The Rob Guest Endowment annual gala concert is just days away and it’s going to be a night to remember in the Aussie Musical Theatre calendar. The big event is all set for Monday November 14, where six finalists — emerging stars of Australian musical theatre — will take the stage at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre to compete for a a prize package of over $50,000.
Previous winners of the top prize include Daniel Assetta, Joshua Robson, Samantha Leigh Dodemaide, Glenn Hill, Blake Bowden, Francine Cain and Danielle Matthews.
Now let’s get to know one of our future stars: Du Toit Bredenkamp! You might have seen Du Toit this year or last as Rolf in The Sound of Music. A recent WAAPA grad, Du Toit also appeared in the Channel Seven series Molly and has also completed a Bachelor of Music in Classical Piano.
Tell us about yourself.
I have had a pretty interesting upbringing in that I spent the first 15 years of my life between Botswana and South Africa, moving every time my dad was needed by a community elsewhere. At age 16 it also lead me to Perth, Australia, where I made some of my most fond memories, built some of my strongest friendships and turned into the performer I am today. A rather active child, my mum was all too glad when, at nine years old, I found a love for the piano. I would spend hours locked away in the music room practicing classical pieces. I also started acting classes when I was eleven where I learnt how to improvise, memorise scripts and, lets be honest, where I learnt how to speak English properly. Plus my family is very musical and singing was a part of everyday life.
However, it was only in high school that my teachers told me about an industry where I could combine my musicality and my love for acting and that, if I worked hard enough, I too could make a career out of it. That industry, of course, was Musical Theatre, and it has been my love ever since.
When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
When I was about four years old and we were living in the desert country, Botswana, we only had one VHS: The Lion King. Being in southern Africa my whole life I had seen my fair share of lions even at four years old, and I could not understand how they got these lions to talk and sing! When my mother explained that those are actually actors pretending to be the voices of the lions my mind was blown and I knew then that I would be an actor too one day.
What does Rob Guest’s legacy mean to you?
When we lost Rob Guest in October 2008 we lost not only one of the big stars of the Australian stage, but also a true gentleman of the theatre. Rob was passionate about encouraging new talent in the industry and often mentored young performers in their journey as an artist. Being part of the Rob Guest Endowment and, indeed, part of the legacy left by Rob Guest himself is such an honour. I feel so blessed to have been, firstly, recognized along with these other talented finalists and, secondly, being supported by the Endowment as well as the panel of Australian theatre experts to help make a long-lasting and fulfilling career in this tough industry possible.
Who is your hero?
I don’t know the answer to that question! I am torn between my mother and my father. They have managed to spend their whole lives giving all they had to others. Even when they have had very little of their own, they always believed that someone else had less, and that we can help them. They have lived in four different countries and have made a change for the better wherever they have gone. And the beauty is that they couldn’t have done it without relying on each other and supporting each other completely. So I guess if I have to say whose life I would most wish to emulate, I would have to say both of theirs. They are selfless, caring, kind and unafraid of facing the toughest of circumstances to give a better life to others.
What is your all-time favourite memory of being onstage?
In December 2015 we opened The Sound of Music at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. Opening nights are always special, but this was my first major production in one of the biggest theatres in the country and in front of over two thousand people. I remember running out for my bow absolutely overwhelmed by the love pouring in from the audience. I felt so proud of our company and how much we had achieved, and it was the first time I really felt like I belonged on stage. Needless to say it has kindled a fire in me that is going to be very hard to put out.
This can be a tough industry. What keeps you going?
That’s an interesting question. I haven’t been in the industry long enough to know the various extents of mental struggles involved in staying in the industry. In saying that, I know about the struggles I have faced in my own life and in my own career, and I believe it is the firm foundation of friends and family around me that keeps me afloat when all I want to do is sink. I am very lucky in that my girlfriend is in the industry as well, because she just gets it. She is a wonderful listener and springboard for ideas. She helps me out of the lows and reminds me to stay humble during the highs. Without her I don’t think I would be able to stay as focussed as I am. My family also help remind me that there is a world outside of the musical theatre industry. I am a very lucky man to have so many people loving and supporting me.
What are you currently singing in the shower?
My Rob Guest songs?! Haha! No, I am always singing something from the Rat Pack era. Frank Sinatra is the best. I’m always crooning out “Smile” or “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. I don’t even care if it sounds good, they’re just the best songs ever!
You’ve been starring in The Sound of Music. What’s your favourite thing about the show?
I have loved being able to watch and learn from some of the great performers of the music theatre industry. They have all been so kind and generous with their time and their advice. The best thing about the show, however, is when you walk out of the theatre between kids with their parents and you can see how excited they are and how much they enjoyed it. The Sound Of Music movie was very special to me as a kid, and it’s wonderful to see that we have been able to share that joy with another child.
Do you have any pre-show superstitions or rituals?
Yes! Nothing major, but I always put paw-paw ointment on my lips and then immediately wipe it of again before I go on stage. I don’t know why. And I always have my water bottle pre-set whichever side I exit the stage on. I guess I have a bit of a thing about hydration haha!
Why does musical theatre matter?
Musical theatre can make such a difference in people’s lives. We as human beings have a visceral response to music. During live theatre we as an audience make connections between text, what we see on the stage and the experiences in our own lives; in musical theatre those connections are heightened in our consciousness through the music that accompanies it, all in real time as the action unfolds. So if we can make an audience laugh in one song and make them cry in another, why can’t we bring to light issues we are dealing with in the present social, political or economical climate? We can and we should. Very few people walk out of a political address mouthing the words of a particularly moving speech, but audiences around the world leave musical theatre shows humming the tunes they just heard. That’s why we should encourage musical theatre to grow in Australia. And that’s why we should encourage new musical theatre works about Australian stories to be written, funded and nurtured, so that we can do what RENT did in the 90’s and what Hamilton is doing right now, but with our stories, reaching our audiences and changing lives in our communities.