As part of our Boomers series, we sat down with the peerless Toni Lamond to discuss the ills of today, what she’d teach her teenage self and the differences between the industry here and overseas.
As an Australian entertainment legend, what do you think is the key factor in having such a career?
I have never gone on stage or television thinking: “Oh, this will make me a star!” My full concentration has always been to remember the lyrics, articulate when I sing and speak (I have made people laugh and applaud throughout Australia, England and Scotland, various parts of the Philippines, South Africa and the United States).
You spent many years in America. What are your thoughts on the current changes we are seeing – from social media influencing politics to politicians being offended at theatre actors protesting?
I worry very much about the current scene in the US. There was no social media when I was there (1976-1996). Comedy and send-ups go back beyond Shakespeare’s day. I suggest politicians cut back on doing silly things, and concentrating on running the country in a sensible manner, thus lessening the need for satire.
What have you found to be the biggest difference between the arts in Australia and the arts in America?
America venerates her artists and performers. Unfortunately, there is still that undercurrent in Australia of: “Yes he/she is wonderful, but not quite world class.” So we have an ever increasing exodus of our treasures going overseas, and becoming world famous in a short time. So proving…and it can be very expensive and exhausting!
I recently performed in a club and was congratulated on being understood so clearly… Make sure not to babble. And look after the voice. I still have my singing voice at 85. Stay off drugs and the booze. I speak from experience.
You have said your work is not just a career, it is your life; how much do you think that mentality has helped you be resilient throughout the ebb and flow of the years?
Adding to what I said, concentration on the quality of your performance can get you through the very many down times. If an audience doesn’t laugh at your jokes, applaud your songs, and goes on talking through your routines, thinking of stardom doesn’t help. It’s better to go back and look at the material, and your performance of it, and maybe prepare some ad-libs for next time it happens. And unless it happens several times in a row, forget about it. Onward and upward.
Is there a current public figure you find intriguing to watch?
Are there any shows in Australia you have seen recently that you wish more people went to see?
Unfortunately, I cannot sit in audience any longer due to various bodily surgeries so I haven’t been able, to my deep regret, to go to the theatre for the last four years.
What advice would you give a 15-year-old Toni Lamond?
Due to the gabbled dialogue currently on television shows, the cut down sentences on texting and rap music, articulate speaking and singing is rapidly depleting. I recently performed in a club and was congratulated on being understood so clearly. I would urge the 15-year-old, if she wants to be understood, anywhere in the world (English speaking) make sure not to babble. And look after the voice. I still have my singing voice at 85. Stay off drugs and the booze. I speak from experience. I had a morphine dependency for eight years in the ’60s, and I have been clean and sober of alcohol for the past three years. Concentrate on entertaining and amusing your audience.
Also on The Big Smoke
- TBS Boomers: A chat with Tony Barber
- TBS Boomers: Talking about my (dad’s) generation
- TBS Boomers: Dude, where’s my country?
What advice would you give to performers hoping to make it through television shows, social media and YouTube?
As this has not been part of my performing career, I don’t feel I have the knowledge to give advice.
What do you think is the biggest difference between the theatre world growing up, and today?
As I haven’t performed in theatre since early 2000 (Pirates of Penzance, Beauty and the Beast), I have to refer to my son Tony Sheldon on this one. We grew up in a wonderful theatre atmosphere of ensemble cast. By which I mean, you deferred to your cast members, came to their aid by jumping in with the next line if they forgot theirs, and, in general, worked “for the good of the show”. Tony was horrified to discover that when he played the Palace Theatre in London, for a year, with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which he was the only Australian cast member from the Australian production, all that went out the window. Cast members seemed to do what they felt like, and at the end of the year, after Tony had complained to the stage management almost every week about missed lighting cues, scenery gone awry and all that jazz, he got a look at the book in which all this should have been recorded. Nothing! Except a comment written at the end of each of the eight performances a week: “Yet another standing ovation!”
According to Tony, it’s all still good here, and the US, so I am very puzzled about London. Shakespeare! Sir Laurence Olivier! Dame Judi Dench! Sir Patrick Stewart! What must they be thinking?
And finally, if there was one thing your fans could learn from you, what would it be?
I am so delighted that after all these years, I still have fans out there. I have not yet officially retired, and still have a song and a joke in me, and if they get a chance to see me, I’d like to let them know that these days I’d like to be an inspiration, not just getting up there and perceived to be showing off! I want to thank them for inspiring me to go on, even when I was in dire pain or deep distress.
You made it all worthwhile.