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.
For over 30 years Gill Minervini has produced some of Australia's most engaging and successful international events and festivals, creating unforgettable, immersive experiences for diverse audiences. She is one of Australia's creative leaders - from festival , event and theatre director to television and radio presenter, food curator and producer - Gill's experience means successful delivery of outstanding creative ideas, every time. Early creative roles included a position as the inaugural Festival Director for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in the late 1980's; an extraordinary time for the gay community. For 17 years she was Creative Director for the City of Sydney, overseeing annual events that included Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations. The canvases on which she creates are vast and varied. Her event, festival and theatre accomplishments include The Rugby League World Cup 2017, Art Moves - a Public Art Project, Newtown Festival, Barangaroo Welcome Celebrations, Winter Feast Dark MoFo inTasmania and the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. Such product also allows her a plethora of platforms on which to present such expansive production. A mantra she shares with her teams states they are 'in the business of creating memories'. All of us can recall the first time we shared in the palpable experience of a particular event or festival. An immersion amongst community and the theatre of life. Vital experiences that feed into the human condition. Gill Minervini loves her job and communicating stories. It's obvious in this conversation. She provides insight, reflection and passion for the craft of making Big Art and telling vital stories with a broad palette.
Lyn Collingwood is known to a legion of fans as Summer Bay busybody, 'Colleen Smart'; a role she played for 13 years in the iconic Australian soap-opera Home & Away. Playing a character for this length of time is an opportunity rarely afforded to actors. Series television provides ample necessity to guide, craft and inhabit such roles. In this episode, Lyn elaborates on the many rewards and challenges that came with maintaining and delivering the character of 'Colleen'. Commencing her acting career at the Sydney University Drama Society, her contemporaries and fellow practitioners included Arthur Dignam, Richard Wherrett and Germaine Greer. Early work performing Pinter, gave her an appreciation of style and a love of dramatic text. Skills that have supported easy investigation of new plays and television scripts. Her professional acting career commenced later, at the age of 35. Collingwood has worked as a social worker and as a teacher. She has also worked in research and as an editor of The Australian Encyclopaedia. While residing in the Inner West she discovered the New Theatre, based in Newtown. She has directed and performed for the company over several decades. Lyn is also a font of knowledge regarding the history of the company, and shares much fascinating reflection of the 87 year old institution. The New Theatre commenced life as the Sydney Workers Art Club, opening with the slogan, 'Art is a Weapon'. In 2009 she launched 'Players in the Pub', a regular series of play readings, providing audiences and actors with a forum for celebrating theatre and writing. The ensemble presents plays rarely performed and that might provide an engaging curiosity to the theatre historian. It is a life in the arts passionately explored; and it was a delight to enjoy some of the experiences, wisdom and wit of Lyn Collingwood.
Some 23 years after playing Christine Daee in the Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera, Maree Johnson is back with the show - on Broadway - this time playing the mysterious Madame Giry. It is a show that has great sentimental meaning for Johnson and the experience allows her two very different access points to a story that has thrilled audiences for several decades. The desire to act had been present since childhood. Bargaining with brothers to switch the TV from cricket to a musical proved a regular challenge. Such determination was always going to reward with Johnson ultimately giving Australian audiences tremendous delight in a host of iconic roles - Maria in West Side Story, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Grizabella in Cats and Cosette in Les Miserables, to name a few. A win in the Sydney Cabaret Convention in 1998 took Maree to NYC where a next exciting chapter was to unfold. She quickly established herself with performances around the USA in Zorba, Passion and Adam Guettel's Myths and Hyms. Marriage and family was also found, establishing Maree as very much a local. Maree was back in Australia recently and it was a great treat for Stages to sit down with her for a couple of hours to catch up on her journey over the past few years. Also to gain terrific insight, into what it takes to be a performer on Broadway and part of an iconic musical.
"The success of a theatre company comes down to providing good yarns that make audiences laugh and cry, and which take them on a journey" - Sandra Bates Sandra Bates retired as Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney in 2015 after 30 years in the role. This innings makes her the longest serving Artistic Director in Australia. In fact the company has only had 3 A.D.s in its 62 year history. Sandra Bates' term followed that of the company's founder, Hayes Gordon. It was Gordon who was running acting classes that the then pharmacist Bates enrolled in, to pursue her artistic leanings. She had been an avid participant in school drama and was subsequently offered a scholarship for training in England at the end of her secondary education, but cautious parents advised a qualification and tertiary education to be essential. Theatre would be a constant call however. It was Hayes Gordon who advised Sandra that she would be an effective director. She began at The Ensemble as A.D. of the Studio's Rep.Theatre, eventually being appointed Artistic and Governing Director of the theatre in 1986. She introduced a subscription series to the company and continued to navigate a remarkable story of theatrical survival for the company who have only ever existed on box office and donations. They receive no public funding. Her extensive theatrical output includes plays by David Williamson, Emerald City and The Jack Manning Trilogy; Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, Barry Creyton's Double Act, Miller's Death of a Salesman and her final show at the theatre, Neil Simon's The Good Doctor. She has relished making theatre and telling stories; and in doing so, has affected the lives of audience members in immeasurable ways. Sandra is thrilled with retirement. It was a delight to meet this theatrical elder and to be taken on her incredible journey in this episode of Stages.
