The World at Large

Adz HunterThe first day of a new job can be hard for anyone. Employee ID photo, stationery orders, and finding just the right parking space. Now imagine being hired as a hit man and you’re about to carry out your first job. Two men sitting in a car late at night; the one in the driver’s seat fidgets nervously as the other sips from an oversized takeaway cup. Sensing the gravitas of what’s about to happen and the driver’s mounting dread, the man in the passenger seat throws the cup into the back seat and says to his pal, “Do you want a cuddle?” As the driver breaks down in his friend’s arms, he lets it all out. “I’ve never even held a gun before. I use to be a vegetarian”. The other reassuringly nods, “I know, I know – you still can be”.

Adz Hunter wrote the new short film 2 Birds and a Wrench, and co-stars with his friend and frequent collaborator, Roger Woods. Adz (I’m glad he goes by “Adz” now – Adam & Adam just wouldn’t work well in an interview scenario) is perhaps best known in Australia for playing twins Cameron (the good one) and Robert (the not so good one) Robinson on TV series Neighbours from 2006-07. He then headed over to the UK where projects included the offbeat stage play The Pork Crunch, which he wrote, as well at A Wedding Most Strange where one man faces the prospect of having too many potential suitors. While based in L.A., he developed a web series, Fresh Off the Plane about expats sharing an apartment. His character Caleb, a novelist, can’t read you anything he’s written, though; he hasn’t “got that far yet”.

Adz also travels a lot and writes about it. Recent adventures he’s put to paper (or Internet – what’s that, the Cloud?) included a night in Koh Kong on the Thailand/Cambodia border. It rained for most of the time he was there, but it doesn’t bother the locals, “If this was London there would be fights at the bus stop, babies would be crying and you would probably get a walking stick in the ribs at some point”. I remember the feeling when I was in Singapore and they’d be the afternoon downpour. Okay, I wasn’t roughing it around Asia like Adz, but I did have to get to Uniqlo before it closed. He’s equally at home taking a weekend away in the West Midlands of England, trying the brews at the All Nations Inn, “The Dabley Ale made me weak. At the knees. Then in the head after I had two”. Listening to Adz gives me wanderlust. I think it’ll do the same for you.

 

Adam: How did you get into acting?
Adz: I wanted to perform quite early from probably 10 or 11 years old when I was attending primary school and was interested as to why movie actors were so convincing when they didn’t even have qualifications in real life to be a doctor or a lawyer etc. It stemmed from a love of storytelling that I got from reading comic books as a kid (I’m still a big Batman fan), and wanting to truly be someone else.

Adam: I really liked one of your early short films that was made in Queensland; the sweet-natured Brace Yourself. It makes you realise that anyone can get past having to get braces as a young adult so long as they have an accordion, a fedora (or similar) and some choice dance moves.
Adz: Brace Yourself was my first paid gig out of acting school. The braces were made from a mould exactly as if I was fitted to have them. I was lucky enough to never have braces growing up but now know what a mouth full of metal is like. I remember in the kissing scene they became a little problematic; which to the credit of the writer it was what they were looking for. We shot half of it at an apartment block on the Gold Coast and the rest in a Salsa club on Caxton St in Brisbane. Our accommodation was an expensive hotel so I was under the impression that this was the high life of an actor, and much more of it was to come! If only I knew…

Adam: I had a lot of friends who moved to Melbourne or Sydney after high school or (as you did to Melbourne at 21) university. Friends of mine found those cities to be a bit more welcoming than others since so many people who settle there are from somewhere else. Did you find that?
Adz: I think if you spend 21 years in the same city or state, then a move somewhere new is a normal progression. Brisbane was a cool place to grow up, but I grew out of it quite quickly. You want to find your feet as an adult. I did most of my ‘growing up’ in Melbourne and I’ll always look back fondly on those years. Besides, Melbourne’s cooler climate and thriving arts scene at the time was really inviting for me.

Adam: Twins or similar-looking relatives have a long history on television, particularly where one of them has more nefarious motives than the other! How did you approach playing Rob and Cam Robinson in Neighbours, and avoid making them caricatured dichotomies of each other?
Adz: On a soap it’s quite difficult to create two different personas when you have limited time and fairly simple storylines. The Neighbours guys are the pros at fast turnaround TV, because it takes some skill to produce television that quick! Despite creating two invariably different characters, at the end of the day they are still twins. Cameron was killed off fairly quickly, so I didn’t get a lot of time for any proper in-depth character motivations. Most of the screen time went to Robert who I played as sinister and as unsavoury as possible. Like a really bad wine you expected to be fantastic, Robert leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths.

Cam tries to prove he's innocent.

Cam tries to prove he’s innocent in Neighbours.

Adam: Did having a role in one of their most popular imported series help you get other work when you moved to the UK in 2009?
Adz: In a way it did, but by the time I had made the move to the UK it was over-ripe. I had been off air for three years and although I still got recognised, work didn’t come knocking. I had to go to it.

Adam: Tell me about writing The Pork Crunch. When did you start doing this? Was writing something that you always thought you would do?
Adz: I had been writing in my own time years before The Pork Crunch was finished.  I started it as a scene for a showcase night for agents with an actor I’d barely met named Roger Woods. He kindly accepted to perform a script that involved a drugs heist and clubbing a toddler to death on stage. Most found it disturbing, but we thought it was hilarious. Dark, un-pc jokes an old flatmate and I used to ping around the living room and a passion for drum and bass music filled in the rest. Like most writers I was too scared to show anyone my work for fear of being critiqued. Thankfully The Pork Crunch was a project that came quite naturally as I couldn’t write it quick enough and it had a rehearsed reading in 2010 before being staged at the Pleasance Theatre in 2011.

Adam: When I wrote my first journal articles, I was terrified of putting them out into the world for scrutiny. Did you feel this with The Pork Crunch as the production started to take shape?
Adz: Of course. It made no difference how it was received; it was the fact that every word on that page is yours. I even had trouble learning my own lines because it was a very new way of working. Once the show was up, I was ready for anything and I knew any scrutiny was a blessing. Luckily for us, we were well received thanks to Simon Greiff’s ship steering and Roger Woods’ balls. If it wasn’t for those two (or three) we wouldn’t have had a show.

Adam: While in the UK you appeared in a wonderfully-inventive advertisement for Ford Fiesta. Where did you travel to film this?
Adz: That advertisement was a global campaign for Ford, and more of a luxurious couple of months shooting on location in Iceland, Spain, South Africa and Italy than anything. It was weird. Lots of fast-paced montages, like a video clip, and no talking required. It’s the penultimate commercial actors dream. You are paid very handsomely to turn up to set every day, get dressed and drive a car through mountains and rainforests. Then you get to go out to dinner every night. Unfortunately those gigs only come along once in a lifetime. So I’ve done mine. Tick!

Adam: One of the projects I wanted you to tell me a little about was the very unusual (in the good sense of that word) film, A Wedding Most Strange.
Adz: AWMS came from a meeting set up by my British agent with director Trevor Garlick while I was having meetings with agents in Los Angeles. Trevor said he had a script he wanted me to look at, the role of a gay guy who’d been in love with his best friend for many years who returns as a guest at his wedding. At first I declined to do it. I didn’t really get into the script, and there was a chance I’d be parodying any lead character’s gay best friend in every movie ever made. What changed my mind was that if I did something like this now, enjoy it, and continue to diversify the roles I play, I’d be happy. AWMS ended up being a hell load of fun to shoot (despite the freezing Devon weather) and I still have good friends from that shoot today.

