Life Beyond the Show

When actor and filmmaker Ben Steel came to Adelaide in November 2019 to present his documentary, The Show Must Go On, at the Mercury Cinema, he and I met before the screening to discuss his film. In the brightly lit cinema, we sat across from each other in comfortable red chairs, my voice recorder (and phone as a failsafe) perched on the chair between us as Ben spoke with empathy about what drove his exploration into the mental health and wellbeing challenges faced by those working in the entertainment industry.

It is certainly a topic that demands attention. For example, The Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study in 2013 found elevated levels of depression, anxiety, and stress in the over 700 surveyed respondents. Amongst the challenges reported by respondents were incredible financial instability and difficulty in getting regular work, travel and the associated time away from home and loved ones, the emotional and physical tolls of a role, problematic uses of alcohol to cope with stress and, indeed, the attitude reflected in the title of Ben’s film that the show must go on, even if one is experiencing physical or psychological difficulties. While many of these issues are not specific to entertainers, both the research and anecdotal evidence certainly points to them being certainly heighted hazards of working in the industry.

As writer-director of the film, Ben had initially set out to understand why so many creatives struggled with their wellbeing and to look at ways to prevent or tackle these issues. With camera in hand, he began by interviewing entertainment professionals from stage, screen, television, and music, both those who work in front of an audience and those behind the scenes. While Ben didn’t envision being in the film beyond some of the interviews, as the project took shape Ben and his team realised that it was his own story that could be a focal point of this exploration and a way to bring together the diverse thoughts of participants, including Sam Neil, Michala Banas, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Dean Ray, and Glenn Scott. And so, in the film, and in subsequent screenings as part of the Wellness Roadshow, where Ben travelled around the country to screen his film and lead discussions about mental health in the industry, Ben honestly shared his story.

Central to Ben’s experiences was how he navigated life post his star-marking turn as Jude Lawson on drama series Home and Away, for which he received a 2001 Logie nomination for Most Popular New Talent on Australian Television. When that role ended, he ventured overseas working as an actor, as well as behind the scenes. Returning to Australia, he found not only the work had dried up, but that he was struggling emotionally. In moments throughout the film, Ben lets us in to the depth of that struggle. At one low point during production, he tells us that he felt his work on the film was “a mission to help other people”, but then asks, “But how can I help other people if I can’t even help myself?”. With therapy and support, Ben worked through it, learning much about himself and what keeps him well. Through his own struggles and understanding of the world he investigated, he provides a space for his interviewees to be honest and forthcoming with their own stories. In the process, he has also given us a beautiful film.

It has taken me significant time to publish this interview. If asked why, perhaps I can use the standard reply of 2020-2021, “Because COVID”. As work responsibilities intensified, our chat on my to-do list and my anxiety would rise as I remembered how much I wanted to get this out there.

If anything, however, the delay may be strangely perfect. As Ben and his team adapted to COVID-19, with webinars and online screenings during 2020 and 2021, the core issues of the film have become focused. Paradoxically we have realised the necessity of the arts in our lives as we bunker down at home in front of our TVs and devices, but the creatives themselves have had limited support from government in Australia and overseas as the industry has shut down or been severely affected. If anything, watching the film made me, and I hope you, want to support the arts more when we reflect on how much joy we get from live music, live comedy, art, theatre, TV, film…and the list goes on. Yet, most creatives are living a very hand-to-mouth existence, with the Wellness Study revealing that around 40% of respondents were earning less than $10,000 a year and around 20% can be considered below the poverty line. What comes across in Ben’s films is not only the love creatives have for their craft, but the necessity for society to have a vibrant arts culture. As actress Wendy Strehlow told me in a previous interview, “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”.

Why I think Ben’s film is relatable and audiences will find commonality between the film and their own experiences, even for those not in creative industries, is that it shines a light on a lot of the risks for mental unwellness for all of us. Regardless of career, upbringing, and experiences, we are often not taught about psychological care or wellbeing as we navigate our worlds and pursuits. It was Ben’s hope that the film could start a conversation about such matters, and I hope that you enjoy ours.

Adam: Tell me about the Wellness Roadshow. How long has it been going and where have you been so far?
Ben: We launched it on my birthday, on the 9th of October, straight after the ABC premiere. We’ve had screenings in Melbourne and Sydney and Newcastle, and now we are in Adelaide. Next year we’ll be heading to the other states, going to Perth and Hobart and the Gold Coast.
Adam: And you’re doing this over the next 12 months or thereabouts?
Ben: Pretty much. It’s just that rolling thing. We’re doing the capitals first and we’ve just started to get little pockets of funding that can take us to some regional centres as well. We’ll just keep rolling it out as much as we can, spreading the word and getting people talking.

Adam: The film screened on ABC back in October and you’ve been traveling around since then. What’s been the reaction to the film so far?
Ben: It’s been amazing. I always hoped that it would connect with people and that people would respond. I guess it was kind of a no brainer that creative people or people within the entertainment industry would probably connect to it. But I was always hopeful that it would reach outside of that, which it kind of has – which is amazing. Collectively, as a team, we’ve probably received now over 100 emails, texts, or whatever, from people saying it’s actually saved their lives and they’re getting help.
Adam: That’s fantastic. Were you expecting that?
Ben: I was hopeful it was going to make a difference, but to actually hear it and feel it, makes me really happy. It’s quite overwhelming that what we’ve been able to make has had that impact. There’s been hundreds and hundreds “thank you for doing it” kind of emails, but the ones that really bowl me over are the ones where people say “I’m actually going to get help now” or “It’s saved my life”. Literally those words. And you go, “Thank God, that means we’re really helping people”.
Adam: It’s the kind of film that makes sense that people would contact you. But often you put something out there and you wonder, Is anyone listening? Is anyone watching?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. I guess because it’s such a personal film and all the cast that were involved, who beautifully and generously gave their time and they were so candid, they were just so open – that’s what people are really responding to.

Adam: Disclosing depression or anxiety or any mental unwellness is difficult. Was it difficult for you starting the film – although you weren’t initially going to have such a big role compared to what it ended up being – knowing that you would have to disclose something about your own story or ‘come out’, so to speak, about it?
Ben: I guess initially I didn’t think I would be [Laughs].
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: Probably the first part of that is, at the beginning, I just didn’t have the awareness. I hadn’t started my recovery. I hadn’t received help. My awareness level of how bad I actually was, or how much I was struggling, I just didn’t have the awareness level. So, to have that – I wouldn’t have even thought.
Adam: That far ahead.
Ben: Yeah. It was probably – I mean we had a big team meeting probably about eight months in when it became apparent that my story was central to this film. Up until that point, it was me interviewing people and talking and I was going to construct something together based on all these opinions and solutions. I wasn’t in it. There were shots where I was on camera, but it wasn’t my story. So, we had a team meeting when it became apparent that “You’re the through line here, Ben. That’s what people are going to connect to, your story, and then all these other things feed into it”. Probably at that point, it was a little bit, Am I ok with that? I think since I was asking other people to put themselves out there, I’ve got to be able to do that myself. I guess being an actor and being on screen, I didn’t have that barrier to overcome in the sense that I’m fine to see myself on camera, or hear my voice, which some people behind the scenes.
Adam: Are a bit reluctant to do.
Ben: Yeah. I didn’t have any of those issues. And then it was only probably two weeks after we finished making the film – editing was done, it had been approved by ABC, and the post-production people were doing all their magic deliverables and making DCPs and all that. I was away on holiday and I kind of went, “Oh shit, my story is going to be out there in like two weeks”. And I was like “Ooh, ooh”.
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: And it just gave me a little bit of a butterfly of nerves. I mean, I was fine. Everything in it is me and it’s what happened. It felt like I need to tell people that story.

Adam: I think you’re right that the focus is really you because you’re holding all those stories together. I could appreciate if you had reluctance because, as we said, it’s hard enough to disclose regardless, but you’ve been in the network machine of publicity and there’s a very structured way of having publicity. I think it’s great you could do it.
Ben: Thank you. I guess that was so far away from my current reality anyway.
Adam: Of course.
Ben: To be honest, I didn’t really think of the career consequences, if any. At a certain point – I mean, in the beginning, I was being driven by there being some people really struggling and I want to know what’s going on. Then it reverted to “I’m actually struggling, I need to find these answers for myself”. And that trumps any kind of I wonder what people are going to think about me [Laughs].

Adam: [Laughs]. That’s great. That leads in quite well to what I wanted to ask. When you started filming, you knew you weren’t good, but you weren’t aware of where you were. Was it in your mind to try to unravel what was going on for you?
Ben: Not in the beginning. It was only after I started becoming aware. In the beginning, so I left Home and Away – got dumped [laughs].
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: Then went overseas doing the UK thing like so many ex-Home and Away and Neighbours people do. So, I was kind of milking that and working that for all I could, riding that particular wave, and just kind of pushing and pushing and pushing. Then at a certain point – I think it was about nine years I was away – I came back to Australia. I wasn’t expecting there to be a welcome home party or anything, but I did achieve some things overseas. I made some shows and was in some films and all that kind of stuff. And I guess I was expecting the transition back into the industry to be a little bit easier than what it was.
So, I was aware of that struggle that I felt like I was outside the circle. And at the point I put it down to, Well I’ve just been away too long, people have forgotten about me. I hadn’t maintained all those relationships and friendships and networking that you need to do. Maybe part of it was that, but I think more of it was because I just had this huge identity crisis about to blow up and happen and I was so caught up in my identity as an actor and pursuing that, that I wasn’t actually being a real person. So, I think that was probably getting in the way of my career more than anything.

Adam: Sam Neill talks in the film about this idea that it is perhaps healthier to have an approach to acting, or any performing, as, “That’s what I do, that’s not what I am”. He describes it as separating yourself from your profession. So, as opposed to saying, “I’m an actor”, to say instead, “I’m Ben and I act”. Did you find in talking to people that this is often a pitfall for actors? Because there’s such a drive to get there, you really have to work at it consistently and it’s probably impossible for it not to become pretty much your identity
Ben: I think there’s two parts to that. I think, one, is that through the training we get, whether it’s behind the scenes or in front of the camera, you’re made abundantly aware how slim the chances are you’re going to succeed. So, you have to really just put everything, your focus, on it. When you’re doing that and you’re not having a social life, and you’re missing weddings and funerals and real-life things, or you don’t have hobbies because you don’t have time, how could it not become your identity?
I think the other factor to it is because there is so much rejection, and there’s oversupply and under demand as far as work, how do you deal with that rejection? You deal with that rejection by creating this wall, or thick skin around you, and really just saying, “Well, this is who I am”. You’re kind of building these walls that “I’m an actor and this is all I am. I’m just going to keep doing this”, or whatever your job is. I think for those two reasons that’s why it’s a no-brainer that a lot people in entertainment have identity issues. But I think it’s also across the board. I think a lot of people out in the wider community also do. A perfect example is when you’re raising kids and you become a parent and that’s all you are for a substantial chunk of your time.
Adam: It’s not a role, it’s an identity.
Ben: “I’m a parent, I’m a parent, I’m a parent”. And then the kids leave home. And then you suddenly have an identity crisis.
Adam: “What the hell do I do now?”
Ben: Yeah. Or you’re a corporate CEO and you’re working towards this and you’re building a company, you’re building a company, and suddenly it goes bankrupt and nobody returns your calls and nobody cares about you anymore, and you can’t fund anything, so who are you anymore? You’ve lost your identity.

