SiS Storyteller Profile: Jane Longhurst

How would you describe what you do?

I’m an actor. Performing is my first love. However crafting a career in the arts in Australia over time means you inevitably wear many other hats. Mine currently are: actor/broadcaster/voice over artist/presenter.

I’m a rubbish waitress so to make ends meet I’ve also worked in arts marketing and advocacy, publicity, retail, museum attendant, sold lingerie via party plan, taught drama and English as a Second Language and, while living in Japan, voiced characters in violent video games destined for American markets. Speak to most actors and they’ll have a similar trail of ‘needs must’ work under their belt.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love the collaboration that centres on a creative idea. I am never happier than when working on a script, whether classic or contemporary, with fellow cast, director, designers, dramaturgs etc. It is the cumulative effort, problem solving and craft that I relish. To bring a work to life and to experience that with an audience, to absorb their attention, wonder, curiosity, and emotion, to know that you’ve transported someone out of themselves for 90 minutes in the cockpit of a performance space, those on stage and off stage moments are what you cherish.

Who in your industry inspires you the most and why?

There are so many peers who consistently inspire me, I’d say whomever I’m working with at the time! Certainly artists who have crafted a career over decades, who have been in it for the long haul, spring to mind first. Locally it’s the theatre artists who I saw as a teenager growing up in Hobart, people like Noreen Le Mottee, Iain Lang, Richard Davey, Robert Jarman, Charles Parkinson: I dedicated my professional life to becoming an actor because of their example and generosity. These people have written our stories, brought our stories to life and their influence is significant.

If I think nationally, it’s leaders like Wesley Enoch, theatre academics like Julian Meyrick and the writer Alison Croggon: I admire them for their work and their courageous and rigorous analysis of the Australian cultural sector. With so little appetite demonstrated from Canberra to meaningfully restore, assist and boost our cultural sector especially during this pandemic year, we are especially dependent upon great minds like these to hold politicians to account and to chronicle this especially challenging time for our fragile arts sector.

What’s the most memorable story you’ve been involved in telling?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? staged by Tasmanian Theatre Company in the Esmond Dorney House high on Porter’s Hill above Sandy Bay will be an experience I will treasure always. The combination of Albee’s script, the location of the house, the 1960s period dressing, the intimacy of the space and the huge emotional arch of the play… it was both exhilarating and terrifying to perform.

Plays like Grounded and The Events both staged by Blue Cow Theatre represent contemporary texts written in response to shocking contemporary violence: with Grounded we meet a female fighter pilot who is relegated by the United States airforce to sitting in an air conditioned shipping container in the Nevada desert, observing via drone enemy action thousands of kilometres away. The Events placed an act of urban mass shooting in the spotlight and the fallout of faith, hope and love. Both works were staged with pared back set dressing to focus on the urgency of the storytelling and provide space to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The Mares written by Kate Mulvany, presented in Ten Days on the Island 2019 and produced by Tasmanian Theatre Company cast its fury back to ancient times of mythological female warriors before the audience was slingshotted into the contemporary setting of thoroughbred breeding programs. It was without a doubt one of the most challenging roles I have ever had to play but also one of the most important.

Why do you think telling stories is important?

If you fundamentally believe that all humans are flawed, vulnerable and imperfect as I do, telling stories of who we are, how we got here, where we might go provides a glimpse into our shared joys, fears and passions. Reading stories to or watching children respond to music, is revelatory. Their eyes soften and widen, their mouths open in wonder. The act of telling a story shows us they are, we are, hard-wired to respond. Music, theatre, storytelling, the arts… it all has the capacity to build empathy, curiosity and compassion for stories we don’t know, perspectives we don’t consider, ideas we don’t understand.

What are you working on right now?

With thanks to City of Hobart, Arts Tasmania and Blue Cow Theatre for their support, I am working on the first of a trilogy of one-woman plays I am going to perform over the coming five years. The first play is Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. Though written nearly sixty years ago, the central character of Winnie, a woman trapped in a mound up to her waist, then up to her neck is astonishingly acute especially in this year 2020, the year of social isolation.

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