Leap of faith

I have taken two leaps of faith in my career. Both involved the arts and both have their origins in the 1950s when my parents set sail from Greece to start a new life in Afstralia. My life script was written on that boat trip and included university and a career in a respectable profession.  

I was on course to fulfil these expectations, enrolling in a commerce degree at Melbourne University but promptly veered off the straight and narrow. I couldn’t bear the dry accounting lectures filled with hulking college rugby types who sculled schooners at Naughton’s and organised marathon pub crawls. Instead I found my niche and kindred spirits in student drama, behind the curtains of the Guild and Union theatres. I built scenery, learned the difference between Fresnel lanterns and profile spots, called sound cues as an assistant stage manager until I finally graduated to producing shows.

It was the early 1980s, the halcyon days of student theatre at Melbourne University. The D-Generation were finding their comedy feet in the Law Revue and Barrie Kosky was a wunderkind director in training. I discovered an intoxicating world that liberated me from my traditional Greek upbringing with its restrictive code. In second year, I only attended the first four weeks of lectures before switching to my unofficial education on the stage. I worked as a producer on ten consecutive shows, claiming a corner table in the upstairs cafeteria as my office. Student theatre directors and stage managers came to see me about production budgets, set designs and marketing plans as I moved from one show to the next, honing my arts management skills.

In third year, I stopped pretending. I could no longer see the point of continuing with my studies. Galvanised by the brash confidence of a 22-year-old, I abandoned my degree. My future belonged in the theatre, not in an office job. I didn’t hesitate to consider whether I needed a fall-back option in case my plans failed. Buoyed by the arrogance of youth, I believed anything was possible.

The pursuit of my nascent theatre career took me beyond the university grounds as I crossed the Yarra to a dilapidated temperance hall in South Melbourne, the home of Anthill. It was the bastion of independent theatre in the late 1980s and showcased a repertoire of Molière, Beckett and Chekhov under the intense gaze of its Gallic artistic director, Jean-Pierre Mignon. Jean-Pierre gathered a caravan of collaborators around him who all fell under the contagion of his vision for an Australian theatre imbued with a European sensibility. I, too, was immediately attracted to the company’s raw energy and creative fearlessness.

My parents, who didn’t approve of my decision to abandon my degree, still held out hope that I’d find my way back to a respectable career. ‘It’s just a phase she’s going through,’ my mother said, defending me to my father. She was certain that common sense would prevail and my bohemian lifestyle, as she called it, would lose its appeal.

Little did I know that she would eventually be proved right. After a decade in the theatre, a respectable career in the public service beckoned and the allure of an office was hard to resist. It wasn’t so much the office itself that attracted me as it was the opportunity to work on arts policy in the Victorian government and so began a sixteen year career as a bureaucrat.

My second leap of faith happened a few years ago when I set out to write a book after I spent over a month in a psychiatric hospital for severe depression. I wanted to smash the stigma of mental illness as well as give voice to an unconventional Greek Australian female perspective, exploding cultural stereotypes and conventions.

I wasn’t as fearless this time round. In becoming a writer, I had to balance equal measures of self doubt with self belief, the self doubt sitting on my shoulder like a parrot nagging me that I wasn’t good enough. How could a bureaucrat and former arts manager make the transition to being an artist?

For me, it came down to perseverance and humility. After cranking out a few turgid chapters, I recognised I needed to learn a new craft. I pursued every development opportunity I could including seminars, workshops and mentoring. Yet the magic of theatre was never far. Every day I listened to ‘Crazy Dreams’, a song from a television series called Smash about the making of a musical. The song became my anthem during the writing of my book. I listened to it when I wrote, when I procrastinated and especially during bouts of writers block underscored with self doubt.

It’s often said being a writer is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. To this I would add it’s also 100 percent a a leap of faith. 

This article was first published in ArtsHub on 7 April 2015