Adam: That’s perhaps why the film is reaching all sorts of people. There are some unique issues with actors and the entertainment industry that you cover, but there’s also a lot not specific to actors – the idea of identity and overinvesting in your job. When I was watching it, what came up for me is this idea of perfectionism.
Ben: Yeah.
Adam: I would imagine actors are often quite perfectionist and whether that’s a personality trait they bring to it or whether it’s something the industry breeds because you have that slim margin, you’ve really got to be on, you’ve got to be ready. But then what some of your interviewees found – and what I find with my perfectionism, which leads to nothing but anxiety most of the time [Laughs] – is I get to wherever I imagine I’m going to go. And, first, it’s “Fuck, I’m exhausted” because I’ve near killed myself doing it. And then after that it’s like, “I’m not going to be able to maintain this”.
Ben: Mmm.
Adam: “How do I keep myself on top here?” I think that came through with some of the people you speak to. Even when they had this success, it’s like, “Is it going to be taking away from me?” Or, “How do I maintain this?”. Or “I’m an imposter, they’re going to find out sooner or later”.
Ben: Definitely. And again, I think that’s quite common across the board. Maybe it’s part of us breaking down mini steps along the way to success, and certainly within the entertainment industry there’s no one clear path to anywhere. But maybe a quite common belief is “I just need to get this one big break. And then once I get there, everything is going to be fine. I’m going to have all the money I need. I’m going to be as happy as Larry. The next opportunity is going to come easier”. And da da dah-dah.  And, as you allude to [Laughs
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: and what’s in the film, when you get there, there’s a whole other slew of things you’ve got to deal with, or other fears or concerns that, “Now I’ve got it, what happens if it gets taken away from me?” Or there’s just so much pressure at that point.
Adam: Yeah
Ben: But it kind of again makes sense that we probably, as humans, put things into little boxes. We just focus on that first bit and then I get to that bit, and then “What’s next?” And I think it’s also society kind of pushes us and feeds us that way, like “More, more, more, more”.
Adam: Absolutely.
Ben: And you hear it all the time – enjoy the journey. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. But it’s hard to live by that principle.
Adam: It is, isn’t it? You’re not taught to look at what are your values compared to what are your goals. Your goals are something you achieve, like you can get on to Home and Away, great. But what are your values about creativity or contribution or whatever else? I kind of wonder – I’ve spoken to a few actors about this, and I think a lot of jobs are like this, but particularly with creative people – when I write, often it’s an extension of me, it’s very tied into identity. So, when you get rejected, it feels like a very personal rejection. I’ve spoken to actors who tell me that it feels like a rejection of them, rather than “Hey, there were 10 actors, and it just turns out that you’re not the one that’s right in the director’s mind. It doesn’t mean you’re not good”. It feels very personal.
Ben: Yeah, definitely. I think you’ve hit it on the head there, what we do. Unlike other industries, we are bringing so much of us into it, there’s a big amount of emotional vulnerability, like Glenn Scott says in the film, there’s so much emotional vulnerability. So, if you are rejected, it is you they are rejecting, it’s your creative pursuit – like, if you’re a technician, it’s the work you have done, or not done, that they are not happy with. Because you are putting your heart and soul into it, and you so closely link what you’re doing to you, that they’re not just rejecting what you’ve done, they are rejecting you. Most other jobs, most other careers, I think there’s more separation between that. Not all the time, but I think most of the time.
Adam: Yeah.
Ben: And I think performers again take that step just even further, and potentially probably comedians have it the most in the sense because they have created the story as well as performing it. And if you’re not funny, if they are not laughing at it, it’s a real failure.
Adam: Yeah, watching Andy Saunders, who is a comedian, in the documentary. That’s interesting you say that. When you were talking to Sarah Walker, who wrote for Home and Away, it’s your character, but it’s also her character. With comedians, it’s them out front, it’s often their stories.
Ben: Mmm.
Adam: I was speaking to my friend Gavin Harrison, who was in Home and Away probably ten years before you, he played Revhead.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Adam: And this picks up from what we were talking about before. Among the reasons he transitioned out of acting was that, he said, “I wasn’t really comfortable not having control of where I was going in my life”. He’d gone to America and ended up in a whole lot of TV shows and films there and he was so busy auditioning – it was actually Gavin who said, “That’s the part of acting where you can have 10 good actors, but only the person who is completely right in the director’s mind is going to get booked”. He told me that Jane Nagel, who did publicity for Home and Away, gave him some useful advice that, “there’s the person, the professional, and the product, and that these three aspects of my life should be viewed as such when I was doing certain things”. That helped him, although I’m sure he would admit how hard it can be. When you spoke with Dean Ray in the documentary, for example, when people say something like, “Hey, you got fat”, it’s pretty hard not to take that personally, no matter how much you realise you’re a public person or personality.
Ben: One bit that didn’t make it in the doco – my dear friend and Home and Away actor, Ada Nicodemou, said, which is similar down that path, “It’s not about me, it’s about the character that I play and the show that I’m in. They’re famous, I’m not famous. That’s what people want, that’s what people need”. The show is so much bigger than us.
Adam: Yeah.
Ben: I think that’s quite a healthy way to look at it. Regardless of whatever art it is, ultimately “the song” is the star [Laughs],
Adam: Yeah [Laughs].
Ben: the album is the star; the front person is not. The end result of many people’s work is the star, it’s where the fame is attached. Having that healthy separation from, you know, doing this interview with you, or doing Sunrise, or whatever, it’s actually not about me at all [Laughs]. It’s really helpful to go in with that mind. And that’s what we want, that’s what we love, that’s what we’re selling, that’s what we’re pushing, that’s what we’re all working towards, that’s what all these thousands of creative people are coming together to work on – the thing that is the star, it’s the product, it’s the show.

Adam: What do you think are some unique challenges for performers’ mental health?
Ben: If we are to compare entertainment to wider society, the biggest thing is – like what we’ve spoken about already – just the emotional vulnerability that we have to go to for our work. The sensitivity that’s actually involved in doing what we’re doing. Even if you are a technical person on the crew and you’re looking at lighting or something like that, it’s such a beautiful, delicate – you’re putting your heart and soul into it. It can be quite a technical thing, but there’s imagination and creativity and you kind of then are invested in the thing that you’re doing or building.
Adam: And you’ve worked in lighting as well.
Ben: Yeah, I did lighting.
Adam: The film was beautifully done.
Ben: Oh, thank you! Or you’re constructing a set, like you’re the chippy, you’re the carpenter on the set, you could make far more money out building houses or buildings, rather than working in our industry. They’re drawn to it because there’s something else, something magical, they’re expressing their creativity in a different way, or they are getting to work on different things
Adam: Yes.
Ben: Everybody in the industry has that – that emotional vulnerability and sensitivity and connection to what we’re doing. I think that’s a big one. The other big one that I found is that a lot of the pressures that we face – there are some little weird, little quirky ones that no other industry has, like talking in public, although some other industries have that – there’s quirky things like auditioning, auditioning, auditioning. Other industries, you could be getting job interview after job interview. A lot of what we go through can apply to other industries, but a big thing is the accumulation of many pressures happening at the one time. I think that is quite unique to our industry. Not only are you putting your heart on the line, you might be working at night, and you’re working interstate,
Adam: Away.
Ben: Away, and you’re not getting paid that well. So, you’ve got multiple pressures that most people, if they had one pressure, they’d freak out. But our industry, we’re facing multiple pressures all at the same time. I think that is unique to our industry and that’s why our stats are larger than the general population.

Adam: An example of what we’re talking about is when Jocelyn Moorhouse discusses in the documentary the pressures of her film not getting made, but then two of her children are diagnosed with autism. It’s on top of, on top of, and on top.
Ben: Yep. Ultimately, at the end of the day, all of this, all of what we’re talking about, mental health and wellbeing, mental ill health, it’s a human issue. We, in the industry, are human [Laughs]. There’s just some stressors or pressures that may be a little bit more weird or different or hard for the rest of society to understand.
Adam: And there does seem to be that gap a little bit
Ben: Yep.
Adam: Some people have this idea that actors are sitting in the mansion. For the vast majority of actors, that’s not the case. For the vast majority, it’s a job, and there is instability and all those sorts of things. I love when some American actors post their residual checks on Facebook and they are getting a cent.
Ben: [Laughs].
Adam: A cent residual for a movie. Perhaps there is a little bit of a gap and maybe the film can help people to understand a little bit better that perspective.
Ben: Yeah, and I think that was part of the reason as well – and that’s why having my parents in there is such a good thing because I think many people outside the industry could maybe think down the lines of my parents. Or they are parents themselves to creative kids. So that’s why having them in there was so important to me, to give a bit of a voice and a personality to those opinions against some of the creative things. But then also some of the things they’re bringing up like, “Get a different job, just leave, do something else”. It’s hard to do. And funny enough so many people who have tried counselling or therapy and hadn’t found the right one – and I’d suggest people keep trying until they find the right one because they will be there –
Adam: For sure.
Ben: I had to go through several to find the right one. The counsellors don’t know how to – they seem the problem being the industry, so just get out the industry [Laughs],
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: which is kind of short-sighted because if everybody just got out of the industry there would be no entertainment, so you know.
Adam: And that doesn’t take into consideration the things that the person does get from the industry, in terms of their values and what they want to achieve. But also, perhaps, practically – and again speaking to actors and performers I’ve spoken with before – you’re so driven, even though you’re expected to work multiple jobs while you’re acting, you’re so driven or you really have to focus, that it’s not that easy – for many people, they might think, I haven’t necessarily built some other things to be able to do, so even if I wanted to exit, how can I exit? This is all I’ve ever done.
Ben: I interviewed Susan Eldridge who’s an amazing woman at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. She didn’t make it into the film, but we’ll be releasing some additional content with her, as we will with some other people that aren’t in the film because there were so many amazing people, I just couldn’t fit everything in. She’s devised a couple of – well, she’s devised an amazing program out there – but among some key things that I learnt from her was focus on living a creative life, rather than having a creative career. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make this our profession, or we can’t make money from it. But when we’re valuing it like other industries and other professions, we’re kind of setting ourselves up to fail. Because there’s only a very small amount of people who can sustain a career out of this, so therefore when we aren’t sustaining a career, where does all the negative energy go? It goes to us because we feel that like we’ve failed, or we’re not good enough, or we’ve missed the boat, or we’re getting too old now, we can’t do this anymore, or whatever. But what we can actually do is live a creative life every day. So, focus on living a creative life rather than ‘pursing a creative career’ is one thing that she taught me. The other thing is rather than having a day job or a Plan B or a backup plan, or any of that kind of stuff, she says, “Have two Plan A’s”.
Adam: That’s great.
Ben: Focus on your creative life, and then focus on something that can bring you a certain amount of stability – and it can actually be another creative job, it can actually be creative industries – and that allows you to be able to pay your bills and do everything else or achieve your other goals, whilst you are still pursuing living a creative life.
Adam: Absolutely.
Ben: One thing about performers, I think most of us have multiple jobs. We’re not just pursing one thing. So, I write, I direct, I produce, I shoot, I make stuff across the whole spectrum of entertainment, not just in one little niche. I coach actors, I work with actors, I shoot their self-tapes, I do many different jobs within the industry. And all that cobbled together in the gig economy is enough to support me to keep pursing a creative career, whether I’m auditioning or whether I’m writing something or whether I’m making a documentary. I’m not saying I’m the success story, but I’m using that as an example.
Adam: Yes.
Ben: Because again, at the beginning, I didn’t have that awareness that I actually was going OK. Once I had that awareness and gratitude – Oh fuck, I’m actually going OK. Look at all this awesome stuff around me – I started to feel better.

Adam: I was going to ask you about that because you’ve done a whole range of other things when you were overseas and even before that. Even before you started on Home and Away.
Ben: Yeah.
Adam: Was that something that kind of just happened or was that sort of a guided move?
Ben: Funnily enough, I wanted to leave school after year 10 because I was already acting when I was a kid at school. I was already working; I was already in the industry. I already knew more than my media teachers at school because I was doing it – arrogant little fucker [Laughs].
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: My parents said, “No, stick at it”. They were the kind of ones that planted the seed of having other stuff that I was interested in. They weren’t in the industry, they didn’t know anything about the industry, so it was really a fortunate bit of advice. So, I started getting interested in behind the scenes and shooting stuff, and bought a camera and started making little films, started doing subjects at school that were that way. And then all my work experience and everything like that was about that. So, when I left school, that’s what I did. I just started working in the industry in other areas. That was cool and exciting, and I was learning stuff.
That was my path. There’s no right or one way to do it. But I think – so, with the multiple things I was doing when I was at my darkest, I just didn’t have the appreciation because again my identify was so linked with – my definition of success and identity were linked into I have to be an actor in a studio film or a network show. If I’m not in that, then I’m a failure. The fact that I was working with actors, Nup, well that’s not good enough. Why am I not being able to do that? I was so negative about the amazing thing that I was maintaining and being able to live a creative life. So that’s a big thing, I think, is kind of getting your expectations in check and actually redefining your definition of success. Because if you can support yourself, you can still keep doing the thing you love every day and be plugging away. That’s a success. Winning an Oscar, winning a Tony, winning an Emmy, winning Logie, that’s not success. Being able to still do what you love and find a way to support yourself and have a whole full life, that’s success.