Adam: Some of what you write could be described as awkward-based humour, like Fresh Off the Plane, a web series inspired by your experiences of moving to Los Angeles. You also co-starred as Caleb, an aspiring novelist who describes his genre as “technically romance”. What was shooting this like?
Adz: Shooting Fresh was interesting, though I wrote a screenplay that was used as a content base for actors to play with, a majority of what you see as an end product was improvised. A web series is a medium for the YouTube generation to get instant feedback and views in a short period of time. I mixed my observations of cultural differences I would see daily, and the hugely popular genre of awkward humour and decided I could write a series of short episodes that audiences could tune into every week.

Adam: You got some small parts on some big projects while living in L.A.: a Shakespearean actor in Liz & Dick, the dark comedy Wolfpack of Reseda, and a role in ABC- TV’s Mistresses. What was it like living and working in L.A.?
Adz: I get this question a lot, and my answer never changes. L.A. is a tough, tough city to live in. Even for those actors doing well, it’s taken them all many years to get anywhere. I could count on one hand how many actors I know personally who have landed in L.A., walked off the tarmac and straight onto a set. The rest you’ll find in a cue at Sunset Gower Studios at 5pm on a Thursday taking a cheque for $50 for being a part of the audience for The Price Is Right. I was fortunate to get those roles and others out of sheer luck and personal belief – not talent. If you are talented it helps. If you know A LOT of people and have relentless energy/determination 7 days a week for 52 weeks a year, the gods may be good to you.

Adam: Ultimately, you decided to “take a momentary step back from the tinsel and the lights because after a while I was beginning to think I had bi-polar”. You now split your time between the UK and L.A. When I was visiting L.A., I got the impression that living and working there could also breed a bit of paranoia.
Adz: Paranoia is a light term. It was like everything and everyone was on show. Constantly. It’s exhausting. I got back to England and all I did was dig up the garden for two weeks. I found the underbelly of America quite quickly. I like to see genuine and honest people. Los Angeles hit its peak in the 1960s due to a plethora of studios and movies making a lot of money and has been the world’s English movie making capital ever since. But every dog has its day, and I think Los Angeles is going through a huge period of change now. There is a lot less being made there than what there used to be as it’s too expensive. Some would say it’s an overhyped and sensationalised atmosphere that has a reputation for ruining careers. Not making them. So I plan to go back some day. Ha!

Adam: You also write articles and a blog. In one of your blog posts you discussed three things that you think a young actor (18-30) must do: travel, fall in love, and break up with a person you fall deeply in love with. I’ll ask you about the travel. Besides living in several places, when did you start to travel?
Adz: I guess acting and the biz is always where the heart is for me, so I’ll tie anything into that that is of equal passion – which is travel. Travel teaches you a lot about yourself. What you are like in a high pressured situation out of your comfort zone for example. I’m a sucker for punishment and I’ll always have to be taught something three times before I’ll learn. But I have a thirst for what is new and different, so my curiosity is fed by travelling to incredible and untouched places. I never get enough of what the world has to offer. I didn’t even leave Australia for the first until I was 25. I was a late bloomer compared to my friends but once it started, the bug got a hold of me.

Adam: Travel writer (and actor) Andrew McCarthy said travel for him was not vacation or for work, but to “go off into the world and you make yourself vulnerable into the world”. Andrew found that when he did this “the world meets you”. What does travel mean to you?
Adz: Andrew’s right. Travel is true freedom. Travel should be exciting, dangerous and euphoric at the same time. We are lucky we live in a world where most people can’t get to every corner of it before they die. There is always something new to explore and someone new to meet. I just got back from my first time in the Pacific, to the island nation of Samoa, and I’m constantly reminded of how vast this earth really is. Samoa was my 36th international stop. Then I met someone who had more uppity than me to go places, and any future planning now ceases to involve painting the house but more like an hour on Skyscanner and a credit card.

Adz Hunter

Adam: In another blog post you wrote about how an actor should go with (at least initially) the particular type that they might be given, such as playing repeated “baddies”. You wrote, “Actors struggle being told exactly what they look like at times because they have an idea in their head of the types of roles that they want to play” I wonder if ironically, given how a career in front of the camera makes it all about ‘you’, that some performers also lack self-awareness. That is, self-focus or even rumination doesn’t mean insight?
Adz: Actors need to have an acute sense of themselves and the way they are perceived. We study ourselves in order to become other people. No point in trying to figure out somebody else if you don’t understand yourself first. Actors also do a lot of hiding. They’re masters at it. A lack of self-awareness can only come about if a person believes in their own hype. Play the game. Not the hype. The entertainment industry is a narcissistic business and a way of dealing with it is to continue telling the stories that compelled an audience to listen to you in the first place.

Adam: You must have the face of a “baddie”, because you’re starring in two short-films where you play someone on the wrong side of the law, The Olive Branch Job and your own 2 Birds and a Wrench.
Adz: I get typecast in a way, which isn’t so bad. The darker roles are more interesting and when you have eyebrows like Jack Nicholson and cheekbones that would kick most meth addicts off the street you tend to run with it. Hence the blog I wrote that outlines rolling with what god gave you – it could make you a lot of money. Plus I like playing a bastard. Bastards are complex, they’re troubled, flawed. Iago was a bastard. So was Richard III.

Adam: Tell me about your latest writing effort, the short-film 2 Birds and a Wrench, which you co-produced and co-star with Roger Woods.
Adz: 2 Birds and a Wrench is the second creative venture with Roger Woods. I wrote something that we both wanted to make that fulfilled a desire we both love – dark comedy. I wasn’t interested in writing a film with a message, but something that appealed to us and our audience. I have a wicked, at times sadistic sense of humour that Roger feeds off. We thought about making a movie where two first time hit men signed up for the wrong job and bludgeon their way through the ordeal and come out unlikely winners. We threw many different ideas around but still kept coming back to this one. We fundraised, held auditions, got an incredible director and a stellar cast, and shot a movie we are very proud of. When we were accepted in Portsmouth International Film Festival with three nominations, at least we didn’t feel like a bunch of losers throwing our money down the toilet. Film-making is an ultra-sensitive beast and red flags two very important things that we are constantly reminded of – money and patience. It was no doubt going to be difficult and shooting the entire movie at night proved a challenge but upon completion there was a wonderful sense of achievement.

With Roger Woods.

With Roger Woods.

2 Birds and a Wrench is currently doing the festival circuit, so visit its Twitter page to see where you can catch it. And do keep up with Mr. Hunter (that’s a term of endearment, he didn’t make me call him that), himself, on his Twitter page. Stop on by Adz’ blog. Fresh Off the Plane is available on YouTube.

Top photo: Andy McColl.

Back to the Island

Back in May, I published an article here asking some good people the following question: What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Since that post, two more responses came from some hard-working people and I’d like to share them. The answers prove that no man or woman is an island.

Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)

Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)

Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)

Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)

Yvette Freeman is currently appearing on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. She plays Irma, one of the “Golden Girls”, an inmate who hasn’t seen life outside a prison – much less an island – in a long time. Yvette said that, “Besides things to support living, I would love books by Maya Angelou, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and someone to love”.

For Dylan Neal, being on an island would be somewhat familiar. He is currently playing Jack Griffith, editor of a newspaper in the coastal town portrayed in Hallmark’s Cedar Cove. Dylan thought that “If family can’t join – survival guide, hand crank radio, and a knife”.

I’ve been thinking about what I would want. Like Mark Deklin, who said in the previous post that he’d like “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza”, I would probably go with a never-ending bottle of a base spirit. I love wine, but I don’t like drinking it out in the sun. Plus, I figure the island would have lots of fruit trees from which to make cocktails. Then I’d like some ancient history to read. Perhaps Herodotus’ The Histories or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The first piece of writing I won an award for drew on the notion of a Pyrrhic victory, something I learnt about in Ancient History class. Wow, 17 and I thought I knew everything. Finally, there’d have to be someone to share it with. Gilligan had The Skipper, Brooke Shields had Christopher Atkins, and Auntie Mame had Vera Charles. The last two weren’t on an island, but they did know how to turn water into Gin Rickeys.

