September 9th, 2015
Published on January 15th, 2012 | by johnw0
Music Theatre and Fred Fargher
It was always thought that I would use my time in Ballarat to pursue my performing arts interests. The Woodcarving Academy was to be a source of income , giving me the opportunity to experience the opportunities I thought were only available in the eastern states (of Australia).
I had settled into work-life in Ballarat. My skills in teaching woodcarving were developing. Dad was still living with me bringing me up to speed with teaching skills. I was ready to do some theatre.
I had been in Ballarat for a few months when I looked through the Ballarat newspaper The Courier and spotted an advertisement for auditions for the Ballarat Lyric Theatre’s next production “Cinderella: The pantomime”.
I auditioned for a panel and got into the chorus. The most influential person on the panel was the Director, and Ballarat theatre stalwart, Fred Fargher.
Fred is a one in a million talent. Fred had the ability to take the average and make it exceptional.
I have come to realise, when creating something successful, it is imperative to pay attention to the detail of all the components. Fred certainly did this.
He was heavily involved in amateur music theatre in Ballarat as a producer, director and performer. He was so extremely dedicated and talented. His shows took out many of the Victorian Amateur Music Theatre awards. The standard of the shows he directed were some of the best in Victoria.
It impressed me how he took males with little or no experience and turned them into competent performers. Men were always in demand in the performing arts. For some, it isn’t considered a ‘real’ job and in the past was considered something ‘sissies’ did. Consequently, there were rarely enough men to match the girls in numbers as there was a lot of pairing up with partners for ensemble numbers.
His choreography was brilliant. His routines were intricate and executed with immaculate unison and technical finesse. He had a knack of creating steps for the men that weren’t effeminate-something the 70’s did and was no longer applicable in the 80’s. Storylines were rewritten if they needed updating or fine-tuning, and the musical numbers were arranged to be of the highest standard and to be relevant for the time.
Fred designed elaborate costumes and was known to work till all hours of the night sewing them. It wasn’t unusual for him to sleep at the rehearsal venue on nights when he worked till late on various parts of the show.
Fred showed an interest in everyone in the cast and knew everyone’s name by the end of the first rehearsal. He shortened my name to Lee as a term of friendly endearment. Fred was the only person to ever call me Lee. It didn’t bother me as his intentions were good.
Fred was very highly revered among those who worked with him.
Fred also hosted a 90 minute live variety program called “Six Tonight” from 1971–1983. It was one of the few live Australian programs of this type being presented in Australia at the time.
Here is the ‘opening’ of Six Tonight:
Here is 10 minutes of an episode of Six Tonight from 1975:
Fred Fargher’s production of Cinderella the pantomime was ahead of its time for Ballarat. Although it received acclaim at state level in Victoria, Ballarat locals weren’t ready for this amount of dramatic entertainment. One thing they didn’t take to were the two males who played the roles of Cinderella’s two ugly sisters. As funny as it was, and although these roles were brilliantly acted, cross-dressing was radical and confronting for Ballarat in the mid 1980’s.
Funnily enough, I myself was subject to a few jealous snide remarks while working in Ballarat. Funnily enough, they were only from a few well-to-do ‘kept’ women. Fortunately, community attitudes have come a long way since the 1980’s and as a business woman in the 1990’s – 2000’s I received only respect; sometimes even awe. I have full faith the people of Ballarat have also moved with the times.
I did a few shows with the Ballarat Lyric Theatre under Fred Fargher. I was never promoted to anything else other than chorus when Fred was Director. His standards were so extremely high, I simply didn’t match them. Dancers were a major part of his show having such impressive routines that they were highlights of the shows, and they needed to physically look good by being ultra slim. I wasn’t ever a large girl, but I wasn’t slim enough at the time. I took this in my stride not taking it personally, realising I simply didn’t meet the required criteria. I take all comments and constructive (and sometimes not so constructive) criticism as an opportunity to improve myself.
Later in life, I likened the performing arts industry to any other, in that the audition for the performer is the job interview in the mainstream world.
It was coincidental how I never seem to land lead roles in the musicals I auditioned for. My singing voice struggled to accommodate the technical requirements of roles. I demonstrated more than enough natural ability-the quality of my voice was more than sufficient, but the throat constriction and the struggle to pitch higher notes prevented me from achieving the heights worthy of my vocal talent. It was frustrating. I was to identify the reason why I was held back 10 years later, affecting my entire life and the direction I took.
In the meanwhile, I continued to sing, and I was ready to resume private singing lessons.
During the first musical I did in Ballarat, I asked the secretary of The Ballarat Lyric theatre if he knew of any good singing teachers. He immediately put me onto Connie Constance-Lemke and Robert (Bob) Lemke. Connie and Bob took me under their wings and gave me four years of the most exhilarating and exciting singing experiences.