Adam: I write but I’m not in that industry. But what my therapist, for example, said to me was that you can’t expect to get all your creativity or all the want to contribute something out of one thing.
Ben: Mmm.
Adam: And maybe the whole difficulty I was having in a former job was that I expected to get all that from one thing. A: Who does? And B: Is that going to be healthy or sustainable?
Ben: Definitely. The other thing I want to say about the Plan A-Plan A, your other Plan A can actually be out of the industry because some of the skills that we have as creative people, other industries want. So, what is wrong with having a job in another industry using aspects of your creativity? Again, it’s about thee awareness. The fact that we can think outside the box.
Adam: Yeah.
Ben: Many people in brainstorming kind of situations want that skill in their team. Obviously, performers can be very confident, they can work with scrips and do telemarketing and do things like this. Again, if we’re looking at that rather than “Ugh, I’m just a telemarketer; I’m not being an actor today”. Well, you are using some of those skills that you need and you’re honing those skills. We’re so good at focusing at minute little details, but also looking at the big picture as creative people. That’s part of our process. We’re doing that all the time. Again, it’s another skill that other industries would die to have in their workforce. We can actually make good money on the side in other industries. The other great thing is because most of us are freelancers, and what’s happening out there in the big wide world? It’s becoming a gig economy. The world is turning in a gig economy. We’re already 10 steps ahead [Laughs].
Adam: What you might have seen as a deficit, is not a deficit at all.
Ben: Yeah, this constant chasing work and being on the go. As exhausting as that is, we’re – like, that’s part of our DNA now. So, as we’re transitioning into a gig economy as a society, we’re kind of a step ahead as creative people. Looking at the positive and really kind of being grateful for that opportunity, rather than going “Ugh, what am I doing next and dah, dah, dah. Thinking, Actually, I’m ahead of a lot of the population.
Adam: We see that with a whole lot of creative people. I mean, you even seen some creative people become counsellors or therapists.
Ben: I think it’s about that awareness. For me, a lot of I think my struggles were just based on beliefs that weren’t the whole truth or weren’t any truth at all. I just held on to them for whatever reason. It’s quite a hopeful thing now that you can actually – once you kind of have a look at the real issue and what’s going on for you and what’s underneath that and what’s underpinning these beliefs, you kind of unpack that and go, Actually, that’s not true – this is more the truth. So, getting that awareness. And if I can do it, anyone can with help.
Adam: I think the film and a lot of what you’re talking about is really speaking to what so many people experience, regardless of whether someone is in the entertainment industry or not. You’ve spoken just now about the idea of really understanding your thinking, and that’s something we don’t teach people. We teach physical health, but we don’t teach people to go, “I’ve got a million thoughts in my head. Perhaps I don’t need to buy into every one of them”.
Ben: Yes.
Adam: “Which one’s are useful? Which ones are not useful?”. All that kind of stuff. From what you’ve learnt for yourself, and from what you’ve learnt with talking with people – bearing in mind everyone’s journey is different, what do you think we’re missing out in terms of what we’re teaching people?
Ben: I think for creatives or just for the wider community at large, it’s kind of putting your personal emotional development at the forefront of your learning and your education from, you know, your parents. So, parents getting better skilled at this kind of language and how to do that because then their children will be a little bit more prepared.
Adam: Yeah, they’re providing that framework.
Ben: Yep. The communities that we’re then involved in and the wider support networks around that child. Then they go into the education system. Again, the teachers and the school and the infrastructure around that child as it grows and develops Then the tertiary institutions or the workplaces. So, the more and more emotion and emotional intelligence and psychology.
Adam: Self-reflection.
Ben: Yeah. When that is more in the forefront and valued as a big part of who we are.
Adam: As important as all sorts of other things.
Ben: Right. Because if you kind of separate – what is it when it’s separate? It’s that your body and your physical health is more important. Ah, no [Laughs]. Or that finances and accumulating more wealth is the most important, which is how capitalist society works, right? But no, you can have all the money in the world but you’re eddying of cancer and you’ve got a psychological problem.
Adam: And nothing’s ever good enough and we keep on the treadmill.
Ben: And I’m not saying the emotional and psychological health should be superior to the physical or to other exterior forces, but at the moment it’s barely a blip on the radar. So, I think more people talking about that and actually going, no, self-development and looking after yourself and checking in with yourself and your psychology and getting to know yourself and getting to know other people and all that – that’s a really big thing.
People on their deathbed aren’t kind of worried about how much money they’ve got in the bank that they can’t spend anymore. They’re worried about the relationships they’ve created and the impact they had in the world, and the friendships and the love and the stories that they’ve shared. And that’s all human emotional and psychological, right?
Adam: Yeah. I think that the absolute core of what you’re saying, you know this whole idea of self-reflection, in the service of knowing you are, not only makes you – a more rounded person, a happier person, whatever you want to call it, better relationships, whatever. I guess it does also feed into those relationships because the more you understand yourself, the more you are going to understand other people.
Ben: To have compassion for other people.
Adam: Yeah, compassion for someone else’s plight. Actors use that every day – they use compassion, they use empathy to get themselves into someone else’s head. Perhaps sometimes what the problem could be is that you’re being asked to tap into a whole range of emotions and life experiences that you may have not processed yourself and then all of a sudden you have to use this and put this out every day. I think unless perhaps there’s been that understanding or development of some sort of insight or where this fits into my bigger story, it may do a little bit of harm.
Ben: Yeah, definitely, I think that’s another big issue for actors and maybe other performers. There’s a lot of training and attention given to getting into character in whichever technique you believe the best for you to get into character, but nobody teaches you how to do get out of character or to de-role or to debrief or kind of leave that behind. If you are dealing with pretty intense, vulnerable, psychologically challenging worlds and material and situations and emotions that you have to put yourself into, it kind of makes sense that you have to be a pretty strong person at the beginning to kind of cope with that. And even still, you still might have challenges.
Adam: Yeah.
Ben: But if you are going through something at that point and you’re thrust into an environment like that where that’s your job, that’s what you have to do, chances are you might not come out the other end so healthy.
Adam: I speak to people outside of this industry, nurses, for example, and they talk about the idea that they’re constantly with other people’s emotions. They talk to me about how when you get yourself into the other person’s head, it’s absolutely fine to feel something for someone – so you feel scared for someone, frustrated for someone, or concerned for someone. But when that kind of self-other separation breaks down and they become personally distressed, they know they’re not going to be able to do their job so well. Also, there is that sort of hangover – they can’t just go home and say, “OK, that’s it now”.
Ben: Mmm.
Adam: And I imagine that might be similar for actors. How do I debrief out of that? Whether it’s talking to other people, or whatever. How do you deal with that real intense emotion and getting into someone else’s head?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. It translates to a real psychological thing, which is called vicarious trauma. So, you’re vicariously being traumatised. It’s not your trauma, but it’s some other trauma. Journalists in war zones go through this, so they’re standing back but they’re watching some horrific shit happen in front of them, and they have to report on that. Or, in my case, it could be argued that in making this documentary, I was getting traumatised vicariously. Because I was hearing people’s stories over and over again and I was watching stuff.
Adam: How did you deal with that?
Ben: Yeah, it was difficult. Um, I think fortunately for me, as I kept  going further and further along through the filmmaking process, I was getting more and more support, and whilst there were times that I was really bad and really dark, I was starting to develop the skills that I needed to kind of help me get through that and knew the support was around me.
Adam: And were you going through counselling or therapy at the time?
Ben: Yeah, Yeah.
Adam: And we see some of that through the film.
Ben: Exactly. I dealt with it the best way that I could. But it can’t be underestimated, vicarious trauma.

Adam: When you speak in the film to Home and Away writer Sarah Walker, you bring up this idea that in a way you hadn’t let go of your character Jude. I’ve asked other actors this – is he an easy character to live with and do you think you have?
Ben: I think with Jude and the thing that – I mean, maybe it was quite close to me. He was really caring and really sensitive. He was looking after his little brother – different to me, but he had family issues, so he really kind of had to grow up pretty quickly and then he took in a foster kid, as well. So, he was really kind of caring and nurturing. And I guess that’s part of me and my personality as well.
Adam: Yeah, I can tell by the way.
Ben: [Laughs]. Thank you. I think it was hard to let go for me because my identity was so closely linked to what I was doing and suddenly I’m not doing that anymore. I think it was hard to let go of Jude because I hadn’t had conversations with other actors about letting go of characters before. I hadn’t thought about the bigger kind of things that you go through when you go through such an amazing experience like Home and Away. When it comes to an end, it’s quite common for whatever role you are in in the industry that when the show comes to an end, there’s a thing called post-show blues. You get a little bit sad and flat.
Adam: Even a grief some actors talk to me about.
Ben: Yeah, a grief, yeah, exactly. And those kind of things people don’t really talk about. We don’t really talk about that stuff. I certainly hadn’t had conversations. I think they were the main reasons why it was hard for me to let go of Jude, until ultimately going on this journey making the film and kind of unpacking the bigger and wider issues of the industry. But then, more intimately, unpacking my own issues and resolving that, so I could finally let go of that now and look back with fond memories of that whole time in my life
Adam: And being proud of it as well.
Ben: Yeah, being proud of it and, yeah – and I think, like I said in the film, if I didn’t have the Home and Away experience, if I didn’t have the getting dropped from the show and the subsequent battles and struggles that came from that, and my identity, and my struggles with all that, I wouldn’t have been at that precipice of struggling so much that drove me to make this film. I wouldn’t be there.
Adam: And not that we wish, you never want to wish these things happening to you.
Ben: [Laughs] No but, it’s, yeah.
Adam: But it’s which way you’ve taken it as well. Do you learn something from it? That’s very flippant to say it that way, but it’s really true. It’s what do you do with this?
Ben: Yeah, definitely, and I think I’m just fortunate through the people I have around me and the situation that I was in, everything kind of lined up and the skills that I guess developed behind the scenes that I could actually  go off and make this film. It was the perfect outlet for me to do that because that’s what I do. I make stuff, you know, I do things. So, I just started doing it. I didn’t think about making a doco, I just started doing it. I thought, Oh yeah, I think I need to speak to people and I’m going to start filming it. And it just started to grow. It’s part of me and part of my process. Other people aren’t that way, and their journey is different.

Adam: That leads into my last couple of questions. Where do you see your identity today?
Ben: Mmm.
Adam: That sounded so Barbara Walters!
Ben: [Laughs]. No! Yeah, I mean – I’m so many more things than just an actor is, I guess, the core revelation.
Adam: Mmm.
Ben: And I’m just more appreciative and grateful for everything that I have and am.
Adam: Yeah.
Ben: So, I’m a pretty shit surfer, but I love it [Laughs].
Adam: [Laughs].
Ben: I’m a brother, I’m an uncle, I’m a son. I’m so many different roles, you know. I’m a friend. So I think it’s because when your identity is so closely linked into the thing that you do, the availability and just the emotional vulnerability that you have for all the other things on the outside, like friends, family, activities, hobbies, experiences, life, joy, parties – like everything is just so limited because you’re focused on that. I’m just experiencing life much more, so much more. I guess my identity is much more whole or much more full now than what it was. It was very shallow and narrow before.
Adam: That’s fantastic. I guess the final thing is what’s next?
Ben: [Laughs]. So, yeah, just continuing on with the beautiful roadshow and getting out and just trying to have as many conversations as we can about this. At the same time, surfing as much as I can because it just brings me so much happiness and joy and I love it! And I’ve started developing the next doco.
Adam: Awesome. That’s fantastic.
Ben: Awesome, brother – thank you.

The Wellness Roadshow continues through 2021. Full details are available at The Show Must Go On website. Please also visit the documentary’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and stop by Ben’s Instagram page for pictures of Ben, his dog, and beaches.

Images used in article courtesy of Ben Steel.

Long Day’s Journal Into Night

A couple of months ago, the editor of a journal that has published my psychology work multiple times let me know that the journal would cease publication at the end of 2020. This sent me into a passive sadness and fitful sleep for a couple of days, both of which many of us probably experienced at various times this past year.

Part of my response was practical; I was concerned that my hard work would disappear. The journal publisher assured me that the existing volumes would continue to be available in perpetuity. I guess I kind of knew that, as I have never really seen a periodical completely disappear, especially one from a major publisher. It would continue to exist online, in databases, and elsewhere – there just would not be anything new. So, what made me feel withdrawn and down, not really wanting to talk (or rage) about it but needing to spend some time letting my feelings just be?

First of all, I am particularly proud of what I wrote for the journal, and feel that those articles perhaps provided a contribution, however small, to my research area. I have not always felt that way about my work. I have believed in a lot of my work and hoped that one study or paper would be a ‘hit’, and yet I have been disappointed more than once when the citations have been respectable, but not the astronomical numbers that colleagues have achieved. So, the thought (even if imagined) of my work becoming harder to find because it was a part of a discontinued journal scared me.

More than this, I think that much of my response was to do with an underlying anxiety and frustration about my work. I have often felt at sea in my profession, where after my PhD I traversed into another discipline for my postdoctoral work, feeling cut-off from what I had studied, but never quite more than an ‘honorary’ (that term was used, although benignly, again and again, often in meetings) member of the other discipline. Since returning to my original field of research, it has been hard to renter that world. I have been at the table on more than one occasion with people who have the resources, the grant money, the teams (all necessities in the academic world), who have seemed very interested in my ideas, but have not then invited me to collaborate with them. All I can say is that I have certainly seen how useful my ideas have been to their subsequent work.

This journal ‘disappearing’ felt like another example of my work, my attempts to contribute something, to have some identity as a researcher, being erased or downplayed. Almost as if even if I could get my work out there, it would get swept under the carpet.

Perhaps this is how so many of us feel in and out of academia. My mentor and friend, Dr Rosalind Dymond Cartwright, has been called the Queen of Dreams for her pioneering clinical and research work on the function of sleep and dreaming over more than 50 years. Dr. Cartwright has formulated a theory based on her decades of research regarding how sleep and dreaming can help us to regulate negative emotions and experiences of the day, as well as having an important role in modifying our self-concept. I would also call her the Queen of Empathy given her pioneering and first work in that area in the 1940s and 1950s. On more than one occasion, she has read my work, provided much welcomed and useful feedback, and given good sage advice. She has championed my right to work in the empathy area, referring students and noted researchers to me. And yet, even someone as accomplished as Dr. Cartwright can feel like an outsider, as she demonstrates with an interpretation of one of her own dreams in her book, The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives (2010).

In the dream, Roz – I still want to call her Dr. Cartwright, but she signs off her emails to me with ‘Roz’, so I will try – watches colleagues receive awards in succession at a conference, as they are lauded for their work and treated with much respect on stage. When it is her turn, a harlequin assistant figure takes the mickey out of her, pretends not to see her, and does not give her to the same reception. In that moment, “I was on the outside, literally standing on the fringe, while the others were insiders, on stage or seated with their backs to me” (p. 170).

As Roz explained in her wonderful book, her dream was likely triggered by the rejection of a symposium proposal she had formulated for the conference, which had tapped into feelings of invisibility and a conflict she had felt between being an independent researcher versus playing the game to be a part of the ‘club’. As she put it, the rejection “threatened a core characteristic of my self-concept—‘I am a good sleep researcher who goes her own way’” (p. 171).

Interestingly, Roz had come across that harlequin character during sleep back when she was a child, and he has been a returning day (or night) player every so often in her dreams. However, compared to his appearances as much more menacing robber in earlier dreams, his appearance this time was different (p. 171):

The harlequin is not as feared in this dream as when he had the role of a robber. He was still engaged in robbing me, now of professional recognition, and in both dreams he was thinly disguised, a bad man pretending to be good … This time, the bad man did not frighten me; the feeling was of puzzled disappointment. I see him as only a ‘clown.’ Even more positively, I knew in the later dream that I had produced a body of work that I deemed was worthy of being noticed. The emotional message of that dream was: ‘You know what you have done; you don’t need the clowns to applaud you.’