Jimmy Wayne: He’s Been There

jimmywaynehighres3If I could be you and you could be me for just one hour

If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind

If you could see me through your eyes instead of your ego

I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’d been blind.

Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes

And before you abuse, criticize and accuse

Walk a mile in my shoes.

I began the first chapter of my PhD thesis with those lyrics from Joe South’s Walk a Mile in My Shoes. In the thesis, I sought to investigate whether having had a past experience similar to another person made it easier to take their point-of-view. Taking someone’s point-of-view is perspective taking, a component of the broader term empathy. In short, it did and I’m still writing about that. One thing that emerged was that it wasn’t just about having had a similar experience to the other person. Instead, the extent to which someone reflected on and tried to get insight into their experiences was a critical determinant of how comfortable they felt (mentally) walking a mile in the other’s shoes. Empathy or sympathy can often have a motivational component: in the words of Lauren Wispé in 1986, it also involves “the heightened awareness of the suffering of another person as something to be alleviated”.

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Wayne fits the bill for that kind of motivation. He is an advocate for a group that he once walked amongst. It was 1 January, 2010 when Jimmy started his walk from Nashville, TN to Phoenix, AZ. Now, I couldn’t really imagine walking anywhere after New Year’s besides McDonald’s. Did I mention that the distance is approximately 1700 miles? For those who use the metric system and haven’t already gasped, that’s about 2735 kilometers. Have you gasped (while your mind wanders back to New Year’s Eve with Planter’s Punch and vegetarian spring rolls) yet? His purpose was to bring attention to children in the foster care system who “age out” when they turn 18. This is a group that already has significant (often unmet) need and they then face homelessness, incarceration and mental health issues. Since then it’s rare when you see Jimmy posting on Twitter and Facebook, or when you chat to him, that he isn’t about to or has performed and spoke somewhere to raise awareness. Project Meet Me Halfway came about as a result of his walk. Jimmy is also proud of his role as a national spokesperson for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

jw_photo_barlowe_4-0367bdd

Growing up, Jimmy was in and out of foster care, group homes, and out on the streets. He was also in 12 different schools in two years and his mother, who went to prison twice, struggled with substance use and always had “a sadness about her”. As he put it once, “Mom in prison, no dad, cheatin’ girlfriend—perfect country songs”. At 16, “… my life changed. The Costners gave me a home”. The Costners were Bea and Russell, a couple in their seventies who took Jimmy in. He finished high school, attended college and started to perform. They only things they wanted were for him to cut his hair and attend church with them. Perfectly reasonable – he does have a good hair of hair, though.

Jimmy was spotted at a talent contest. He didn’t win, but no matter (it’s funny how many people I hear talk about how they didn’t win such a contest, but it was still influential; my friend Donna Loren tells a similar story). With country legend Harlan Howard’s adage “three cords and the truth” in his head (Jimmy also has a story about that) his first single, “Stay Gone” went to #3 on the country charts, and eventually he went #1 with “Do You Believe Me Now”.  I remember buying his debut album at a shopping centre (the Marion Shopping Centre in Adelaide to be exact) after seeing a movie with friends. I don’t remember what the film was. However, back then my friend Luke kept the stubs of the tickets in his wallet until he had a “quite a wedge”. I may be able to track the film down that way.

In October, Jimmy’s story will be out there for an even wider audience, when his book Walk to Beautiful is released by Thomas Nelson publishers. He co-wrote it with Ken Abraham over about a year. With a New York Times bestselling co-author and Dolly Parton reading it (take a look at that here – that woman makes lemonade and wine sound even more appealing) it’s going to make an impact. Jimmy deserves it. Someone who hasn’t been a homeless youth can’t understand what it is like to walk in those shoes. I also know Jimmy is humble enough not to make blanket statements that he knows exactly what other foster kids would feel based on his experience. Everyone’s experiences are different. However, the power of Jimmy’s message is in getting his story out there. Sometimes the best way to help a person understand what is foreign to them is to tell them about it. Of course, they have to listen, but I think Jimmy’s way of engaging with others has that covered. That’s a start to help people identify something, however small, in another’s story to which they can relate. Often from that comes a motivation to connect or help. That’s really the height of empathy, isn’t it?

Walk to Beautiful

But enough about shoes. I kicked mine off earlier and don’t know where they are. Walk to Beautiful is available for pre-order at Amazon, Book Depository, and in the usual places that you find books. You can also find Jimmy on Twitter and Facebook. He’s a very funny man. And his dogs Ruby and Tate are about the cutest things ever.

Photos of Jimmy courtesy of his website.

Milady de Cold Front

I hope that you’re enjoying the blog six months on. I’ve been busy with many new interviews that will appear here shortly. Some of them are with people who haven’t participated in an interview in a long time and I’ve really enjoyed their perspective.

It’s hard to find the inspiration to leave the house in the middle of winter. Adelaide has seemed colder than usual. My usual explanation for these unexpected swift changes in weather (as I wrap around a warm scarf bought from a store in Haight-Ashbury a few doors down from Piedmont Boutique) is climate change. I felt the same earlier this year. In my defence, Adelaide was the hottest city on earth when the temperature reached 44.2C (111.56F) on 16 January. Maybe I’m catastrophizing. It could just be that the weather right now is due to “a deep low pressure which gathered over the Bass Strait” (The Guardian, 23 June). That’s if the Bureau of Meteorology is to be believed.

Legs 11? The Piedmont Botique

Legs 11? The Piedmont Boutique

We did head out recently on a cold, wet night to see the latest X-Men. I’m learning more and more that choosing good cinema seats is both art and science. Our friend Paul usually picks them, but he was away. Left to our own devices we ended up in the fourth row from the screen on the far right-hand corner. It reminded me of Bette Midler admonishing those sitting in the front row of her Diva Las Vegas concert. Nonetheless, it was a good film and I was happy to see a pre-adolescent from a family that got split over rows sit in the aisle at one point to share some popcorn with his mum. Fire risk, yes; heartwarming – absolutely. Between Mad Men and this latest adventure set mostly during the ‘70s, I am experiencing a rather severe case of lamp envy.

Did I mention we had a Cronut after the film?

"The American Express Gold Card ticket holders .... Paid all that money so that they could watch the show like this: 'Wow she's tall'."

“The American Express Gold Card ticket holders … Paid all that money so that they could watch the show like this: ‘Wow, she’s tall’.”

Holding the Mirror Up to Wendy

Wendy StrehlowYou could forgive Wendy Strehlow for being hard to tie down for an interview. When I first contacted her, she was in the last week of rehearsals for the Australian staging of the Pulitzer prize-winning Clybourne Park. Her dual roles were Bev and Kathy, two women separated by 50 years but bound together by “race, real estate and the volatile values of each” (Playbill). The play sold out before it even opened at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney. Wendy, however, was very accommodating.

Wendy, of course, occupies a unique position of affection with the Australian public. As Sister Judy Loveday in TV’s A Country Practice, it is not an exaggeration to say that Australia took Wendy and her cast mates into their homes and hearts. I don’t know that I, or many people my age, ever really got over ACP. Of course, since leaving the series, for which Wendy took home the 1985 Logie for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, she has moved between television and theatre at a brisk pace. So much so that, here, I should only discuss some recent performances and save the rest for Wendy. Those recent characters on stage have included Mistress Quickly in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s retelling (if you think Shakespeare couldn’t include a set involving a shipping container and milk crates, think again) of Henry IV, Part 1 and 2 in the form of Henry 4; her Sydney Theatre award-nominated Jac in I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard, which wasn’t written by Stoppard, and Nadya in Travesties, which was; the upwardly mobile Jane in The Greening of Grace; and the matriarch of The Memory of Water. She was an actor and facilitator in Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, developed by Ian Meadows and Adam Booth in collaboration with the Southern Sudanese community in Sydney. Wendy and I have also called Adelaide, South Australia home and Flinders University our alma mater (well, for her – for me, I’m not sure what fixed-term contract is in Latin) and so I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say about the City of Churches.