In Part 2 of the Stages' conversation with Producer John Frost, he describes the rise of the Gordon Frost Organisation and, after the tragic loss of his co-founder Ashley Gordon; the necessary task of taking the helm as C.E.O. of the company. G.F.O. launches onward and finds success with shows like Big River, South Pacific, Hello Dolly! and Smokey Joe's Cafe. Frost's production of The King And I, rewards with considerable triumph, scooping several Tony Awards after the production transfers to Broadway. The show hadn't been produced in Australia for 20 years. It was a major win for Frost, and opened many doors internationally. A West End production followed, with Elaine Paige playing Anna Leonowens. There have also been the theatrical misfires that confirm the business gamble of producing commercial product. Frost ponders these missteps and responds to the comments that have often questioned his choices of show, his casting decisions and his development of original product. He is loyal to a legion of performers who were on the ground floor of our industry and is enthused by any opportunity to develop a new 'star'. He is happiest when he's making theatre and still gets star-struck when finding himself working with idols like Julie Andrews, who directed his 60th Anniversary production of My Fair Lady. During the early 2000s, Frost partnered with James Erskine and Basil Scaffidi's Sports Entertainment Ltd (SEL) and expanded the notion of entertainment, creating arena spectaculars with Grease and The Main Event featuring Olivia Newton John, Anthony Warlow and John Farnham. Eventually re-forming GFO, he gave us The Sound of Music (starring Lisa McCune), The Wizard of Oz (starring Nikki Webster), Annie (starring Anthony Warlow) and Footloose. The repertoire goes on with productions of Wicked, The Producers, Phantom of the Opera, Dream Lover and Legally Blonde. The list is extensive. In 2020, The Gordon Frost Organisation presents Chicago, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Shrek, The Book of Mormon, Nine to Five and Waitress throughout Australia. In part 2 of this absorbing conversation with impresario John Frost, he relishes the triumphs, analyses the disasters and contemplates the future of Musical Theatre and Entertainment. He is indeed evidence of a boy who had a dream, pursued it, and won.
Known affectionately as Frosty the Showman; impresario John Frost has been at the pinnacle of Musical Theatre in Australia for several decades. The Gordon Frost Organisation contributes much of the commercial product that traverses stages around the country. His productions have garnered a swag of local awards as well as two Tony Awards for musicals on the Broadway stage. Frost grew up in Adelaide and harboured dreams of a showbiz life. He'd stage backyard entertainments with his doting Aunt Mary playing Eliza to his Henry Higgins. He's been stage-struck ever since. It was a childhood influenced by a regular diet of television and Hollywood movies. A dalliance with amateur theatre in his teens provided him with the realisation that he was suited more to backstage. He left school at 15 and began his career as a dresser on the J.C. Williamson's production of Mame. Frost had found what he wanted to do and the young apprentice garnered enormous knowledge working his way through a succession of roles - Wardrobe Master, Office Assistant to Kenn Brodziak, Stage Manager, Company Manager and Actors Agent - each experience informing his prized accomplishment as Producer. In 1983 John Frost co-founded the Gordon Frost Organisation with Ashley Gordon. They took a lease on the University of Sydney's Footbridge Theatre and presented a succession of shows that would demonstrate to the pair the precarious nature of 'the business'. Shows emanating from The Footbridge included Women Behind Bars (starring June Bronhill), 'Night Mother (starring Jill Perryman and June Salter), Agnes of God and a 'just sensational ' production of Jerry's Girls. It's a riveting story and John speaks frankly and with great wit, about his journey and what is involved in being Frosty the Showman; producing commercial product, increasing the profile of musical theatre and delivering a magical experience to audiences.
