern for him in life, or his pursuit of an acting career. It has posed some interesting obstacles along the way however, from parties attempting to define their understanding of 'the norm'. Tom has always tackled this with his perfect charm and engaging sense of humour. After graduating from NIDA he has constructed a broad career which boasts a lengthy CV and two Sydney Theatre awards. He has played classical repertoire, one-man shows, television, stand-up comedy and he recently embraced his first musical - more of which he hopes will follow. Always philosophical, witty and frank - he is the perfect guest - and it was a treat for STAGES to sit down and converse with Tom Campbell..
In 1983, something was happening in the Western states - the birth of a training course focused entirely on the Musical Theatre. There was no music theatre education in the country, and after starting the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Dr Geoff Gibbs made the creation of the course his next goal. For nearly 20 years, Denis Follington was on the staff of this much sought Musical Theatre BA at WAAPA. The course has graduated students including Meow Meow, Eddie Perfect, Lisa McCune, Dean Bryant, Lucy Durack, Rodney Dobson, Carmel Dean and Simon Gleeson. In 1997, he took the helm and steered the course for another 3 years as Head of the department. The course garnered a national reputation for producing graduates who were prepared, focused, knowledgable and dependable. WAAPA graduates walked into the country's commercial musicals - and proved themselves adept at television and plays too. Impressed with the success of the course at WAAPA, he was lured by Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore to build a Music Theatre course of their own, attracting students from around the world. STAGES spoke to Denis about the essentials of such an education, the history of the course at WAAPA and his first cast recording of a Broadway show.
Kate Gaul has been a considerable force in playmaking in Australia over the past 25 years. Directing premiere productions and new Australian works, her directing folio has covered a broad repertoire of stories - The Laramie Project, The Trouble with Harry, Svetlana in Slingbacks, The Ham Funeral and Richard the Third to touch on a few. She has worked with our leading theatre companies and taught at training institutions, including NIDA and WAAPA. A champion of the work of Irish playwright Enda Walsh, she has directed productions of his plays Penelope, The New Electric Ballroom and Misterman - this last play receiving extensive glowing accolades and huge success at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival. Kate is a vital artist and one whose productions never fail to impress, to engage and to prompt discussion.
When we enter a theatre building, the first point of contact before entering the world of the play - is the front-of-house staff. Those folk who welcome us in, guide us to our seat, or pour us a drink as we give in to the magic of the night. A popular personality behind the bar of Sydney theatres for many years has been Stuart Greene - a devotee of all things theatre, he is a walking encyclopaedia of our theatre heritage, from the buildings to what has graced the stages and screens. A chance conversation with the owner of his local record store, meant that he could secure an evening job to supplement his day work. His first shift was on the Opening Night of A Little Night Music starring Bruce Barry, Geraldine Turner, Doris Fitton and Tanya Elg. Working in theatres and cinemas is now a labour of great passion. He is a familiar figure at The Cremorne Orpheum, The Theatre Royal, and The State Theatre, where he also plays a role as archivist and gives a very memorable tour of the building. You might know him from the now absent Her Majesty's Theatre where he was always a cheerful presence behind the downstairs bar. Stuart enjoys a chat .... and in our conversation he laments the passing of Her Maj (which he considers a great theatre built by The Firm of J.C. Williamson) and bemoans the absence of the dozens of theatres which were once a mainstay of entertainment in Sydney.