 

Adam: Tell me about growing up in Queensland. What did your parents do and how did you get into acting?
Wendy: I grew up in the outback outside Rockhampton, my family were farmers and we owned a bakery! So lots of diversity there. It was a childhood of wide open spaces and lots of freedom. I have a large extended family so we were always busy doing something together. I started ballet when I was four. Apparently I pestered my mother to take me to classes. I had the great good fortune to then at 11 be introduced to acting by the wonderful Jenny Simpson who ran the youth section of Rockhampton Little Theatre. It was a revelation! I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that really started the love for me. What an inspiring introduction. Shakespeare is still my favourite!

Adam: You attended the then-recently formed Drama Centre at Flinders University in South Australia. You and I both have experiences with Flinders University. What was Flinders like as a student studying drama in the ‘70s, and for one who was living away from home in Adelaide?
Wendy: I went straight from the outback to Adelaide. I was in heaven. I loved the markets, the theatre and just the feel of what I believed was a “big” city. Flinders was a very “out there” Uni. Wal Cherry was an inspiration; Noel Purdon was showing us Pasolini films illegally! I was introduced to film noir, and Gus Worby was generally just being subversive. Michael Morley introduced me to Brecht and Zora Semberova was my absolute inspiration as she encouraged me to continue with dance but move into contemporary dance. For me, it was the most extraordinary introduction to the world of theatre and film.

Adam: When I speak to actors about their education, some have vivid memories of a particularly insightful acting technique or task that they completed in class? Did you have a similar experience(s) at NIDA?
Wendy: Yes. My year had the great good fortune to work with Geoffrey Rush and Aubrey Mellor and George Ogilvie in 3rd year. We did our Chekov with Aubrey, a self-devised piece called Mirth of a Nation, which was a history of Australian vaudeville with Geoffrey, which was my personal favourite. He had just come back from Lecoq school in Paris and we had an absolute blast putting that show together. We did Love’s Labour’s Lost with George Ogilvie and also John Galsworthy’s Strife with George. It was such a wonderful and exciting year and so inspirational.

Adam: What do you remember of one of your first TV roles, Robyn in ABC’s A Step in the Right Direction 
Wendy: Di Drew had just worked with us on our TV exercise at NIDA and she cast Noel Hodda and me straight out of NIDA so I was really excited and it was a great experience. Di is such a fantastic director and teacher.

Adam: You started playing Sister Judy Loveday in A Country Practice from the first episode of the series, but then the character didn’t appear for a while. Why was this?
Wendy: I did the pilot and then while they were waiting to see if the series would go ahead, I was offered a year of work with the South Australian Theatre Company and a role in For the Term of His Natural Life, so it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Luckily they asked me back at the end of that year!

Wendy as Judy Loveday

Wendy as Judy Loveday

Adam: There were a number of storylines on A Country Practice that became Australian television iconic moments or, at the very least, are well-remembered all these years later. One Judy moment that has stuck with me is when she and Matron Sloan (Joan Sydney) were brutally attacked by a patient (played by Max Phipps). For you, what were your most memorable storylines and who did you enjoy working with the most?
Wendy: I loved anything I did with Joan because she was so creative and inspiring and soooo funny! She is one of the cheekiest actors I have ever worked with and she taught me so much.

Adam: Has Judy been an easy character to live with?
Wendy: Judy was a gift and I am very proud of what the writers and producers and myself created. I received some fabulous fan mail and feedback about her and she was such fun to create.

Adam: You went pretty much straight from ACP to the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the Phillip Street Theatre in Sydney. What was it like to take on this role?
Wendy: I was really nervous about performing Shaw, but I think as a performer you owe it to yourself to keep pushing your boundaries. I was working with a terrific director, Mark Gaal and we collaborated really well.

Adam: You’ve always worked across TV and theatre. Do you find this to be a happy marriage?
Wendy: Yes. The challenges are so different but ultimately what you are doing is telling the story and the truth for that character. Ian McKellen calls the camera “the smallest audience”. I can really relate to that analogy and I love the differences.

Adam: Who have been some of your favourite characters to play on the stage?
Wendy: Ariel, The Tempest; Mistress Quickly, Henry 4; Rosalie in Jonathan Gavin’s BANG; Nadezhda Krupskaya in Travesties; Jac in Toby Schmitz’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard; and most recently, Bev and Kathy in Bruce Norris’s Clyborne Park.

Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Adam: You’ve performed in several period pieces, including the World War I-themed Travesties by Tom Stoppard; Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass set at the time of Kristallnacht; Bill W. and Dr. Bob set in the thirties; the civil-rights era Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris; as well as Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal. What is it about these roles that draws you tell them?
Wendy: Well, firstly being asked to do the roles is a massive plus. There are so many great actors in this country who are not working as much as they should. Then, once you have been asked to create these characters, telling their story and finding their truth and communicating that to your audience is paramount.

Adam: Of course, you’ve also performed in several Shakespeare works, including an all-female The Taming of the Shrew; and several comedies including last year’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard. You seem to have a fulfilling range of roles?    
Wendy: I am very lucky. I reckon also if you get this opportunity give it all you’ve got. I am very grateful for these opportunities.

Adam: Can you tell me about your involvement in the very special Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, by playwright Ian Meadows?
Wendy: Ian’s co-director Adam Booth asked me to get involved. Ian and Adam were both working with the Sudanese community. It was a completely rewarding and eye-opening experience. I knew almost nothing about Sudan and the cast had never acted before but I became very close to them and they welcomed me so warmly. Considering what had happened in their lives, they were so open and curious. I have such respect for what they are achieving here.

Adam: For many years, you have been vocal on the rights of artists and the need for arts to be on the Australian national policy agenda. What do you see as the issues facing the arts today?
Wendy: We need a certain amount of funding to survive but I don’t think we can rely on it. We need to seek support and sponsorship through the private sector. I am passionate about the vital role the arts play in society. “Holding the mirror up to nature”, so to speak. Without a healthy and thriving arts culture we are spiritually bereft. I sincerely hope that working with the corporate sector we can help our cultural uniqueness to thrive which can only be beneficial for all of us. I don’t personally believe that Government should be wholly responsible for providing those fund but recent proposals to cut arts funding are very short sighted and quite frankly unfathomable.

Adam: Your daughter, Sophie Hensser, is currently co-starring in Love Child. Does the whirlwind that is this new TV hit remind you of your time on ACP?
Wendy: Yes! But she is so much better equipped to deal with it than I was. Also she is an actor for all the right reasons. She loves the craft and is always willing to learn and grow.

 

Wendy can be found on Twitter here.

Steven H. Scheuer 1926-2014

Steven H Scheuer

Alida Brill contacted me late Sunday to let me know that her husband, television and film critic Steven Harry Scheuer, had died the previous evening.

He cast a long shadow on my life.

I knew him, at least initially, from his Movies on TV and Videocassette (originally TV Movie Almanac & Ratings, and then Movies on TV). My copy of the final edition has been sticky-taped so many times from use, but still has pride of place on my shelf. Today I picked it up again. The smell of the paper always takes me back to reading it for the first time. In high school, I’d write out by hand reviews of his that had been omitted from more recent editions (there were 17 and I think the school library had the 1986-1987 book). At university, I referred to his work in essays for the film and TV courses I took. I still use this and his other books. There may have been other critics, but for me Mr. Scheuer was the best.

