Australian Theatre History. The Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory

Bruce Spence with Jenny Walsh

Bruce: The Pram Factory- a brief courtship and a long marriage! I lived in the Pram Factory tower from around 1966, long before the APG came along. I was studying painting and printmaking at what was then the National Gallery Art School, later to become the Victorian College of the Arts under folk like John Brack and Bea Maddock. Virginia Fraser was also living in the tower working as a journo at ‘The Australian’. I met Peter Haffenden and moved into 66 Elgin Street, where I met my fellow housemates, Jan Friedl (then Fordham) and Paul Hampton.

In 1968 I had a lot of life changing experiences. The big one was seeing my first Australian play, Jack Hibberd’s ‘Who’ with Marty Phelan, Lindzee Smith and John Hawkes. Now that really changed my life! I had grown up in New Zealand and carried the baggage of life with an incendiary alcoholic father. But that is another story. Sitting in that tiny space of La Mama, within a handshake of this electric exhibition of male power plays and repressed violence knocked the shit out of me. I came back again and again to see it; that was my epiphany.

In September 1968, I auditioned for the La Mama workshops on Sundays which were run by Kerry Dwyer, Brian Davies, Graeme Blundell. They held three weekends of improvisations which were almost like a religious experience for me. Then I thought that was it, thud, on with the rest of my life. But one day I was walking through Carlton and Brian Davies pulled up in his little Fiat and asked me to be in ‘The Exception and The Rule’. Turned out I was not experienced enough and Romeril got the part. But after that I hung around, building sets and making masks etc. My art school training luckily kept me around. I soon scored my first ever acting role in ‘The Elephant Calf’ saying three words. Brian Davies was one of the intellectuals of the group, he was also a film maker with such incredible energy, he had a very analytical, theoretical approach to theatre, especially Brecht. I felt that he was a visionary and that it was his influences that seem to give the politics of the group a sort of grounded rationality. La Mama became my University; I learnt an inestimable amount in those few years there. My knowledge of contemporary politics, theatre and film were pretty limited before.

In those days we always had time for Melbourne University on a Friday night, seeing the late movies of Directors like Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, etc. as well as Kurasawa, Polanski, John Ford, Peckinpah, etc. etc. God they were great days for cinema; I soaked it all up. I learned the meaning of words like narrative, subtext, style, content, genre, rhythm/pace, allegory, film noir, etc. etc.

Most evenings, after a show some of us would stay back, knock back various alcoholic beverages, smoke all sorts of cigarettes and argue, I recall, about everything from Freud, Marcuse, Marx, Jung, R. D. Laing, Brecht, to Carlos Castaneda, Pinter, Bertrand Russell, you name it, coming into the conversation, as well as Barrassi, Polly Farmer, Sheedy, Stanislavski etc. In awe, I soaked it all up, went back home and read like buggary.

That summer I got involved with Doug Anders and Tribe in the ‘Saturday’ show at La Mama. That was a daring show then as we got our gear off at one stage. I was petrified! I also worked on some environmental art projects with the Tribe folk. I was staggered at the creativity, confidence, and presumptuousness with which everyone around me approached their activities.

Back with La Mama; Lindzee Smith, Romeril and Jon Hawkes were the Monash push, very much to the left of the Melbourne University push. Brian was left wing, but more pragmatic. The rest of us were everywhere. Cummins was more psychological; he taught me about Freud and Jung. I would then go home and read Freud and Jung, just soaking it all up.

Brian Davies had a good job, a great wife, Judy and a family which meant financial responsibilities. He was toying with the idea of a career in theatre; he even brought in financiers hoping to get ‘Exception and the Rule’ on at Gallery A in South Yarra. I miss Brian a lot.

Jenny: I met Brian in ‘65 in a market research job with Diana Nash (Margot’s sister) Brian was our boss. He was encouraging young students to work - kind of providing a sheltered workshop. One of the reasons I went to La Mama later was because I knew him.

B: Something had started with ‘Brain Rot’ and now had a hell of a momentum. But I never saw myself as having a career in theatre. I was still at Art School. We were performing anywhere we could, like doing students’ nights in the union upstairs. Brecht’s ‘The Elephant Calf’ was a short piece, so easy, you could do it anywhere. My view of the group then was that I didn’t think it was making any great mark in the outside world. Although we were committed politically and culturally it was really a social magnet for us, keeping us off the street.