Roland Rocchiccioli is a man of the theatre. His, is a celebrated career of more than 50 years. Comedian Billy Connolly said of him: 'His name is like alphabet soup'. Rocchiccioli spent his childhood watching the unfolding dramas in Gwalia, a town on the north eastern goldfields of Western Australia. He was schooled by nuns and monks in New Norcia. It was a unique childhood recounted in his engaging memoir 'And Be Home Before Dark'. A life in the Arts eventually called and in1966 he served an apprenticeship with a theatre company in Perth, learning much of the craft that would support him in his future roles - stage manager, actor, director, playwright, company manager and broadcaster. He has worked with the impresarios Harry M. Miller and Ken Brodziak on productions of The Rocky Horror Show, Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. He's worked on Broadway and The West End with luminaries like Ingrid Bergman, Debbie Reynolds and Googie Withers. He has written the plays 'Now You Can Eat Father Christmas' and 'Letters From The Heart'. A new play is in the works. As a broadcaster he can be heard regularly on radio sharing his infinite knowledge of all things entertainment. He is wonderful company, erudite and charming.
John Clark was born in Tasmania and his first intention was to be an archeologist. However, it was the theatre that called and provided Clark with an illustrious career as a theatre-maker and teacher. His greatest triumph is an indelible turn as Director of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. For 40 years he guided and nurtured generations of practitioners who would become crucial contributors to our Theatre, Film and Television industries. He studied theatre at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school and at Bristol University, where he designed the set for the first production of Harold Pinter's play - The Room. A series of firsts would decorate his career as a director, delivering productions of Death of a Salesman in Hobart, a premiere production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a landmark Sydney season of Don's Party. He played pivotal roles with the Old Tote Theatre and the Jane Street Theatre at a time when a new Australian voice was being developed in playwriting and an authentic style for the Australian actor. When the Old Tote Theatre Company ceased operation, Clark together with Elizabeth Butcher, became the Sydney Theatre Company's initial Artistic Director and Administrator, overseeing an interim season in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. His contribution to defining 'an Australian theatre' on local and international stages is vast. He is one of our great champions and a man of tremendous charm and infinite story. It was indeed a privilege and a joy to spend some time with John Clark.
Equipped with a soaring voice, matinee idol looks and bundles of charm; a career on the stage seems to have been destined for Alex Rathgeber. Growing up in rural Victoria, a series of roles in community theatre and school production lead him to study at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and on to a succession of roles that have enthralled audiences. Deft character studies have engaged Rathgeber in productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, An Officer and a Gentleman, Fiddler on the Roof, The Rocky Horror Show and Next To Normal. His performance as Billy Crocker in Anything Goes earned him a Helpmann Award. He reflects on his journey thus far; the triumph and challenge including the unique task of working within The Tin Man for The Wizard of Oz. Along the way he has played Raoul in the 21st Anniversary cast of The Phantom of the Opera in The West End. Passionate, intelligent and insightful, he proved to be the perfect guest in this episode, reflecting on a young career that has achieved much that can never be taken for granted.
Robert Love is the Director of the City of Parramatta's Riverside Theatres; a role he relishes, overseeing one of the most highly attended venues in the country. In addition to his role in Administration, he might be changing a light-bulb or pitching in with any task essential in the efficient running of an Arts venue. The theatres host a variety of entertainments - drama, art-house cinema, multi-cultural storytelling, dance, stand-up comedy, cultural celebrations and, a resident company - the National Theatre of Parramatta. It is a venue that embraces the diversity of the community it services. Love founded his own theatre company - 'Toe Truck Theatre' in 1976, providing a valuable social and educational role to students in regional and urban schools. Subsequent roles travelled management positions with organisations such as the University of Sydney's Seymour Centre, the State Theatre Company of South Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, Fox Studios and News limited; eventually taking up the baton at Riverside Theatres in 2000. He has been made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia for 'significant service to the performing arts, particularly in Western Sydney, as an administrator, and as a supporter of Independent artists'. He joined Stages for a riveting conversation, pondering the importance of the Arts in nourishing a population, the dilemma of Arts funding, the future of theatre as an art form; and to reflect on a stellar career as a leader at various Arts organisations.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler is a playwright, dramaturg, director and actor. He wrote and acted in the award winning shows A History of Drinking and Elephants. He has performed in and co-created Fag/Stag, Bali, The Advisors; and with The Last Great Hunt Company presented All That Glitters and Le Nor (The Rain). His other plays include Minnie & Mona Play Dead, Price Tag, Improvement Club and Hope is the Saddest. He is a founding artist with The Last Great Hunt, a company 'determined to produce quality and relevant new work that is simultaneously artistically rigorous and engages audiences to be moved, inspired and challenged. Within this ethos, the artists have diverse range of aesthetics that results in the creation of an eclectic mix of work'. His post-graduate studies were in Directing at NIDA, soon returning to Perth to embrace the vivid arts scene and continue a collaborative conversation, telling necessary stories, stimulating audiences and making excellent theatre. He has been an Associate Director of Black Swan State Theatre Company in Perth, where he established the emerging writers program and continues the artistic conversation with The Last Great Hunt - the next generation of theatre-makers in WA.
