House Lights Up is a podcast by Allie Imlach, and presented by the Arts Wellbeing Collective.

Each episode features honest conversations with performing arts workers about the challenges of forging a career in the arts, and strategies for overcoming them.

House Lights Up was produced with the insights, expertise, experience and generous contributions of Greta Bradman, Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Rachel Dunham, Gabriel Edwards, Susan Eldridge, Matt Heyward, Luke Hunter, Zoe Knighton, Ian Peel, Rob Tremlett (AKA Mantra), Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 1: The Audition

“Auditions are awful because they’re foreign. They’re not a performance… You’re outnumbered, you’re outgunned. You’ve just got to hold your head up high and do the work and hope for the best…”

Musical theatre actors Rachel Dunham and Matt Heyward share some of their audition experiences, while music director Luke Hunter gives us the perspective of those sitting on the selection panel. We consider different ways of interpreting the audition process, and counsellor Gabriel Edwards provides some expert advice on how performers can maintain a healthy approach to this challenging fact of life for the main stage performer.

Episode 2: The Mind On Stage

In a perfect world, a performer is able to focus their mind on command, reliably and predictably, to the benefit of their work. In the real world, the mind can have other plans. It wanders, plays tricks on its owner. It can take control of the body in that crippling affliction, performance anxiety. In this episode, we consider these common experiences and ways in which they can be addressed.

Hip hop artist Rob Tremlett, cellist Zoe Knighton and actor/singers Rachel Dunham and Matt Heyward share their personal experiences of performance anxiety and focus-related issues. Luke Hunter tells us about some of the weird and wonderful things the mind can get up to on a long-run show, and counsellor Gabriel Edwards and operatic soprano and registered psychologist Greta Bradman provide advice on how issues like performance anxiety can be addressed.

Music credit at 10m 38s: “Who Do You Think You Are”
Lyrics: Rachel Trevorrow Dunham
Music and Arrangement: Shannon D. Whitelock

Episode 3: Vulnerability

In this episode we consider some of the features of a career as a performer, as well as features of the industry in general, that make entertainment and performing arts workers a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to mental health and wellbeing challenges.

“Artists create from the heart. When you create a piece of art, when you perform your craft, you’re putting yourself out there to an audience who are sitting there with expectations of being entertained… And because you’re in an industry that expects high performance consistently… When you’re going out on stage, it feels like it’s everything.”

Performing arts professionals Greta Bradman, Rachel Dunham, Zoe Knighton, Matt Heyward, Luke Hunter and Rob Tremlett share their experiences of life in the performing arts industry. Counsellor Gabriel Edwards provides a mental health professional’s perspective on the industry, and advice on what individuals can do to maintain their health and wellbeing throughout their performing arts career.

Episode 4: Validation

Judgement is something all performing artists must learn to navigate. And how a performer approaches judgement and criticism can have a lot to do with their ideas about validation and their individual definition of success.

As social creatures with the need for approval and acceptance wired into our brains, the promise of external validation looms large in the minds of many. In this episode, we consider the dangers of this innate need for the performer. We look at varying sources of validation and ways of dealing with criticism, including what a performer can do if they’re just not good at taking negative feedback.

Performing arts professionals Rachel Dunham, Matt Heyward, Luke Hunter, Zoe Knighton, and Rob Tremlett discuss their sources of validation and strategies for managing criticism. Operatic soprano and registered psychologist Greta Bradman shares her perspective on the “amorphous beast” known as the audience, and counsellor Gabriel Edwards provides advice on balancing external and internal validation, and approaching feedback from directors and creative teams as a gift.

Episode 5: Compromise

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a perfectionist”. It’s usually declared with pride – as a measure of how much that person cares about their work, and the level of quality to which they hold themselves.

But say you hold the view, as many people do, that perfection is impossible. Perfection doesn’t exist. Does that mean the pursuit of perfection is pointless? Or worse, that it’s dangerous?

Cellist Zoe Knighton shares her thoughts on how to move on from a less than perfect performance. Musical theatre actors Rachel Dunham and Matt Heyward explain the importance of knowing how to hold a little bit back in a long-run show. Music director Luke Hunter and hip hop artist Rob Tremlett consider the difficulties of judging one’s own performance. Operatic soprano and registered psychologist Greta Bradman explains how a growth mindset can help combat perfectionism. And counsellor Gabriel Edwards provides an alternative to perfection which can help – rather than hinder – success.

Music credit at 3m 50s:
Cello Suite No. 3 In C Major, BWV 1009 (Gigue)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Zoe Knighton

Episode 6: The Performer’s Job

From the audience, to fellow performers, backstage colleagues, creators and the work itself, the performer’s duty extends across and beyond the stage. In this episode we explore the purpose of the performer’s role, including some of the key relationships that feed into their work.