I was offered the part of Morrie in ‘Dimboola’ and as most of my lines were just two words, I didn’t think much of it. My first real part and buggar me, the play is a hit! To utter those lines and get such a superb reaction was scary. I was learning fast about ensemble, timing, focus, subtext, drawing in the audience, etc. We went on with workshops in all sorts of aspects of performance. I was in awe of Blundell, Dwyer, Finney, Davies, Milne, Cummins, Clancy, the lot of them.

Before we went to Perth there were these meetings regarding what to call ourselves. There was the usual heated debate over ‘The Carlton Poor Theatre’, ‘Spettacolo’, or ‘The Australian Performing Group’, etc. We were never sure what to call ourselves- there was also street theatre - I never saw myself as totally aligned with this group although I made most of the masks in the early days.

TDR –The Tulane Drama Review- You knew your place in the hierarchy of the group when you got it in your hands. Blundell usually got first dibs and it was well thumbed through by the time I got it. Anything that came out of USA, introducing us to the San Francisco Mime Troup, Bread and Puppet Theatre, Megan Terry, Richard Schechner etc. But we soaked up stuff from all areas; from Brian’s passionate love of Brecht, Romeril too loved Brecht, to contemporary British stuff and of course Jerzy Grotowski from Graeme and Kerry.

We weren’t just doing epic pieces –‘The Exception and the Rule’ was a big piece. ‘White With Wire Wheels’ was big, but usually it was always little half hour pieces. Playwrights were writing little pieces, stuff was being improvised into something. Then Buzo came up with ‘Norm and Ahmed’ which was one hour. ‘Man from Chicago’ was Romeril’s first big epic, a great piece of writing. The main contemporary English stuff came later at the Pram.

J: I had started arts in ‘63 at Melbourne University and Graeme must have been one of the first people I met. I already knew Kerry and also Bill Garner. I did various things in student theatre at Melbourne University - stage managing etc . I started going to these acting workshops at La Mama with Michael Price as he was living in my house in Barkly St in Carlton. Brian Davies was running them and there was no acting, it was all gymnastics! Then the main group came back from Perth and I met Bruce at a welcome home party at Red Symons’ place.

B: Perth was a turning point. We received a grant, we were actually being paid! When we came back, I recall a lot of meetings voicing all our feelings: where was the “group” going? Where to now? We’d come to a crossroad for some. I think what everyone knew was that some had to make the great leap doing plays in a professional way - the alternative was that they were just going to piss around being part timers. I stayed with the part timers.

And so in early1970 there was the split. Peter Cummins, me, Alan Finney and Martin Phelan, Rivka Hartman, Jan Friedel, stayed on at La Mama. We had other commitments as well as drama. I still wanted to finish my Diploma in Fine Arts, Rod Moore was teaching, Alan Finney was focused on cinema etc. and Cummins was still teaching plumbing or just plumbing I think. So we stayed around La Mama, the real reason being that that’s what people thought La Mama should be for people who weren’t fully committed and wanted to do plays when they had the time. The Pram group was becoming very political and very passionate. I got involved later on with the passion.

Jenny: Not everybody was in a position where they wanted to give up what they were doing.

B: We continued to have improv. nights at La Mama and we’d just make up something in front of the audience; real seat of the pants stuff. Lindy Davies did a bit with us as well. Betty Burstall, a forgotten saint, had this whole pile of scripts that people kept sending her and there we found two plays written by a bloke called David Williamson. He was a lecturer in thermo-dynamics at Swinburne Tech. No titles, around fifteen/twenty minutes long. We thought they were basically conversations. We did them and Alan Finney directed, along with Martin Phelan. They were very successful. At that stage we didn’t think we were onto gold or anything but then David wrote this other play, ‘The Coming of Stork’.

I’d been away actually. I had been lucky enough to get cast in the first Australian production of Stoppards ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead’ at the Melbourne Youth Theatre, Monash University, directed by John Ellis. I played Guildenstern - my first really big role ever. John Ellis is a fantastic teacher of drama. I learned an enormous amount from him. He really was the person who made me think as an actor and his patience with this callow inexperienced youth transformed me. What a lucky break!

J: That was the first time Bruce had to do an audition and he was agonising over it and now, thirty years later, nothing has changed!

