This is the story of what made me decide to become an actor.
I dropped out of university at the end of first year. I was doing Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney. I only did it because I didn’t get into NIDA, and I had to do something. NIDA had seemed like a foregone conclusion. I had won the Australian division of Sam Wanamaker’s inaugural Globe Shakespeare Theatre Competition in my final year of school. The great Australian Shakespearean actor, John Bell, and premier casting director, Liz Mullinar, adjudicated the competition. I won a trip to London to participate in a workshop with Mark Rylance on the foundations of the yet-to-be-reconstructed Globe Theatre. I had vowed to whatever God I could conceive of that if I won the competition, I would conclusively know I was good enough to be an actor, and leave it at that: no more pursuing the career that my parents advised would be lovely, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a degree in my back pocket just to be on the safe side? I suppose a promise to a deity I wasn’t completely sure existed is a promise that can safely be broken. I promptly found myself filling out an application to audition for NIDA.
NIDA was the be-all and end-all in theatre training as far as I was concerned. Judy Davis had studied there, playing Juliet to Mel Gibson’s Romeo in her final year. Judy Davis’s performance as Sybylla Melville in My Brilliant Career had become my private touchstone. The film, directed by Jane Campion, was my education in the fact that Australia has a strong feminist history, and that an ugly duckling could transform into a beautiful, talented and independent swan. It was through My Brilliant Career that I first felt a connection to the Australian landscape, and finally began to identify with Australia as home.
But I didn’t get into NIDA. Someone pulled me aside after the second round and advised me to ‘get some life experience’ before auditioning again. How odd it is to be the person who gives this same advice to eighteen year olds all these years later. I wish there was some way I could express to them how well I understand that feeling of utter desolation.
Communications at UTS was a prestige course: very popular, which had driven the entrance marks sky-high. Without a serious plan B, and not wanting to squander the perfect tertiary entrance rank I had earned, I decided to give it a whirl. If I couldn’t be an actor I could always be a journalist, which was the only way I could think of being able to earn a living through writing. (Always with the money, Tiffany!) It was immediately apparent to me that I was in the wrong program. I found myself at an institution where my beloved Shakespeare had been chucked on the dust heap of Dead White Males, and deconstructionism held sway. I learned two things that year: how to roll a joint, and that I was never going to be a journalist.
One afternoon I skived off classes and found myself at matinee screening of Henry and June, a film based on the diaries of erotica writer, Anaïs Nin. The world of 1930s bohemian France, filled with sexual experimentation, intellectual debate and modernist art, set my suburban existence in stark relief. I left the cinema inflamed (on multiples levels) and utterly determined to take charge of my own fate. A fate that bloody well better have some good sex in it.