Our performing arts professionals share their insight and experiences.

Musical theatre actor Matt Heyward and cellist Zoe Knighton consider the responsibility and support they feel when it comes to their peers, and operatic soprano and registered psychologist Greta Bradman explains the importance of being open to making genuine connections with fellow performers. Hip hop artist Rob Tremlett explains the invisible contract between the performer and the audience, and counsellor Gabriel Edwards talks about the cross-over between performer and activist. And music director Luke Hunter explains the importance of reputation in a changing industry.

Episode 7: Insight

“This will always be a path that requires you to hold yourself to account… That is one of the hardest things that you’ll have to do, and it might take you the rest of your life to learn how to do it well… but I think that is the measure of the people who make it and the people who don’t.” (Monica Davidson)

In this episode of House Lights Up, we consider the role of insight in helping to create a thriving arts career. Our interviewees explain the importance of truly understanding your motivations for pursuing a creative practice, and of identifying goals and values that will help you achieve work that is meaningful to you.

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 8: Adaptability

“Working in the performing arts, every job we do is different to the last one. So whether we know it or not were accruing all of these different skills and this really wonderful level of responsivity to anything that’s thrown our way… We’re constantly developing our ability to respond to new things, which makes us infinitely employable.” (Anne Wood)

In this episode of House Lights Up, we explore some of the most important contributors to financial survival in the arts and entertainment industries. Film maker and Creative Plus Business founder Monica Davidson talks about bridging the divide between arts and business training. Orchestral musician and creator of Notable Values Susan Eldridge tells us about changing the game in classical music education. And musical theatre actor Anne Wood shares her tips on how to excel at being unemployed, and the importance of having more than one “Plan A”.

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 9: Experience

“If we can stay calm and kind and loving to each other and our community, things are going to be okay. The work we do is needed, it has value and we’ve got to remain committed… If we haven’t got skin in the game, we won’t get the work when the work comes back.” (Susan Eldridge)

The Australian government’s mid-March ban on non-essential public gatherings effectively cancelled the live performance industry indefinitely. In this episode of House Lights Up, our arts workers share their observations and their personal experiences of the COVID-19 shutdown. What has the crisis taught us about the industry and ourselves? What opportunities does this time of upheaval present? And how might performing arts organisations and workers respond in a way that builds the industry’s resistance to the next big disruption?

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 10: Courage

“I think there’s such a big shift for women after they’ve had children – coming back to their identity, and realising who they are, and knowing your own value as a human. You’re not just a feeding machine, you can do so much more… The best thing that I ever did was jump back into the work pool.” (Deone Zanotto)

In this episode of House Lights Up, our arts workers describe how they make their career and their family life work together. Psychologist Chris Cheers explains how to let go of external expectations to support the best interests of you and your family. Performer and choreographer Christina D’Agostino shares her experiences of performing just months after becoming a mum for the first time. And we talk about overcoming the trap of parental guilt to maximise the positive impact parenthood can have on your creative practice.

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 11: People

“A really easy trap to fall into is if your entire world just exists within this bubble of being a performer. If you are getting this form of therapy or this form of validation or this form of security from your expression as an artist…  At the end of the day, it might be a reflection of who you are, but it’s not being given to the person you truly are because these people don’t know who you are. Only you know that, and the people around you in your personal life know that.” (Mantra)

It’s a widely accepted notion that a strong social network is a significant protective factor for both mental and physical health and wellbeing. So this episode of House Lights Up explores social connectedness in the arts – including the benefits and pitfalls of the performing arts environment for maintaining social networks within and outside of the industry.

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.

Episode 12: Self-compassion

“Sometimes when we talk about stress or anxiety, we talk about it as something we have to try and get rid of. But being stressed or being anxious isn’t something you have to get rid of. It’s something we can really listen to and give meaning to, to understand what it’s trying to communicate to us about ourselves or about our environment. The key is trying to learn strategies to accept and allow space for emotions as a normal thing that will come up as you try and do something that’s important to you.” (Chris Cheers)

How can we allow space for our emotions without letting stress and anxiety take charge of our lives? This episode of House Lights Up explores the different strategies our interviewees use to manage stress and anxiety in their work. Whether evaluating their own performance, managing how they use their energy throughout the day, or learning to move on from past disappointments – kindness and self-compassion are key.

With Chris Cheers, Cristina D’Agostino, Monica Davidson, Susan Eldridge, Ian Peel, Mantra, Anne Wood and Deone Zanotto.


