At only 17 years of age, Billy White is well on his way to a hugely successful theatre career. Billy is an accomplished actor and director, writes his own music and is an independent film maker. FOCUS talks to Billy about his blossoming career and upcoming productions.
When where you initially introduced to theatre?
I first started in theatre when I was around 7 years old. I was taking lessons from Jennie Cullen, a veteran performer in the area. She ran a class, and I started alongside her and learnt the ropes as I got older.
Theatre is a tedious thing, because you’ve got to learn via watching everyone else. So just by watching a lot of theatre performances when I was younger, I really just took to it. I was never a big reader, so I found theatre as another way of having literature read to me by watching a performance.
As I got older, I started getting into music, and in high school I attended a couple of talent identification programs to get my name out there.
I did my first main production, Hello Dolly in 2008, and the following year I was cast as The Artful Dodger in Oliver at The Jetty Theatre. That was a stepping stone and was quite a big role to take on. That year I was also offered the role of Billy Luckett in The Simple Gift. That book is on the Board of Studies HSC reading list, so Sue Dickinson of Bootlace Productions had to adapt it to stage, and we ran it 2 years in a row – including this year at the Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival. That was quite a heavy role, but it was fantastic and I got a lot of credentials for it.
More recently, you were cast in RENT…
Yes! I got my major lead role in RENT through the Coffs Harbour Musical Comedy Company, which was fantastic. That went really well and ran over 4 weeks. I got a lot more overwhelmingly positive feedback than I thought I would. So that really set me off to get a lot of other roles.
And you’ve won a couple of awards, haven’t you?
Yes, in May I won the Mid North Coast Young Performing Artist Award, so that was an honour. It was through the Coffs Harbour Eisteddfod group.
I won the 2010 Quota Award. I can’t remember the full name, but the Coffs Harbour high schools all send out a worthy nominee, someone who has committed a lot to music and drama at the high school, and I was lucky enough to win that.
Recently you started working with Amanda Scott on TREAD. How did that come about?
Well, I directed my first show last year through the Jetty Theatre Youth Program, with Amanda as my assistant director. This year I wanted to work on something a bit modern and up to date, but something a bit small. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, until a touring show landed in Coffs Harbour called The Bad Boys Of Musical Theatre. It featured 2 young performers from Melbourne and a pianist, and they basically did a really crude version of musical theatre – and it was really amazing. These guys were just improvising off the cusp, and I walked away from that and said to Amanda that I wanted her to direct a show very similar to that with me and 2 other boys my age in it.
My main inspiration was ‘40s musicals, so I really wanted to go back to the old days and create a show set in the ‘40s and ‘50s, with old characters like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I got 2 other young local performers, Nathan Booth and Luke Fowler, to join me in the show.
The way I describe the show to most people is with the phrase “professional minimalism”. It’s a really minimal show, with just a pianist and us 3 boys. We talk and use a lot of humour, crack jokes about the ‘50s and put on accents!
It’s an all age show, for people aged 5 to 85, really. We want people to come along and get a bit of magic from the idea of the old style of performing. There’s a lot of contemporary theatre out there, so I thought, “Why not go back to the traditional musical theatre of the ‘40s and spice it up with a real youth take on things?”
Us three boys and Amanda are putting our creative minds together, improvising different scenes, characters, accents, and then piecing it together slowly. Working that way instead of working off a script lets you have a lot of freedom as a performer, and it’s a really generous thing of Amanda to do as a director.
The people working on TREAD are all young. Our production designer is a young graphic artist, Nathan and Luke are both my age, and the pianist is also 17. It’s a real youth dominated show, but with a more mature and professional approach.
At only 17, you have a bright future ahead of you. What are your goals?
I should mention another of my passions … This year I won the Janison Short Sharp Film Festival, with a film I produced alongside a boy called Nick Wagland. We’ve done a lot of short films together, but this was our first professional one.
We won the overall best film award and the people’s choice award, so that was a real honour.
So towards the future I’m aiming to get into musical theatre, theatre and probably a lot of independent film as well. Next year I’m going to be working with a lot of local film makers and a couple from Sydney. Independent filmmaking is something I really have a passion for – besides theatre, of course.
Aiming for the future, I’m going to try and get a bunch of everything under my belt, to take me where I want to go. If I can have a mix of musical theatre, theatre, film and my own music that I write, then I’ve always got something to back me up!