B: I met Rob Meldrum in that. The Melbourne Youth Theatre did ‘Hamlet’ that same year at the Alexander Theatre at Monash which had Jan Friedl and Paul Hampton, my housemates in it. We would join up later in the APG. That was directed by Elijah Moshinsky who has gone on to direct opera all over the world. That may have been how I got into the Melbourne Youth Theatre.

J: No, you saw an ad for auditions in the Poppyshop!

B: After the Stoppard I came back and we did ‘Coming of Stork’. David was still finishing it at the time I recall.

J: I got the impression that he’d written ‘The Coming of Stork’ but not finished it. He’d had something else on earlier at La Mama that didn’t do so well. But when they did the short plays and they’d been so successful, it gave him the confidence and it gave him an actor to play that role - Stork was of course David himself.

I think when Bruce did that role in the Stoppard he started to feel there was something in acting. I was in awe of what he did in that play.

B: With ‘The Coming of Stork’ we were finally doing a full length play. Even though I was still round the corner at La Mama when ‘Don’s Party’ was in rehearsal, actors were saying that they couldn’t see the humour in it. ‘Don’s Party’ was about a generation of people that we weren’t part of. People in that play had careers and relationships and that was still ahead of us. We were awfully presumptuous then.

J: I moved into street theatre in the Vietnam moratoriums, black pajamas et al. Up to that point Id been very involved politically at the Labor Club at MU. After the split I stayed at la Mama and helped out with costumes and lighting.

B: Sexual politics was important within the groups. Lots of members were partners as well.

J: They tended to get involved with each other because that was the nature of in the group but I was only there because I was with you and I didn’t feel I had legitimate reasons to be there. I had another life. We went to the Pram and we saw everything. My group of friends were also political. We all thought the APG was pretty light politically while we thought we were the real deal.

B: By the time I arrived on the scene with you, you weren’t doing much of that stuff at all.

Though Peter Cummins and I were still in the pub drinking with the APG mob, you didn’t feel that you were part of that group and had that feeling of being competition. Cummins and I plumbed Romeril’s or rather his partner, Chris Berkman’s house in South Yarra.

‘Marvellous Melbourne’ had opened and we were very impressed by it. I then read ‘The Removalists’ and thought, gee this is bloody good. I asked David Williamson if I could direct it. I cast Cummins as the Sergeant and a young guy called John Howard (not the professional actor John Howard that we know today) as the young Cop and Paul Hampton was Lenny and David played the Removalist. I tried to get Jan Freidl but she wasn’t available then someone suggested Kristin Green and the other girl was Fay Byrne who had been in Tribe. About a week or so before we started I thought this is all going OK. There was a knock at the door in Patterson Street, North Carlton, and there stood John Howard saying, “Sorry, I can’t do this show, my mum won’t let me. I’ve got to study for my Matriculation.” Later I discovered that his parents had read the script and did not take to the swearing. “Well”, Peter said to me, “you’re gonna have to play it.” ‘The Removalists’ was fantastic! There is a volume of stories there one could tell! It ended up that Nimrod claimed they did the first production – Bullshit! It was around that time ‘Don’s Party’ was done by the APG. They didn’t seem keen on it at all and the women especially, gave David a real run for his money.

J: But maybe it was fear of finding themselves in mainstream culture.

B: I was then involved in the filming of ‘Stork’, with Graeme Blundell and Peter Cummins, so then by about that time, late ‘71 Graeme involved me in ‘The Feet of Daniel Mannix’ which was the first play I did at the Pram. That was the beginning of my years at the Pram. We did lots of plays about historical people, historical times, and we listened to historians, soaking it all up. Barry Oakley wrote ‘Mannix’ but we also workshopped some stuff. With Tony Taylor’s improvisations, the last scenes were built up. I recall Max doing a lot of his character building stuff alone, getting the right accent/stammer. Great stuff.

About then, Romeril was given a grant to write for the MTC and I worked on the workshopping of ‘Rearguard Action’ there. He had written a play on the theory of revolution which was pretty subversive of him for the MTC. There was no public production; too dangerous for them.

In ’72 George Ogilvie offered me a part with the SATC, doing ‘The Alchemist’ for the Adelaide Festival. This was my introduction to mainstream Theatre; another revelation. Actors out in the big world were not as we had feared! They were not a pack of selfish competitive bastards as I had assumed. Here I was with a bunch of talented folk all calling me darling and having a fine old time! Okay, politics was not on their agenda, but theatre certainly was.

J: I went to the first meeting of the Collective in ‘72 when Bruce was away in Adelaide, that’s when it formed into a Collective . I went as a sort of proxy for Bruce.