Contributors

Allie Imlach

Allie has an honours degree in Professional Communication from Monash University. As Program Producer and On-Air Presenter for 88.3 Southern FM, Allie developed her skills in interview, storytelling, editing and crafting narratives. Allie joined the Arts Centre Melbourne team in 2012, and is currently in an Advisor role with the Risk and Compliance team.

Greta Bradman

Psychologist, performing artist

Greta is a psychologist, ABC Classic-FM presenter, columnist, soprano, Decca Classics Artist, and the founder of EirisInc. Since commencing her professional career in 2010 primarily as a concert classical singer, Greta has presented more than 1000 performances with orchestras, and her 2015 début album for Decca Classics My Hero (c. Richard Bonynge; English Chamber Orchestra) received five-star reviews and topped the classical and classical crossover ARIA charts for several months.  Her album Home (c. Luke Dollman; Adelaide Symphony Orchestra) was released in 2018 with similar ARIA charts success.

Greta is an Arts Centre Melbourne Trustee, sits on the advisory boards of the Australian Mental Health Prize and the Arts Wellbeing Collective; she is patron of St. Matthew’s Music Foundation, an Ambassador of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide and is on faculty at Alain de Botton’s The School of Life.

Chris Cheers

Psychologist

Before training as a psychologist, Chris worked for arts organisations across Australia, developing a rich understanding of the industry and artists. This led to Chris Cheers Psychology: a business specialising in providing mental health support and workshops to clients in the arts, performance and creative industries.

Chris has provided workshops and consultation with Melbourne Fringe Festival, Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Arts Wellbeing Collective, the National Institute of Dramatic Arts and various independent theatre productions and films. Chris is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and also specialises in supporting the LGBTQI+ community. Chris has been a university lecturer in Psychology since 2011 and is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Alcohol and Policy Research at La Trobe University.

Cristina D’Agostino

Stage Performer and Choreographer

Cristina is a Green Room Award-winning performer and creative artist who has appeared on stage in shows like Jersey Boys, Guys and Dolls, Matilda, Strictly Ballroom the Musical and West Side Story. Cristina recently had her first creative team role as resident choreographer on Shrek the Musical for the Gordon Frost Organisation.

After touring Jersey Boys as a new mum in 2018, Cristina started an online group for parents or parents-to-be working in the performing arts industry. Cristina uses the platform to share her and others’ experiences of juggling parenthood with a performing career.

Monica Davidson

Writer, Filmmaker, and Founder, Creative Plus Business

Monica Davidson has a background in performance, filmmaking and journalism. After launching her own production company in 1994, Monica found there was a real lack of information out there about the practicalities of running a creative business. So Monica documented what she herself had learned through experience, hired a couple of guest speakers who she felt knew more than her, and held her first half-day workshop in a grubby inner-city community hall in 1995. It was a smash success. Creative people were hungry for the information, and so a second business was born.

As director of Creative Plus Business, Monica helps other creatives develop and improve their business skills. She works with individual practitioners and larger arts organisations as a business advisor, strategic consultant and workshop facilitator. Monica focuses on goal setting, business and strategic planning, financial literacy, capacity building and marketing, helping hundreds of arts practitioners to become both creatively and economically self-sufficient.

 Rachel Dunham

Performing artist

With an extraordinary singing voice and stage presence, Rachel was in much demand as a jazz singer, touring as lead vocalist in the Queensland Youth Big Band, working in studios for EMI and BMG, singing in TV commercials, music videos and fronting 9-piece Sydney show band Cool Weazel.

She studied with renowned voice coach Don Greydon who helped her expand her already formidable range, and develop more power and control over her voice. Based in New Zealand for several years, Rachel devised and starred in a highly successful children’s theatre production Gypsy Gina. During her time in there, Rachel fronted sell-out jazz shows at the Wellington International Arts Festival, opened for Ray Charles during his tour and performed to 30,000 people at the Millennium Celebrations in Wellington.

In 2011 Rachel was cast in New Theatricals production of Rock of Ages, where she received a five-star review in the Melbourne Age for her performance of “Justice Charlier”. Rachel continues to perform in stage musicals, most recently in Harvest Rain’s production of Hairspray as “Motormouth Maybelle”.

Gabriel Edwards

Counsellor

Gabriel Edwards is an Associate Partner at Fisher Leadership and former Managing Director of Engaging People, a successful People Strategy Consultancy established in 2005. She is also a trained Counsellor and the founder of Breathing Space a unique counselling and facilitation service for business leaders and performing artists, established in January 2017.