The Australian Musical is a peculiar beast - a hybrid of vaudeville, music hall and the influential Broadway form. It traverses authentic and genuine storytelling whilst continually experimenting with style, structure and content; and always with the presence of a larrikin essence. The history of the Australian Musical is vast, from early offerings such as The Bunyip, Chu Chin Chow and Collits' Inn to contemporary product like Bran Nue Dae, Muriel's Wedding and Fangirls. The Australian Musical is a fascinating entertainment and has had a glorious history on local and International stages. It is an entertainment growing from modest beginnings to eventually finding output in The West End and on Broadway; all contributed to from a variety of practitioners exploring a great breadth of subject matter. Preserving and contributing to an Australian Musical Theatre product continues with the recent publication of The Australian Musical: From the Beginning. Co-author, Peter Wyllie Johnston, joins me to examine the rich legacy of Australian Musicals which is celebrated in this glorious new book.
Welcome to this companion episode celebrating the magnificent Nancye Hayes. In part 1 we learned of a determination through childhood to emulate the great stars of the MGM musicals who figured prominently in her early cinema attendance. And then onto a career developing her talents in a succession of J.C. Williamson musicals, before eventually landing the leading role of Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity; helping to cement the knowledge that Australian performers certainly had what it took to lead a company and tell stories in imported musicals. The accolades came thick and fast, leading Nancye to great acclaim and on to a career that has seen her conquer all genres and theatrical roles; on and off the stage. She has contributed dynamically to the industry in creative roles as Director, Choreographer and Mentor. Her vast repertoire of plays and musicals has given us dynamic performances in Sweeney Todd, Nine, Showboat, Pippin, The Importance of Being Earnest, Same Time Next Year, Steel Magnolias and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. Nancye Hayes is one of our great elders and her vast warmth and contribution to the Arts in Australia have made her a much loved Teacher, Leader and Actor.
Nancye Hayes started her professional career as a dancer in My Fair Lady. She then progressed through roles in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Hello Dolly! and The Boys from Syracuse. She scored tremendous personal success as Charity Hope Valentine in her break-out performance in Sweet Charity, establishing herself as a bright new star. The accolades came thick and fast, leading Nancye to great acclaim and on to a career that has seen her conquer all genres and theatrical roles; on and off the stage. She has contributed dynamically to the industry in creative roles as Director, Choreographer, Mentor and Teacher. Her vast repertoire of leading and character roles has given us memorable performances as Miss Adelaide, Miss Hannigan, Madame Armfeldt, Mrs Higgins, Mrs Potts, Mrs Lovett, Aunt Eller and Lady Hotham. Nancye Hayes is synonymous with Australian show business and her presence in any show guarantees a consummate artist determined to engage us with her vast skill and extensive joy in performance.
Meeting in 1953 in J. C. Williamson's Call Me Madam, Jill and Kevan married in 1959. Their two children Todd and Trudy also followed a career in showbusiness. The family 'business' continues with grand-children beginning to make their mark in performance. Between musicals, Jill appeared in a number of Phillip Street Theatre revues, establishing herself as a versatile talent. Musicals continued to be her speciality where she would virtually steal the show, receiving unanimous acclaim from the critics and public alike. Her great break-out performance came in 1966 with Fanny Brice in Funny Girl; a role seemed tailor-made for Perryman's extensive talents. Through her career she has explored other genres, giving us memorable performances in the plays 'Night Mother and Brighton Beach Memoirs, an AFI winning performance in the film Maybe This Time and a moving turn as Kate in the mini-series Changi. Kevan continued to perform in musicals playing Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie and on to Pippin, Evita, Chicago and Annie and plays with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and The One day of the Year. He extended his talents to choreography and put together a number of revues for the Phillip Street Theatre including A Cuppa Tea, A Bex and a Good Lie Down. Kevan spent 15 months as a choreographer and producer for TVW-7 in Perth and was the production co-ordinator for the first Australasian tour of Disney on Parade. He has been a guest artist with The West Australian Ballet Company and for many years was on the staff of the Musical Theatre course at WAAPA. It is a partnership that has inspired performers and audiences, on and off the stage, for several decades.