I spoke to Dr Cartwright a couple of weeks ago to wish her a belated happy 98th birthday.

May we all spot the champions, and harlequins, in our 24-hour lives.

Shining Star

Remembering Galyn Görg (15 July, 1964-14 July, 2020).

Almost six months on, it is still so sad to think that Galyn Görg is no longer here. Galyn passed away from cancer at the too young age of 55 on 14 July, 2020 in Hawaii. I interviewed Galyn for this blog in 2017, and we had so much to speak about regarding her career that it ended up being a two-part piece. She was kind, beautiful, oh so talented and just pure light. Compassionate. Brilliant really.

Galyn had been a dancer and actress for over 30 years. In that time, she had experienced mega success in Italy with TV series Fantastico before embarking on a career in America in film (Point Break, RoboCop 2) and TV (Twin Peaks, her starring role on M.A.N.T.I.S.). Despite it all, Galyn was humble and gracious…and just genuine.

Galyn had great relationships with the people with whom she worked, having kept in touch with many of them. Sue Giosa, Galyn’s co-star in one of her first films in the ‘80s, the post-apocalyptic America 3000, told me, “She was an incredible person – equally talented as an actress and dancer. Beautiful inside and out”. Sue shared with me this picture of them during a break in filming in Israel all those years ago.

Sue and Galyn in Israel (Photo: Sue Giosa private collection).

Michael Kerr, who played Galyn’s love interest in Living the Blues (1986), a film conceived by Galyn’s filmmaker father Alan and involving much of the Görg family, told me how sad he was to hear Galyn was gone and what a wonderful family the Görgs are.

Galyn and Michael in Living the Blues.

While an absolute professional, Galyn also brought a sense of fun to her work. She told me with glee about how much she loved the costumes she got to wear on so many sci-fi shows like Stargate SG-1 and Xena: Warrior Princess. Galyn had some time away from film and TV in recent years but was excited to be back. Always looking to refine her craft, she was still attending improv classes. She also immersed herself in arts education for young people. Galyn led a creative life whether she was working or not. Loved creating. Loved her family.

Galyn was a spiritual person. I dare say much of that came from her upbringing in and connection to Hawaii. I know she and her family always believed in a higher purpose. I am just sad that someone who loved life so much here had hers cut short so young and with so much she wanted to do. When I’ve much watching Netflix recently, I will come across a cool role and, with no disrespect to the actor playing it, think to myself, Galyn would nail that!

To keep in touch with Galyn after our time together for the blog was a blessing. She often ended her messages with an emoji of a star. She was one here and I just know that she is one somewhere out there. We’ll miss our friend.

Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview.

The Best Thing Since…

During the pandemic, we have not baked bread. Well, we did bake some banana bread one weekend, on account of a miscommunication where both Bob and I came home on different days from the supermarket with a bunch of overripe bananas. But we have not engaged in the more traditional loaf baking that everyone seems to have been doing. We also did very little yoga (Bob was more diligent with it than I was), and the only thing I planted in the garden was a hydrangea while friends tended to start veggie or herb patches. Gee, do we even pandemic?! Guess we are doing it wrong.

Indeed, it seems that Bob and I are in the minority, with bread makers a popular purchase in Australia during 2020. Picturing all the loaves cooling on kitchen tables around my country got me wondering as to whether the true bread makers, the French, were similarly busy at home. It turns out in France there has been a surge in sales of bread. After all, why would the French make their own when they are so renowned for delicious baguettes, pain de campagne, ficelle, and other variants baked by true artisans? Accurate or not, don’t we all imagine the Frenchman on his bike leaving a boulangerie with a baguette sticking out of his satchel? As an aside, my grandfather has had a bread maker for many years and will still often make bread. I am usually the one who mangles his beautiful work when attempting to use the manual slicer.

At first thought, the community’s rise in bread making seems largely practical. That is, so long as one can get one’s hands on the requisite ingredients (challenging during various times over the past few months), it is a source of sustenance that does not depend on the vagaries of the supply chain we depend so much on; and the ability of one’s ravioli vendor to keep up with (mostly my) demand. Same with the veggie garden. But it seems there is something very ingrained in all of us that has seen bread making become much more important during the pandemic. As Emily VanDerWerf wrote in a fascinating Vox article a few months back, bread is “one of the very foundations of human civilization”, although it is also intimately linked with factors such as romanticism, nostalgia, and gender roles.

In the article, Emily highlights the physical action of making the bread and watching it rise as a fundamental aspect to what we get from the process, with its rolling, kneading and, I might add, hiding it under the bed – at least, that is what my mother always did when making pizza dough and she needed a dark place for the yeast to do its work. The yeast itself is fascinating, a “sort of sufficiently advanced technology that is indistinguishable from magic”. As Emily suggests, baking can “reorient you in time and connect you to the past, even if it’s just your own past”. From my work in psychology, the importance of the physical action and being in the moment makes a lot of sense.

Over the past few months, within the confines of our homes (we have been very fortunate in Adelaide, I should add), I think we have all needed to get out of our heads a bit and do something with our hands, our feet, and our hearts. Hence, perhaps, the yoga craze or the surge in gardening, the latter which cannot be accounted for solely as a fear of running low on coriander…and who really has that fear? Do you even pandemic, coriander lovers?

Perhaps the need to be out in the world, when paradoxically the world seems so closed off, is also why I did not write anything on this blog in 2020.

Maybe homemade bread is a manifestation of many of us wanting to be creative when so many have been locked in their houses, faced with uncertainty, or just plain bored. I am aware what a luxury it is to be bored, rather than having very acute fears for the health of loved ones or loss of jobs in countries where the pandemic seems out of control. But creativity and providing a contribution, particularly through my psychology work, are important to me, and so I wondered about what I could do in even a small way to help others.

I research empathy and, as part of that, compassion is an important aspect to consider in my work. I have become particularly interested in self-compassion in the last couple of years. Self-compassion is receiving increasing attention in psychology. According to Dr Kirstin Neff, who is at the forefront of the area, self-compassion involves three components:

  • being kind to ourselves
  • recognising our common humanity – that is, seeing that we all suffer, we all fall short sometimes, and that we are not alone
  • being aware of our thoughts and feelings in the present moment without becoming overidentified with them.

COVID-19 is a shared world experience, and so I began to wonder whether seeing our experiences as being shared (that common humanity) would make us less hard on ourselves and kinder to ourselves and others. To me, COVID-19 has shown us so many rich examples of people extending empathy and compassion towards their fellow citizens. However, in talking with friends and colleagues, many of us have not extended that same compassion towards ourselves.

As humans, whether by nature or nurture, we can be very unkind and critical of ourselves when we do not meet self-imposed standards, all the while being so nurturing to those around us in similar predicaments. Have you found this tendency to be exacerbated during the pandemic? Perhaps you have experienced self-recrimination because you feel you are not getting as much work done since transitioning to working for home, or perhaps you feel you are not giving the children (also home from school) the attention which we would like to give them.

We can feel like we are the only ones struggling or failing. This may especially be the case when we see others supposedly doing so well making tasty bread or mastering intricate yoga poses. They say a lotus grows in the mud…well, at least something is; it’s not my coriander! At the same time, our thoughts and threat system are likely running rampant as we deal with a situation we cannot really control, trying to put on a brave face or denying what we are feeling because we believe we have got it pretty lucky.

Drawing on my work in empathy and compassion and the work of others, I thought I could provide some tips for how during all this uncertainty, we can build the soothing emotion of self-compassion. I contacted some ABC radio stations around the country and was pleased to be able to speak about self-compassion on some programs. I also did some presentations and write-ups on the concept for my workplace.

What else has fuelled my want for creative pursuits during this time? Well, my friend Donna Loren and I started a podcast. Donna is a singer and actress who, as a teenager and young adult, appeared in the Beach Party films, starred on pioneering rock ‘n’ roll TV series Shindig!, and guest starred on the original Batman TV show and The Monkees. Donna lives in Palm Springs, California, and so we are physically at a distance. So how did this Swinging ’60s Beach Chick come together with this South Australian, once-brooding ’80s kid who doesn’t like to get his hair wet. As the title of Donna’s old column in Movie Life Magazine advised: Let’s talk it over.

Back in the early 2000s, I was a contributor to TV Tome, an online database that was almost a television-only version of the Internet Movie Database. It was more much focused than IMDB was at that time on features such as building full episode guides. You could also nominate to shepherd particular TV series or performers. I cannot remember all the pages I was responsible for, but I know they included the Australian TV series A Country Practice. I started an episode guide for that show, but with 1057 episodes and the series only available when it was rerun on TV, which required me to tape as many episodes as possible, I bowed out early in the piece. Interestingly, as more of us have stayed at home in 2020 and ACP’s original network, Seven, has put all 13 seasons onto their streaming service, there has been much renewed interest in the show (and I am sure others to write the episode guide).

On the creative side, I took care of more than a dozen of the pages of some of my favourites including Jonathan Daly, whom I interviewed on this blog in 2015, Lorrae Desmond from ACP, Kasey Rogers from Bewitched, Evelyn Scott from Peyton Place, Gregory Calpakis from the Canadian TV show Cold Squad, and Donna.

By this point, Donna and her husband Jered were running their fashion design and retail business, ADASA Hawaii. Donna had not performed in many years, but Jered had taken a keen interest in locating as much as Donna’s 1960s work as he could. He emailed me to ask if I had a copy of Donna’s guest appearance on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., where she played Anna Kovach, one-half of a pair of star-crossed lovers from feuding Hungarian families (the episode was called “Love and Goulash”) requiring Gomer’s gentle counsel to bring them together. I did not have  a copy of this or another appearance (I cannot remember which) Jered asked for. But I had been a fan of Donna since I had seen her Beach Blanket Bingo performing “It Only Hurts When I Cry“. I was also studying TV and film at university, and so I decided to ask if I could interview Donna.

I had never interviewed anyone before, nor did I have a place to publish the interview. But lo and behold, Donna agreed to it, and we emailed back and forth on a series of questions. I found a free web hosting service, the now defunct GeoCities, and called my resulting article Somewhere Down the Road, the name of one of her songs from the ’80s.

Without realising it, I put a decidedly rosy spin on her 1960s career and life, which was somewhat at odds with the more nuanced story. But sometimes you make a heart connection with people that traverses distance and this was the case for Donna and me. We kept in touch in the ensuing years on email and I even sent Donna and Jered a copy of my PhD thesis when I completed it in 2009. Mercifully, I sent it to them on CD rather than in printed and bound format. At over 300 pages, another friend, Mark, has had to lug that thing around during multiple house moves over the past decade. Around this time, Donna and Jered were winding up their business and Donna had decided to renter the the public eye with new music. Donna had also started to put her life story to paper. I guess Jered and Donna thought enough of my writing to ask if I would collaborate with Donna.

What ensured over around two years was a true collaboration. I would arise early in the morning, which was afternoon in the U.S., and we would Skype and work on Donna’s life story. Donna had her old appointment books from the 1960s and so we used them to start a timeline and to formulate the chapters. I would ask questions and Donna would tell me stories that I would transcribe, or she would do some writing between our ‘sessions’ and so we would review that. I would have questions, and this would help us to refine her narrative. In the meantime, I would research appearances or pieces of work that I thought important for us to cover.

Donna took a leap of faith to trust me with her story, which her public had never really heard. At the heart of it was a family secret and Donna’s attempts to make sense of that when it hadn’t made sense at the height of her success after she was signed as the Dr Pepper Girl in 1963.

When some friends and I decided to take a trip to the U.S. in 2011, I added an extra week at the end of our group trip to my itinerary. The plan was to stay with Donna and Jered at their home, and so when my friends returned to Australia, I met up with my hosts. In the months preceding the trip, Donna and I had developed at least ten or so chapters. We decided to read them out loud over a series of days and nights to our audience of Jered, which would be the first time someone had read/heard them and would also allow us to edit the manuscript in real time.

Our work was interspersed with tourist trips for me, such as to The Getty Villa or the Farmers Market, or a dinner out with Donna’s children Katie and Joey, the latter whom I have been able to take out to lunch when he visited Adelaide as part of the Rogers Waters Us + Them Tour in 2017. In fact, that, I met up with my future hosts one night in Hollywood at the start of my group trip. Jered and Donna had bought tickets for us to attend a 50th anniversary celebration of The Dick Van Dyke Show being held at the Egyptian Theatre. Dick and Carl Reiner were interviewed on stage by Garry Marshall and there was a screening of some classic episodes. I sat with Jered’s best friend Phil Sloan – that’s P.F. Sloan of “Eve of Destruction” fame. All very cool.

Towards the end of my stay, the airline contacted me to let me know that my flights would delayed for a day or two, and so Donna, Jered, and I decided to take a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway on one of the extra days and stop at some of the beautiful beaches. Incidentally, these included the locations of Donna’s Beach Party movies, including the iconic Leo Carrillo State Beach with those distinctive rocks that formed such an important aesthetic for Beach Blanket Bingo. Donna and I took in some shopping (I bought a pair of James Perse pants that I just loved), and the three of us also took in lunch at Nate ’n Al’s historic deli.

Donna and I in 2011 at Leo Carrillo State Beach, Malibu.