Gabriel has worked with individuals, teams and whole organisations to engage employees, develop healthy and productive teams, create new brands, improve wellbeing and transform cultures. Gabriel identifies a consistent theme to her methodology and that it is to approach all challenges, interventions and strategies from the inside out. She has worked with World Vision Australia, RMIT, Rio Tinto, Flight Centre, World Directories (Europe), Seek, REA Group, VicRoads, VicSuper, QLD Main Roads, Port of Brisbane Authority, Southern Health, Circus Oz and a growing number of CEOs and Performing Artists as individual counselling clients.

Gabriel is an experienced Board Director, a member of Women on Boards and a member of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

Susan Eldridge

Orchestral Musician and Founder, Notable Values

Susan is an educator, coach, consultant and musician who works at the crossroads of human communication, creativity, and innovation. She is renowned for her ability to see elegant solutions to complicated problems, and has supported organisations across the country to rethink and redesign their learning experiences and models.

As a coach, Susan has mentored over 1,000 performing artists, so she knows creative people and the challenges they face to build a life of means and meaning. Helping artists to thrive is her jam!

Matt Heyward

Performing artist

Matt most recently appeared in Billy Elliot (Louise Withers and Associates), Sweeney Todd (TEG Life Like Company), and the Australian premiere of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder for The Production Company. Prior to this he performed in the 60thAnniversary Production of My Fair Lady directed by Dame Julie Andrews (Opera Australia/GFO). He made his professional debut in the original Australian production of MAMMA MIA! The Musical (Dainty Consolidated). Other original cast appearances include The Producers (GFO), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (TPC), Monty Python’s Spamalot (Louise Withers and Associates) and The Addams Family (New Theatricals).

Other theatre credits include Mary Poppins (Disney/Cameron Mackintosh), The 25thAnnual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Victorian Theatre Company), The Boy From Oz (TPC), Eurobeat-Almost Eurovision (GNG), Damn Yankees (TPC), Mame (TPC), The Boyfriend (TPC) and Sugar-Some Like It Hot (TPC). He also recently appeared in the acclaimed re-imagining of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables (Michael Cassel Group).

Matt is one of the associate producers of Out From Under, a concert series aimed at raising mental health awareness in the entertainment industry, and also works as a content advisor for Arts Centre Melbourne’s Arts Wellbeing Collective.

Luke Hunter

Musical director

Luke is currently the Musical Director for the Australian production of Come From Away.

Luke was the Musical Director for the Australian production of Jersey Boys, for which he received both the Helpmann and Green Room Awards for Best Musical Direction. He co-arranged the Australian Anthem for the boys to perform at the AFL Grand Final.

Other Musical Direction credits include Kinky Boots (Helpmann award nomination), The Addams Family (newtheatricals), Dedications starring John O’Hara for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Gale Edwards’ acclaimed production of The Rocky Horror Show, The Sound of Music and the Australian tour and Singapore seasons of Grease for the Gordon Frost Organisation, a concert version of Beauty and the Beast for the Rob Guest Endowment and Melbourne Zoo, Shout! (regional tent tour), Oh! What a Night, Leader of the Pack (Green Room Award for best musical direction), Falsettos (Blackbird productions), Up written by Eddie Perfect and 42nd Street for the Victorian College of the Arts, Todd McKenney Live at the 2006 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Floorplay in Atlantic City and Burn the Floor in Las Vegas.  In 2003, he performed and co-wrote the cabaret Get Here for the York Theatre Company in New York with fellow Australians Simon Gleeson, Natalie O’Donnell and Deone Zanotto.

Luke’s original collection of songs The Book of Luke premiered at The New Capers in Melbourne in March, 2007.

Luke completed a Bachelor of Performing Arts Degree from Monash University in 1997, and began his career onstage.  He appeared as Schlomo Metzenbaum in Fame the Musical, both in Australia and overseas, and in the casts of the original Australian productions of Shout! and Oh! What a Night.

Luke is the co-creator of the iPhone App Warm Me Up! which provides vocal warm-ups to singers worldwide.

Zoe Knighton

Musician

Zoe is a founding member of Flinders Quartet, one of Australia’s finest chamber ensembles. Flinders Quartet has toured internationally, nationally and appears regularly at Australian festivals as well as their own celebrated subscription series. The group has commissioned many works, been nominated for an ARIA for best classical album and continues to be a champion of Australian Chamber music. “Flinders Quartet…whose players give such care and unanimity of musical thought to Australian Chamber Music” Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald.

After starting cello at the age of 9 with Jill Kahans, and graduating from the University of Melbourne with the highest mark of her year, Zoe went on to establish herself as one of the country’s most sought after cellists. Having studied with Christian Wojtowicz, Michel Strauss (Paris) Nelson Cooke, and Angela Seargeant, she is now in demand as chamber coach and teacher at various institutions. A regular panelist for major competitions, Zoe combines many facets of her career with performing.

