Tim Draxl is as proud of his body of work and he is his work on his body. The popular and extremely talented actor, singer, dancer, artist has amassed a following of eager fans on his Instagram account – some there for the stunning landscape images; many for the mysterious and exciting terrain of his sculptured physique. And he doesn’t mind one bit.
“I mean, you know, it takes work. I don’t mind getting my top off every now and then and showing it off,” says Draxl. He’s sitting in chair inside the dimly lit Eternity Playhouse wearing a plain t-shirt and work-out pants, ready for his second day of rehearsal for A Chorus Line.
Draxl had a very unconventional childhood. His parents owned a skiing business and he grew up spending six months a year in Jindabyne in the NSW alpine region, and six months in Austria.
“I guess in terms of informing my childhood, it made me quite independent early on, which has served me well in my career because it’s sometimes quite an isolating industry to be in,” says Draxl.
“In terms of creatively, I think it was incredibly stimulating as a child to be around…I mean I’ve just been back to Austria, and there’s so much that I look at now […] where I grew up and different cities we used to go to like Vienna or Salzburg – there’s so much history and theatre that has been imbedded in my psyche.”
Draxl remembers visiting the locations in Salzburg where The Sound Of Music was filmed and being frequently taken by his mother to see the ballet when he was still very young. It was then that the passion for dancing was ignited. He began ballet lessons in the small town of Berridale not far from Jindabyne. He was 4 years old and the only boy in the class.
“I still remember having to try and get in my ballet tights behind the stack of chairs because there was nowhere to get changed,” he laughs.
Even at that single digit age, he knew he was going to be a dancer.
“There was no question about it in my mind, there was no, you know, alternative. It was that. That was it.”
No one else is his family was musical or theatrical and his three older brothers were athletes and skiers – as were most people in the area. Yet, Draxl doesn’t recall ever being bullied for his dancing. The community and his family were very supportive.
The physical demands of dancing helped Draxl develop a discipline around fitness, but ironically, it was an incident related to his singing career that really engendered intention around body building.
“I’ve always been, you know, kind of conscious of my body. I do remember however specifically, there was a shift.”
At 16, Draxl was singing professionally and auditioned for David Campbell who then invited Draxl to sing at one of his concerts. Though Draxl was very fit he was quite scrawny and Campbell suggested he might need to build some bulk.
“I started going to the gym and I have been, ever since, body conscious…body proud,” says Draxl. “I have no shame in admitting that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being body proud.”
His legion of adoring fans would readily agree.
Though Draxl himself winces at the notion, many people consider him a gay icon. At the very least, he acknowledges that he is influential enough to be a proxy mentor to young LGBTIQ people. It’s a responsibility he fully embraces, having had a challenging time coming to terms with his own sexuality.
“It’s incredibly important for me to talk about it publicly and let people know that I did struggle,” says Draxl. “When you’re living it and dealing with it yourself you forget that other people are dealing with the same thing.”
Draxl first realised he was gay during his mid-teens. Thankfully, he attended a performing arts school and being queer was no big deal. However, having grown up in a conservative regional town with a father who was “quite homophobic”, Draxl had developed deep inhibitions about his homosexuality and chose to remain closeted for a long time after leaving school.
“Also because I was pretty much flat out told that if I wanted a career in the entertainment industry that I couldn’t be gay,” explains Draxl.
“I think for me what it did in the negative sense was it stopped me from being who I naturally was, or who I would have perhaps grown into had I not had to hide who I naturally was.”
Coming out was and still is something Draxl struggles with. Last year he performed a cabaret show, Love Is A Drag, in which he sang classic love songs normally sung by a woman. During the show he shared personal insights and experiences.
“It was the first time that I actually spoke about coming out in public in a show. And it was incredibly confronting and liberating…I still get upset about it,” says Draxl, tears welling in his eyes.
In a few short weeks Draxl returns to the stage in another somewhat self-reflexive role – that of the director, Zach in A Chorus Line. It’s a character and scenario he’s very familiar with having experienced many similar auditions and rehearsal rooms.
“The tricky thing is, I would like to play Zach how I would like to be, how I wish directors were in an audition room; but because of the construct of the piece and the story of the piece there are certain times when Zach is not the best human being,” says Draxl.
Written in the mid-1970s amid political turmoil and social change, A Chorus Line takes a diverse cross section of humans and puts them under a microscope using the conceit of an audition/rehearsal process. It’s intensely emotional and revealing. The bare bones plot and setting means the characters are up front, in focus the whole time, especially Zach. How does Draxl feel about that pressure?
“Well, I mean I find that very liberating and exciting,” he responds.
“I love vulnerability and I have no problem in showing that vulnerability on stage. It’s something that’s always served me well. I wear my heart on my sleeve […] it’s draining but it’s very rewarding […] which is why A Chorus Line is interesting to be part of – and also frustrating, because I don’t get to dance all that much.”
Draxl will be doing more dancing as Zach than is normally done by that character. Director/choreographer Amy Campbell was only too happy to oblige the triple-threat star with more footwork.
“A Chorus Line is going to be fun,” says Draxl enthusiastically.
“From what I have already seen of the dancers, the dancing is out of this world. And hats off to those kids that are working their butts off in there. Like I said before, the hardest thing for me is having to stop myself from getting on stage and joining them in the dancing.”
Though Zach is flawed, he isn’t really a malicious character. Draxl finds he tends to get cast as the nice guy but would love to have a go at playing the bad guy. How bad?
“Bad. Pretty bad…I think it would be fun to kind of step into that role for a little while.”
“I’d also love to play a character who is outrageously flamboyant. You know, that is overtly sexual and comfortable with that. I think that would be fun.”
So would his many fans.
A Chorus Line is playing at from March 13 to April 19 at Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst.
For info and tickets visit the Darlinghurst Theatre Company website.