Jennifer Flowers: many strings to her thespian bow

July 31, 2016

It’s a great chance to see a professional production of absurd theatre

She has been described as Brisbane theatre royalty and after decades of performing, Brisbane actor Jennifer Flowers is giving back both on the stage and behind the scenes to up-and-coming thespians.

“It is very difficult for young people today,” Jennifer says of acting. “They have more film and television opportunities than I did when I started, but they don’t get the experience of doing the great classics which I think is really essential for learning your craft.

“They love to do them, but don’t often get the chance because theatre companies don’t have the budgets for the big casts.”

Sharing some stage wisdom

“The best advice I can share is to have some strings to the bow. It is necessary to make a living,” Jennifer says of the acting life. “I somehow managed to sustain myself because I turned to directing 25 years ago, and I do some teaching of theater and drama.”

Jennifer and business partner Dianne Eden (who used to run the acting course at QUT) own Double Act Studio and offer intensive training—in voice and body, the acting processes, script analysis and scene study—in Brisbane and around Australia.

“We do an eight-week course and we are off to Sydney to deliver the next one,” she says.

Awarded and applauded

The stage has loved Jennifer as much as she has loved it – she has won a Churchill Fellowship, four Matilda awards and a Matilda Life Achievement Award.

She has also directed successful productions at the Queensland Theatre Company, Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Trust, La Boite, and the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies.

Jennifer’s mentors and role models

Her love has always been the classics. I remind Jennifer that it was twenty-three-years-ago that she took to the stage with a younger John Howard (Seachange, All Saints, Packed to the Rafters) in The Crucible.

“Of course, John Howard, wonderful,” she says. “Aubrey Mellor [theatre director] who did The Crucible was a wonderful director. He inspired a lot of people and taught at NIDA when Judy Davis was there. In terms of directors, I just loved Neil Armfield, he was so insightful. Robin Nevyn was also a great influence,” she says.

“But you know many of my early influences probably would have been British, although Peter Finch [English-born, Australian actor] was one. I remember listening to the records of Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet and seeing the Young Elizabethans when they were travelling. I love the classics.”

Jennifer’s next role with shake & stir

Jennifer will be taking to the stage to play Nell in shake & stir Theatre Company’s production of Endgame at QPAC from 9 August with Robert Coleby and John McNeil.

shake & stir is no stranger to bringing cutting-edge productions to the stage for the public and into the school curriculum: Endgames by Samuel Beckett is part of The Theater of the Absurd movement which began as experimental theater in Paris. In essence, conventions of plot, characters and themes are discarded or distorted, creating an irrational reality!

“There are a lot of schools booked into to see it,” Jennifer says, “but they study absurdism, so they will be primed before they come. I always find the talkback sessions after interesting to find out what students do get out of it. Some students are really perceptive.

Endgame has an existential bleakness to it. But I have much more positive spin than Samuel Beckett and we’re trying to find humour in it too. While I understand the existential ‘anxe’ of it, I try to find light and shade,” she says. “It’s a great chance to see a professional production of absurd theatre.”

Where it all began

Jennifer admits that when she started out in theatre it was frowned upon by her family because “it wasn’t conventional. I can recall an aunt saying ‘I didn’t think you would be doing something like that’,” Jennifer laughs.

“I did all sorts of speech and drama. I went to an all-girls school and played boys because I was tall. I really gravitated towards theatre.”

And she admits to enjoying the rush now as much as she did the very first time she put her foot on the stage.

“I get a rush, terrifying but exhilarating. When it is going well and when there’s a report between you and the other performers, and the audience is in sync, it is a fantastic feeling,” Jennifer says.

“It is a love-hate relationship for me. I am still frightened by it; it makes me nervous but it is something that has to be endured.”

And what’s next for Jennifer?

“I’ve done lots of really great things; I seem to get bad old ladies,” she laughs. “Maybe next, I would like to play a glamorous old lady.

“I don’t want to give up acting, I love it. I’ve got the energy to do it and when people get it, it is fantastic!”

Endgame

Starring: Robert Coleby, Jennifer Flowers, John McNeil and Leon Cain.
Technical: Directed by Michael Futcher, with Designer Josh McIntosh  and Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright.
Dates: 9 Aug – 20 Aug 2016
Tickets: youth (under 26-years-old), $35, concession $50, adult $60* (*a booking fee of $6.95 applies)
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Duration: 1 hour and 20 min (no interval, subject to change without notice)
To book or for more information, click – here

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Helen Goltz

After studying English Literature and Communications at universities in Queensland, Helen Goltz has worked as a journalist, producer and marketer in print, TV, radio and public relations. She was born in Toowoomba and has made her home in Brisbane. Helen is the author of eight books and is published by Clan Destine Press and Atlas Productions. She is the original founder of She Brisbane.