My well-worn copy

My well-worn copy

The description of Mr. Scheuer as a television and film historian and critic doesn’t seem to do him justice. As The New York Times’ James Barron wrote in a 2002 article regarding Mr. Scheuer’s eight-part series, Television in America: An Autobiography:

Under Steven H. Scheuer’s name on the screen are the words “television historian.” That will have to do. A more telling description, like “witness to half a century of television history,” wouldn’t fit.

Mr. Scheuer wasn’t so much only a witness as someone who shaped that industry and its need to look inward. In Mr. Scheuer’s obituary in the New York Times, William Yardley described him as “one of the medium’s innovators”. Mr. Scheuer was an associate director at CBS during the ‘50s. Television being largely live in those days meant that viewers who weren’t aware of a program before it went to air missed their chance to see it. The Times article quoted Mr. Scheuer from a 1992 interview:

In the middle of the night I woke up, and it was absolutely clear to me that the whole approach to TV criticism was backward. It was being covered the same way as books and plays and movies. You were told on Thursday by a newspaper critic that there had been an interesting program on Tuesday. It was live. So you couldn’t see it if you missed it.

Soon began his syndicated newspaper column TV Key in 1953, with Mr. Scheuer using his contacts to gain access to program rehearsals and scripts. He hosted the television program All About TV from 1969-1990. New York Times critic Jack Gould, himself an innovator of television criticism, described the show in its second year “on ultra-high-frequency Channel 31” as “an absolutely first-class program”. John O’Connor, in another article also in the Times, drew attention to the series’ unique “attempts to discuss various aspects of the medium itself, to conduct a self-examination on a wide range of topics”. In that article, it was television coverage (or lack thereof) of the Vietnam War, and the program that night included a short film, Vietnam and Beyond. The filmmaker, David Schoenbrun, had said that the film had been seen by eight million people in private showings, but “no American television station has been willing to show it”.

Mr. Scheuer was regarded by his peers as a master of the interview. I hope that in the next few days he gets the recognition he richly deserves, and that other parts of his life are also focused on. These include being a nationally-ranked squash player and avid sportsmen. Mr. Scheuer saw the need to preserve the history of television and film – and, indeed, his home, New York. His family’s foundation also supported the English publication of the book French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial by Serge Klarsfeld, described by historian John Felstiner in a 1997 Los Angeles Times review as a work that “more vividly than any other source I know in any language, presents the human personhood of the catastrophe”.

Did I mention he liked scarves? I wonder if he had a scarf drawer like I do.

I am grateful that last year I was able to let Mr. Scheuer know how I felt about his work.

Memorial donations can be made to his alma mater, Yale University, and a memorial will follow in the fall.

With gratitude to Alida Brill and Christopher T. Cory, Scheuer family friend. Photo courtesy of Alida Brill.

All We Need is an Island

What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Variations of this question are often used as an icebreaker or team-building exercise. I remember completing one during the first tutorial of a second-year psychology class, which required the group to rank items most useful after an emergency lunar landing. If there’s one thing psychology students have an aversion to, it’s group work. However, psychologists have been known to throw their students or research participants in the deep end. In 1954, as part of the Intergroup Relations Project at the University of Oklahoma, Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues took two groups of boys to Robbers Cave in Oklahoma. The boys were split into two groups – the Rattlers and Eagles – and intergroup conflict was generated through competitive tasks like baseball and cabin inspections (that would bring out the competitive streak in anyone) by staff members. Prizes included four-bladed knives, and were highly coveted. As reported in the book Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment (1954/1961), “The trophy was so valued by the winners that they kissed it after they took possession and hid it for safety in a different cabin against a possible seizure by the losers”. The experiment was a success in generating conflict. Of course, the experimenters wanted to show that you may reduce conflict by introducing goals that are only obtainable if both groups worked together. But I digress. In short, while many of you would find these Moon/Island hypothetical group tasks only mildly discomforting, as a psychology student they were true practice runs for our survival if we had an errant lecturer needing research subjects.

"It's never a three-hour tour!" (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

“It’s never a three-hour tour!” (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

Another thing that comes to mind when I think “island” is Gilligan’s Island. I’ve always felt that the criticism of the show as being unrealistic because of how many outfits Ginger wore on the island was unfair. Surely, these armchair (or Panton chair if you grew up with the show during its original run) critics opine, the passengers on a three-hour tour would have never packed at least 98 changes of clothes (the number of episodes). I have a couple of remarks for this. Firstly, you don’t know how this is not only possible, but indeed probable, until you’ve travelled with my friends and I for a weekend away. Second, if you are looking for holes in the fabric a Sherwood Schwartz-created show, is this really the worst of them? I’m more concerned about where Alice the housekeeper slept in the Brady house.

With these two (flights of) ideas in my mind, I decided I’d ask some friends and/or generally nice people the question of what three items they would like to have with them if they went the way of the Swiss Family Robinson or, more recently, the characters of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Their answers didn’t have to strictly adhere to logic. For example, if they were to mention a favourite album, a record or CD player didn’t have to be one of the other items. Also, they could bring/be with their loved ones – the answers needn’t be only items as specified in the question. The answers were enlightening, entertaining, heart warming, and didn’t once mention a volleyball. Good for them.

Mikey Wax (Photo: Justin Steele)

Mikey Wax
(Photo: Justin Steele)

Matthew Jordan (Photo: Facebook page)

Matthew Jordan
(Photo: Facebook page)

Mikey Wax has a new single, “You Lift Me Up”, and an upcoming album in June. It’s understandable, then, that he might just want a whole orchestra with him. Failing that, Mikey explained his first choice: “An acoustic guitar – I can’t live without a musical instrument, and I would need something to write about how lonely I was on the island. I would ask for a keyboard but that would require a power outlet. A baby grand piano on a deserted island would be pretty cool but getting one there just doesn’t seem possible”. His second choice would be, “Chips and guacamole – I hope this doesn’t count as two separate things. I believe I could live entirely off this one dish and be satisfied. It will provide necessary energy to build a boat out of tree branches and escape off the island”. For number three, “Scotch or wine – you can’t be on a deserted island without some sort of alcohol. Having a good bottle of scotch like a Macallan or a nice bottle of red wine would be necessary”. Singer-songwriter Matthew Jordan has been busy lately releasing singles, including his cover of “I See Fire”. His requirements are also musical: “My Beatles records, a baby grand piano, and maybe my Kindle if I didn’t have to worry about charging it. I think as long as I had all my Beatles music to listen to and a baby grand to play, I’d be happy for a long time Actually, listening to Rubber Soul while relaxing on a desert island sounds pretty awesome to me. It’d be like a vacation!”

Mark Deklin (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

Mark Deklin
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

Ben Lawson (Photo: IMDb)

Ben Lawson
(Photo: IMDb)

Mark Deklin plays the man with a past, Nicholas Deering, on Lifetime’s Devious Maids. Mark, himself, is a man of many pasts, with a background in English literature and history and having worked as a book dealer and jazz pianist. His choices reflect some of this. First there would be, “An iPod fully loaded with music – particularly classical (especially Baroque and Renaissance) and jazz (especially by the likes of Coltrane, Tatum, Davis, Mingus, etc.)”. Then he’d like “a Nook or Kindle fully loaded with books – an even distribution of fiction, science, history, philosophy, and humor, please”. Finally, it’s important to stay nourished with “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza… No explanation needed”. Mark does concede, “And I guess water would be good, too”. Ben Lawson, Michael in the upcoming ABC pilot Damaged Goods and recently seen in 2 Broke Girls and Australia’s Love Child, found that the island would bring out some chords and a couple of clubs or spades, “I’d want goggles first of all. Then maybe a guitar. I don’t really play guitar but I’d presumably have a fair bit of time to get good at it. And then a deck of cards; I’d just hope that somewhere on the island there were some natives that I could teach to play 500”.

