While drama and live theatre might go hand in hand, 2020 served up more than its fair share for the industry, as Vanessa Parkinson can attest to. Born and raised in Warrnambool, Vanessa has loved live theatre for as long as she can remember.
She moved to Melbourne to study theatre and in 2019 was part of the first graduating class at Theatre Blacks, achieving a diploma in musical theatre. The plan was to audition for upcoming productions and all going well, start teaching and working in the city.
However when the industry shut down in early 2020, Vanessa ended up spending much of last year living alone, writing her own music to pass the time. "I thought I'd never do theatre again," she says, moving back to Warrnambool at the start of this year "to reset for a bit".
After being put on the back burner last year, the musical Cats was back on the cards for Warrnambool Theatre Company and some of Vanessa's friends convinced her it'd be a good way to rekindle her passion. "And they were correct," she laughs. "It's been an awesome ride so far. It feels kind of like a homecoming."
Vanessa began treading the boards in primary school with Primary Performers, before following the natural progression of many teens and appearing in high school productions. She then joined Warrnambool's youth theatre company Holiday Actors when she was about 15.
Holiday Actors was established in 1985 and is for performers as young as Year 7 and up to 20 year old. Predominantly focused on staging a major musical during each January school holidays, its productions have become regular spectacles for locals and tourists.
"My last show with them was my dream show, Wicked," says Vanessa. "It was the best possible farewell I could have had from that company." Holiday Actors first collaborated with Warrnambool Theatre Company in 2019 for the sell-out season of Les Misérables and Cats is Vanessa's first show with the combined theatre companies. "There's a lot of familiar faces, but also a lot of new people that I'm getting to meet as well," she says.
This story is from the spring edition of Out & About magazine. Click here to read the entire magazine online.
Warrnambool Theatre Company was established in 1948 and provides people of all ages the opportunity to partake in a variety of theatre styles and activities, including plays, variety shows, cabaret, and musicals such as Cats.
With a cast of 47, an orchestra of 18 and a crew of more than 50, the entire ensemble ranges in age from 11 to over 70. It's musicals such as this that help bring the community's ameatuer theatre community together. "It's an amazing, passionate team," says Vanessa. "Our directors Geoff and Anne (De Manser) are huge character-first people, who really want us to get into the stories that we're telling. The whole cast is incredibly strong. I think everyone's just so excited to perform again."
The longest running Broadway and West End musical of all time, Cats is a fun and whimsy affair, set during one night and centred around a clowder of cats who gather to plead their case for a new life, with each cat making their pitch through song and dance. Vanessa plays Demeter, who she describes as a skittish cat who's best friends with Bombalurina.
"The thing about Cats is a lot of the characters are up to your own interpretation, which has been awesome," says Vanessa. "The name Demeter comes from the Greek goddess, so I've been doing a lot of research into that story in Greek mythology and seeing how I can tie it back to my performance."
With Vanessa's love for the stage undeterred, she says she would dearly love to return to Melbourne and "get back into it in full swing". "This rehearsal process has been a taste of that," she says. "I really want to get back into that wholeheartedly."
Since the publication of this article, Warrnambool Theatre Company has postponed its production of Cats until January 23 - 30, 2022. Visit lighthousetheatre.com.au for more information and to book tickets.
While all information for events featured in this edition of Out & About was correct at the time of printing, dates and details are subject to change - and in some cases, already have. Readers are strongly encouraged to contact event organisers for the most recent schedule.