When I finally could get a flight home, we bid a fond farewell. We continued to work online on the manuscript over the next year. We finished it and began to look at publishing options, but something did not quite feel right. Some time passed and Donna suggested that we may want to revisit our structure and to delve more deeply in parts. And so, we took another several few months to rearrange and reconsider our approach. I think we have a high-quality manuscript, but for whatever reasons, it has not seen the light of day. Until now.

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, Donna wondered if we might do something creative. Something for us, but for others as well. At the forefront of Donna’s approach has been a want to help people. While she is happy to share all the stories of her music and television/movie work, her story is one about seeking to find and live in truth and to really understand herself and those around her. So, we hatched the idea of reading excerpts from the manuscript, and then discussing them with my expertise from psychology and Donna’s learnt lessons given it is her story. We have kept the structure loose, and so sometimes there will be chat about appearances, sometimes included is a song, perhaps an interview with a collaborator. But all the time we use Donna’s stories to delve into issues that many of us may have faced. Compassion and connection in action, I hope.

It has been a creative, enjoyable ride that we will continue in 2021. I even got to have some fun being interviewed on Plastic EP Live TV, an internet series out of Melbourne, Australia.

So, no bread for us. As I said, I am terrible at slicing it anyway. This is something, perhaps, the French do not need to worry about when they buy a whole loaf or baguette. My friend Mark tells a story about when he was out with his French friend Maxime, and someone uttered the well-worn, “Best thing since sliced bread”.  Maxime thought carefully for a moment about it and then replied, “I remember when my town got sliced bread”. I’m taking a little liberty with his response for comic effect. But I think this demonstrates that while our experiences of the slices of life my differ, what we value and need is pretty similar. Comfort food and comfort with others. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Love’s A Secret Podcast
Available on:
Google Podcasts
Apple Podcasts
Pocket Casts
Radio Public

These Walls

What’s left of the once mammoth Le Cornu Furniture building, Keswick, Adelaide, October 2019.

There’s been a lot of demolition since we moved into our neighbourhood two and a half years ago. Mid-century houses are being levelled and replaced with two, sometimes three, townhouses at breakneck speed. Some, but not all, were quite worse for wear. I know it probably makes sense in those cases for their demolition. But as Bob and I often discuss when we go for a walk with Lucy: will these mid-century houses come to be seen as something to preserve in the same way that we covet houses from the early part of last century?

We were probably part of the problem, having been 1920s wannabe home owners from the time we rented an early ’20s bungalow a few years ago. Alas, a long-lost great uncle with a hefty inheritance didn’t materialise, and we went mid-century. I’m glad we did – a ’50s house for my ’50s-’60s vases.

The houses being demolished are mid-century Australian, rather than the ones you’d see in, say, Palm Springs or immortalised in mid-century American movies like the time capsule Bachelor in Paradise starring Bob Hope and Lana Turner.  I’m glad that many of the neighbourhood’s houses that would have been built by immigrants – largely Italian and Greek – in the ‘60s have so far remained. These houses are very distinctive and look like what my grandparents and relatives live or lived in. They are the houses of my childhood.

I’ve never had precise spatial awareness. However, it is really put to the test once the roof comes off one of these houses, gardens are cleared, and fences torn down. I cannot reconcile how what looks like such a small space sheltered, fed, and slept families within four often-painted and papered walls that kept their secrets and made memories. How quickly a well-used backyard or long-established garden can be turned into a dirt patch. Indeed, how quickly a whole block can be reclaimed (briefly) by vegetation! Then again, I guess these blocks aren’t that small, as they’re making their way to shelter, feed, and sleep two or three families. Still, it feels strangely disrespectful, even when I have no link to these houses nor am I clamouring to buy one. Perhaps it’s just garden envy. There was one house I used to walk past with a wonderful front garden made up largely of succulents. I wish I’d gotten my act together and taken some cuttings of their purple aeoniums before they were cleared with the rest of the garden.

Notwithstanding my spatial ability, one building and block of land that was definitely not small was Le Cornu Furniture, which traded from 1974 until 2016 on a huge lot in the Adelaide suburb of Keswick. My family bought a lot of furniture from there. Whose didn’t? For the past several weeks, demolition of the site has been in earnest after the building sat vacant for the past three years. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was being torn down, and so last week when I was driving past, I decided to drive around the block to where some building remained and to take a handful of photos. All that really remained was a small slither of the building (photo at the top of the page), the front of which is on the Maple Avenue side of the site. I then drove to the parallel street and took a picture through the fencing so that the inside of the building could be seen.

Didn’t there used to be more furniture in there?

I’m not sure why this part of the building was still standing, but without most of the cream Le Cornu (now Le C) cladding that modernised the building, I imagine that we are getting a glimpse for the first time in years of the original Chrysler manufacturing plant that pre-dated Le Cornu. As an aside, I’ve read that an old Chrysler sign that was above part of the building further down Maple Avenue has been saved, so I presume it was moved off-site before that part came down. A free-standing Le Cornu sign, akin to those old mid-century motel signs (without the neon) is supposedly being kept safely in storage, too.

I must be thinking a lot about buildings of late. Early last year, my friend Mark and I were heading back to my car after dinner out in the city one evening. I’d heard just a couple of weeks earlier that The Planet nightclub building, which was on the same street in which we’d parked, might be demolished after being left empty for the better part of a decade and a half. Since we were there by happenstance, I decided to walk a little way down the street and take some photos of this building where I’d spent a good part of my teens (shh!) and early twenties.

The Planet nightclub building in March 2018.

Across the street I stood, looking at the old girl, snapping some shots on my phone. We then ventured across the street and tried to peer through the windows. A security guard was just about to set an alarm for the evening. I guess whomever owns the building still wants it intact, even if disused. I told him why I was there – that I had been for so many years and wanted to take one more look. He nodded and told me it was fine to keep taking my photos. Then, as he looked at us curiously, recognition dawned on his face. “Oh yeah, The Planet. That place used to go off”, he said as he sauntered away.

Only the lights remain of The Planet nightclub sign. I hope it’s gone to a good home.

By the way, the building is still there almost two years after I took these shots. From what  I’ve read, it will be levelled at some point in the next couple of years along with the building on its right – once a seafood restaurant called Pescatore – and left – a building that housed, amongst other things, a baguette bar I’d stumble toward after a night at The Planet. But, after many rumours of its imminent demise over the years, for now at least, it’s nothing if not a survivor.

House, businesses, buildings. Perhaps furnished by a store that, itself, is being torn down. If those walls could talk, indeed. Regardless, the memories remain. Even if, after a baguette, they got a little fuzzy.

Our Vines Have (Two) Tender Fruits

At last – the signs of spring. Our ornamental pear trees, which are planted along a side fence at the front of the house, have started to leaf out. They lost their foliage a lot later this year, and so I figured there would be delay in their blooming. For some reason, I got more anxious as the days went by with not a sign of a bud or leaf. In the backyard, Japanese Box planted late last year as a border hedge in the raised garden seems to be growing by the day – well, except for the individual plants that yellowed and died early, but which I didn’t pull out as a rallying cry for the other plants to avoid the same fate.

Best of all, the passion fruit vines that my grandfather planted last year have snaked around the trellis he put up and are flowering…and fruiting. Well, so far, we have one nicely shaped passion fruit and one that is the size and colour of a green olive.

I’m glad the cold weather is receding, and it’s cool enough to start to sit outside in the evenings. It really has been the winter of my (and many others’) discontent. It seemed like it would go on forever. It wasn’t so much the wet, winds inverting your umbrella, rain soaking your socks, kind of winter. It just felt very cold. I had a brief reprieve during a trip to sunny Cairns in August, but other than that, two blankets were kept on the bed at night, one of which would make its way to the couch in the morning while I’d have my morning coffee and toast.

I’ve also been unwell over the last month or so, probably because I haven’t been looking after myself. Not so much neglecting eating my greens, but I haven’t been engaging in much self-care, such as getting good sleep, exercising, and taking time to be do enjoyable things that take me out of my head and put me in the moment. When the idea of filling up the bath seems too much, you probably need to fill that bath. Yes, I’m aware of how privileged that sounds. I’m sorry. I am grateful for my bath. My tiredness and feeling sorry for myself has been exacerbated with a lot of work travel this year. It can – and did – wear me down.

Right now, I’m looking at the passion fruit vines. For people who are not natural green thumbs, Bob and I are really pleased with their progress. I kind of want to grab the (non-olive) one and exclaim like Ingrid Bergman in my favourite film, Cactus Flower, when her titular desk plant finally started to flower, “My passion fruit [obviously, she said “cactus”] – she is blooming!” The symbolism of the cactus or my pear trees is not lost on me. As Sarah Vaughan sings on the opening track to the film, “The Time for Love is Anytime”, which was produced by none other than Quincy Jones, “some flowers blossom late, but they’re the kind that last the longest”.

Like my trees, I think a lot of us are waiting for the renewal that comes with spring. We’ve got to play the long game and realise it’ll come…

Happiness is a Hydrangea

New interviews are coming…I swear. It was gratifying to receive a note from a reader telling me that they enjoyed my interviews and wanted to see more on the site. I’ve been working on a long-term project not related to this blog, and so most of my time for interviews has been devoted to speaking to people for that project. However, new conversations will be posted here, if not by the end of this year, then in a flurry for you to enjoy over the holidays. Make sure you hold me accountable to this promise!

Speaking of holidays, I wanted to share with you a photo (you can click on it to see the larger image) I took back in January when we were on holiday in Tasmania. The beautiful flower caught my eye while Bob and I meandered around the suburb of Battery Point one Saturday morning. Hydrangeas may be my favourite flowering plant. I’ve been trying to grow them in our garden with varying success, but am heartened by my friend Alida who tells me that she grows potted hydrangea plants in her terrace in Manhattan. As she says, “Happiness is a hydrangea!” And I agree!

Tonight, I’m sitting outside with my dog Lucy and I can spy one of my heartier hydrangeas from my chair. I’m reading Rebekah Robertson’s book, About a Girl. I started reading it last month in Brisbane. I was there to speak at a conference on compassion. You might say my research area, empathy, is compassion’s groovy cousin. Anyway, I was taking in some of the city streets before heading to the airport. I happened upon Rebekah’s book in the memoir section of a bookstore.  I’d recently seen her daughter, Georgie Stone, make her acting debut on the Australian TV series Neighbours, and so I was interested in reading more about her and her mother’s story.

Georgie and Rebekah advocated for removing the requirement in Australia that the Family Court hear applications by transgender children and their families for the child to be able to access puberty-blocking medication and, subsequently, hormone treatments. This came about through the family’s struggles to get Georgie timely access to treatment when she was 10 years old, and their subsequent challenge to the Full Court that such decisions should rest with parents rather be heard in the court system. Usually I’m more of a deliberate than voracious reader (a library copy of Catch-22 followed me through a house move), but I’m making quick progress with this book because I want to know more about their story.  I’m learning a lot about gender identity and the legal processes to which Georgie and children and families like her and hers, respectively, were subjected. I hope to write more about this book once I finish reading. Hold me to this promise, too!

Now, what’s your happiness flower?

Plutarch and Chill

At seventeen before school formal.

Back in April, I went to my 20-year high school reunion. It was a combined event of the last four decades of the graduating classes of years ending in 9. Since my cohort falls at the relatively more recent end, we were younger than two of the other groups, but staggeringly (for me) no longer the youngest at such an event. I’ve noticed this has been happening increasingly more of late. I still get a little winded when I cross over into a new age range on a survey. It seems like yesterday that I was in the final year of high school, rushing home to eat dinner before settling in to do my homework all evening while burning some lavender oil using a burner my friend Carlo had bought me. I did push myself hard in Year 12. Turns out he thought I needed to chill the fuck out…imagine that.

It was a fairly small turnout from all the graduating classes at the reunion. I imagine the school had twenty-plus year-old outdated addresses for many of my classmates. For others, they may have felt little nostalgia for revisiting high school. I’m still best friends with six of my classmates and we decided to go and make an afternoon and then, once the school portion wrapped up, evening of it at my friend Darren’s pub. We were probably the largest “group” there. The nerds shall finally inherit the earth! Or, at the very least, based on where the school sits, the valley. I don’t think we were actually the nerds in our year level, but I’m not sure where we fit. In the final year of high school, each clique had a table in the common area. We sat smack bang in the middle between the sportos (jocks in North American slang) and the boarders (the country kids who lived on site) and mingled with them and everyone else on either side of us. Then again, perhaps we might not have thought we fit a “type”, but it’s usually others who decide what type we are in high school, isn’t it?

We were taken on a tour of some of the school and I was surprised by how little it had changed. Even the small physical education changing rooms (the place where high school homoerotic dreams were made) in the auditorium looked – and, shudder, smelled – the same. I was taken aback that the library had moved to an undisclosed location somewhere else on the grounds. During Year 12, I’d start my day by reading the newspaper there and then booking in a lunch session to use one of the few computers in the school with Internet access (remember, I said we weren’t the youngest cohort at the reunion). I’d send emails from my Hotmail address (who the hell was I sending them to?) or play Hollywood Stock Exchange with Carlo. I just looked this up, and it still exists. I wonder if I still have my stocks in Mackenzie Astin.

After our night on the town, I hadn’t given the reunion much thought. But this past weekend, I was moving around some boxes and found a copy of a collection of student writing put out annually by the school. The volume was from my final year of high school. It wasn’t the first time I’d come across this small volume in recent years (see here). I was runner-up in the year-level writing competition. The winner was at the reunion – a delightful poet named Thom Sullivan. It’s probably better that I didn’t remember this humiliating (not really) defeat until after the reunion. My base instincts and a couple of beers may have led me to break his quill-holding hand and right a wrong I hadn’t ruminated on in two decades.