B: There had been the formation of the APG, then came a number of meetings on the nature of the Collective…. change… …….a number of ructions.

J: It was interesting- I thought they were a bit idealistic. The collective was a political unit that was much talked about at the time and everybody wanted to form a collective and it was almost analogous to forming a commune – but we were going to form a collective that actually does something- that runs a theatre. The Collective was formed with no argument, it was all very agreeable.

B: About that time there’s political pressures occurring in the group, tensions between the Collective and Graeme and Garrie Hutchinson - the schism. There was concern that decisions were being made outside the Collective and that too much power had accumulated between Graeme and Garrie. As a result of the move to a collective, Graeme and Garrie Hutchinson lost their influence.

I had assumed that Graeme was going to get the role in ‘Beware of Imitations’- but that was the nature of the beast and probably one of the real contradictions in the group too. When I directed ‘Bastardy’ I wanted to use Evelyn Krape and, I don’t know where it came from, but I was told I had to use Jude Kuring and I had to tell Evelyn she hadn’t got it. Who was I to piss off? The people who supported Jude or Evelyn? Bill Hannan was the director of ‘Beware of Imitations‘and Bill chose me.

At this stage my political education was from the group. Those late night intoxicated discussions at three in the morning, from La Mama had transformed into debates during bump-out time. A lot of passion and people yelling at each other.

I was bewildered by this consolidation of the Collective and the move against Graeme and Garrie, it was all very unfortunate, but I could see how the collective needed to work as a collective. The experiment had its own momentum and the machine was gearing up.

There were two ways we could take the group; do we go along the lines of real collectivism where the power is with the people or do we go along the lines of a theatre company with an artistic director? I think it was like an unpleasant divorce. Politics won. It wasn’t about artistic talents it was about politics and who could run a meeting.

J: I think the women in the group were very much in favour of the Collective. Graeme and Garrie hung around for a while and their power was diminished and I don’t think Graeme could tolerate being one of the Collective. I think he wanted to be an artistic director which he then did in starting Playbox Theatre.

B: ‘Beware of Imitations’ was hugely successful. I loved doing that, working with Max – it was the last time I worked with him. To be honest, Bill was fantastic as a director. We improvised and created great moments on stage, the rehearsal period was sometimes chaotic and time was wasted when we’d pace around, we’d be trying dozens of different ways to find our way through it all. Bill always had great faith in what we doing and let us explore and then guided us along. Barry was also really generous - writing and rewriting and rewriting.

‘Dragon Lady’s Revenge’ was a bummer, we were slagged by the press and some nights we outnumbered the audience. Bill Garner directed it, poor bugger. I thought it was all rather interesting, the things we were doing in that, we used for other things. Well I did anyway. The Circus should have done it.

After that I went to Sydney to do six months on ‘Certain Women’. Certain things were said by certain people in the group that I was letting the group down by working outside. Some actually gave me the cold shoulder. The ABC wanted me to stay but the APG drew me back. I came back hoping to do ‘Floating World’. That’s when I started to get jacked off with the collective, feeling that the experience of working at the Pram was not a pleasurable one. The casting exercise was atrocious. In those days a group would be set up - a group interested in being in the cast, and then a cast would be selected from that group. The collective process in selecting was destructive for actors due to the timidity of directors in making a decision.

Lindzee did an extensive improvisational workshop and it seemed to boil down to three or four of us to play ‘Les’. Peter was cast as the comic, I think John Romeril had maybe written it for him anyway. Wilfred Last was up for Les as well as Greig Pickhaver. Lindzee was sitting there saying ‘aw gee whiz… you know……I don’t know how to make this decision’. Max just happens to slide through not having been part of the initial group of course but Max, being one of the stars of the Collective, lets it drop that he wouldn’t say no if he’d was offered it... we were up and fucking down! It was perverse. Then somehow I ended up with the role of Les. I may have got the role but I was wrung out, pissed off and guilt-stricken that maybe someone else should have had it! I’ve just put someone else out of a role!

J: I was in the APG by then. I had been completely out of it, teaching, then I was stage manager for ‘Beware of Imitations’, then we had gone to Sydney. Timlin and Hibberd came to Sydney and asked me to come back and work as assistant administrator because they were going to expand. Timlin was to be administrator and he had two assistants. Bruce stayed on in Sydney. Jon Hawkes was the other assistant, and later Peter Dyke. My job was to start the Actors Agency and help set up the community theatre program and generally be around and that meant I did everything else too. The office was in the front room up the stairs of the tower. There was also a secretary. Yvonne Marini did it for a while and then Sigrid von Borke was there. Carol Whitford was there earlier.