Holland Taylor (Photo: Linda Matlow)

Holland Taylor
(Photo: Linda Matlow)

Eric Hutchinson (Photo: Facebook page)

Eric Hutchinson
(Photo: Facebook page)

Comfort food, and comfort in other forms, is important. Holland Taylor’s character Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men would attest to that. For Holland, she would need on her island, “An encyclopedia, a mattress, and a chef who had his knives and pots and pans and olive oil and butter and a gun and a fishing pole. Young chef”. If Eric Hutchinson ever needed inspiration for a new album after his recent release, Pure Fiction, a lazy afternoon on the island would do it with, “A chair, an umbrella and a very large bottle of tequila”.

Sheila Kelley (Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)

Sheila Kelley
(Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)

Jesse Bradford (Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Jesse Bradford
(Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Sheila Kelley, actress and founder of lifestyle and fitness movement Sheila Kelley S Factor (seen on Oprah and The Ellen DeGeneres Show) may want to build a pole and ambient space for her pole dancing sequence of movements. She requires, “A solar powered iPod. A machete. A flint”. Jesse Bradford is used to playing characters in situations of high-stakes such as Rene Gagnon in Flags of Our Fathers, intern Ryan Pierce in The West Wing, and Dom in the recent The Power of Few. So it is understandable that an island stranding requires a low-key approach, “Two guitars and a ChapStick”. For Shane Withington, who has played characters in rural (A Country Practice) and seaside settings (currently on Home and Away), it’s also a “Guitar”, as well as “good red wine, and Cate Blanchett”.

Shane Withington (Photo: Home and Away official site)

Shane Withington
(Photo: Home and Away official site)

Fabian (Photo: Official site)

Fabian
(Photo: Official site)

No man or woman is an island, of course. Fabian’s Golden Boys tour with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell would have to go on hiatus if he were stranded, but he said, “I would want to have my wife, my children and my grandchildren with me”.

Chad Lowe (Photo: ABC Family)

Chad Lowe
(Photo: ABC Family)

Donna Loren (Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Donna Loren
(Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Chad Lowe grew up in the Midwest before moving closer to water in Malibu. For Chad, whose character Byron Montgomery on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is used to moving (to Iceland, no less) or trying to move others (to Vermont or New Orleans), the choice was clear, “My daughter Mabel, my daughter Fiona, and my wife Kim. I realize they’re not ‘items’, but they’re the only thing/people I care about. Plus I know that if we were all together everything would be fine”. Donna Loren is no stranger to the question or the island. She spent 15 years living on the Big Island and Oahu in the ‘90s and co-starred in the Beach Party films. Donna also recalled an episode of The Newlywed Game in the ‘60s where “a husband was asked, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you like to be with?’ And the answer was ‘Donna Loren’!” (I think that couple made their second TV appearance on Divorce Court.) But Donna’s choices are also three people. She explained it this way: “The heart of my husband, Jered; the dancing legs of his father, Harry; and the great compassion of my first husband’s father, Si”.

Matt Long (Photo: Twitter page)

Matt Long
(Photo: Twitter page)

Rick Lenz (Photo: Offical site)

Rick Lenz
(Photo: Offical site)

Matt Long played the empathic Dr. James Peterson on Private Practice, as well as a freelance artist who crossed swords with Joan in Mad Men, working on the Samsonite account amongst others. Now that would be a sturdy island suitcase. Matt would want “my wife, our six-month-old daughter, and a fishing pole”. Rick Lenz experienced life on the plains in The Shootist and more cramped quarters in Cactus Flower. Rick tells me, “1: My wife—for my soul. 2: My paints etc.—for my soul. And 3: books and paper—for my soul. The rest, God will provide”.

Francine York (Photo: Official site)

Francine York
(Photo: Official site)

Dick Gautier (Photo: Official site)

Dick Gautier
(Photo: Official site)

Francine York probably doesn’t need books on the island. She played the Bookworm’s moll on Batman. Francine would while away the hours with “Liam Neeson, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Selleck”. And for Dick Gautier, Get Smart’s logical robot Hymie, some long-time island dwellers are the best option, “I’d like to take Tina Louise, Bob Denver and Jim Backus”.

Don Rickles (Photo: Twitter page)

Don Rickles
(Photo: Twitter page)

Lana Wood (Photo: Facebook page)

Lana Wood
(Photo: Facebook page)

Some felt in spite of the fish caught, painting, dancing and companionship, they’d want to perhaps get off the island. “Mr. Warmth” (or, as any child will gleefully exclaim, “Mr. Potato Head!”) Don Rickles was aware he may be there for a while. He guest starred on Gilligan’s Island, after all. In addition to “a satellite phone so I can call a rescue team” Don would need “a portable toilet” and “a great chef”. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever met James Bond at a card table, but didn’t want to gamble and spend a moment longer than she needed to either: “To quote John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful…a plane, a runway a pilot!” I wonder if John were marooned with her, could he put down his baritone guitar for a while and work on that runway? Some would stay and try to make it work. Erin Murphy sometimes got things done with a twitch of her nose as Tabitha on Bewitched. She’d want, “My husband, for love and companionship; a large pan, to boil water and cook food; and a boat, so I can leave the island when I’m ready for my next adventure”. Josephine Mitchell, star of A Country Practice, is much more use to a drier setting of that show’s Wandin Valley. However, she has a plan to ensure there will always be leftover sustenance, “I would take a Kindle with unlimited downloads, lots of sunscreen and a grape vine so I can make my own red wine”.

Erin Murphy (Photo: Official site)

Erin Murphy
(Photo: Official site)

Josephine Mitchell (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Josephine Mitchell
(Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

So, not one of my castaways mentioned food concentrate or 50 feet of nylon rope. But why would you, really? I actually sent an email through to Buzz Aldrin’s team asking him the island question. Team Buzz (they sign their emails that way) very politely passed on the request but wished me the best of luck. I like a Team that gets back to you after a request, even if it’s not an affirmative. If I ever am stuck in one of those team-building exercises again and the Moon question comes up, you know who I’ll call.

Whose choices would make you want to join them on their island? What would you take with you? I’d love to read your choices in the Comments section.

“The past is never where you think you left it” or: Katherine Anne Porter wears rose-coloured wayfarers

Sometimes the planets align. We were running late for dinner with expatriate friends who were in town for a few days. After 20 minutes of no luck finding street parking or a car park that didn’t close early, we ended up in a car park in Wyatt Street. This was no ordinary car park. Each level is named after a planet. Level 9 is still Pluto because, well, when you need parking (and there’s money to be made on office workers and people like us), the Kuiper belt and its dwarf planet is as good as anywhere. Each floor has a mural near the elevator proclaiming what planet/level it is. Or at least I presume this to be so. The lower levels are inhospitable to all but permit parkers. We were on Level 6: Saturn (My Very Energetic Mother Jumps Skateboards Under Nana’s Patio). Each elevator stop is accompanied by a voice proclaiming, “You are on [planet]”. Forget Majel Barrett, Star Trek, fans. This voice is decidedly more booming.

IMG_3493

We finally made it to dinner. There were the magical 7±2 (on account of some joining us slightly later) people at the table. We’ve all known each other since we were teenagers and it’s easy to fall back into the old groove even when friends have been away for a while. After dinner we all headed to one of the laneway bars that have taken over Adelaide in the last few months. One gin and tonic (in a wine glass, no less) was enough for me and Bob, and we left shortly after.

