PEOPLE WE MEET
I was born in Wollongong in 1964 but spent most of my youth in Warilla. Warilla in the 1960s and '70s was a very hard place to grow up, especially if you were "different" from everyone else around you. When I was fairly young I came out as an artist, difficult to even speak about when everyone else around you is doing so-called normal things such as getting their heads beaten in on the footy field or surfing. All I wanted to do was read and look at art. Thankfully I had some very strong influences around who supported me. Three books affected me deeply, the first was Alice in Wonderland and [its sequel] Through the Looking Glass. I was eight when I finally picked up this "girl's book" to read and it was love at first sight. It was April 1, 1972. I remembered because it was April Fool's Day. I have read the Alice books, The Hunting of the Snark and the poems starting April 1 every single year without fail ever since. There are things in that book I still mull over or quote daily. At the age of 10 I got introduced to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I have had a love affair with the Bard ever since, and am currently directing my fourth Macbeth production at the Phoenix. The third book was George Orwell's 1984. Never had a book rocked me to the core like that one. I was 12 in first year at high school and not happy with the rubbish I'd been given to read until my brilliant English teacher Bob Cork handed me 1984 and Lord of the Flies. He also introduced me to live theatre, history and coffee.
Denis Cox, Gladys Little and Judy Trick from the school art department were also great influences. Denis was the first to hand me a pot of ink and a pen with a "I think you'd do well with this" - I did. Gladys handed me paper mache and said make the masks for the school play, and another obsession was born. So by the time I left school I was a coffee-drinking hard-reading mask artist. And that is how I stayed. But I couldn't stay here, the place was killing me, literally. The other problem with growing up in Warilla in the '70s was that if you were gay, which I was, you had to live a secret life not even your closest friends could know about. You also got hit with cricket bats, punched, run over, set fire to and stabbed a few times. After one particularly brutal attack which almost left me dead I decided I'd get the hell out. I had a very supportive partner at the time who got me out and we went in search of my heroes. This lead me to the workshops of Lindsey Kemp, Peter Brook and Edward Montreaux. I studied with Edward for almost two years on and off until he said I could learn no more and had to make my own way in the world. He also said the best place to grow is where you know the soil.
I entered the School of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong and began an academic pursuit. I had always maintained strong connections with local theatre, and had been able to bring some of what I learned home. While managing an organisation that needed a new home I was offered the Bridge Street site as an option, conditional that I open the theatre and keep it running first. We formed the Phoenix Theatre Incorporated to take on full running of the theatre and renovating it. We had no financial help from council available and the parent organisation had not wanted any involvement so we hired the shell of a building out to independent film studios, had Work for the Dole projects auspiced on our behalf and held fund raising cabarets and donations. We finally opened the theatre with Medea in October 2011. We have produced 18 shows since then and hosted many more. So many people have worked so hard to bring the theatre to a position where it is now a cultural force in the region.
Our next step is so much more exciting. We hope that we can work with council to remain in the space as future plans are even better. Early this year I started a cultural exchange with the AC Orange Corp in China to swap scripts and work between the two countries. We hope to also build on cultural connections we have made with Thailand and Malaysia. In 2012 we brought Emily of Emerald Hill out from Malaysia and hope to bring another work over again soon. The Phoenix is what I have been building my life in the arts towards. It is a place that embodies all that I have seen and learned over my life and hopefully has brought some of that back home. My partner and I now plan to open a cafe called Ziggy's House of Nomms. Hopefully the next exciting chapter in my trip through wonderland will be exotic, whimsical and welcoming - three things I think Wollongong needs more of.