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.
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.
Many of our favourite television series, have featured today's guest. Iconic shows that were part of our nightly viewing - defining our identity and celebrating the culture. His performances captured us through an array of quintessentially Australian characters; telling stories of WW2 in The Sullivans, Outback Australia in The Flying Doctors and protecting our boarders in Patrol Boat. Fronting them all was charismatic and handsome Andrew McFarlane. In a career that has encompassed television, stage and film, he continues to work in all platforms - citing a delight in a new 'career' playing 'arseholes'. This only proves what a dependable and accomplished actor he is.
'Dance is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire' (Martha Graham)- so reads the quote atop Jane Beckett's extensive CV. A dancer who trained in the classical form, her experiences in Europe showed her the many expressions possible through contemporary dance. A career in Musical theatre and regular employment dancing on television and supporting big names in cabaret - evolved into a career as a choreographer and teacher. Jane talks to us about life as a dancer and the influences that have shaped her work to allow the creation of the engaging works she crafts every day.
Kevin Jackson is regarded to be one of Australia's most foremost acting teachers. Having completed extensive periods managing the former NIDA Acting course and teaching at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, his knowledge and passion for the craft of acting is extensive. He has guided many of Australia's best and noted actors, with insights and an approach which is direct, firm and fosters discovery. In recent years his passion has extended to the development of an online blog that reviews live performance - The KJ Theatre Diary. These writings not only provide us with an assessment of production and performance, but also provide a valued lesson in the history of the play and an extensive reflection on the creatives involved in the original work. To read a KJ review provides one with an idea of his reaction, but also extends our knowledge of this most vital art form.
Donna Lee comes from a long line of performers. Showbusiness is indeed the family business; with Donna being the fifth generation in her family, to embrace performance as a career. As a child she travelled the country and performed with her parents: her father Frank Cleary, a juggler and variety performer; and her mother Gloria Dawn, one of Australia's foremost actors in music theatre and drama. She has been acknowledged with a Green Room Award for her role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma and garnered several Mo Awards for her cabaret work. Extensive work in musical theatre has seen Donna feature in shows such as Les Miserables, Summer Rain, Fiddler on the Roof and Dames at Sea. Television work has seen her reside in Summer Bay, Ramsay Street and Wandin Valley. Donna is a font of knowledge and an exuberant guest.
Mitzi Macintosh is a much loved drag identity who worked in all the major Sydney venues over some two decades. Outrageous, subversive, a heart of gold and possessed with immaculate comic timing, she is the drag persona of performer Graeme Browning. Now residing in the UK, Graeme (and Mitzi) were back recently for his first one-woman show - Mitzi Macintosh - My Life in Lipstick - presented as part of the 40th Anniversary Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. His knowledge of drag as an art form and of a Sydney now past, is extensive. He is very much one of the custodians of the vibrant drag scene that existed through the 80s and 90s. He sat down with STAGES, 3 days after the Mardi Gras parade and party, to discuss his show, his process, and the art of the drag performer.
Paul Saliba was once described as a man of fire. His dance and choreographic work possesses a sense of energy, light and warmth. The man himself is excitable, committed and vital. A conversation with Paul is enlightening and re-affirming. He talks to STAGES about his time with The Australian Ballet, the car accident that could have put an end to his career, his work with The Sydney Dance Company and studying in New York with the iconic Martha Graham. His work is fed by a fascination with world cultures and their employment of dance as personal expression, as storytelling, and as history. Paul is one of our great custodians of dance in Australia. All who have worked with him recognise his brilliance and passion. So it was a great delight to talk dance with Paul Saliba.
In a career encompassing playwrighting, teaching, academia and directing, Grace Barnes has championed the female voice in storytelling. And ... working as an associate or resident director on original productions of SUNSET BOULEVARD, MARTIN GUERRE & THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, she has had a seat at the birth of seminal works of musical theatre and observed the creatives that made them. She was even present in the initial weeks of MISS SAIGON on Broadway. So how did a theatre obsessed kid from Scotland, escape the bleak countryside of Shetland and soon find herself amongst the bright lights of Broadway? Barnes has recently completed her PHD and has commenced her second book, a biography of Mina Wylie - the Olympic swimmer from Coogee who was a trailblazer of women's sport in Australia. Her first book is a reflection on the role of women in musical theatre. "If musical theatre reflects prevailing societal attitudes, what does the modern musical tell us about the place of women in contemporary America, the UK and Australia?" A fascinating read, posing much for consideration, is HER TURN ON STAGE by Grace Barnes.
Geraldine Turner has chartered a career spanning 4 decades and established herself as one of few bona-fide leading ladies of the Musical Theatre. A repertoire of high octane roles has seen her lead companies of OLIVER, ANYTHING GOES, CHICAGO, SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS; but there is one role, that has escaped her ... she ponders why that may be. An artist at ease in any form, she has mastered cabaret, plays, television and film - and has recently extended her accomplishments as a playwright and director. Always frank and armed with great warmth, Turner is the ideal guest and it was a great treat for STAGES to sit down with her.