For anyone that knows me, I'm not really one to talk about myself often. Nevertheless I'm going to attempt to write a piece on how I've managed to wind up where I have.
I am nothing special. I can move… but there are thousands of brilliantly talented dancers out there. I can hold a tune and say few lines, but again… there are truckloads of performers with skills more finely tuned than mine, both here in the UK and back at home in Australia. But the following is my journey.
I grew up in Maidstone, Melbourne with my Great Grandparents Marie & Bernie Bresnan. When I was around four I ran around and tripped over a lot. The Doctor said my hips where turned in and suggested I be taken to Ballet classes to help turn them out. That's when I started to learn dance. Jazz, Tap & Ballet at Penny Stuart's Dance Academy was run out of a Scout Hall on Saturday mornings in West Footscray and later at Carol Fairy's School of Dance which was also in Footscray.
I was the only boy at the time I started, but over the next 11 years there was the odd lad in there with me. I'd managed to keep my dance involvement a secret for the majority of my childhood. I had to. Not only was I learning to dance but I was quite a chubby kid therefore any more attention would have ruined any confidence I had. I still played footy, cricket, basketball and more but Saturday mornings were always secretly penciled in each week for dance.
When I was 15 and in Year 10 at school in 1996, one of my dance teachers, Lynette White, was about to choreograph 'Grease' at Catchment Players in Preston. She asked my good friend Kendrie Luca (now Coonan) and I to audition and that's where my passion for musicals began. Not because I fell in love with the craft, it was more that I got to meet other blokes who danced, hang out with adults and have an amazing time. We all know how great it is to work with people for a few months, become a family and party till it's 5am in the morning and wake up next to a random cow. I mean "cow" as in, the animal. It was a great experience and it's one that I immediately became addicted too.
From then on, I managed to do about 2 or 3 amateur theatre productions a year. I was fortunate enough to work with Altona, Whitehorse, CLOC, Fab Nobs, Williamstown and more over the next 10 odd years. I never went to University. Once school had finished I simply worked during the days and rehearsed and performed at night.
Those 10 years were amazing. I was lucky enough to meet so many brilliant people. Most of which are still my life today and I'm very thankful for that. It was also where I was lucky enough to learn from some immensely talented performers. I never officially trained anywhere, besides the odd singing lesson here and there, that's what made me the performer I am today. Everything I have, I owe to amateur theatre.
I tried to break into professional theatre as a young adult but never really got a break. Until the age of 29, I was working at Sensis White Pages as an Advertising Sales Rep. Whilst performing in Cats with Altona Theatre Company a good friend suggested I audition for Billy Elliot. She posed as my agent, submitted me and I got into the initial round of auditions. Somehow I managed to keep progressing and after a grueling few weeks I managed to reach the finals of Melbourne. As far as I knew, there was also a final group in Sydney and a few other places so my expectations weren't high. Until one afternoon I received a phone call from Caroline Buckle (now Kennon), my make-shift agent, and she informed me I got it. I was offered an Ensemble part with 2 covers. That has to be one of the best days of my life. I'm not going to lie, I cried. For me I was overcome with pride in myself for doing something I could finally repay my family's support with.
I worked on Billy Elliot in Sydney & Melbourne from mid 2008 until end of 2009. It was an exciting time in my life. I got to quit my day job and suddenly theatre was my real job. I got to work and learn from some amazing people. For those that haven't seen the show it's one with a bunch of lads, busting out some dance moves, yelling abuse at each other and tapping in tutus.
Upon the end of the season in Melbourne I was determined not to fall back into what I was comfortable with and keept trying to pursue my dream. The next 6 to 8 months were tough. I got to a few finals but had no luck getting back in the game. I was nearing the age of 32 and I'd always wanted to travel to the UK and do the whole work and travel thing. That's the direction I took and in May 2010 I landed in London by myself and started a new life.
I moved into a house where at any one point in time there were about 8 other people living there. For the first 18 months I worked in offices and traveled in my spare time. Being in the UK is brilliant for traveling, within an hour I can be in another country. After a while though my creative itch got itchier and luckily an old friend got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to audition for a Fringe production of 'Guys & Dolls'. The Fringe scene here in the UK is kind of like a level between amateur and professional back home. The bug was back and again I found myself working during the days and performing at night.
I managed to get an Agent and again I was throwing my hat in the ring. I auditioned for a few West End shows and Billy Elliot on two occasions, but had no luck. I continued with a few Fringe shows until I got called into Billy for a third time. That time I was fortunate to be offered and again my life took another turn.
Again, I cried. When I was introduced to Musical Theatre. I knew that Broadway and the West End were the top of the top. I translate it to wanting to play footy as a kid and getting drafted by the mighty Geelong Cats. In August 2012 I started my journey on the West End with Billy Elliot.
Over the past few years I've learnt a lot about the West End and the people that work in it both on stage and off. It's a lifestyle, it's a culture and it's submersed in a rich and long history. A lot of the theatres are centuries old and draped in the tales of past productions. Billy Elliot has been on at the Victoria Palace theatre for 9 years now. Every night stepping onto that stage I am still in awe of the people that have come through this beautiful theatre both working in it and the thousands of people watching.
It can be a challenging routine. Especially with Billy as we have regular changes in cast, new kids coming in every few months and a major adult cast change each year. So eight shows a week and rehearsals during the days can typically leave the week a blur sometimes. Fortunately we have a great team of people working on the show, both creatives and crew, which make the long hours bearable. Days can easily blur into weeks and weeks into months and before you know it half a year as flown by. It's hard sometimes to keep in touch with loved ones, both here in the UK and back home in Australia, but they're never far from my thoughts.
We've recently gone through an adult cast change which has seen not only a number of fresh faces around the place but also a different track for me to step into. After covering the role for a year in Australia and 18 months here in the UK, I'm now taking over the role of Mr Braithwaite and sharing the stage with the wonderful legend that is Ruthie Henshall, as our new Mrs Wilkinson. We had our opening night last night, the entire new cast were fabulous and I'm looking forward to doing our dance number (Born to Boogie) 8 shows a week with Ruthie….which still kinda blows my mind.
If there's anyone interested in making the trip over and trying their hand or simply looking to get into the entertainment industry in Australia as a career, I can only give advice on what's worked out for me and what I've seen work for others.
Train hard. Be prepared. Be able to drop everything and audition for a multitude of different scenarios at the drop of a hat. Have a hard skin. You may be very talented but not necessarily fit the casting look for the show. Never give up. It took me about 11 years to get a break, once you get that break… do everything you can to never let it go.
I could not have arrived at this juncture without the help of those I worked with in the past, my friends and family. Eternally thankful… Dave