Interview: Priscilla’s David Harris and Euan Doidge on fab frocks, costume changes & dancing divas

The Priscilla bus is coming. And everybody’s jumping. Sydney to Alice Springs. An intercity disco. Okay, enough Vengaboys! But dear reader, you may not know that the great, big silver bus that is Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert has rolled into old Sydney town to party and celebrate her 10th on-stage birthday. The AU Review’s Natalie Salvo sat down with lead actors, David Harris and Euan Doidge to learn about Harris’ 21 costume changes, including the hard-to-wear but absolutely stunning Sydney Opera House outfit and Doidge’s thoughts on getting Jennifer Hudson to play one of the flying divas.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about how long you’ve been working in the arts?

David Harris: I have been working as an actor for the past 22 years since leaving home in rural NSW. I have been based In NYC for the past 3.5 years and now divide my time between the States and Australia.

Euan Doidge: I’m 24 years old. I’ve been working in theatre for 8 years, mostly in Australia.

Priscilla is such an iconic film and stage show. How do you feel about the story all these years on?

David Harris: I worked at my local cinema in the Hunter Valley when the film was released in 1994, so I saw the movie many times. It was such a monumental film for its time – one that we had not seen before- and its story and its characters captured the hearts of those who saw it. Having unconventional minorities as three leads and depicting a culture not previously seen in the mainstream eye in Australian film was a massive movement for gay and Trans Australians and their road to achieving recognition and subsequent equal rights.

The movie and musical humanises what some people see only as caricatures or stereotypes and depicts three different people with basic human needs, emotions and desires that all people can relate to. Also, the fact that is was done on a low budget but nonetheless had a major impact proves that well rounded characters in which you care for, and a good story far outweighs over-production when it comes to the success and longevity of a creation. This is why the movie and stage show is still finding success and still playing around the world. The story is a time capsule of the early 90’s Australia – where we were as a culture and it highlights how far we have come and how far we can still progress.

Euan Doidge: It very much is a story that I believe is timeless. This show will still be running years from now around the world as I believe people can learn a lot from what message lies within Priscilla, acceptance, friendship, love and growth.

Priscilla looks like an absolute joy to be a part of. What’s your favourite part of the show? The frocks? The songs? The dancing? Something else and why is this so?

Euan Doidge: It is such a joy! You can’t help but smile when performing in this show. Firstly the music is just SO damn good! And the costumes are on a whole other level thanks to the fabulous Tim Chappel! Everything about this show is brilliant. I don’t have a particular favourite moment but if I were an audience member it would definitely be the opening number when the Divas fly in!

David Harris: For me it is the audience. Knowing that they have been taken on a journey with us, that they are invested in the plights of Bernadette, Tick and Adam (and Bob) and are genuinely moved during the show – and the knowledge that perhaps we have altered some people’s previous attitudes just a little – is my favourite thing about the show. The knowledge that a gay, bi or trans person can feel at home and accepted watching the show, the fact that parents and their children and their grandchildren are watching the show together and teaching each other tolerance and acceptance and bridging generations, is also what I love. Showing audiences that regardless of our race, our gender, our religion, our sexual identity we all “Belong”. We all desire love, we all desire acceptance of our individuality, and we all desire friends and a sense of purpose and belonging. Showing that is why I wanted to return to Australia and play this role and is still the driving force for me each performance.

Why do you think readers should come and see Priscilla?

David Harris: In addition to the previous answer, wrapped around the core message of love and acceptance is a whole of fun, laughter, crazy brilliant costumes, high energy dance routines and familiar and well-loved pop songs (and a sprinkling of beautiful ballads too) that has the audience up on their feet each night turning the theatre into a Boogie Wonderland. It’s an incredibly fun night out with heart.

Euan Doidge: Because it’s a brilliant piece of Australian Theatre that we should all be super proud of and embrace. Whether you’re a Priscilla fan or not (who isn’t) it’s a must see for a number of reasons, number one being the message! Everyone can take something away from this show, and Australia needs to see it!

Australia has changed a lot in the intervening years since the film was first made and the first theatre production was staged. Is there anything you would change about the story or show? Why? Did you have much input in the creative decisions involved in this production?

