Backstage at Priscilla: Adele Parkinson in conversation with David Harris

Tap on to Australia’s most iconic bus and meet the cast riding aboard as they travel the country in 2018. Each fortnight, Priscilla cast member Adele Parkinson switches gears to interview a member of the team and share their stories and insights from behind the scenes of this fabulous Aussie musical.

Cast your mind back. The year is 2017. It’s around 7pm on a Wednesday and I’ve just arrived back from a rehearsal only to realise that I’ve left my house keys in my jacket in my boyfriend’s car. I’m locked out, and have about three hours to kill before he gets home. Bugger.

This is no ordinary night however. The next day, I have an audition for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and instead of my regular night-before-big-audition routine (7pm light dinner; 7:30pm shower, washing/removing hairs as appropriate; 8pm apply fake tan in abundance; 8:30pm eat bigger, more realistic dinner; 9pm question audition wardrobe choice and instead decide to wear the long, purple jumpsuit that completely conceals all prior grooming efforts; 9:30pm final look over sides; 10pm attempt sleep), I need to find food, shelter and a place to rehearse in Sydney’s wild, wild north/west… but more on this later.

You see, the stakes at these auditions are sky high. This is a job that will provide up to a year of full-time paid employment and, with only a dozen or so theatres suitable for large touring musicals in the whole country of Australia, big-show opportunities like these are as rare as sashimi.

In New York, however, it’s a whole new kettle of fishnets. On broadway alone, there are over 40 theatres! Imagine that! An actor in New York may have multiple auditions per day. PER DAY! While here in Australia, an actor like me is pinning their hopes and careers on maybe six or seven big opportunities per year, if they’re lucky. For this reason, a career New York is the object of desire for many musical theatre actors, so it only makes sense that our leading man David Harris made the move there in 2015.

David Harris plays Tick in the current production of Priscilla.

David is well known and loved among Australian audiences. Through a combination of god-given talents and a work ethic as solid as his famous washboard abdominals, David has crafted for himself an illustrious career as one of Australia’s favourite leading men. The boy from Newcastle started out in the original ensemble of The Boy From Oz where he won a Mo Award for best new talent in 1997. He’s since toured in productions of Mamma Mia and Fiddler on the Roof, originated roles in LOVEBiTES and Breast Wishes, and has performed in concert with the likes of Lea Salonga and Michael Ball. His breakout role came in 2007 when he was cast as Chris in Miss Saigon and the leading roles haven’t stopped since. Aussie audiences will fondly recall his Fiyero in Wicked, his Emmett in Legally Blonde, and now, after three years spent sowing the seeds of success in New York, David is back home playing Tick in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

In this interview, David discusses the differences between auditioning in New York and Australia, how he manages pre-audition nerves and how he keeps a solid sense of perspective.

1. How did you come to be cast as Tick in Priscilla?

“Because I was in New York at the time of auditions here in Australia, I was cast off a series of self tapes. I’ve had a lot more practice putting tapes down since I moved to New York. I actually enjoy it! There is a craft to doing a good self tape. I like that all the elements are in your control. You can re-shoot it, look at your angles, put a beat there, etc. Though there is a fine line between spending time on it like that and spending too much time and being over-critical. I always try to do it in three takes. If it’s not done in three, too bad. Otherwise I get in my head. For my Priscilla audition tape, I set the camera up, put a bit of a face on, a fake lash and some lippy, then when it was sent off I didn’t think too much about it. I just let the universe do the rest.”

2. What differences in attitude have you noticed between actors in New York and Australia?

“The big difference between New York actors and Australian actors is that in Australia you can go months without an audition. When an audition does come up here, you pin every hope on it. In New York, however, you’re auditioning weekly, or even daily. You know there’s going to be another audition next week or the end of the week or there may be three auditions that you’re working on at once. We don’t get to flex our audition muscle that much here in Australia.”

3. How do you manage nerves before an audition?

“I try to stay focussed on what’s in my control. I can control what I do before the audition, the prep work, but I can’t control what happens after it, so why worry about it? This work is meant to be fun, and fun for me is doing the prep work enough so that I feel confident in what I’m doing and can actually enjoy the audition. Otherwise I’m a bundle of nerves and I don’t audition well. I think in our industry we can latch on to opportunities and place a heavy weight of expectation on ourselves. I audition far better when I don’t expect any outcome and put my focus instead on doing my best audition.”

4. How do you cope when an audition for a job you really want doesn’t go your way?

“I try look at the things that don’t happen as a great gift. I truly believe that if a door doesn’t open there’s a great reason why. Usually it’s because there’s another door I’m meant to go through. If I miss out on a role that would take me on tour for a year, it means I’m available for other opportunities that might happen in that following year. Getting older I’m realising that, at the end of the day, it’s just a job. It isn’t the be all and end all.”

5. How do you maintain a sense of perspective when you are having success in your career?

“I do believe that we create our reality. People with the attitude that they always miss out will continue to miss out. I have a tattoo that says ‘Conceive, Create, Experience.’ I believe that what you say and what you think about is manifesting your reality. I also believe that things come at the right time. I love that interview with Vince Colosimo where the interviewer says “You’re really hot right now” and Vince responds by saying “I’d rather be warm all the time”. I don’t wanna be a flash in the pan. I want to be constantly simmering, warm all the time.”

6. David’s advice to young actors

David Harris as Tick – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Photo by Ben Symons

“Go through any door that can make you grow. If something feels uncomfortable, that’s when you should definitely do it. It is terrifying but there is no growth in comfort.”

Now back to my Priscilla audition (I promise I have a point to make here). After realising I was locked out, I took a stroll to our local pub thinking I’d get a meal, go over my lines, do some people watching, you know… actor stuff. As I made my entrance at the Bayview though, it became immediately apparent that my night was about to take a very different turn for the following reason: Wednesday night at the Bayview is karaoke night.

Without going into too much detail, yes they did have “Shake your groove thing” on the song list, yes I was able to teach the regulars there a thing or two about microphone technique, and no the iPhone footage that was captured of my super-slick performance did not go viral (one especially impressed patron seemed very confident that I “could go on The Voice”). It’s not lost on me that, had I been wearing a dress made out of thongs and not my Lululemon™ activewear, my blow-in appearance at the Bayview Hotel could be likened to the Broken Hill scene from Priscilla, only it had a nicer ending. Of course none of it would have happened had I remembered my keys and been able to unlock our front door, which I think makes the fact that my audition the following day lead to me being here with the show in Melbourne all the more serendipitous. As David said, if a door doesn’t open, sometimes there’s a great reason why.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from the 21st January, 2018.

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Adele Parkinson is a Sydney based performer currently appearing as Marion in Priscilla Queen of the Desert . A graduate of WAAPA, she made her professional debut in Legally Blonde: The Musical understudying and performing the principal role of Elle Woods. Some of her career highlights since then include performing on international stages in Les Mis é rables , becoming a celebrity in the 1-3 age group with ABC’s Splashdance , and playing a gender-confused dinosaur in Triassic Parq. When she’s not being a Serious Actor, Adele enjoys teaching, reading, and being a kid’s party princess. You can follow Adele on Instagram: @adeleparkinson

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Backstage at Priscilla: Adele Parkinson in conversation with David Harris