Over a cup of coffee, I reread my piece. Looking back from the vantage point of time, I can tell that I was very consciously trying to use every word in the dictionary. Why else would I use “gossamer” or “nadir”? My story was about a woman named Genevieve, who was named for actress Geneviève Bujold, whom I think I’d just seen in a movie. The fictional Genevieve had a life, friends, a job, and an apartment I called a “tenement”. I so obviously didn’t know what that word meant as I also gave her dwelling a mahogany door. However, for all that Genevieve had done, she had never really made her mark. The story was called “Deliquesce”, which essentially means to dissolve away. There was also something in the story about water and a seashell with the voices of the past and present, and I threw in the word “soubrette” to get my Shakespeare on. I left it open as to whether Genevieve died in the end. I can’t remember if I wanted to kill her off, but as Bette Midler said in opening her Divine Madness concert, “After many a summer dies the swan. But not when she’s stuck in a turkey the size of this one!”

When I reread the story, I smiled – if the execution was inelegant, it still isn’t half-bad. Plus, 17-year old Adam was hard enough on himself, and so he doesn’t need my help with that. My ideas were influenced in no small way by some of the giants we were reading at the time in English class – mainly, Death of a Salemsan by Arthur Miller and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Miller and Fitzgerald’s works dealt with the feats of two men who bought into a dream that did them no good. I had also fallen in love with the historians of Ancient Greece and Rome – Herodotus, Suetonius, Thucydides and, particularly, Plutarch. These historians of antiquity tended to focus on noble and ignoble men, alike – but men (unfortunately, so many of the women’s stories are lost to time) who had gone down in history.

Just as there’s no coincidence that these books are chosen for final year high school – a time when you’re figuring out who you are and who you want to be out in the world – my homing in on these themes wasn’t just because I had no other inspiration. Essentially, I remember how much I grappled with the question of “what is a life well lived?”. I imagine this to still be a pertinent question for a kid going out into the world today, although I probably wouldn’t have phrased it like that back then. For my 17-year old self, I thought a life well lived meant a life where I achieved something and was known. Wanting to “be known” was not restricted to the wider world, but I was very conscious of building a circle of friends and acquaintances, perhaps at a bar where everybody knew my name. Indeed, one day after school I went to a lunch bar/café in the city, ordered a cappuccino and Berliner bun with pink icing, and people watched. Though I spoke to not a one, I left that café determined to get to know these people, whom I imagined were regulars, in the coming months.

What struck me about this story, though, is how little my values have changed in 20 years as reflected in the story and what I remember from Year 12. Much more recently, I’ve been delving into the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), particularly what the approach has to say about values. As my teacher in the techniques of ACT has shown me, the commitment comes from wanting to commit to actions that move us towards living life in line with our values, even when negative experiences, emotions and thoughts abound (that’s the acceptance part). As ACT expert Russ Harris succinctly puts it, “The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it”. I didn’t realise how much ACT is reflected in many spiritual traditions until I read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose on the recommendation of my friend Donna Loren. She often seems to know exactly what I need, even before I do. Donna’s worked to understand her experiences, and, in the process, her insight has helped me and others to look more deeply.

Utilising the work of Dr. Harris (p. 23), it turns out three Cs are most important to me:

  • Contributionto contribute, help, assist, or make a positive difference to myself or others.
  • Creativityto be creative or innovative.
  • Connectionto engage fully in whatever I am doing, and be fully present with others.

It seems that while my more nebulous “being known” goal at 17 has evolved, it still has at its core a want to be known for doing and contributing something of importance. I think the need to be creative is a part of that overarching contribution value. The importance placed on connection has moved beyond wanting to know the patrons of a café to paying mind to the relationships I do have and being in the moment when I’m with those people. When anxiety takes over my brain and turns it into scrambled eggs, as it is apt to do, I find being present and in the moment with people terribly difficult.

Where does one get the most chance to contribute or be creative? Lots of places, but it’s often at work. And here’s the kicker. If I’m totally honest with myself, I spent a good part of the last decade in a job where, by and large, I don’t feel like I made that positive difference. While there were certainly exceptions of which I am proud, I stayed too long, even when I knew early on that this wasn’t the right fit for me. Yes, I had to pay the bills, I had just met my partner, moving away from family and friends for work wasn’t something I wanted to do, and so on. But I felt controlled and, in response to that, chose the path of least resistance and went with it. The genesis of this blog was my chance to be creative at a time when I didn’t feel I could find creativity anywhere else. As a result, I now feel at a stage where people who started their careers at the same time as me are really hitting their strides in an area in which they chose to research. More than that, they look like they are really enjoying the chance to be innovative and creative.

I’m now somewhere where I do think I can make that contribution and do more engaging work. At first, I was very anxious that I must hurry to catch up to everyone. Now with help from ACT principles, I’m realising it’s more about being conscious of the goals I want to achieve and to what end am I striving towards these things (that is, what are my values?). So long as I’m working towards them, that’s a good start. Again, I need to chill. Maybe I should get out that oil burner.

Being fully present with others is still sometimes hard. I’ve had to find mindfulness activities that work for me in all sort of circumstances as I wrote about a little while ago. I tried the raisin meditation once, where you essentially focus on the sensations associated with putting a raisin in your mouth and – here’s the important part – eventually swallow it. I put it in my mouth and down it went. Worrying that the person leading me through this would think less of me, or at least not have another raisin to give me, I pretended it was still in my mouth for a few minutes and swished around this imaginary withered old grape. Best imaginary raisin I’ve ever tasted!

Oh, you might be wondering what ever happened to that café. It barely lasted the year and folded before the close of the millennium. But I do now have another place to get a drink where a few people know my name. It’s all good.

Reaching the Surface

Grant Denyer (right) with Peter Rowsthorn and Natarsha Belling on Celebrity Name Game (Photo: Facebook).

I was in Melbourne last week for a conference. When I checked in to my apartment late Wednesday afternoon, I was told there was a heated indoor pool on my floor. Swimming has never been one of my past times. I used to watch the Beach Party films and be internally screaming, “Frankie! Annette! Get back in the beach house! Nonna will see!” Of course, they couldn’t hear me – Donna Loren was likely singing on the sand for the beach kids and Miss Perpetual Motion, Candy Johnson, would have been nearby dancing her ass off to the beat. Well, something came over me and I walked to the nearby outlet mall and bought a pair of swimmers. On that rainy afternoon, a middle-aged man lapped me to my right as I, freestyle-cum-dog paddling, imagined myself in an old Esther Williams film. I hid from him for a while under the water. Eventually I figured he was just getting started, and so I came back up to the surface, got changed, and settled in for a night of MasterChef and the premiere of Lucy Lawless’ new show, My Life is Murder.

My kind of million dollar mermaid.

On Saturday night I had some time back at the apartment before the conference dinner. Channel 10 was showing back-to-back repeats of Celebrity Name Game hosted by Grant Denyer. I make no secret of how much I enjoy watching Grant. I think he’s probably the best compere on Australian television. At a restaurant once with friends, I spied Grant at what looked like a promotional dinner. In a flash, I was halfway out of my seat when my friends told me to wait a while before approaching him. They also nixed me following him into the bathroom. Well, I waited too long and he exited the building when I wasn’t watching. Not even a bombe Alaska could lift my spirits (it did almost singe my eyebrows, though, because it was so doused in spirits). I’d missed my chance to meet him. It still hasn’t happened.

Grant on Family Feud (Photo: Facebook).

Grant returned in May to the 6PM weekday time slot with Celebrity Name Game. He’d held that slot previously when he hosted Family Feud from 2014 until mid-2018. Family Feud was must-see viewing for me. Some friends turn their noses up because I watch shows like Family Feud, The Living Room, and MasterChef, when they think I should be ensconced by the TV only enjoying scripted shows from the current Golden Age of Television. I get it, but after some hard days at work or when my head isn’t quite as clear as it could be, I can’t always sit down to a big drama or my favourite genre, described by Marge Simpson as “people coming to terms with things”. And there’s nothing wrong with liking these shows. When Grant accepted the 2018 Logie award for Most Popular Presenter for Family Feud, he ended his speech talking about the importance of fun and silly television, where “as angry and as scary and as crazy as this world gets”, people can “put their brain in neutral and have a little laugh”.

Family Feud was important to me for another reason. It started while I was in the first few months of writing my blog. Looking back, I really don’t know how to explain the volume I managed to write in the those first couple of years, other than to say that I was enjoying it so much and was champing at the bit to tell the world what I thought after not doing anything very creative for a while. All of a sudden, I felt very creative and energetic. I also dropped about 12 kilos…and got myself a therapist. The show was very important to me, running as it were in parallel with my starting to feel my head was above water again.

Without my realising it, I think it was a similar time for Grant. When Mr. Denyer also won the top award at the Logies that night in 2018 – the Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television – he told the audience how Family Feud came to him when he was experiencing a really difficult time. He said, “I wasn’t particularly in a very good place, I wasn’t very well, I was in a bit of a hole”. For Grant, Family Feud brought him back and it gave him “a ladder out of that hole”.

I’m really enjoying Celebrity Name Game. And, Grant, next time I see you, wherever that is, I promise I’ll say hello.

Dancing Through Life – Part 2

In Part 1 of our interview, Galyn Görg and I spoke about her early dance training, starring on the Italian variety show Fantastico, and the films Living the Blues, Dance Academy, RoboCop 2 and Point Break. Here in Part 2, we pick up with Twin Peaks, Galyn’s roles in science fiction and fantasy TV series including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Stargate SG-1, and Xena: Warrior Princess, and her arts education work with young people.

Adam: Last time we spoke, we ended on Point Break. It is probably timely to talk about Twin Peaks given the recent revival of Twin Peaks. You were on the second season of the original series. It had just blown up during its first season. What was it like to go into that phenomenon?
Galyn: It’s always interesting to watch a show and then have a part on it. Johanna Ray was the casting director. She always was a fan of mine and just so sweet to me. She called me up for so many things. David Lynch, I already knew who he was. As a director, I was somewhat in awe of him. It was great because I love that whole genre. The producer Mark Frost cast me after that in Storyville. I just had a communication with him recently. He was great. David was great. It’s so much fun creating art, and then when you get to work with people who are just kind and everyone’s supportive of each other. And Kyle MacLachlan’s cool, so it was a great experience. It’s like you’re stepping in and helping create this world, so I really enjoyed it. Sherilyn, I had that little bit with her, she was – everybody was really cool. I enjoyed it.

Adam: I love watching Sherilyn Fenn. Victoria Catlin, who played your sister, is someone I haven’t been able to find much about since Twin Peaks.
Galyn: Yeah.
Adam: This is probably a question that actors get asked a lot, but when you’re doing it, do you ever have a sense of what might stay around in the way that Twin Peaks has stayed around all these years?
Galyn: I had no idea. I didn’t know that it was going to be so successful. When the new Twin Peaks was coming out, I posted some shots of me on set of [the original] Twin Peaks. I think they got more ‘likes’ faster than anything I’ve ever posted, and I was shocked. It was shocking the amount of interest in that show all these years later. I had no idea that there was such an interest in it.

Galyn and Victoria Catlin in Twin Peaks.

Adam: It must be a pretty pleasing feeling to have something like that. You do something, and then you keep working and doing other things and you kind of put it to one side, but then it’s still there all these years later.
Galyn: It’s great because you realise, Oh wow, people were watching. Just before I got on this call, I saw somebody was watching an old episode of Twin Peaks and they took a screenshot and tweeted it to me, “Galyn, there you are!” You do these things and then you forget.

Adam: From Twin Peaks you then got Storyville as a savvy, street-smart escort.
Galyn: I enjoyed that. Mark Frost put me through the audition process a little bit. I remember that I had to really work on that. We shot in New Orleans, or as my character would say, “N’Orlns”. I loved it because I had to really work on the accent. When I have a break in shooting, I always like to stand and talk to the grips or, you know, the guys behind the scene, and the local people from wherever I’m shooting. Then I’ll get some real feedback on how my accent is. They said, “Yeah, it’s good. It sounds authentic. You’re doing a good job”, so then I was like, OK, good. I want to get it from the real people.
Adam: You must have a thing for accents. You have the very natural Italian accent, and the very natural New Orleans accent.
Galyn: I love doing accents. I’m actually going to go to an improv workshop tonight, and I’ll try and do a bunch of accents, yeah.

Adam: In Storyville, New Orleans is really kind of a character in its own right, and there’s definitely the Mark Frost ‘stamp’ on that film. At one point, Piper Laurie’s character says, “Down in New Orleans, the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even the past”. So, it kind of has that very rich characterisation to it.
Galyn: It was the first time I had ever been down there. I got to be down there for a while, and on my days off, I’d go walk around. Whenever I’m on location and I have days off, I always go explore. The whole place is so rich. We were in a great place – environment and atmosphere – to shoot the film. And the food – the grits! I went out to this little breakfast place and had these grits, the southern way they do it. Oh, I loved it. And the music. I’d walk down Bourbon Street and then just wander into these little places, and this incredible music was playing. People always told me to be careful because I was always very adventurous, but I always would just keep a low key and just kind of walk into places. It was incredible, the music and the food and the people. I loved it.

