Tell us a little about your journey?
I began as an actor in The Sullivans way back in 1977. Then lurked around the sets of PRISONER and SKYWAYS and COP SHOP and learnt as much as I could about acting. I soon became intrigued by the culture of creativity itself and the conditions required for inspiration to flow. My path was then set and for the last 42 years I have passionately pursued teaching and maintaining a vibrant, diverse and creatively-propelling environment for staff and students alike.
For me, theatre is a transformational tool – it is an agent of change. It can humanize us and fell us in a heartbeat. It can appal and inspire. It can show us the best and worst of ourselves. It can hold the mirror up to nature (our nature) and make us take a good, long, hard look at ourselves. Why? So we can remain alert, so we can be reminded of our humanness and also be reminded that we are all visitors on this planet and we are – in essence – one tribe. Any ideas that connect us rather than divide us are essential if we are to develop as a species and get better at this life-thing. Theatre can transcend all boundaries and transport us into new worlds. Hopefully when we return from this fictional world, we can take steps to make our real one a little better.
What sort of message does ACA try to express?
It’s always been pretty simple for me: be your best in every way. It may sound glib but right now the world needs people to absolutely step into their capabilities and gifts and make a difference – however that may look for them. The self-seeking, self-serving, self-concerned days are well and truly over for us as both a community as dare I say, as a species. I believe the tipping point is here and we’d better hear the call to action. So creating shows and theatre events which shake people up, which remind them of what’s possible and where we see actors (characters) rise and fall hopefully to rise again – that’s something which continually draws me forward.
What is a typical day at work for you?
Wow – typical isn’t quite the word I’d use at a drama school, but we do get used to it. There are meetings, rehearsals, classes, technical calls, note sessions, administrational and day to day business requirements all requiring attention. It’s funny having a meeting in my office with someone who’s at ACA for the first time and through the wall to my left in the acting studio there is yelling, screaming, chairs hurled and finally someone leaving, sobbing and in tears. My guest stops, deeply concerned, I continue chatting calmly. We once had 4 actors covered in fake blood having a smoke in our old Surry Hills courtyard as the police arrived because of a complaint. We had a visit from Sir Ian McKellen and William Hurt, both in the same month, wowing staff and students by their brilliance and commitment to the profession. We host art-gallery exhibitions, book launches, symphony orchestras, remarkable cabaret and comedy, Theatresports, special community events and yes, also, the world stars of Championship Wrestling live onstage. It’s never a dull moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What motivates you?
Being so restricted at school and being bought up with such conformity and then realizing how small a perspective that was on this extraordinarily varied and complex world. People’s potential has always drawn me as so many people live within a pretty tight and narrow orbit. The performing arts industry helps roll out a bigger field of green. Theatre, film and TV influence billions of people every single hour of every single day as well as move and inspire them.
What have you learned through teaching?
That there is so much to keep learning. That acting isn’t mystical and illusive – it’s practical as well as an art. That teachers are co-collaborators with each of their students – their should be no power play present. That we’re all on the same team and heading in the same direction. And in the end, education is what remains after the student has forgotten all they’ve been taught.
Tell us about a project that was special to you?
Interviewing Sir Ian McKellen. What grace, what humility, what generosity of spirit. He ended our official onstage chat with a stirring Shakespeare monologue which literally stopped the air – every single person was rapt with attention and transfixed. He then asked for every student to sign his book and he met every single one of them individually. He then went for a walk through our old 1880 performance venue, hands behind his back – and so I followed. He looked up at the roof, stopped in a pool of light, played with his beard and I did feel for a moment like Frodo waiting for some profound discovery. He finally stopped, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You really have found something magic hear haven’t you…” We both smiled and I drove him into the Opera House for his evening performance.
You play a large role in educating and nurturing a young Australian scene. What advice do you have for a young generation of actors?
Don’t play small. Don’t settle for close-enough will do. Don’t be held back by other’s views or standards. This country loves to drag someone down at the slightest provocation. It means we’ll elevate them as quickly as well, but it is a fickle flag we Australians fly. Follow your dream. If your dream changes, follow whatever charms you and calls you. The industry needs people who are willing to be of service and go beyond the call. It’s such an exciting family to be a part of.
Are there new inventors in the acting scene that impress you?
There are many books being written about acting but they mostly come from one person’s ‘method’ or ideology. I don’t believe in the “one size fits all” methods of acting. Each approach has fabulous merits but I love sharing the best of the best so each actor can create their own personal method that works for them. One of my passions is creating new exercises that catapult the actor into an onstage simulated experience so the actors can learn deeply and learn quickly what they need to know.
Which element of your transgressive role as actor/teacher/consultant/director etc do you enjoy most?
Teaching and directing are certainly my passions – get me in a room with people and something to accomplish and I look for the leverage: what will draw us together and create a common focus? What will focus and harness our energies in a like-minded way? And off we go… YET – teaching corporate clients as well as administrational meetings all draw on people and their potential – so wherever I go with my day, I’m looking for what’s possible.
What’s ACA’s biggest news?
Our recent partnership with Torrens University Australia and the December 12th 2018 accreditation of our Bachelor of Performing Arts – Stage and Screen Program. To see our much-loved and hugely-respected Advance Diploma – which was running successfully since 1999 – become a fully-fledged degree program and all that brings for the students, is a game-changer in the performing arts educational sector in Australia. 32 years since I opened the doors of ACA and it feels like the best is yet to come…