Euan Doidge: Nope. I wouldn’t change a thing. The show is successful just the way it is. We did have a very open floor in the rehearsal which was amazing. Especially for the three queens, we were able to create and define our own relationships between each other and I believe we have a very strong relationship with each other, on and off of the stage.

David Harris: Again, the show pays homage to the film and early 90’s Australia, so it works to keep the period there and follow the same storyline as the film. If the story was suddenly changed and set in 2018, major changes would be required because we have evolved in our sensibilities and as a culture in regards to minority groups and their stereotyping and inclusion. The issue of having a gay parent, or of marriage inequality, or of the unacceptance of trans or the LGBTI community at large which the show and the original film depicts, shows how far we have progressed since the time of the making of the film. Without being able to look back to where we were, we would not be able to recognise and appreciate the growth of where we are now.

As actors (and in collaboration with our directors) we had creative input to depict our characters, as we felt needed and wanted to. What I have found very interesting is, some people have felt my playing of Tick is “too straight” which simply highlights one of the areas in which we are still to grow and evolve as a culture. The notion that there is a “straight” and a “gay” way to “act or be” is archaic and narrow minded of those who still see a distinct difference between people with different sexual orientation and how that should be represented. I am also not playing Hugo Weaving whom people associate with originating the film role. I am playing Tick – a dad, a drag queen, a man, a friend, a husband. There is no rulebook, nor should there be, on how to “be” any of those things.

Though keeping closely to the original script, we have added new lines, new jokes, new routines, new songs, even a new opening number to this version of Priscilla. We have also deleted things that no longer work. One original line I fought to change, and we did change it, was potentially damaging and just unnecessary to keep in the show, regardless of what period the show is set. I am glad I could be part of that change.

If money was no object and you could star opposite any actor living or dead in this show who would you choose and why?

David Harris: That’s an interesting question and a tough one to answer! Hmmm, I would choose any film or theatre actor that may have attitude towards musical theatre so that they can see the effort involved and what is required in delivering a musical 8 times a week, month after month.

Euan Doidge: Tony Sheldon and David Harris. Oh wait I already get to do that 🙂 Then Jennifer Hudson. She can be one of the Divas!

What is the most challenging part of your role? What is the most enjoyable part of your role?

Euan Doidge: I guess the most challenge part for me is the energy! Felicia is constantly on the go and that girl needs a rest every now and then haha but it’s also a blessing because once the show starts I know where the energy has to be and it is easier to keep it up than it is to ride a wave of ups and downs.

David Harris: The show and role is physically demanding – it is 2.5 hours of quick costume changes (I do 21 costumes changes each show), dance routines, glitter lips and singing whist navigating and wearing the many elaborate creations designed by Tim Chappel. The Opera House costume in the finale is the most difficult to wear. The headdress is heavy, the sails are awkward, the heels are high and all the while making it look effortless and with a smile on the face after 2 hours of running around.

But my most difficult element is navigating Tick’s character arc amongst all the colour and movement of the show around him. He is the only one who knows the real reason they are taking this journey to Alice Springs and he holds that secret to the near end of the show. It’s a fine line to tread as an actor, to not be the wet blanket to a fun show, but remain true to the arc he needs to forge to make the scene where he and his son connect for the first time, work. Funnily, for me that is the most enjoyable and rewarding thing about the role also.

I love that I get to depict the love between a parent and child and how – although Tick fears losing this love of Benji because of his own insecurities as a man and father – it is the child that shows the audience, and Tick that the love is unconditional. The clothes he wears, the friends he has, the job he does, the person he chooses to love, does not alter that love. He simply wants his Dad, in whatever form that is. It is as simple and as beautiful as that.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers of The AU Review about Priscilla or your upcoming projects?

David Harris: I know it is often cliché to say, but Priscilla really does appeal to and extends across all generations. It is nostalgic for some, a learning curve for others, a time capsule for most, a brand new show for others. It is as relevant as ever for the new era that it is now being shown in. Along with belly laughing, you just might shed a tear and walk out of the theatre having changed just a bit too.

Euan Doidge: Make sure you come and see the show. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Priscilla: Queen of The Desert plays at Sydney’s Capitol theatre until 21 July. For more information and tickets please visit: priscillathemusical.com.au