Bethany Simons is an actor, writer and producer of the two-time Green Room Award nominated play The Weather and Your Health. In this exclusive article, Bethany guides us through a day in her life of as a touring actor, as she takes her show throughout regional NSW and Victoria…
The team are up at 6am for a sunrise jog through the town of Ouyen, Victoria. We pack the car and head west to the village of Underbool – a tight-knit and generous community of “between 120 and 200 people dependin’ on who you’re askin’…” The Underbool Town Hall is a quaint venue with seating for just over 100 people. Though a little dusty and tired looking in places, the hive of activity in the kitchen makes up for this in spades. The ladies from the local Senior Citizens Club gossip and giggle as they whip cream, butter scones, and cut sandwiches for the afternoon tea that will follow today’s performance. Our tech support (who has driven in from Mildura this morning) is incredibly competent which means that bump in is done in no time. Having said that, the show’s tech requirements are minimal, with the design consisting of 6 chairs, some fabric remnants, and a few props – built for going on the road, and off the beaten track! Our entire tour party (Production Manager Ryan Barwood, fellow actor Andrew Dodds, and myself) travels around the countryside in a four-wheel drive loaded with bags, props, set pieces and costumes – when you’re performing in a different location each day, compact is the only way to go! Now that the tour is in full swing, I’m able to drop most of the producing role (liaising with venues, scheduling etc) and wear my acting hat full-time.
I’m so thankful for my Production Manager, Ryan’s energy, attitude and organisational skills. I trust him completely, which means I am able to focus on being a performer (which is what I’m trained to be!). I go about setting up the meeting room next to the kitchen as a dressing room and, once the stage has been swept, I do a nice relaxing warm-up and familiarise myself with yet another space.
Make-up and hair are next. My old friend and fellow actor, Andrew and I chat a little as we get ready – but, he knows that I also need some space so kindly stays out of my hair during the final lead up to the performance (that or the fumes from my hairspray are so strong that he is left with no other choice!) We receive our stand-by call and move into the wings.
There is a buzz in the auditorium as over half the town have turned up to see the play! As I deliver my opening monologue to the audience, my eyes scan across the sea of smiling faces filling this little hall. How wonderful to be sharing the gift of theatre with this remote community. How thrilling to hear audible responses to our stories as they are being presented on stage. This is an incredible opportunity I have been granted. Without the support of organisations such as Arts Victoria and Regional Arts Victoria, these communities would not have access to professional touring productions and we, as artists, would probably not have the means or the reason to make our way out here to perform.
Over a lavish spread of scones, slices, lamingtons and sandwiches, Andrew and I mingle with the audience and answer questions about the play. Though based on stories of my Nan’s life growing up in regional NSW, we have found that audiences from all over the country relate to the characters, stories and themes of the play – it’s a treat to have them share their own memories and experiences with us.
As a writer and theatre maker, I am interested in real life, the everyday and relationships. The towns that we visit are full of honest, hard-working, resilient and resourceful characters – some of whom are very funny! Times are hard and living off the land is a tough gig. We don’t know how much longer these communities can survive, as the younger population continue to move away from home to pursue higher education and more profitable business opportunities. I hope to collect the stories we are being told during this tour to create future works for the stage. In doing so, I may be able to play a small part in preserving the history of these precious regional communities…
We pack the car, thank the ladies for the containers filled with scones and other goodies, wave goodbye to Underbool and head north-east to our next stop, Robinvale. 8 shows down, 32 to go! Tomorrow is a brand new day.
10 Oct Lecture Hall, Port Fairy11 Oct Theatre Royal, Camperdown12 Oct Soldiers Memorial Hall, Mortlake13 Oct Anderson Theatre Brauer College, Warrnambool14 Oct Heywood Community Hall15 Oct Casterton Town Hall18 Oct Edi Hall and Recreation Reserve, Edi Upper 19 Oct Greta Hansonville Hall, Greta20 Oct Whorouly Recreation and Function Centre 21 Oct Myrrhee Soldiers Memorial Hall22 Oct Moyhu Soldiers Hall23 Oct Mansfield Performing Arts Centre25 Oct Kyneton Town Hall26 Oct The Mining Exchange, Ballarat27 Oct West Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul28 Oct COPACC, Colac29 Oct Lavers Hill Hall, Beech Forest31 Oct The Old Fire Station, Bendigo02 Nov Heathcote RSL Public Hall03 Nov Elmore Memorial Hall 04 Nov Phee Broadway Theatre, Castlemaine05 Nov Pyramid Hill Memorial Hall08 Nov Eastbank Centre, Shepparton09 Nov Victory Hall, Tatura10 Nov Altona Theatre, Hobson’s Bay12 Nov Potato Shed, Drysdale 16 Nov EBBWEC, Sale 17 Nov Healesville Senior Citizens Hall