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.
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 s...
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.
Jonathan Biggins loathes all forms of social media. When I invited him onto STAGES, he told me he'd never listened to a podcast! I was thrilled to introduce him to the format. As one of Australia's preeminent writers, actors, directors and speakers, he comes with quite an intimidating pedigree. I tread carefully, only to be met with his immense charm and insightful opinions. Mr Biggins is thoroughly engaging and armed with the wit we know and crave. He is perhaps best known as one of the creators and performers of the Sydney Theatre Company's WHARF REVUE - a popular date on the Sydney calendar for the past 20 Years! In our discussion we analyse the workings of comedy and how we've perhaps lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. Jonathan was born in Newcastle; his parents meeting at university doing amateur drama. No wonder then that he has embraced a broad career in the arts ... achieving excellence in whatever role, form or medium he has turned his hand to. Soon he commences a tour of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL - a biographical account of our great visionary and reformer, Paul Keating. And at year's end another joyous offering from the WHARF REVUE. He is responsible for some of the biggest laughs I have ever had in the theatre - so it was with great joy - and considerable curiosity, that I sat down with Jonathan Biggins.
With over four decades, promoting and guiding major projects across Australia, Bruce Pollack is a veteran of the Entertainment Industry. He is one of our top Publicists and has been present at the launch of countless musicals, handled some of the world's biggest stars and sweet-talked the Media whilst juggling behind-the-scenes dramas and serving his clients effectively - getting the word out and celebrating the entertainment. In 1956, a chance encounter with the legendary actor Hayes Gordon, allowed the eight-year old Bruce an opportunity to stand in the wings of The Princess Theatre, Melbourne, during a Saturday matinee of KISMET. It was then that his fate was sealed and he then became determined that the theatre was where he was meant to be. In 2016 Bruce was appointed a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community in the areas of social welfare and public health. He has been acclaimed by the mainstream media and the gay and lesbian community as having been at the forefront of representing the gay and lesbian community through the national media since the early eighties. 'Bruce Pollack Publicity' was established in late 1982. From his many years of involvement in Arts administration and entertainment marketing, he gained all the necessary skills and expertise to establish a successful Public Relations Company that specialised in Media Relations for the Entertainment Industry. Over the next twenty years 'Bruce Pollack Publicity' grew to be one of the largest publicity organisations in Australia. In 2002 he created Pollack Consulting and now works as a Sole Consultant providing strategic media advice to a range of clients. Bruce Pollack is very much a Guru. A Master of Publicity. He comes equipped with a thousand anecdotes and an enthusiasm that never wanes.
On any successful theatre production, you'll find the key position is that of the Stage Manager. The role is a unique function because it serves as a key support to the director and production staff during the rehearsal period, and then becomes the figure in charge of the production during the actual performance. The running of the show rests on their shoulders. It's a vital role covering many facets - management of time and staff, delivery of a quality product and harmony in the enormous machinery of a big show. At the helm of many of our big commercial musicals and plays has been Luke Woodham - Luke has overseen the life of many productions throughout Australia - these have included 'The Book of Mormon', 'Strictly Ballroom', 'Matilda the musical' ...... and the theatrical juggernaut, 'War Horse'. A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Luke is a native Tasmanian, who hasn't stopped working, in a variety of projects from corporate to festivals to concert to theatre, since graduation. Live performance can be a pressured environment and it pays to keep a cool head and a methodical approach - all of which Luke has in spades. It was an insightful conversation delving in to the world of Stage Management ... all called by the man on cans ... Luke Woodham.
Born in Adelaide it seemed destined that Jill Sykes would pursue a career in journalism. The family business was in Newspapers. Working at THE ADVERTISER (not yet owned by Rupert!), Jill completed a 4-year cadetship and immediately headed to London. She arrived in the middle of the 60s - a decade of experimentation, creativity, invention and a vibrant arts existence. Securing 'the longest holiday job' in history she wrote a column for The Evening News, covering swinging London and the Arts. Working along the paper's Dance reviewer, who discovered she had been paying to see dance, she was offered an opportunity to try her hand at reviewing - and so it began! In her role as Reviewer in Australia she has seen an extraordinary amount of production and the work of significant contributors like Graeme Murphy and Bangarra Dance Theatre - following them as they evolved and made their salient mark. Jill has been a freelance Arts Journalist most of her career. In addition to Dance she writes about theatre, music and the visual arts. She also contributes writings on dance to specialist publications throughout Australia and overseas. Jill has been awarded an AM for her services to Dance in Australia. Her knowledge is extensive. Her passion is palpable. She is a font of knowledge. Jill engages with tremendous warmth and a great passion for the Arts.
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.