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Memories of Merrigong – Rachel Head

Image from performance of The Outside Man (2017).

From landing a leading community theatre role as Cinderella to her latest performance as The Referee in The Strangeways Ensemble’s Trash Talk (2020), Rachel loves being an actor.

From landing a leading community theatre role as Cinderella to her latest performance as The Referee in The Strangeways Ensemble’s Trash Talk (2020), Rachel Head loves being an actor.

Rachel’s enchantment with theatre started well before her debut performance – frequenting the theatre with her Mum, she recalls her love of musicals blossomed.

“I remember visiting the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre with Mum when I was thirteen years old to see Annie. It’s one of my favourite musicals next to Singing in the Rain,” she said.

Rachel started performing in local productions when she was 20 years old with the Altogether Drama Group run by The Disability Trust.

“My dad was still alive and saw me perform in my very first show called Once Upon A Dream which was run by Jason Stephenson,”

“It was the only time he saw me perform before he passed away,” she said.

Rachel went on to audition and perform in other community theatre roles landing a part in the chorus of a local production of Cats before being a part of a partnership between The Disability Trust and Merrigong that burgeoned into a permanent residency of professional actors, and Wollongong’s only professional theatre ensemble.

The Strangeways Ensemble at Merrigong Theatre Company formed in 2018 following the success of their second original production, The Outside Man in 2017.

Rachel will always have a soft spot for the the show, which included original lyrics created by the group and was inspired by the universal theme of love.

In this production, Rachel played the role of her originally devised character “Cat-Bird” where she adopted a unique singing style that was similar to a squawk.

“I love cats and I’ve played a lot of roles involving cats, but never a Cat-Bird,”

“When I practiced the role for The Outside Man at home the people I lived with used to say ‘what the hell is that?’ I’d say ‘It’s only me singing’,” she said.

Being the only female in an otherwise all-male ensemble is something Rachel is incredibly proud of.

“I love having my own say on what the shows should be about and it’s good working with the boys because it’s interesting to see everyone’s talents,”

“We’re all different ages as well which makes it interesting. The old dinosaurs are Phillip, Malcolm, and me,” she said.

Working with the team, Rachel has valued the support and additional workshops around all of their productions.

“In Trash Talk, we were learning how to wrestle and it was interesting too because our instructor Benny Coles (pro wrestler) brought in boxing gear and exercise equipment.”

“We did the floor mat routines where the boys would throw each other around. It was a bit spooky, but I was alright with our instructor,” she said.

The Director of The Strangeways Ensemble Anne-Louise Rentell said Rachel holds her own as the only female performer in the ensemble.

“Rachel has a great sense of humour, with a keen sense of the ridiculous (which I love) and is always open to trying new ideas,”

“She is also very empathetic and thoughtful, and often the first to interrogate the purpose of what we’re doing when our improvisations explore darker more difficult material,” she said.

Photo by Katje Handt

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