B: The casting system: People would express an interest in being in a play. Then there were workshops- de facto auditions- and reading bits of the script - finding different ways of doing it – but we all knew we were competing against each other so we’ve got this agonising, destructive, lengthy competition whilst at the same time suppressing our egos ‘ because you’re not meant to be competitive in the Collective’. There was this philosophy that ability was not the most important criteria, and some people might not have had a go for a while, BUT then again……just maybe…. we need X in this role cause he/she is best for it. Then back again to - ‘anyone can be an actor- the cleaners and tradespeople should have their go at being an actor as well’! De-skilling and dumbing down. Then that would all be thrown on its head and next time different casting criteria would be used. All of this was a reflection of the Collective and its timidity in making artistic decisions or giving the artistic director little leeway to make a decision. The decision making structure was dominated right through by the Collective and you had a collective of sometimes sixty people nearly all wanting to be up there. I was starting to think about saying, ‘I’m off’.

Working with John Romeril was brilliant. I remember doing the 20 minute drum poem. The nature of the performance in the Pram was that you had to physicalise the performance and late one night, I was running out of things to do and I remember John saying ‘why don’t you just sit down on the edge and just say it like you’re talking to me’. I remember the feeling of relief; just let the words say it and the words were brilliant. I still think it’s the best thing Romeril has ever written and I think Romeril was the best writer in the group. I think Romeril did a disservice to himself by making the political decision to give himself, so much of himself, to the group. He sacrificed himself to the group.

My experience on Mary Shelley persuaded me to leave the group and I’m not going to name names. After a discussion with Tim Robertson about Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ he went away and wrote about three scenes and it was fantastic, scintillating and soaring writing but he suffered from writer’s block and so we got a group together to research and improvise and workshop stuff. Susie Potter was in that group too. Susie was an example of someone who should have been performing in that group but she was pushed out and did not become part of the group because she did not have the political nous- in order to get a role you had to be subversively competitive if you were up against it. There were not a lot of women’s roles. So those who for example, took the books home and kept them, therefore accumulated more knowledge about the parts and were in a better position to get the roles. Some actors had Committee meetings to go to and suddenly they’d just be absent from rehearsal and we would have to wait around for the committee meeting to finish.

There was a game of secret rules and secret agendas and I must confess I was truly sickened by it. Here was an example of a collective that was meant to give power to the powerless but it was the political animals who were the ones with the power. I felt that the artistic values of productions were being compromised. I was working as an actor with some people who were there, not because of their acting skills but because of their political skills. I felt the Collective had become artistically corrupt and half way through that production I walked into a meeting and said here’s my resignation, I’m resigning, this is my last production- and some people got a bit upset- but I knew it was pointless to debate it. Me putting forward the argument in favour of the rights of these people who were politically inept wasn’t going to work. The machine was too dominant. It was like eighty percent of the energies of the group were going into the politics and twenty percent to the shows.

We, as a Collective, despised oppression but we had become a monster. People within the group used to make castigating remarks about outside theatre companies and outside casting processes and I knew that was bullshit. The Pram Factory had become a tight clique just like the others but because of the collective, it was extremely hard to get in. This was the contradiction of the group. ‘Mary Shelley’ and ‘The Floating World’ showed the worst agendas for survival within the group. We didn’t have the nous to see we were sowing the seeds of our own destruction because once you only have the politically adept people left you’re not going to fill a theatre. You need skilled people who can act. We started with fantastic ideals but the process had become more important than the product. The machinations of the collective became the reason for being there. Artistic aspects of the company were beginning to suffer and I did not want to play these ugly, awful, destructive, heart-wrenching games.

J: By that time I was on the executive. I’d been initiated into politics in the Labor Club but I learnt a lot more within the group about procedure and the other thing I learnt was how to run a business. I got that from John Timlin. I got on well with him although he tended to disappear at lunchtime. Then one day one of the women came in and said we’re having a women’s theatre group meeting and I went into the meeting room in the tower and there were all these women, APG as well as others and we started planning the first show. So I started writing scripts which I’d always wanted to do.

