When Tara Morice won the role of Fran in the play ‘Strictly Ballroom’ at Sydney’s Wharves Theatre in 1988, it was one of those defining moments for a recent graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA).
Let’s face it, NIDA produces the cream of the crop of Aussie actors but the true test of talent is in the ones who, decades later, have worked with almost every theatre company in the country.
Morice was the only cast member from the original play of ‘Strictly Ballroom’ to reprise her role in the hit international romantic comedy film of the same name. One reason why: she has comic timing to die for.
When you see Morice on stage, you know this Australian has honed her craft, proving that Australia can create world-class talent, so long as the opportunities are there. So long as we don’t all fall through the cracks, as it were.
Morice tells of how the COVID-19 lockdowns gave her “a shared experience” with people who are not part of the arts industry. She was starring in ‘Dance Nation’ at Belvoir Street when Covid hit Sydney in March 2020, an American comic play that satires ambition through the quest to be the award-winning pageant of girl power. It was the perfect show in which she could explore her well-honed comedic skill.
The production originated at the State Theatre Company of South Australia where it had a healthy run. But when it arrived at Belvoir Street, everything came to a halt.
“We were one of the first shows cancelled, it was very disappointing. I hadn’t worked at Belvoir Street for some years so I was really looking forward to it.”
Morice adds that the Belvoir Street team were wonderful to the cast and crew but the show unfortunately didn’t get picked up again. After spending the last 20 months watching other artists go under or leave the industry altogether, Morice is adamant that she really is one of the lucky ones, but the challenges have been quite strange. She lived off her savings for as long as they lasted.
Then there was another hurdle.
“Having to meet the requirements for JobSeeker was incredibly frustrating,” she said. She describes applying for multiple jobs every week to receive the payment as an impossible task because there was no work available in Sydney.
Morice tells of how she had to explain to a Centrelink employee about the industry; the way her agent puts her up for roles and the machinations of a freelance career.
“They have no understanding of artists, musicians or creatives. We all fell through the cracks. I wasn’t alone in my disappointment, I think the whole industry started to feel like the whole country didn’t care.”
But a 30-something-year career brings the kind of resilience it takes to survive in the industry. Morice knew she was lucky compared to all the thousands of younger artists who were just starting to navigate their own careers.
“It was a really scary time, and a bit depressing, but then I found myself connecting to people not in the industry but who had also lost their jobs. I felt a shared experience. That was amazing for me because I’ve only ever acted for a living.”
There were suddenly people from all walks of employment that began to understand what it’s like for an actor: the uncertainty of when the next job will appear; the constant pounding the pavement for the next gig.
Coming out of 2021 is an exciting time for Morice, who is currently in rehearsal for Tom Holloway’s adaptation of ‘The Museum of Modern Love’ for Sydney Festival, a play based on Heather Rose’s Stella Prize-winning novel of the same name.
“I’m excited about this show but I am a bit apprehensive about how readily audiences will return to the theatre.”