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Never Never Never Give Up – In conversation with Alex Rathgeber

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Alex Rathgeber

Today our interview series leads us to the charming and ever so lovely Alex Rathgaber whose success both in Australia and overseas has been inspiring to follow.

Having trained at WAAPA Alex’s career has lead him to play Greg Connell, in The Production Company’s The Boy From Oz, Robert Martin, with Geoffrey Rush in MTC’s The Drowsy Chaperone, Joseph Kennedy Jr,  in The Production Company’s Grey Gardens, Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show (UK touring production to Seoul and NZ in 2010) and Sid in the world premiere of An Officer and a Gentleman just to name a few.

Today we chat with Alex about training, meaning and never giving up!

Years ago, when we worked together on The Boy Friend, we sat down and had a chat about what it means for you to be a successful performer. Has your outlook on your success changed through the years or has the picture stayed much the same? 

Yeah, I guess the picture’s always changing, really. Thinking back to The Boy Friend, I had no idea that Simon Phillips and Geoffrey Rush were going to come along and be in the audience one night and that subsequently Christie Whelan and I would be asked to audition for The Drowsy Chaperone. Things like that can happen without you being able to really plan it. Who knows what’s in the pipeline in this biz! That’s what makes it so exciting. I just try to keep improving and extending my skills and be ready for anything.

After graduating from WAAPA with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theatre you continued your studies in dance at The Space with Robert Sturrock. What helped you make the decision to continue training after completing a full time degree?

I’d never danced before I went to WAAPA. I wished I’d been one of those kids that had danced all their life. I didn’t dance as a kid in Horsham or at the all-boys boarding school I went to. So I was pretty rubbish! And since entering the industry I’d been playing catch up, attending 2 years of weekly casual classes with Robert Sturrock, Andy Hallsworth and Dana Jolly. At the time I made the decision to do Rob’s course I’d just finished a few months in the ensemble of Fiddler On The Roof in Sydney and I was being offered the tour to follow. But I knew I wanted to play lead roles in musicals and that dance had been my weakest link, so I just wanted to immerse myself in dancing every day to become stronger as quickly as I could. And Rob was especially pumped about it because it was his first year of the course at The Space. It was awesome. Similarly to my time at WAAPA, every day I felt so creatively inspired and learnt so much. I’d say the same thing to others as I say to myself – make the most of any opportunity to learn and train.

MTC's The Drowsy Chaperone - Geoffrey Rush, Alex Rathgeber and Christie Whelan. Image by Jeff Busby

MTC’s The Drowsy Chaperone – Geoffrey Rush, Alex Rathgeber and Christie Whelan. Image by Jeff Busby

You’ve been playing lead roles in different musicals for the past 6 years now, what has been the most rewarding role to play to date and why?

It might sound a bit contrived, but I can’t narrow it down to one! Billy in Sideshow Alley was incredible – we were creating the show from the ground up and it was a huge emotional ride. Raoul in Phantom was life-changing because I was suddenly part of this iconic piece on the West End, with the extraordinary Ramin Karimloo as our Phantom – it was a dream come true. Robert in The Drowsy Chaperone was a phenomenal opportunity to work with so many greats of our local biz and to be so physically and comedically challenged; Brad in Rocky Horror was an absolute hoot – we had the time of our lives together touring on that crazy show; Billy in Anything Goes was like running the most exhilarating gauntlet, such an awesome time; and mostly recently, Sid in An Officer And A Gentleman, it’s has been a once-in-a-lifetime journey, from the first workshop in 2009 through to these final performances in Sydney. Best of all, I’ve met and made some of my closest friends doing each of these shows.

You’ve been involved in Personal Development courses and you read a lot… how has this affected your life and career success to date?

" I love being home in Australia with my family and friends and I’m so proud to be a part of the industry here"

Yeah, I’ve gone through various phases in my twenties of wondering what the hell my life is about, who I might be, what I’ve got to offer and what step to take next. Friends and other people I admire have recommended what’s made them tick, changed their life, or helped them – books, courses, films, live shows, travel, etc. I’ve tried to soak up as much up as possible, and all of it’s been great for me personally, as well as helping me with acting.

Recently my Officer dresser, Carol, lent me an amazing documentary called ‘1 Giant Leap’, which is about two musicians travelling to far-off corners of the world to gather music and interview samples from all sorts of people in different cultures. It’s pretty extraordinary. I love feeling inspired like that, having my perspective changed, and then approaching day-to-day life and work with new meaning.

What are 3 characteristics you believe it takes to “make it” as a regularly employed successful artist?

Well, I don’t know – everyone’s version of “making it” is different, so we just have to be true to our own vision, I reckon. I think what’s beautiful and inspiring about being an artist and living a creative life is that it’s limitless – we’re all absorbing our own ‘material’ and each one of us experiences being an artist in such a different way. We look for inspiration that resonates – a quote, a thought, an idea, an image or whatever that for some reason does something to me, pushes my mind, makes me laugh, cry or feel something new and subsequently allows me to act with a new kind of passionate, enriched, sensitive conviction. I think we all have to just follow our own creative vision, commit to and enjoy our own creativity, and hopefully it resonates with others… and involves being paid!

What is the best advice you have been given over your life that you’d love to share?

The first thing that comes to mind – Dad said when we were kids, ‘NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP’, which Winston Churchill once said. He made a sign of it and for some reason decided to pin it up on the wall behind the toilet! That has stuck with me. And another great piece of advice I received when I was at high school: ‘Get outside your comfort zone’.

What do we expect to see more of from you over the next few years? Hollywood?

Ha, I don’t know! This is a timely question, given our early closure of An Officer And A Gentleman. But there’s a big part of me that thrives on not knowing what might pop up. I just keep saying, ‘Something exciting will come and sweep me off my feet!’

What I do know is I want to play an exciting range of roles in different mediums. I’ve thought about recording an album too, and yeah, I’d love to work overseas again – I’ve wanted to go back to London and at some point I can see myself living and working in New York and LA. But I’m not running anywhere. I love being home in Australia with my family and friends and I’m so proud to be a part of the industry here. I’ll just keep working, be open to opportunities and see where things lead!

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Rebecca has written 35 articles on AussieTheatre
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Website: Bex Grennan