Adam: I’d love to go. That’s one of those places I imagine that kind of makes you feel something. The lead was James Spader.
Galyn: James Spader, that’s right, and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.
Adam: And then Jason Robards was in it as well.
Galyn: That’s right, exactly. The film was so much fun, even though the character was small. When I’ve watched the scene once in a while of me in the courtroom sitting there, the reason I love it is because I know I was having such a good time. It was so much fun. Everybody was just great and giving and supportive. Jason, he – everybody was just great. I had so much enjoyable time on set. It’s one of my most favourite places to be. I’m always trying to get back to being on set because I just have so much fun, always.

Galyn takes the stand in Storyville.

Adam: Is there different preparation for a small role like that, or the role that you had in Judgment Night around that time, or is it a fairly similar process no matter the size of the role?
Galyn: For me, it’s similar because you’re portraying the human being. You get a lot of details from the script and then because of my creativity of being an artist, my imagination will automatically start to fill in ideas and choices about the character. I’ll start filling in, No, no, maybe not that. Maybe she’s that way or maybe she, and then I’ll decide, Yeah, that’s what it was, she was raised by her mother and then the father left, or no, she was raised by two parents, then I’ll start saying, OK, yeah that will be it. Sometimes I’ll get really specific, OK, her favourite colour – it’s fun, that creativity just to create this person, this human being, and then just to play in that field. But it’s pretty much the same process, no matter how big or small. At least it is for me.

Adam: I was talking to an actor about this recently because I do work on empathy and how we take other people’s perspectives. I guess that’s really the height of acting, isn’t it? It’s really getting into someone else’s skin as much as you can.
Galyn: I always feel the compassion that I have for people and world events when I watch the news, I attribute it partially to being an artist and being an actor because you have to have empathy for a character no matter who they are, if you’re going to portray them, so it really teaches you a lot of empathy. I agree.

Adam: I really liked the role you had in Judgment Night with Emilio Estevez where you’re playing this woman that those men who come into her apartment have a very particular perception of who she is based on where she lives and whatever else, but she’s not like that. She might be living in what they would see as I guess a ‘dump’ of a building, for want of a better term, but she’s paying the rent, she’s looking after her daughter, she’s looking after her sister or whoever it was. I thought that was a really interesting role for you.
Galyn: That’s true, the stereotype. I mean when they first come upon me, I’m afraid of them and they’re afraid of me in a way. We’re both kind of like wild animals, kind of trying to sniff the other one out, sense if it’s dangerous. But you’re right, if you go to certain parts of Los Angeles that are, quote-unquote, “urban ghetto areas”, and you drive in those areas – I’ve been in a lot of those areas because I have a grandfather who used to own a tyre shop, he just got rid of a tyre shop in East LA – and it is, there’s a lot of that run-down part of the community, but then you have houses with grandmothers and aunts and people and they’re doing their jobs and you think, Well people don’t see this, that it’s a mixture of all of those things.
Adam: That’s a very good point because they were like the well-to-do, whatever, they kind of thought that they were the ones who should be afraid of other people, but it’s interesting it kind of went the other way with her. She didn’t know who the hell these people were.
Galyn: Right. Living in an area where she was, where there is a lot of violence and there’s a lot of betrayal and there is a lot of violence, you would be, if they came up – even if they didn’t look like they were from her neighbourhood or area – you know you’ve got the guys coming up, she had a bat already there to go take out her trash. She was used to living in, you know having to live in, defending herself and being prepared because of violence in the area.

Adam: In 1994 you got your first regular role in a scripted TV series with M.A.N.T.I.S. What was your experience on that?
Galyn: Well, we shot that up in Vancouver, so I went up to live in Vancouver. I love Vancouver. It’s so beautiful up there, the water and the air. Well, one of my co-stars, Christopher Gartin, the young guy on the show – it’s so cool, he and I just connected on Instagram.
Adam: Oh, fantastic!
Galyn: Yeah. We hadn’t talked in a while, so that’s great. Roger Rees passed away not too long ago, the English actor. He was such a sweetheart, and then Carl Lumbly, gosh, he was great to work with, Adam. I lost contact with him and I’ve tried to reconnect with him, but I just haven’t been able to yet. That was a TV series, so lots of hours, lots of days.

Carl Lumbly and Galyn in M.A.N.T.I.S.

Adam: There was an interview in one of the papers at the time, where you said you liked filming there because of the relaxed people, the clean air, the clean water, and the trees, which is probably your Hawaii upbringing as well coming in there.
Galyn: Yeah that’s true, I always appreciate that. Bryce Zabel, one of the producers, and Sam Raimi, that was their baby at first. I enjoyed it because I love any – it’s like sci-fi, even though my character was a detective, I was still involved in a sci-fi show, so that was great. They don’t re-run that show in the States anywhere, but it does re-run in parts of Europe and different parts of the world. I always like to be connected to sci-fi, and it was wonderful being on a series because all these guest actors got to come in, so you got to work with all these different extraordinary guest actors, which was a blast.

With Roger Rees and Carl Lumbly in M.A.N.T.I.S.

Adam: Was Sam Raimi involved in it when you came on, or he had kind of created it and sort of left?
Galyn: He had kind of created it and left. I don’t really know the backstory. Well, you know they re-cast my character and then that’s when I got the part. But then Sam Raimi, I guess went on to other things. I don’t really know the backstory on what happened. Kim Manners directed quite a few episodes. I found out recently that he passed away. He was involved in The X-Files. When I think of Kim Manners, he was like a mad scientist when he was directing.

Adam: That’s a great visual, I love it. It’s interesting because around the same time [as M.A.N.T.I.S.], there was Scully from The X-Files who, similar to Leora, was this strong scientific woman – maybe not scientific in the case of your character, but sceptical voice of reason.
Galyn: Yes, because my character was a detective. We came on the second year of The X-Files. We aired before them [on Friday nights] during their second season. We thought this show was going to keep going because the ratings were doing well, but there was something with the studio that they decided to cancel it. My character was kind of the Lois Lane to the superhero, kind of sceptical, kind of wanting to really have the facts and details, the scientific proof, and solve the crime.

With Chris Gartin in M.A.N.T.I.S.

Adam: We’re going to talk about a lot of your science fiction work. I think what I really liked about that show is that even though the scripts went for that kind of science fiction, it still dealt with very topical issues like all good science fiction does. For example, there was the pharmaceutical episode where the kids had been given some sort of drug to make them more attentive or smarter, or whatever else, but it was having all these side effects. It was that whole idea of drugging up the population. Then there were stories about biological warfare. I think that was a very appealing part of that program. I don’t know if you remember, but towards the end it started integrating a lot more fantasy into well.
Galyn: You probably remember better than I do. [Laughs]. It probably did. You are probably right. I’m just trying to remember. I may have seen some of the episodes, but I don’t know if I even saw every episode. I think when they aired maybe I saw them. I remember the show from reading the scripts. I saw recently on YouTube a scene and I was like, I don’t even remember doing that scene, when my character goes to a psychologist or a counsellor, so it was interesting watching that. It may have gone into that [fantasy]. I don’t remember, exactly. I bet you talk to a lot of actors like that. [Laughs].

Adam: [Laughs] Yeah, they’ll ask you, “I don’t remember that at all. Was I good in that scene? I hope I was”.
Galyn: [Laughs].

As Korena in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Adam: While we’re talking about science fiction, this probably fits in quite well. You had a very sympathetic role as Tony Todd’s wife in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Once again, the good thing about science fiction is that it can be quite topical, and I like what it said about healing, or in this case not healing, from the grief of him losing his father. It was also a very clever script because it had that touch of the reclusive author, the whole J. D. Salinger-type thing. Do you have any stories from that show?
Galyn: I’m trying to remember. I know one thing, first of all, I was a Star Trek fan, my brother and my sisters and I watching the original with William Shatner. So, when I was cast on Star Trek, I was like, Yay! It was almost kind of surreal, so that was exciting right away. I was at a Star Trek convention in Vegas, it was almost two years ago, and people came up to me because I didn’t know that that episode that I did of that series is like one of the most recognised episodes of the series. I had no idea, and people came up to me who said, what you’re saying, the way the story was told, it really moved people and touched people. The story, it really meant a lot to a lot of people. I knew it was different than, you know, Star Trek is that series, all the series, you know there’s always the sci-fi and then there’s the battles and all that, but then they always touch into different parts of the human emotion and human experience, and so that episode really touched on that. I found out later that it was so moving to so many people because at the convention the Trekkies kept coming up to me and having me sign things and thanking me for coming, and that episode, they would tell me it really touched their hearts. That’s when I really learned about it. When we were shooting it, I knew the scenes were meaningful, but then I learned afterwards how much.

Adam: You had some really beautiful scenes in being able to draw out that character of the wife who’s very, she’s very supportive of her husband and understands in some ways what it must be like for him. When he’s meeting his father again for that first time, you can just see how nervous you are for him because you’re so concerned for him. It was really beautifully done. I’m not surprised to hear that it is one – I’ve read that quite a bit, that it’s one of the top episodes for people who like Deep Space Nine.
Galyn: You know, I was going to say, Tony Todd – whenever I’m in LA, we keep talking about getting together for lunch and it just never happens, so he and I were messaging yesterday, I think. I said, “I’m in LA”, and we keep talking about “OK, let’s get together for lunch”. I’d be curious to ask him, I’m curious as to what his experience was on that shoot, what his impression was of that scene and those scenes in that episode, because I’m sure he has a perspective, and he’s probably asked all the time, too. Yeah, now that you bring that up, when I meet with him, I’m going to ask him about his perception.

With Avery Brooks and Tony Todd in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Adam: You also appeared in Voyager, as well, as Nori.
Galyn: Yes.
Adam: Was that a different sort of experience working on that program? You mostly worked with Jennifer Lien and Anthony Crivello.
Galyn: I remember my outfit because my costume is always very important to me, and my outfit was very kind of confining and very structured. It was a completely different type of character; the story line was completely different. I remember the sets – I’m picturing it. It was such a different character because when I was on Deep Space Nine, she was just so much more nurturing in that mothering kind of person, and this character was so different. She [Nori] was kind of in a powerless position.

Galyn in Star Trek: Voyager.

Adam: When you say that, I’m thinking of when you played Helen of Troy on Xena and your take on that character. To some extent, she was very powerless, until she finally tries to find out who she is towards the end of the episode.
Galyn: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a scene – I actually put it on my reel – where I’m yelling, and the character is saying, “Don’t you realise what you’ve done? You’ve killed your own brother and ruined Troy. And for what?”, and she speaks out and uses her voice, so there is a transformation that happens there. By the way, l loved the costumes. I loved what I got to wear in that one.

Galyn as Helen of Troy, with Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess.

Adam: And they were fun programs – Hercules, as well. Were they fun programs to do: Xena and Hercules?
Galyn: Yes, those were fun. First of all, I got to be flown down to New Zealand because we shot in New Zealand, so they flew me down to New Zealand. Those were Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi. Lucy [Lawless] was great, and Kevin Sorbo’s a jokester, he likes to play jokes. Those were fun because the costumes – it’s so over the top, it’s such make believe, but when you’re in a scene, you’re really taking it seriously as an actor. But yes – it was almost like you were dressing up for Halloween, it’s like a make believe, like children, you’re really playing.

When I shot Hercules, Anson Williams from Happy Days was the director. I saw him at the Star Trek convention when I was there, and we were talking about that episode. And I remember Kevin Sorbo we were on set and I played, On Hercules, I played an Egyptian princess and I had to hold a cat. I’m allergic to cats, but I was able to do the scene quick enough, so it didn’t bother me that badly. I remember Kevin saying some joke and we were joking. I barely knew him, and he started chasing me – we were chasing each other around the set laughing and stuff, and then we started shooting again. He was sweet. And Lucy, somehow, I needed a ride somewhere. I don’t know why I needed transportation and she was like, “I’ll give you a ride”, and so she and her daughter, who’s probably an adult by now, gave me a ride, and she was just a sweetheart and gave me a ride, and we barely knew each other.  It was just fun. I had a great time down in New Zealand. I took my grandmother with me, so we went exploring. We were down in Auckland. Yeah, it was great.

Galyn in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
With Kevin Sorbo in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

Adam: You’ve done better than I have. Obviously, Australia is very close to New Zealand and I’ve never been, so that’s another place that needs to be added to the list.
Galyn: That’s right! You’ve got to go.
Adam: And those shows were very big down here when they were on – they were kind of staples of the Saturday night schedule. That’s great to hear that they were fun to do. They’ve got quite a cult following. Star Trek has obviously got a massive following. Like we were talking about with Deep Space Nine and fans thinking that your episode is one of the best, one of the favourite episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fans is the episode you did: “Boxing Helena”. Were you a fan of that show when you got that role? Had you watched it?
Galyn: Yeah, I had watched that show. Of course, Will Smith, he had been doing music before, and I liked him. Everybody loved him. I went to NBC Studios out in Burbank to audition for that. I’m trying to remember – what happened in the room? There was a producer and a director, and the reading went really well, and then I got it.

It’s television and you have studio audience, so we rehearse all week, you know Monday through Thursday, and then rehearsal Friday, and then tape Friday afternoon, early evening. The thing that was great about working with Will is that he liked improv, so he goes off the script. You know, we have the script, but then we’ll be in the middle of a scene, and if a creative idea – as an artist, if you have the opportunity – he would go off the script and play with ideas or change something during the scene. So that’s what was great about shooting that.

