Well-known performer and friend of Theatre People Josh Piterman discusses the downs and ups (and ups and ups) of the Australian theatre industry.
They say ‘showbiz’ is the glamour industry. I don’t know who ‘they’ were or are but I’m almost certain that they probably rocked up to plenty of opening night parties, extravagant functions, and awards nights. They no doubt got their photo taken with the all the stars, made small talk with the ‘who’s who’ and drank copious amounts of deliciously bubbly champagne. I’m even more certain that they spent little, if any, time in a dance class, where learning and competing are like best friends and worst enemies. They were probably never in a singing lesson exploring vulnerability and self-discovery juxtaposed with finding freedom in techniques that feel completely unnatural. Not to mention an acting class that is so emotionally revealing it’s like a therapy session. Have they ever had to bare their soul in a rehearsal room for people they just met? Or perform eight shows a week on an injury that keeps AFL players out for months? Did they ever have to put themselves on complete vocal rest so that they could sing that night? Did they attend audition after audition with rejection after rejection? Did it ever get so rough for them that they had to question their skills, their passion, and whether or not they should give it all up because they just didn’t have it in them? Conversely, did they ever feel the complete and utter elation and justification after that phone call from their agent, that not only employs them for the next year, but validates ever drop of sweat, every pirouette, every tear, every scale, every pelvic-floor exercise, every gym session, every personal discovery, vocal epiphany, mantra, or low-carb kick? When it all comes to together in that one moment, the ‘YES’ moment, our smile broadens, our eyes water and we breathe with a new sense of depth.
As performers, we all know the facts. We live and work in an industry with the highest rate of unemployment: ‘The Arts.’ So often I’ve been asked, why did/do you want to be a performer? The answer has never changed and hopefully never will. It’s about one word: LOVE. When your love and passion for something is so strong it’s criminal not to pursue that very thing, no matter what it is. If it fuels you, if it wakes you up in the morning and energizes your thoughts throughout the day, there is simply no choice. We must let that love radiate out of our pores and build an aura around us that is completely indestructible. When we have that, we know that although our artistic branches may expand, there is no room for change and we are now walking on the same road that our inspirations walked before us.
As I’m writing this, I can’t help but feel totally inspired by Australian theatre at the moment. Show after show after show seems to be hitting our shores, and sure, some don’t make it and not all succeed, but most do – and there are more to come. Producers, thankfully, are prepared to take risks on shows in Australia and there are more workshops and new musicals arriving than ever before. We seem to be the go-to country for new works or re-creations of new works. Recently we’ve seen the success of Priscilla, Dr Zhivago, and now Love Never Dies. And next year there will be more new works hitting our stages, with An Officer and a Gentlemen and King Kong [Among others – Ed.] set to open at some point. I had the great pleasure of being a part of the first Australian workshop of Officer and a Gentleman back in 2009 and it was undoubtedly one of the most joyous theatrical experiences I’ve ever been a part of. On top of these are Australian works such as Strange Bedfellows, Happy People, and The Hatpin, that have all either played or will be playing in the near future. In addition again are a list of other amazing shows that have already been announced for 2012 and 2013.
Australia’s level of talent and geographical location means that writers and composers can bring their work here and know that they will be given a chance to see their show come to life, far away from the cynical eye of the New York or London critics. In addition to this, Australia’s economy and ageing population with readily disposable income means that more people are attending theatre, particularly musical theatre, more than ever. This means more work for more people in all departments of theatre and more theatre for more theatergoers. Success breeds success and theatre breeds theatre. It’s like a cell that multiplies and multiplies, and at every level of the industry there are more works being created and produced and more talent being discovered and harnessed. There are more institutions and courses for young people to study the creative crafts than ever before. This means more work for teachers and ultimately a greater level of quality output. Every year the bar is raised and the expectation of greatness is pushed. This filters from the bottom to the top and vice versa. So many of these people are my friends and colleagues and to watch them achieve greatness in their craft is so enriching, satisfying, and inspiring. I’m fortunate enough to witness these moments nearly daily and for that I am always grateful. On a more personal level, it feels like everyday contains new and exciting possibilities and every step is one step closer to dreams that are now fully achievable in this amazing country of ours. Gone are the days when performers had to flee our shores to stay in work. It seems like there’s plenty to go around and when we miss out on one thing all hope is not lost for there is always another show, co-op production, concert, cabaret, or even corporate function to keep us motivated, inspired, and, ultimately, employed.
It’s important to understand that although there is the glitz and glamour that is integral to life in showbiz, there is also a flip side, that breathes so much deeper and richer than any drop of champagne, arrincini ball, or mini quiche. It is the life of hard work, the grueling slog that enriches all performers: the love for the work! Granted not every day is fulfilling, exciting or seen as an ‘up’ day. It’s a life of extremes, a rollercoaster of emotions, where the ups and downs faced so dramatically and so often. It’s sort of fitting and also right in a way that performers are seen as dramatic people for it is through our so-called dramatic experiences that we have the opportunity to create drama; to recreate real life; to tell stories not only through our bodies and our voices, but also through our minds and hearts. It is our thoughts that determine our choices and it is in the execution of these choices that greatness is reached. When this perfect scenario is mixed with true love for your work, there is simply nothing more riveting for both the performer and the audience. Thankfully we are living in a time when we have the opportunity to share this love with so many people who will happily pay to watch!