I still remember a careers counsellor at school asking me why did I want to be an actress. I just responded, Why wouldn’t I want to be? Why else would I breathe? I mean, I’m a Bader, what else would I do?
My mum and dad were both in the theatre in England -“ she was a singer and director, and dad an actor. Working in the theatre has always been a part of life for our family -“ that is just what we do.
I began singing at age four in my grandmother’s club, and with two of my four brothers, we later had a singing group on TV. Our parents brought us to Australia when I was 10, as my mother wanted us to be educated and to have a chance.
I was always a singer, so I started with the theatrical organisation J.C. Williamson’s. I was in No, No Nanette and Irene, both of which played for long runs. But it was when I went to see a Reg Livermore show Lassiters my entire outlook changed on music theatre.
Lassiters was the first Australian musical work I had ever seen and I was amazed -“ there were people speaking and singing in Australian voices. I had never heard that before as we were always putting on American and English accents for those big musicals.
So I took off to work in England for three years, and that did it for me. In those three years, I saw as much as I could and I realised that, while the Brits do it marvellously, when it comes to theatre, we really do it better. So I came home.
Back here, I decided to remove myself from those big musicals, much to my agent’s despair. I decided not to audition for huge things like The Phantom Of The Opera as that is not where my heart is.
I had realised I disliked the American musical form and didn’t like the importation of it here. I wanted to do something relevant to being an Australian, as I believe Australian stories are so important to our culture.
So I started to focus on Australian works and that helped to kick-start me back here. Among the shows I was in were Summer Rain, Jonah Jones, Pearls Before Swine, The King Of Country and The Venetian Twins. Then I did the drama The Summer Of The Seventeenth Doll, and Barmaids was a wonderful hit.
I still do like things that are relevant and, as a lesbian, it can sometimes be hard to marry what your heart and your head want. I have only ever played one lesbian in my career, and that was in the musical Falsettos.
The hysterical thing was when we were doing it in Sydney, I broke my foot the night before we took it on tour. One week later, I was on stage in Canberra with a walking stick and a limp.
Well, this fabulous dyke came up to me after the show and said, Isn’t that typical! You can’t just be a lesbian, you had to give her an impairment too. So the only lesbian I have played, and I was told I did so badly.
The truth is we are getting more good lesbian and gay characters on stage, and I think Mardi Gras has done its best to help that. I did six years with the Mardi Gras Festival portfolio and I was reading through new plays all the time. It was great.
But the most terrifying thing about Mardi Gras was the board meetings. I have never been more scared in my life -“ having to stand up and defend yourself when you know you have given them a fabulous festival. Let me audition for the toughest Broadway producer in the world rather than sitting though another board meeting.
My partner Jillian and I have been together for 24 years, and she was an actor until five years ago. It’s not been easy, but we have such a commitment to each other and have worked hard at this. We also have fabulous, extended families who are very involved in our lives.
I am back with the Wharf Revue gang in Revue Sans Fronti?s, and I am playing two Helens -“ Clark and Coonan. Helen Clark is part of a jazz group heading up to Byron Bay, while Helen Coonan is the star of Busty -“ The Musical.
Here we are, six years on, and the audiences seem to rely on these shows to be political and have a voice in the modern day.
I already have the title for the book of my life. It will be called The Turkeys I Have Basted. I just don’t want our history to get lost. We all need to notate the history of what we have done in theatre, and I plan to record mine.
Interview by John Burfitt
Revue Sans Fronti?s -“ The Wharf Revue plays at The Wharf, Millers Point. Bookings on 9250 1777 or at the Sydney Theatre Company website.