After wowing sell out crowds in Sydney, Queensland Theatre has brought the raw and emotional rock and roll road trip Barbara and the Camp Dogs to the Bille Brown Theatre. I was blown away at rehearsals by Ursula Yovich’s amazing voice and hearing from the mostly female actors and musicians in this uniquely Australian play, She Society had to learn more about the modest powerhouse behind the play.
Ursula Yovich has been acting and singing for 27 years and Barbara and the Camp Dogs came about because of her frustration with the types of roles she was being offered.
Ursula says, “I found the Aboriginal roles I was being offered weren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong , I was very grateful, but I was looking for more. It was whilst Alana ( Valentine) and I were performing in Barefoot Divas that the idea came about. My alter ego Barbara and her band, The Camp Dogs started out as a joke. From there it took us five years to write the play.We always wanted the story to be about two strong beautiful women and we both love singing so we knew it was going to be a musical .”
You may have seen Ursula’s previous work in television’s Redfern Now and The Code. Her feature film credits include Australia, Jindabyne and the newly released Top End Wedding. Here in Brisbane, Ursula plays the lead role of Barbara, a bolshie and boisterous pub band singer with a mega watt voice that belies her petite frame. It’s obvious this play was a labour of love for this proudly indigenous Australian talent. In our interview Ursula is down to earth and honest and although her love for music and the theatre shine through, it’s clear her greatest loves are her mob and her daughter.
Ursula has always loved to sing. “Acting wasn’t something I went out of my way to do. I just fell into theatre. It was a lovely accident and I grew to love it.”
She co- wrote Barbara and the Camp Dogs with friend Alana Valentine. Ursula also has the starring role, wrote the songs and sings them. I asked if there was one of these areas which she preferred.
She replies, “ I have always loved singing , but I don’t always love being on stage. I do however love the writing and brainstorming ideas. Being in a room when something is still fresh and raw is so exciting.”
Ursula has been inspired by so many people. “ As a child I was inspired by my father, but as I met a lot of my own mob in the arts I was so inspired by their stories and strength. I’m especially inspired by women in the arts. As a mother I find the juggle between work and family so difficult, so I look to other mothers who are in the same position.”
Ursula tells me her quote to live by is ‘One day at a time’. “ It’s the only way I can get through some days…. I suffer depression and anxiety. So this quote has helped. But if all else fails the other quote I live by is ‘ Tomorrow is a new day’. “
Shakira Clanton is Ursula’s understudy and a recent NIDA graduate who says she has learnt so much from Ursula and co star Elaine Crombie. I asked Ursula what advice she would give to other young aspiring actors.
She says, “ I would advise them to have a go at everything. But also know your boundaries… Speak up! Be heard! That’s what the arts is about. We tell stories. We want these stories to be heard, so don’t be afraid to speak your story and your truth. Also try singing and dancing or learn an instrument or another language, it just adds another skill.”
Ursula is wistful as she muses, “ Oh, if only I could do it all again! “
I asked Ursula what audience members who head along to Barbara and the Camp Dogs can expect and her answer is a thoughtful one.
She says , “I always believe that if you’re a theatregoer or someone who loves art in all its forms, that you’re a progressive thinker. You’re someone who loves to be challenged. Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a fun piece but it can be difficult for some people. It hits some home truths about our country. If people are coming to see this show, then expect to laugh, cry and be challenged. As a side note…. You’ll hear some songs sung by some shit hot singers. “
I can vouch for that after hearing the voices of Ursula and co- star Elaine. They are ably supported by the band which includes- Sorcha Albuquerque on lead guitar, Jessica Dunn on Bass and enthusiastic drummer – Michelle Vincent. Michelle is also a touring musician with the country rock band,The Mc Clymonts. The only male on stage is Troy Jungaji Brady who plays long lost brother, Joseph. He’s in charge of navigating the sound.
One of the films on my must watch list is Top End Wedding and I couldn’t resist asking Ursula how acting in feature films compares to being live on stage every night.
Ursula’s face lights up, “ I love film. It’s so different. Theatre is so immediate and it’s never the same each night you perform. Theatre to me is skydiving and film is rock climbing. It has its challenges but it never feels as dangerous as being in front of a live audience. I never feel like at any moment I could freeze up and die.You get a second chance with film but theatre…..you make a mistake and have to cover it on the go. I know I’m being dramatic but I’ve been like this my whole career. Theatre is exhausting. It’s down into your soul, joints and marrow tiring. I never knew exhaustion until I became a mother in theatre. “
After such a gruelling run of shows (the play is heading to Canberra and Wollongong after their Brisbane turn) I wonder what Ursula will do next. Her answer surprises me!
“I am stepping away from stage. This year is my last year on stage as a theatre actor. I’m not sure what I want to do. My daughter is now ten years old and I know how fast time has flown since she was born so I want to make an effort to be around her as much as possible. I wouldn’t mind running workshops for our young mob out in the communities. Theatre gave me my courage and confidence. I want our young mob to discover that also.”
I have a feeling that whatever this talented singer, actor, writer and songwriter does next it will be filled with her signature passion and integrity. It has been a privilege to write about such an honest and extremely inspiring Australian woman, who is setting such a wonderful example for her daughter and others. Perhaps writing her own memoir might be next on the list.
To see and hear the amazing Ursula Yovich in action Barbara and the Camp Dogs will be charming the pants off Brisbane theatre goers until the 25 May. Take a ride in on your motorbike, pull up a barstool and prepare to be rocked, moved and charmed by this unforgettable rock musical with a truly inspiring female leading the way.
SheSociety is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.