THOSE who caught Louise Barker’s performance as stage manager “Jonno” during Wintersong’s Tenterfield Troubadours concert may not realise that fiction was resembling fact.
Louise’s long and distinguished career in the entertainment industry included a stint as master controller at WIN4 television station in Wollongong.
Her happiest memories, however, are on the other side of the camera and on stage, and she is keen for Tenterfield children to enjoy the same elation she did.
To that end she is hoping to expand her small band of speech and drama students into a local children’s theatre group.
Louise began elocution and ballet lessons as a five-year-old in Wollongong and also studied music, firstly as a pianist and then as a cellist, but as a child her heart was set on becoming a ballerina.
She participated successfully in all these disciplines at many eisteddfods.
Family circumstances didn’t support her dancing dreams but she went on to complete the Australian Music Examinations Board exams, and to gain her teaching letters through the London College of Music whose director was William Lloyd Webber, father of renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“At that time I was the youngest person to receive this qualification,” she said.
Despite being concurrently involved in three performing groups, she had always yearned to get into television and it was her tenacity that got her there through the back door.
“I phoned about an ad I saw in the paper for a technician at the WIN4 television station, only to hear they already had 70 applicants,” she said.
“So I put on my best dress and went to the station, where the receptionist was also the secretary of the chief engineer who was in the middle of doing the interviews. She slipped me in for an interview, and I got the job.”
The role of master controller involved juggling multiple audio-visual inputs and outputs and dealing with technical issues in real-time to ensure station transmission was never interrupted. It was a highly technical role for a decidedly artistic person, but she said she was determined to make it work.
“And it was a huge adrenalin rush,” she said.
When colleagues discovered that Louise spent her time away from the station as a performer, she soon found herself on the other side of the camera and scored the contract as the on-screen face of Wollongong’s large new Crown Central shopping complex.
Louise went on to appear in more the 50 television ads in Wollongong and later in Tamworth.
She said she has achieved all that she wished as a performer but didn’t realise that she wanted to teach until approached by a parent in Tenterfield wanting to give their child a confidence boost. She now coaches local children in elocution, miming, voice production work and even theatre sports, which involves improvising around a given theme.
During the classes, the emphasis is clearly focussed on having a good time.
“There are no ‘mistakes’ in my classes,” she said.
“We’re just learning and having fun. There’s plenty of room for everyone to be successful, just not necessarily in the same way. You don’t have to climb over anyone else to get there.”
She sat proudly in the audience during Oracles of the Bush earlier this year to watch several of her students deliver excellent performances, reciting poems penned by themselves or by Louise’s award-winning brother Stewart. She even wrote an age-appropriate poem herself, inspired by galahs in her backyard, for her youngest pupil.
She likes the more informal atmosphere of Oracles, in contrast to the rigid constraints put on entrants in the eisteddfod competitions of her youth. She is, however, lending her experience as input to the syllabus of the next Tenterfield Federation Eisteddfod, at the invitation of the Quota organisers.
While Oracles and eisteddfods will undoubtedly be featuring on her students’ performing calendars, she is very keen to expand the talent base to support a number of local pantomimes each year. She feels there is a lot of untapped talent in Tenterfield, and she is thrilled with the progress already made by her students.
Classes have outgrown her living room and progressed to the Tenterfield School of Arts stage. Louise said the move had already had a great impact on the children’s performances.
“Now when I say to ‘use the stage’, they know what I’m talking about, and they know why it’s important to throw their voice.
“I’m am just so joyously happy to see a child who was unsure of themselves get up on stage and improvise,” she said.
Louise’s daughter Aleta McLeod, a director of Brisbane-based production company Sputnik Films, was roped in recently to give students some inside information on the advertising industry. She advised anyone hoping to perform in commercials to be on time, look like their photograph, have a professional attitude and to follow direction.
Louise said her daughter can’t wait to come back, given the talent she witnessed during her visit. This comes as no surprise to Louise.
“There’s a freshness in the youth here that I don’t see in Brisbane,” Louise said.
She is aiming to run workshops in the future, to draw out more future performers.
“I just want to get the children interested,” she said.
“It helps them so much with their confidence and standing in front of their peers, and - in the future - doing exams and job interviews and presentations.
“I didn’t know I wanted to teach. Now I love it, even more than performing. It’s all about giving a child an opportunity.
“I know how it made me feel as a child. You put on a wig and a red nose, and you’re someone else.”
Louise Barker can be contacted on 0418 769 652.