I was prompted to drag out my old theatre scrapbooks when I wrote “A Challenge Faced” as part of the WordPress Bloganuary prompts. In reading through all these old treasured memories I realised that I had never written about my acting days on this blog. I say “Acting Days” because “Acting Career” sounds a little pretentious to describe my involvement in amateur theatre. But I am proud of my “days” in theatre and felt it was worthwhile to record in my blog what was a big part of my life for nearly thirty years.
As I wrote in that earlier post I first started acting on stage in 1976 with the Te Puke Repertory Society’s production of “I Have Five Daughters” in New Zealand. My last role was in “Gary’s House” with Castle Hill Players in 2003. Between these years I performed in 31 productions across nine theatre companies, namely:
- Te Puke Repertory Society, Te Puke, New Zealand
- Manawatu Theatre Society, Palmerston North, New Zealand
- Hamilton Playbox, Hamilton, New Zealand
- Goroka Players, Goroka, Papua New Guinea
- Spectrum Theatre, Sydney, Australia
- Genesian Theatre Company, Sydney, Australia
- Centre Players, Sydney, Australia
- Theatre On Chester, Sydney, Australia
- Castle Hill Players, Sydney, Australia
I am not going to bore you with details of every production I was in but I would like to share some highlights.
I have had a number of major roles in plays but the one that stands out was playing “Sir” in “The Dresser” with Genesian Theatre. I never auditioned for this role but was contacted by the director, on a recommendation from a friend at Theatre On Chester, to fill in for an actor who had to withdraw from the rehearsals for health reasons only three weeks out from the first performance. I have always struggled with learning lines but I had a lenient boss at work (thank you Alex!) who let me take afternoons off as I needed. I used the afternoons to cram lines and watch the movie production multiple times to crib as much of Albert Finney’s performance as I could then off to rehearsals at night which were added in for a couple of the weeks. These must have been an incredible strain on the rest of the cast. It was a crazy couple of weeks getting to opening night but I must acknowledge the tremendous support I received from Peter Dye who played “Norman” the role made famous by Tom Courtenay. Peter was a brilliant actor and was a tower of strength for me personally. Opening night arrived and I got through the first performance without having to resort to a single prompt from the lady who the company had made available as a special consideration and was secreted behind a flat down stage right. I just about had to be anchored down after the show, I was flying high with adrenalin and joy. The production ran from mid-December to early February, probably the longest continuous production run I was in. So yes, my biggest role.
I am probably not the best judge of this but the other two roles that I am proudest of would be as “3rd Juror” in “Twelve Angry Men” for Castle Hill Players, directed by Judith Boyd, and as “Joe Keller” in “All My Sons” for Chester Street Theatre, directed by Carla Moore. They were both challenging roles and I had to dig deep to bring what I think were reasonable performances to the respective productions.
The role I think I had the most fun with was as “Teddy Brewster” in “Arsenic and Old Lace” for Chester Street Theatre, directed by Nigel Lee in 1992. Ah the challenges of amateur theatre invariably constrained by restrictions on space. “Teddy”, who thought he was Theodore Roosevelt, was required to charge up this set of stairs, shouting “Charge” and exit off stage on to a small platform at the top of the stairs. The only problem was the landing, not visible to the audience, had barely enough width to cover me from said audience. So I would race up these stairs and come to a sudden halt at the top and try to avoid the 10ft drop from the landing. There were stairs at right angles to the far edge of the platform down to backstage from the landing but I had to stop before attempting to negotiate these quietly. The other memory that still tickles me was that the director had the two main characters still in costume, lovely old sisters who poisoned people with elderberry wine, stationed at the exit from the theatre at the end of the play offering glasses of sherry to the audience as they came out of the theatre. The looks and the gasps and then giggles from the audience as they were offered these drinks was as funny as any of the action from the play.
Another role that I enjoyed playing immensely was “Da”, in the play of the same name, written by Hugh Leonard, directed by Lauren Pfitzner at Spectrum Theatre in Strathfield. I had so much fun with it. There is a film, starring Martin Sheen, of the play which I can highly recommend, see details here.
The pinnacle of acting is generally considered to perform in a William Shakespeare production. I reached mine playing two small roles in “Othello” for Centre Players, directed by Robyn McLean in 1996. The production ran in two performance seasons, firstly at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood and then at The Edge Theatre in Newtown South. I played firstly “Brabantio”, the father of Desdemona, and later in the play, “Montano”, the Governor of Cyprus. My opinion of Shakespeare before this production was that it is usually verbose, long and tedious. My opinion after playing in this production was just the opposite. It is the compression of the emotions and events in the script that left a lasting impression on me. There is probably not one wasted word in this play. So much emotion and feeling is communicated in so few words. I was left in awe of the writing.
One other interesting note from my look back over the scrapbook was that I played in the same play twice, “How The Other Half Loves” by Alan Ayckbourn. The first was as “Bob Phillips” with the Hamilton Playbox in Hamilton, New Zealand. A couple of years later I played the other male role, “Frank Foster”, with the Goroka Players in Goroka, Papua New Guinea.
Goroka is in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and is home to the Raun Raun Theatre which predominately hosted the Raun Raun Theatre national performing group who stage indigenous singing and dancing performances around the country. This was probably the most unique theatre I have ever played in, see this for details of the theatre. The performance area was a complete circle from the pidgin name which means “round round”. The rear of the stage was delineated by floor to ceiling black drapes. The seating was tiers of logs driven vertically into the ground and cemented together to provide ascending rows of seating for the audience. These followed the curvature of the front of the circle. An amazing place.
A group of expatriates were kindly allowed to use the Raun Raun theatre to stage occasional amateur theatre productions and in the first one, “Toad of Toad Hall”, my eldest son was selected to be one of the chorus of school kids who were recruited. He suggested I try out for one of the roles but I thought it would be better for him to experience acting without my overshadowing presence. However mid way through the rehearsals I was asked to step in to the policeman role as the actor, Damian, had been posted to the Solomon Islands with the airline company we worked for. I reluctantly went along to the rehearsal with the soon-to-be-posted Damien who guided me through the movements required by following me around and whispering to me things like “Now look like this”. At the end the director, Liz Fearne, asked me whether I would take it on and I replied, “Well yes I think I could play the policeman OK but I don’t think I can play Damian playing the policeman”. She laughed and said “Make of it what you will”. I went on to also play in “The Sunny South”, “How the Other Half Loves” and “Babes in the Woods”, the latter my only occasion to play a Dame in a pantomime and with my younger son this time.
I brought my acting days to a close in 2003 after “Gary’s House”. My memory was letting me down and I was having more and more difficulty learning lines. I didn’t have the training that professional actors have and age was catching up with me. I was also in a new relationship with Molly, now my wife, and it all just seemed like the right time to call a stop to the endless cycle of learning lines, rehearsing and performing. I found an alternative outlet for my creative urge by taking up writing and through that, starting this blog.
If you have made it this far, thank you for bearing with me as I indulge my reminisces. I have enjoyed reliving the memories of all the marvellous times I had and the friends I have worked with along the way. I offer my thanks to all the amazingly talented people from all walks of life who keep community theatres alive.