We had a scene in the boxing ring. He and I have a scene, and so he started improvising and so I started improvising, and I made up some part of that scene. I think the “bwak bwak bwak” – the chicken thing – I made up that. I made up some part of the scene, and they kept it. It was fun working with him. And I knew it was a good episode. You know when you asked if you know – and I don’t always know, but I remember before we taped, he called everybody, the whole cast had to come into his dressing room and we all got in a circle and we did like a focus, energy positive. I don’t know if you want to call it a prayer or whatever, kind of “Everyone focus”, and he said, and whichever other regular on the cast – I don’t remember – said, “Oh, we’ve got a good episode. This is a good one”. Because they do so many, but they knew it was a good one. It was a funny episode.

Will Smith and Galyn in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Photo: IMDb).

Adam: Do you like the chance to do that improv within a scripted program, TV show?
Galyn: I liked it. If the writers are open and are confident enough to let you kind of play around with it because it enhances the story and the jokes, it makes it so much fun.

Adam: I imagine that a lot of being able to improv also comes from having the preparation, knowing what your script is, knowing who the character is, so that you can kind of go in a direction that might be unexpected but makes sense from the point of view of the story and the characters.
Galyn: Yes, exactly. You don’t want to veer off the storyline or veer off the character, you want to stay within those parameters. It’s like I’m a dancer, I have ballet and I have modern, I have jazz, I have all these techniques, but when you perform you kind of throw in your own flair and your creative artistry comes through, so it’s the same. You have the structure of the script and you have the idea of the character. You play within that.

Adam: I love the way you’ve described it, that use of self, even within a technique you’re still using yourself and what you know and what you bring to it. Let’s talk a little more about science fiction and fantasy because you’ve appeared in quite a lot of science fiction, and I know you said you quite like it. Is that a case of you being asked to play those roles, or they appeal to you, so you audition for them, or something else?
Galyn: It just seemed to kind of happen. I think one of the reasons is because of the way I look. If you audition, they call it “ethnically ambiguous” some of the time, and so it seemed like in the sci-fi fantasy genre – I seemed to fit in there and it was acceptable, kind of this ethnically ambiguous. That’s what I’m thinking, Adam, is what happened, but I like it, I like the sci-fi fantasy stuff.

Adam: One of the shows you did that we should talk about is Stargate SG-1. Like any good science fiction, your episode dealt with very human themes. You had the lead role in that. You played Kendra, who’s a healer, but she’s been ostracised because she was taken over by one of the Goa’uld. I felt it was really interesting that Kendra speaks of being restored to her true self and what she used to be, her voice within and facing fears, and there’s a whole lot of that sort of metaphor and allegory. There was an allegory with race a little bit, in that she sought to separate herself from those who had done wrong. I thought that was a great role for you. Did you enjoy doing that one?
Galyn: I did, and I think that’s one of the things that’s so great about sci-fi, fantasy, that kind of thing, because on so many projects that I’ve done there’s always this, there’s either commentary, or it seems – yeah, there’s a lot of delving into deep human conditions. I just love it.

I had a great time [on Stargate SG-1]. We shot that in Vancouver. It just felt like it was like a dream come true in a way, just being able to have the character and tell that story and have that kind of character with that background and that dialogue. The director, Brad Turner, he was great. And the actors – everybody was nice and kind. As I talk to you about all of these, I realise, Wow, how grateful I am that I’ve worked with – I’ve always had such good experiences. Everybody was so welcoming.

I loved my costume, by the way.
Adam: [Laughs].
Galyn: I loved the dress. I’ve got a Polaroid of me standing outside the costume wardrobe trailer in my dress, holding up my arms. I got to have the cape – OK, so I loved my outfit [laughs].
Adam: [Laughs].
Galyn: It’s always important. My sisters, some of the first things they’ll say, “So how’s your costume?” [Laughs].
Adam: [Laughs] I love that.
Galyn: That was an incredible costume.

Galyn in Stargate SG-1.

Adam: When you come onto an existing program, do you generally find that the actors tend to be quite welcoming to their well-oiled machine?
Galyn: They usually are. I can think in my mind of one – there’s probably been more – I can remember an episode of a show that I worked on and they weren’t, but I won’t mention – I’ll always say the positives because I won’t mention the ones where it wasn’t. I don’t know, it wasn’t super welcoming, but usually it is. Usually, I find that it is. I’m real open and not standoffish, and I’m like, “OK, I’m a professional artist, we’re all professional artists”. Like when I worked on Colony recently, Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, right away, because I met them at lunch, they were like, “Hi, welcome, sit with us”.

Adam: That’s really great. I like that focus on those experiences, and let’s forget the other ones that weren’t so fantastic.
Galyn: Yeah, yeah.
Adam: It’s funny you talk about the costumes, as well, because a friend of mine, Donna [Loren] who worked a lot in the ‘60s, when she was quite young – I ask her sometimes, “Do you remember doing this show, or this song, or whatever, and she’s like, “I don’t, but what was I wearing? That might help me remember”.
Galyn: Right! [Laughs].

Adam: You took a bit of a break, or you scaled down from work, around the early-mid 2000s. Was there something that led up to doing that?
Galyn: Well, Adam, you call that a marriage and a divorce.
Adam: Ah, that’ll do it every time.
Galyn: That’ll do it, Adam! [Laughs]. Yeah, I got sort of sidetracked. I got into a little bit of some challenge, challenges. I mean, I never stopped. I continued to take classes to a point, and I continued to dance, but everything kind of got really challenging at times, so that’s when I kind of had that break. I didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened.

Adam: I speak to a lot of actors who often take a break, for lots of reasons. I guess in your case it was just that kind of other things were going on and it’s not necessarily that you mean to take a break, but you just move into another part and things happen; and sometimes if things are a bit chaotic, or whatever else, your attention is sort of elsewhere.
Galyn: That’s pretty much what happened.

Adam: As you said, during that time you were still going to class and so on. Were you in Hawaii around this time?
Galyn: I was in Los Angeles a part of the time and then I was in Hawaii part of the time. I was in Los Angeles and just got sort of sidetracked into a whole different kind of journey for a while, and then I was in Hawaii for a little while. I’ve been slowly kind of getting back into the industry, and I’ve started to get some traction again, which is good.

Adam: Fantastic. From a practical point of view, is it difficult once you’ve been out of it for a few years to get back into it?
Galyn: Well, it can be because you have to have some current credits to really kind of get in there. My resume is extensive, so getting representation is not usually difficult. I actually just signed with a new team, Media Artists Group, which is great. It’s funny that I’ve started my social media pages, Instagram and Twitter, and I’m on Facebook, too, and that’s where I’ve been contacted by different people in the entertainment industry.

Adam: You were on the last episode of Parks and Recreation. What was that like?
Galyn: It’s so funny how sometimes things just kind of happen. I just got a call, “Galyn, you want to do this?”, and I said, “Yes”. I had a small scene – I hadn’t done anything in a while. Being an improv – I’m part of the main company of a group called IFTP, Improv for the People, in Los Angeles – so if they say Amy Poehler, I’m going to say, “Of course”. You can YouTube and watch her do improv, and she’s just phenomenal, so I was like, “Yes!”.

I had a little speech on there, but my interaction was with Amy, and she was great. I remember the scene we had, we didn’t talk about it, but there was a cue that I had to give her in there, and it was so cool because I know what she was expecting as an improv artist. She’s a genius comedian, a genius improv artist. When I told the other people at IFTP [about the role with] Amy Poehler, everyone was just like, “Wow”. She’s held in high esteem as an improv artist.

Galyn with Ray Katz and Brian Nelson, Improv for the People (Photo: Facebook).

Adam: It’s interesting what you say about people tracking you down on social media. I think even David Lynch put it out to social media to try to find Everett McGill when he was doing [the new] Twin Peaks and couldn’t find him anywhere. What I particularly like about what you post is, like you said, there’s the film stuff, there’s the TV stuff, but then there’s a whole lot of other things. You strike me as someone who’s very committed to self-reflection and development. Is that something that you’ve actively pursued or is that something that came over time investigating different, I guess, modalities, for want of a better term.
Galyn: I think it’s probably because of my parents and their background. I mean, of course I love having success and being prosperous and being well, but at the same time I also want my piece of mind, and I want to be able in this wild, wild world, to find, you know, so I am a voice, what I put out there, what I share is something that maybe helps someone else also be happy or create some peace or some beauty. I consider myself a performance artist, a dancer, so I like to do different poetry, images, and I post them on those platforms.

Part of the missing years around not acting, I spent much time with the Lakota and the Diné and the Hopi, different Native American tribes, and so in that time when I wasn’t acting, I was spending a lot of time doing different ceremonies and different practices and different teachings. That’s one of the things I was doing. Images of beauty in the Native American – there’s a saying, the “beauty way”, it’s the beauty way, so anything that I can do to bring beauty into the world into the world, and compassion, I think it’s a practice.

Adam: And you also teach and work with children. How has that been?
Galyn: Yes, I’ve done a nice amount of that. In those years when I wasn’t acting, I taught quite a few workshops all over the Los Angeles area. I’ve done dance, I’ve done theatre. It’s all arts education. I’m starting to put together all the footage – I have so much footage of working with youth. And that’s part of my heart. I have another project I’m developing. It’s kind of a book, it’s based on the – I don’t know if you know from the ‘70s, it was called Free to be You and Me.
Adam: Of course.
Galyn: Marlo Thomas did it, it’s based on that format and it’s really good. I’ve got so much material already compiled. But working with young people from, you know, I’ve worked with gang members, probation kids. I’ve worked at Hollygrove where Marilyn Monroe was when she was young. I’ve worked with wealthy kids and poor kids, all over the LA area, and I love it. I’m good in the room with them, and I think, from what I’ve learned, I’ve helped a lot of young people and they’ve helped me, too. I enjoy it.

Adam: That’s fantastic and I love that idea that you get as much from them as they get from you. And you do see that, the kind of effect that you can have on people. Sometimes with what I do, I write, it goes somewhere, and it disappears for how ever many months and by the time it comes back it’s almost that delayed gratification. But when you’re in the moment in a classroom or somewhere else with people, you kind of see people “getting it”, and they get it in that moment and you get that feedback, sometimes quite immediately.
Galyn: It’s so true because I’m in there for arts education, but what I was taught from a lot of the arts organisations is that what I’m bringing in there is important, but in the present moment whatever is happening with the young person in there, whatever issue or whatever’s going on with them, that is more important than anything.

I’ve taught little ones all the way up to high school. The population that I didn’t know would be receptive to me is these high school boys. I thought, Oh gosh, I could never teach high school boys, but I taught in the last two years and, Adam, they were some of my favourites. I taught at an education centre and these young men, African American, Latino mostly, they just were so receptive. I had such a great rapport with them. Man, we had a lot of fun. If you have something interesting, they’re just sponges to learn and want to improve. They have so many dreams, and you’re just helping them believe and bringing out their potential that has to be cultivated, it has to be guided in the right direction I just really loved working with them. I didn’t know that I had the ability and it was just great to do that.

Adam: That’s so interesting what you say about getting them to believe because I think sometimes when you come from parents or families who have given you that, when as you’ve grown up they believe in you, they make you believe in yourself, you kind of think that must be the way that everyone has it. But there’s so many people who never had that foundation to begin with, and so it really has to be nurtured in them and treated as something important and special.
Galyn: It’s true because if I stand in a workshop and I ask, “Everyone raise your hand if you have someone in your life that’s telling you you’re stupid or making sly comments, or [telling you] that you are not smart, you’re stupid. Raise your hand if you have someone in your life like that”. Usually everyone raises their hands. So, to be that voice; it was wonderful.

Adam: Dance is still a very important part of your life. How has your identity as a dancer evolved over time, has it evolved, has it changed?
Galyn: I took two classes yesterday, that was three hours involved. I did a lot of Brazilian samba and then dancing the different Brazilian styles. Dance, oh my gosh, Adam, the thing that is so great because I’ve danced for so long, going to the different cultures and different styles of dance from the ballet to the modern, I did some tap, into jazz, I took a little hula, but I’m not considered a hula dancer. You know, when I was in Israel, I went into dance class; when I’m in Vancouver, I go into dance class, wherever I go – when I was in New Zealand, I jumped into a dance class. Wednesday night, I’ll probably go take a West African dance class, Thursday night, I might take a contemporary. Just to be able to express, it’s just – I’m trying to think of the question. I mean, it’s always been good, and it always gets better and better. It’s so fulfilling, and if I’m down or not feeling good, if I walk into a good dance class I will walk out, and I will be transformed.
Adam: It’s almost like, “Build her a dance studio and she will come”
Galyn: Yes! [Laughs].

On set filming The Wrong Crush (Photo: Facebook).

Adam: Acting wise, is there anything you can talk about that’s upcoming or in development at the moment?
Galyn: Yeah, I shot another TV movie. I play a psychologist. It’s called The Wrong Crush. I’m talking to my agents because I’m meeting with directors right now.  I’m meeting with a director and then a producer next week. Because of improv, I really want to do some character work, so that’s what I’m putting out there. I’ve quite a few characters developed. My management asked me to put the characters on tape because I’ve got quite a few. So, I’m meeting with some directors and producers, and we’ll see what happens.

Adam: I look forward to seeing some of it.
Galyn: Yes, and in terms of some of the projects I’m working on, my youth project, I want to complete that. I think young people around the world will really appreciate it. I think it will speak to them.
Adam: Thank you so much. I’ve had such a good time talking to you.

Galyn in Maui (Photo: Facebook).

Galyn can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and at her website.