Zoe has played numerous concertos with Melbourne Orchestras and with pianist Amir Farid,  made an impressive debut at the Melbourne Recital Centre to great critical acclaim in 2009. Their partnership continues with recordings for ABC, concerts throughout Australia and the release of 5 CDs on the MOVE label. She has been praised for her “thrilling tenor sound” (Limelight magazine) “sublime phrasing” and  “many great technical demands carried off with ease.” Their partnership will be reignited in 2020 with performances throughout Australia and New York.

Her three other titles on the MOVE label include the complete suites for solo cello by J.S Bach.

“Knighton has produced a reading of great artistic integrity. “ Gordon Kerry 

“She radiates confidence in her work and participates with personality and no little finesse. “Well worth hearing for the pleasure given through this player’s familiar warmth and honesty of musical character.” Clive O’Connell 

Recent projects have included expanding Flinders Quartet’s regional engagement by becoming Artistic Patrons of the John Noble Quartet Program and initiating a secondary school residency program that incorporates the study of Shostakovich quartets with other areas of curriculum.

Ian Peel

Roadie and Founder, Australian Road Crew Association

In 1973, Ian was a 19-year-old finished artist working in the print industry when he offered a hitchhiker a lift home. When they’d arrived, the hitchhiker Grant Jennings (G.J.) invited Ian inside to meet some friends. These friends owned a business called Clear Light Lightshows – which still operates to this day. Ian was suddenly sitting in a production meeting having accepted a weekend lighting job, and a decades-long career in the live production industry had begun.

In 2012, Ian arranged a reunion for pre-1982 road crew. They had 176 road crew members turn up from all over the world – some of whom hadn’t seen each other for 30 years. According to Ian, you could have run Melbourne on the love in that room. He and his ARCA co-founder Adrian Anderson realised that there was a lot of people in their industry who needed help staying connected. And the Australian Road Crew Association was born.

Rob Tremlett (Mantra)

Musician

As an artist, Mantra has covered a huge amount of ground in the last eight years. One of Australia’s most popular rappers, he is an Obese Records alumni with two albums under his belt, an outstanding amount of airplay and, above all, the kind of respect that earned him the label ‘your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper’.

His first album, 2010’s Power Of The Spoken, was incendiary. A success with fans and critics across the country, Power Of The Spoken was thematically diverse and creative, threaded together with a relentless Hip-Hop soul. Heavily requested on radio, Power Of The Spoken found itself in the coveted triple j Feature Album spot, which helped catapult Mantra to legions of new fans.

Following up in 2011, Mantra’s second album, Speaking Volumes, was a significant artistic step forward and a huge personal statement. Led by first single Got Me Wrong, which became triple j’s most requested song the week of its release, Speaking Volumes maintained Mantra’s lofty position with his fans, his peers and the media.

He has established himself as a conscious and active voice in the local music scene, and is also involved as a mentor and facilitator on many youth and community arts projects.

Anne Wood

Stage Performer

Anne’s career commenced with the original Melbourne production of Cats, after which she travelled to Europe to join the German production. Six years working in Germany and London followed.  A Swell Party marked Anne’s West End debut when she stepped in for the leading lady on the opening night of the premiere.

Other U.K. and European credits include lead roles in Aspects Of Love, Barnum, Crazy For You, Romance Romance, Into The Woods and Closer Than Ever. Anne’s Australian credits include the roles of Irene in Crazy For You, Elsa Schraeder in The Sound Of Music, Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show, Evangeline Harcourt in Anything Goes, and Madame Morrible in Wicked.

Anne spent nearly three years playing the lead role of Donna in the Australian premiere of Mamma Mia!, earning a Green Room Award and an invitation to play the role on London’s West End. Anne re-created this award-winning role in the national tour which celebrated the shows 10th anniversary.

Deone Zanotto

Stage Performer and Owner/Founder, Performance Based Meditation

Deone is an actress, singer and dancer who has appeared on stage in shows such as West Side Story, Chicago, FAME and Footloose.

Shortly after winning the green card lottery, Deone moved to New York and was almost immediately cast in a Broadway show. Not sleeping well, and under incredible stress, Deone found meditation, and suddenly her life looked completely different. She began sleeping through the night, and handled the pressures of her new job with ease, grace and joy.

Deone is passionate about meditation, and has had a daily practice for more than 13 years. After studying in New York and Los Angeles she decided it was time to share her skills with other performing arts workers.