1975: On tour with QTC’s “The Rainmaker”

It’s been quite a while since I wrote this little piece for the QTC’s 1975 newsletter No 2. I found it today as I was researching materials for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Company. Touring around the vast distances of this country is still a way of life for actors – some things never change like the hospitality of the people in those far-off towns; the challenge of long days and nights, and being away from home and not able to sleep in your own bed. But some things sure have changed – we were always so keen to get letters on mail day and I recall searching for a phone box beside the side of a road on more than one occasion – that and having enough coins to make the call last. It seems like and is another age. Hope you enjoy it. It brought back a rush of memories for me. Ah, yesterday!

It’s 7.25pm. Paul Jones, the ASM pokes his head around the dressing-room door and gives the half-hour call at probably the exact moment it’s being given backstage at the SGIO Theatre. Here, light years from Brisbane outside the Shire Hall, the goods train clanks on, and the sprinkler on the oh-so-green lawn goes on as the cicadas stop abruptly. Noise, or the lack of it, is a tangible thing out here.

We’ve done a radio interview today, given away a couple of complimentary tickets in a phone-in competition, slept and sat around on the hotel verandah watching the sky go crazy at sunset. There seems to be a whole 360º of red and pink-apricot clouds.

Someone took several of the company today to a property 20 miles out of town for horse riding and a swim. A few others went out to the local high school and talked with some of the kids. They all want to know our names, how or why you become an actor, and what the play’s about. We tell them. They’re particularly impressed with one actor’s football record (that would be Bryan Brown’s). They promise to come tonight. I meet one of the girls later in the one and only milkbar in town. She wants to know if I am married to any of the actors in the cast – which ones are single, and who’s the blonde one that’s so good looking? That would be Bill Rough. I tell her.

The quarter-hour call and someone’s complaining about the bore-water. Someone else’s sinuses are threatening to explode from the dust, early wattle, and buffalo grass that are in full bloom at this time of year.

Paul Jones again: “We may be going up a bit late tonight; they’re still arriving.” Most of the audience begin to arrive at one minute to 8 and get to their seats sometime within the first 15 minutes. A few resisters stand around the doors at the back, catching up on local news, probably. We finally go at 8.10.

The kids have come in force. We get whistles, claps, foot stamps – the lot – at the end of the act. Everyone’s enjoying themselves but it’s hot, and back here there’s nothing to drink. Out front the beer is flowing in the makeshift bar.

Everyone is frantic about the stage floor. It’s like glass. Some over-enthusiastic cleaner has gone berserk with the polish. No one can move above snail’s pace without slipping; running is impossible. Everyone scrapes the soles of their western boots and someone suggests we warn the ballet company that’s due here next week.

Act 2 comes and goes with the inevitable slipping and sliding. Someone out there must like us, and sends back iced water. Finally, Act 3 and the audience goes wild. We even get cheered.

Pack out time and the costumes are hung in their plastic bags and everything goes into the skip. Someone writes “The Rainmakers came. QTC 1975” on the wall. I find “QTC 1973 – Gamma Rays” beside “Johnny Farnham.”

These people have got to be among the most hospitable in the state. They laid on a full buffet before the show tonight. Some have driven 80 miles from their properties especially to see us. We’re amazed and not a little bit humbled.

Now, after the show, they’ve brought out more curries and sweet and sour dishes. I asked how they got mushrooms out there – they’re dried. There’s cheesecake 6 inches thick and wine and beer, and chocolate cake and coffee for those who don’t drink. The crew are busy striking and packing the set up and out into the bus for the haul tomorrow. Someone makes up a tray and it’s sent back to them.

The kids are in the midst of it. They want autographs and to talk, and they tell us that tonight has been better than Old Jack’s picture house.

The next morning’s call is for 8.30am. Most of us sleep the distance to Longreach. It’s also mail day. Everyone’s a bit excited at the prospect of news from the outside world. Amongst the piles of letters and bills that have followed us around the state, there’s a telegram from the last town: “Cumulus gathering. Can’t afford $100. Please advise.” We’ve even brought rain.

Week 6: Tech, dress, and finger tingles

Where do I begin …

So much has happened since the time, earlier this week, when I wrote about leaving the safety and comfort of our rehearsal room. It’s involved the scary but necessary transitioning of an organism – the living, breathing, moving play – into a new space. In fact, it’s an evolution of sorts. And it’s involved not just the artefact of the rehearsed action of the play, but the evolution of all of of us involved in the making of this thing which is in the throes of becoming ‘a production.’ Continue reading “Week 6: Tech, dress, and finger tingles”

Words, words, words …

Spent an afternoon on Brisbane’s delightful South Bank cultural precinct yesterday. It’s site until today of the annual Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The joint was jumping. Author talks, panels, coffee drinking, book browsing (and buying) and readings have been the stuff of the past 4 days. And if you think that’s boring, think again. And it was all very Brisbane … shorts and t-shirts, sandals and the kind of laid back atmosphere that is Queensland.

I was there principally to see Queensland Theatre Company second reading of Richard Jordan’s 25 Down due for production next June as winner of the 2008-09 Premier’s Drama Award. It was designed to give the writer an opportunity to hear and see a different cast of actors read his work, now in a 9 month development stage. A 15 minute Q&A afterwards gave the writer, and the Director Jon Halpin and his actors a chance to talk about the process of taking a work from page to stage.

How exciting to have so many people who still care about words.

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Another Night in the Theatre … but O, what a night!

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Those of us who spend our lives working in theatre are used to the disappointments that come all too often it can seem. One production somewhere is OK, or doesn’t work … quite, despite the best efforts of all concerned; we forgive and perhaps forget. Another somewhere else can be plain awful … and at times like that you sit in the darkened theatre thinking murderous thoughts about ticket prices and wasted time, and whether leaving at interval is the right move. Every so often though a pearl of a production comes along … a joy of an experience that makes the ho-hum, the ordinary, the disappointments fade away. Hell, they can’t all be fabulous after all, you say … and yes, this is why one works in and for the theatre. Continue reading “Another Night in the Theatre … but O, what a night!”

Being There: On Tour

An enormously important and formative experience in my life as a young actor was that of being on tour for many weeks, and schools’ tours at that. It was 1971, and I was fresh from drama school in the UK, and back home in Queensland. The new state theatre company (Queensland Theatre Company or QTC as it was and still is known fondly) had been formed while I was away. I immediately auditioned, and was hired to work in the TIE (Theatre in Education) program which in those days had a touring schedule to knock your socks off … and which dispelled any preciousness you might have been harbouring since drama school about being an artiste. Continue reading “Being There: On Tour”

Hanging Out on the South Bank

Silver Balls

There’s a widespread view that not much happens during the summer … culturally speaking … in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city. Wrong! I’ve just returned from a couple of days spent primarily on the south bank precinct of the Brisbane River. This is home to QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre), the Queensland Museum, the State Library, and the fabulous GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) where currently we’re all catching up with Andy Warhol in a super exhibition. And just up the road is Queensland Theatre Company‘s home at 78 Montague Road. By the gently flowing brown waters, the south bank is rocking. Continue reading “Hanging Out on the South Bank”