In a way the first surge of the Women’s Theatre Group was analogous to the first surge of the APG - revue type shows and lots of different performance styles. Things start with a momentum because people want them to start and there’s this huge impetus for them to start with huge ideas and to be very productive for a while but then you reach a point where you’ve run out that initial energy and you have to decide what you’re about and really start the hard work. Things can falter or get corrupted or you go down the wrong street.

Like the APG, the WTG was open to anybody who could participate. It tried to be non-judgmental and it was full of ideas and very creative. A group of us who wanted to work more intensively went off and did ‘Women and Children First’, and we were called an elitist group . At the same time there was another group working with Roz de Winter on Epic Theatre. It reached a point where it wasn’t possible for the WTG to keep going the way it started, there were schisms. There were women from outside the group who were keen to make it a separatist theatre, excluding males from the audience, and some of us argued against that. The WTG didn’t occupy that much time for me - about a year.

B: I came back twice to the APG to do ‘Mad World My Masters’ and ‘Carboni’ in 1980. I don’t know how I was allowed back in as an outsider. We did ‘Carboni’ in Fitzroy at the Universal Theatre. That was a production for the APG. Romeril had been concocting it and we put it on as an anniversary thing and then we did it as a full length play directed by Bill Hannan. That was the last thing I did. I loved doing that, working with Bill and with John. We did a Victorian Tour.

J: I had a great time when I was working there. All the community theatre stuff, from wharfies to Fairlea women’s prison, the puppet show, getting that going and getting it out.

B: We were very reluctant to acknowledge the ego in our performance, this very idea that the audience might want to applaud us, which was kind of selfish or contemptuous on our part. Audiences love to applaud.

I maintain that David Williamson was not badly done by. There were 60 people in the group around then and it was becoming unwieldy- so do we say ‘David’s a special case, even though he hasn’t turned up to x number of meetings?’ There were no excuses, no one was special and if you didn’t fulfill membership criteria you were no longer a member- I encountered a lot of hostility from other actors in the industry about how it was impossible to get into the group.

J: I hated that whole thing of applying for membership. Somebody had to speak in favour of you- you had to prove to the group you were worthy. I remember someone like Michelle Johnson accepting her membership. She thanked everyone who had helped her and was so pleased to be in it and talked about how all her friends in her house had helped her. And I thought this isn’t what the Collective is about. The ethos of the Collective and the reason why Graeme had to leave and David had to leave was you come in by working for the collective and you leave by not working for the collective. It wasn’t supposed to be a privilege.

B: Circus Oz is a fantastic example of what the group should have been. With Circus skills you can either walk a tightrope or juggle a ball or you can’t. The truck driver can either stand on your shoulders or he can’t.

J: The reason I left was that I had Tom, my first baby. There was this myth that the Collective would help look after everyone’s children. I went into clean the theatre and left Tom in the office -I came back to find this screaming baby.

B: At the Pram we were rarely entrepreneurial in any way - a kind of artistic snobbery persisted, and maybe a lack of confidence- can we really cut it out there? Right through there were hugely successful productions but we weren’t there for going on with it - we were there to do new works. I think that that was one of our regrets- it was just indicative of the way we saw ourselves- we were not a group that could go out there and cut it professionally on the road.

Overall it’s interesting that the things that one discusses are the awful things and the good things aren’t newsworthy. It was a great occasion; it was a fantastic moment to be around and great organisation to be a part of. One of the sad things is that the artistic side suffered in the balancing act of politics and art. I still think that some of the things we did in ‘Mary Shelley’, even though that made me leave the company, are an example of the positive and negative aspects of working collectively. Things that happened in the group and the relationship to one another in performance allowed us to explore things and out of that we were able to create great pieces of drama. These impro skills were developed but not nurtured. I think everyone would agree that the process of rehearsal was the most exciting thing for us, developing new ideas, working with scripts that would never see an audience a lot of the time. We did wonderful innovative stuff. We rarely toured. The Hills toured.

It did give us political skills and I use those skills now- to running a meeting, having patience, knowing when not to open your mouth. Later I served time as NSW State President and as Federal Vice-President of the union – then Actors Equity – and I used all those skills getting stuff sorted out in meetings, and also lobbying in Canberra for funding etc and better conditions in theatre and the film industry.

I’ve been acting since 1969. I’ve got La Mama and the APG to thank for that, and being in the right place at the right time, and a hell of a lot of luck. It certainly changed my life.

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