Return down under
Rolling the clock forward 3 years after our time Washington D.C., I returned down under to settle in Brisbane.
I was sent to Brisbane Grammar School where I had an absolutely hideous time. I skipped a year of school since the USA education was better than Australia at the time. My older brother was captain of the rugby team.
At school, I was bullied badly by another student for being a year younger, not into sports and for topping highest grades in Australia in the new drama subject which at the time automatically made me a “poofta”. I could not live up to my sportsman brother, my school peers, nor to my parents’ expectations. In a school solely focused on sport and manliness, I felt hopeless and worthless.
I maintained friendships with really only 3 other students – a brilliantly minded sarcastic history expert that went onto be a career professor in his own right, a quick-witted horse racing gambling radio jockey thespian, and a brilliant son of a surgeon with a mathematical mind, none of which were into sports, all of which enjoyed dabbling in the school theatre programs. I guess, in retrospect you could say we were the outcasts.
We collectively produced, directed, designed, stole the props, made the costumes, marketed, technically managed, swept the floors, sold tickets for and acted in various school productions including SWEENEY TODD; HOTEL PARADISO; CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA; TOAD OF TOAD HALL; DARK OF THE MOON; CHARLEY’S AUNT (I played the foppish Col. Sir Francis Chesney Bart) and THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND in the schools Centenary Hall. My first “resident” theatre.
During my Grammar School years my parents then went through a messy divorce (I found my Dad in bed with our neighbors’ wife) – my brother sided with my Dad, I with my Mum, which clearly, in retrospect, had a long-lasting profound effect on me. As a result of this, coupled with the bullying, I was sent for counseling to the schools psychologist… but that’s another story.
While at school, I started my lifelong love of volunteering with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and shortly after spent years volunteering with the Queensland Theatre Company Guild, assisting in subscription sales, PR, administration, rehearsals and backstage. Later, working for the then upcoming XII Commonwealth Games and took great pride in being volunteer 0001, working in a variety of functions.
But, my real lifelong career began with winning the Elizabeth Bequest Scholarship affording me the tremendous opportunity to work with the TN Theatre and Queensland Theatre companies, finally in paid positions. These in turn, led me to work with the Queensland Marionette Theatre, the all new Lyric Opera of Queensland, The Australian Opera and the Melbourne Theatre Company.
These, gave me the foundation, training and confidence to head to Broadway, London and globally.
All of this, gave me the incredible thrill to work over 4 decades with a huge variety of iconic stars.
My temporary pivot away from theatre.
My father detested my obvious love of the theatre and did a lot of things to try to change it. From using his influence to bug my apartment (which my mum told me about), and a telephone campaign with my theatrical peers to defame me (which my TN Theatre Company Artistic Director, and Director at the Arts Theatre told me about). Twice that I can vividly recall, I seriously contemplated suicide.
I was ‘forced’ by my father to join the army (after about 6 months in army intelligence, I found a way to get out of it, on the advice of another Brigadier, and family friend (whom I secretly wanted to adopt as my own father), and received my final paycheck for 0.03 cents which was framed — the postage was 0.25 cents.
I was pressured by family into a quick education in hospitality management, which led me to being the lead cocktail barman at then brand new Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Brisbane where I had the awkward honour of asking Bruce Springsteen to leave the bar for wearing jeans (against our dress code policy), and where I met Queensland’s “mafia” investors. Maybe subliminally, I wanted to push back on my father’s pressure, but when the investors invited me to create a uniquely theatrical bar, I jumped at the chance, and the bar is still in operation today, 30+ years later.
The pendulum swing back to theatre.
Eventually, with too much parental, government and media pressure on me, I chose to buy a one-way ticket to the USA, with no visa, no money and no plan, other than to aim for Broadway to attempt to reacquaint myself with my feelings from my Queensland Theatre Company days.
All’s well that ends well.
After my success on Broadway my father and I made amends on the encouragement of his then (3rd) wife who had him admit and apologize for his behavior decades prior. I introduced him to Broadway leadership, theatre owners and actors. I gave him behind the scenes tours of theatres, and house seats to see many shows. Indeed, in the months preceding his death, and after apologies from him “I did anything I could, and what I thought was right at the time, to stop your homosexuality by getting you away from the theatre life, clearly I was wrong“, we reconciled — indeed, he thanked me for providing for my mum (his 2nd wife) over the years, and congratulated me for finding a good career that suited me. He accepted DJ as his son-in-law, and we spent a fabulous Christmas together at my farm.