Walking back to the car, we inadvertently took a slightly different route to the one walked earlier in the night. As we chatted away, I didn’t realize what street we were on until I turned my head and was facing a familiar façade. When it was a nightclub, it was called Aquarium. Now, I don’t really recall ever going there when I was 18. It had a bit of a reputation for being a place where the bad kids congregated. There wasn’t Yelp or Trip Advisor in those days for me to verify this, you see. But the site of this old club made me realize what was coming next. Down the road, not too far, was The Planet. The nightclub that my friends and I spent at least one, maybe two, nights a week at when we were in first year university.

I tried to peer in through the frosted windows. The building has been vacant for as long as I can remember with promises of reopening as a club or converted office/apartment space. Who said you couldn’t go home again? I should have remembered that you could never see ‘in’. Instead, you had to line up, sometimes half-way down the street on promotions nights, and get to the door to see how busy it was.

Memories came back in waves: awful champagne (we still referred to it as such) from the long bar on the bottom level that led to the dance floor; the upstairs where we spent most of our time, chairs and barrel tables scattered around pool tables; and the third level, which housed the RnB music and felt like it was tacked on to the building and could fall off at any moment. The bathrooms had attendants with perfume/colognes and hand towels! The downstairs actually functioned as a restaurant before the tables were removed from the dance floor and, if you went in and waited, the bouncers wouldn’t ID (this was long before the very stringent checks that go on now). A blessing when you were 17.

Where did the Chupa Chup come from?

Where did the Chupa Chup come from?

The Planet has held somewhat of an increasing mythical status amongst my friends and I. We recall it fondly to those who never went there. I started to wonder, why? Of all the places that we went, why did this nightclub hold such a memory for me?

I suppose it represents, in a much heightened way, what it was to be young and at that time in my life. There were new experiences, new drinks (or just new drinking…not that any son or daughter from an Italian family didn’t have their first sip of vino at seven) and new friends. University only involved about 12 hours of on-campus contact a week and gave me plenty of time to read Gordon Allport’s Pattern and Growth in Personality between parties. There was, of course, the notion of no – or at least limited – responsibility at that age. But, what I think it represents the most is a time when anything seemed possible. You never knew where a night would end, just as I never knew what psychological theory would change the way I thought about everything.

The tendency to see the past with rose-coloured glasses is neither unique nor particularly surprising, at least psychologically speaking. Maybe I tend to do it more than others. Recently I returned to my high school and walked past my old first-year home room. I sighed and waited for the happy memories. Then I realized, wait a minute, for the most part I rather hated first year high school! Nostalgia has always had a seductive hold on me, even if it wasn’t my own. I was most fascinated by the section in the video store that was labeled “Nostalgia”. Not just because they were classics (John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal and Chaplin’s The Gold Rush for two), but because their covers harkened back to something that couldn’t quite be reached but would be oh so sweet if you could get there.

John Garfield, possibly on a Planet pool table getting a talking to from a bouncer. Photo: Movielegends

John Garfield, possibly on a Planet pool table getting a talking-to from a bouncer. Photo: Movielegends

I guess it’s the same with what the Planet represented. In those times it was a feat of strength to wake up after a late night and feel no hangover. More accurately, the hangover was there, but you could still get through Sunday family lunch and go out later that day/night. Plus, you’d go past the baguette bar down the road from the club before hopping in a taxi. But hangovers still didn’t feel good. What about the night where I ended up wearing cowboy shooters all over my new very expensive (even now I consider that jacket to have been way too expensive) jacket? The sickeningly sweet pre-mix drinks, as well as the bravado and arrogance of people jostling each other at the bar to get those drinks. And the things those bathroom attendants must have seen?! I remember Bette Midler shuddering on stage when she recalled the ‘70s. “Running makeup, running stockings,” and watching a group snort a shag rug after she accidentally overturned a tray of cocaine. The last may not be true, but it makes the point. There’s something exciting and liberating about not knowing your limits; but what about the self-doubt, the loneliness of adolescence and young adulthood? Again, completely not unique, but oh so acutely felt.

IMG_3494

The street had a lot of memories. There were other clubs there we went to that have made way for all sorts of things. Yes, there will be time for more reminiscing. However, at that moment, walking past that nightclub on the way back to Saturn, there wasn’t time. There was a nightcap of Tia Maria to drink at home and a BBQ to go to the next day.

All the leaves are…

Well, you know the rest.

I’ve just returned from a very quick trip to Melbourne for a workshop. Although Melbourne is always cooler than Adelaide, and even the nights in Adelaide have been getting colder in the last few days, my two days there seemed particularly piercing. As usual, I hadn’t packed clothes that were warm enough, and found that tossing my favourite black scarf into the briefcase on my way out the door was a fortuitous addition. Wish I could say the same for the book I took along with me. The book was on a topic important to my work, and I’d hoped it would deliver the promise on the back cover of a fresh take on a much-studied problem. It didn’t maintain my interest past the first two chapters I read in the hour before takeoff from Adelaide. Instead, while on the plane, I busied myself reading in the Qantas magazine about the top five hotels in California (for enquiring minds, The Beverly Hills Hotel was #1) and engaged in some low-level origami with a newspaper and the tray table. On my second day in Melbourne I happened upon (as I often do) The Book Grocer on Bourke Street, where I gravitated towards works on Lyle Talbot, Patricia Highsmith, and Ahmet Ertegun. I decided to go with the Talbot one for the ride home, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century written by his daughter, Margaret. I’m quite enjoying it.

I’m also looking forward to posting some new articles on the site very soon. I’ve been busy for most of April with conducting interviews and researching future ones. I think you’ll like them.

The photo below is from a little while ago, but what’s more Californian than Santa Monica Pier?

100_7378

Alias Smith and… Smith

Have you ever felt “a bit short changed in terms of life” or that you’re one step away from getting “found out” as an imposter? Mark Smith understands. I knew there was a reason that I liked him. That and he’s also darn funny. Since starting in comedy a few years back while at University, Mark’s been living the life of a working comic gigging all over the U.K. Since 2010, he and pal Max Dickins have recorded their podcast, Dregs, a name coined by Mark’s father. The pair had been a part of sketch revue group, The Leeds Tealights, and dregs are, after all, the remnants of tealights. A few months back Mark debuted his solo Edinburgh Fringe show, The Most Astonishing Name in Comedy. Russell Howard introduced him as “One of the best new comics around”. I agree (as if Russell needs my approval).

In this chat, Mark tells me about all sorts of things: from comedy writing, gigging in intimate settings (not what you think) and the Edinburgh Fringe, to how he navigates expectations at parties and how he might like to while away some years.

 

Adam: When I was young, I wanted to be a doctor like the ones portrayed in the Australian TV serial A Country Practice. Then I realised I didn’t like the sight of blood (or stethoscopes for that matter) and so I thought maybe I could just star in A Country Practice. Those dreams of dramatic stardom didn’t pan out. What did you want to be and when did you decide that you wanted to get into comedy?
Mark: When I was little I very vividly remember that I wanted to be a doctor, but as I grew up I realised I wasn’t good enough with any of the scientific subjects at school. So that was that I guess. I didn’t ever really think about getting into comedy until I was about 21. I was always a huge fan of comedy but never saw it as a thing I was ‘allowed’ to do I suppose. Then my best friend started getting into it and I was like ‘hey, this is for us’.

Adam: Tell me about some of your first gigs.
Mark: My first gig was for the Chortle Student comedy competition. It was incredibly nerve wracking as you’d imagine. And I was rubbish, as you’d imagine. But there was something about it that I enjoyed and so I thought I’d give it another go. I’m still doing that really. Giving it one more go, every gig, until someone says that I mustn’t keep doing this.

Adam: After you’d started in comedy you didn’t pursue it intensely straight away?
Mark: I probably did about five gigs in the first six months. So no, not intensely at all. I was a student up in Leeds and there were a few really good comedy nights but nothing that was exclusively for the students. Bear in mind that this is a huge university with a massive student population, and there was no comedy for them whatsoever. So I decided to start a night at the [Leeds University] Union and MC that. It was ideal really, I got to get some stage time and the students got to see some excellent comedy for £4.

Adam: Comedians devise material in various ways and settings. In her book, Nat Luurtsema said that she dresses up to write even when she’s at home, and the choices may be a ball gown or silk and stilettos. She did acknowledge that some of her choices led her neighbour to suspect that she was a rather unsuccessful (given she was always home) sex worker. You’ve said before that you’re not the kind of comedian who begins with a blank page and starts writing. What is your process?
Mark: I basically write anything that I find funny in the notes in my phone. It could be anything, a turn of phrase, an idea or sometimes a fully formed joke. Then when my phone is filled up with those I’ll sit down and try and write about each of those ideas. Most of the time you look back on your phone notes and realise that what you’ve written is either impenetrable or just shit. Like I’ll often wake up in the middle of the night, write something down and think it’s brilliant. Then look at it in the morning and realise I’ve just written something like ‘dongboots’ in my phone. Nonsense. Other times though I find it’s a good jump off point. After that it’s a case of writing and testing it. And doing that until it works and is good enough for a paying audience to see.

Adam: Phyllis Diller invented her husband, “Fang”, for her routine. I think she said other comics used their real husband’s names, which was fine…until they died and they had to change the act. How do you decide how far to go with using real people or situations in your life?
Mark: Ha! I tend to use real names for real events because otherwise I’ll get all confused mid-routine. If ever I use a made-up event I go with the name Kelvin who is a friend of mine from back home and he doesn’t mind me doing that because he doesn’t exist.

Adam: Some of your standup deals with your dissatisfaction with a monosyllabic name. You have the opposite problem to say a Ben Kingsley (Krishna Pandit Bhanji), Alan Alda (Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo), Fred Astaire (Frederick Austerlitz), or even Benny Hill (whose original name, Alfred Hawthorne Hill, could have led to a life as a museum curator). You did go by the name Winston Smith for a while. How does having a simple name impact you (how do you ever know what you’re getting up to on Google?), and when changing it the first time why didn’t you experiment with the whole thing?
Mark: I think when I first started I worried about stupid shit like that. I thought Mark Smith was too boring a name and that people would forget it immediately but it turns out that no-one cares what your name is as long as you are good. If people want to Google me they can just bang the word comedy on the end of Mark Smith. EASY!

Adam: When I tell people at parties that my background is in psychology they usually ask, “Oh, are you going to analyse me?” Occasionally they’ll also want to know whether I can see their future. I have to then explain that, “No, I’m not a fucking fortune teller” (note: psychology, being the pseudoscience that it is, I do make use of crystal balls from time to time). Do people you meet expect you to always be ‘on’?
Mark: I think a lot of people do yeah. But generally it’s not too much of a problem. To be honest most of my friends now are in the same job or something similar and so it’s cool to not have that pressure. I never really liked it so when I first started I would tell people on a night out that I was an accountant or a delivery man or something else that never really needed any more explanation. Just a good, solid job that would cut any expectation. Now I’m fine with it.

Adam: You first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007 as part of an ensemble. You then went on to direct and write shows in subsequent years, appear with your Dregs podcast partner Max Dickins, and as part of The Comedy Zone showcase. Just a few months ago you debuted your solo show. How do you prepare for the Edinburgh Fringe and what’s it like for the performers once you’re there?
Mark: Edinburgh is an enormous, grizzly beast with huge blood-stained fangs and terrifying claws and a weird sort of grin on its face which has also got six eyes. Imagine that! I’m sorry what was the question? Yes Edinburgh, I have a love-hate relationship with it really. I love it when I’m not there but when I am, like most performers, it becomes all encompassing and engulfing. You start to think that the world revolves around this little bubble you create. I think it’s really unhealthy. Having said that, it is a wonderful place, the city is beautiful and it’s full of great comedy. I just wish it wasn’t seen as the biggest thing of the year. So many comics, including myself, see it as the focal point of the year whereas I think it should be seen as just a thing that happens. A really good, but horrendously gruelling thing that happens.

2013 Ed Fringe show poster. Photo: Mark Smith Comedy

2013 Ed Fringe show poster. Photo: Mark Smith Comedy

Adam: On one of your podcast episodes, you and Max were discussing playing to almost empty rooms.
Mark: Four’s quite good though, isn’t it?
Max: Well, it’s good in the context of having sold no tickets.
Mark: Yeah better than no. I can’t remember what I sold.
Max: What you sold.
Mark: I know sellout was used a lot. The word ‘sellout, total sellout.
I’ve lectured to rooms with a capacity of 500 before that only had four students. How do you deal with that sort of thing?
Mark: It can be quite demoralising but that is the nature of Edinburgh, and gigs in general. As a new comic you learnt to play those tiny numbers so it’s not such a problem to be honest. Obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s fine. Sometimes it’s nice to have a small audience because you can literally get to know your entire audience. My favourite show of my last Edinburgh run was on the last night. I had seven people in and they were glorious. We had a proper laugh and everyone (I think) thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously it’s a different sort of satisfaction to having a particularly good gig in a packed house but it’s still cool.

Adam: You’ve been recording Dregs since 2010. What do you enjoy most about the podcast?
Mark: I enjoy talking shit nonstop for a while and then letting our producer pick the bones out of it. We’ve been so lucky to always have a good producer. We had Joe Thomas for a couple of years and he is basically a genius. He’s now the youngest station controller in the entire country at a station in Oxford. Now we have Will who somehow manages to make even Max sound amusing at times. And that takes a lot. I like working with Max though, he’s a funny little shit.

Adam: I particularly like your ribbing of Max in his attempts to be a ‘Renaissance man’. And how almost in the same breath you guys can go from discussing ‘gravitas’ or ‘hyperbole’ to more “blue” humour.
Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty stupid most of the time. To be honest a lot of the time I feel like I black out and then only realise what’s been said when we hear the edit. I have a feeling that’s down to Max drugging me etc.

Max and Mark. Photo: Dregs Facebook page

Max and Mark. Photo: Dregs Facebook page

Adam: On Dregs you mention a lot of the travel you’ve done. Where is your favourite place so far and have you/will you gig overseas?
Mark: I love America. I go there as often as time permits and plan to drive all around someday. I love everything about it but particularly baseball. For some reason baseball has really got under my skin. It’s something I can absolutely get onboard with and given that that’s about the most American thing in the world it make sense to move there and watch it every day for the entirety of my life until I die of baseball.

In terms of gigging I haven’t done that much overseas. I went to do a couple of nights in the Middle East in Bahrain. That was cool. I’d like to a lot more though. Specifically Australia. I’d love to do Adelaide and Melbourne. I visited Oz when I was about 22 and did that whole student thing of going up the east coast. It was fucking amazing.

Adam: A lot of people would have become familiar with you through Russell Howards Good News. It’s quite popular here in Australia. How important is a show like that to building your profile? Do you like performing for TV?
Mark: I think it is very important, or at least it’s been very important for me. I don’t know if I like performing for TV because I’ve only really done it the once. Obviously it’s cool though and I’d like to do loads more of it.

Adam: What are your plans for 2014?
Mark: I’m currently co-writing a TV series with Nick Helm that is going to be filmed in June. On top of that I’m writing my new stand up show and trying to develop a couple of other TV things, so I guess we’ll just see what happens.

Adam: Anything else that you’d like to mention?
Mark: Yeah, get me on Twitter. Ha! What a shallow thing to say. But seriously, do. Like one in twenty of my tweets are reasonably funny.

 

Mark’s Twitter home he speaks of is found here. He also has a website (I knew I should have gotten something besides dot com. The .co.uk looks so pretty on his…). The Dregs podcast can be listened to here (via SoundCloud) or downloaded through iTunes.