Peter Wilson was born in Perth, Western Australia. Encouraged by his parents, he showed an interest in music and theatre from an early age. His mother sang in the choir at the University of Western Australia and he was taken along to theatre shows as a child. For more than 40 years, Peter has written, directed and performed in theatrical productions all over the world. Sharing his time between Melbourne and Bali, he currently has several theater projects underway in Australia and works as a theatre director and consultant in Indonesia. He produced the Pearl of the South Sea at the Jakarta Aquarium Indonesia in Jakarta and Bali Agung at the Bali Safari & Marine Park in Bali, a spectacular presentation that has been running for eight years.
What first made you interested in puppetry?
I saw a Sydney-based puppet company in Perth when I was about 5 or 6. They presented a work titled The Tintookies, an iconic Australia show that was touring the country at that time. I was mesmerized by the lively spirit of the puppets. The experienced embedded itself deep down in my psyche. As a teenager, I worked for a pro-amateur community theatre company in Perth and then for a dance company, both unpaid jobs. It wasn’t until I moved from Perth to Melbourne in 1975 that my interest in puppetry was ignited. I quickly found work in a small puppetry company, my first paid gig as an artist.
How did your theatrical career start?
I formerly trained and worked as an accountant but was actually just interested in one thing and one thing only – becoming a performer on stage. I finally made the life-changing decision to abandon a well-paid career in accounting to become a dancer and puppeteer. In the late 70s, I joined a group of artists who formed a company known as Handspan Theatre.
What was your first big success?
My time with Handspan Theatre earned me an international reputation as a puppeteer, director and teacher. In the late 80s, I received rave reviews for the production of Cho Cho San, which further established me as a puppeteer. In the 90s, my desire to direct led me to Canberra to run a puppetry company called Skylark, which went on to great success with its international touring program. An invitation to direct the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games set me on the path to putting together large scale events for the next 18 years.
Have you performed frequently abroad?
A big chunk of my career has been producing theater internationally, most recently in Cambodia. This goes with the territory as we artists always have an interest in broadening our arts practice overseas and expanding our work in our respective art form. I have been fortunate to have been travelling as a performer and director all over the world with successful productions in cities including New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Amsterdam, Quebec, Tokyo, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.
What you have been up to in Bali?
In 2010, the Bali Safari & Marine Park invited me to direct and write the script for Bali Agung, the story of King Jaya Pungus and his Chinese princess. The production is now in its 8th year. My association with the park also involved the creation of a number of other productions staged on a daily basis, including the nighttime Fire Show, Tiger Show, Elephant Show and Hanuman stage performance that celebrates Indonesian animal and bird life.
Describe a typical day’s work for you.
There is no typical day when you work as an artist. Every day is different in so many ways. I recall in my former life as an accountant that each day felt like the one before and the one after. But no day in the performing arts is the same. If I’m working on a production, I arise early and gather my thoughts. I swim in my pool. I brief my team. I prepare for rehearsals.
What are the most common myths about your profession?
I often hear that artists have it easy. But success depends so much on an artist’s passion to develop their practice in as many ways as possible. Unless the artist is a famous stage, film or television star, artists don’t get paid much in the world of theater. We struggle to put food on the table, particularly in the early years of our careers. The fire in the belly to make art is what drives us. Once you’re hooked on your particular art form, there’s no looking back and sometimes years go by in which you’re simply scraping by to make ends meet. I’ve learned that invariably we do our jobs well if we are paid a fair and appropriate fee.
Any advice to young people wanting to get a start in the theatrical arts?
Hang in there. Don’t give up. Perseverance, consistency, hard work and creative skills are the hallmarks of a successful career in the arts. If a career in the arts feels like it is embedded into your DNA, simply follow your dream. Success will come eventually. But be aware that success can be measured in many ways. It’s not only about the money but about that intangible and serenely satisfying feeling at having completed a work of art, choreographed a scene, written a play or produced a beautiful opera.
What’s the best way to get a job in theater?
The artists I work with here in Bali are all connected to Made Sidia’s sanggar in Bona Kelod. Made has established a training program for children as young as 4 years of age through to teenagers and young adults. I know of no internships but ISI, the performing arts university here in Denpasar, is a great institute to begin learning about all aspects of the performing arts. As for the job scene elsewhere, I advise attaching yourself to a theater company. The work will come. Money is not the end game. Feeding your creative drive is the key to success.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The fact that I’m still doing theatre after 43 years in the industry often surprises me. I love the challenge of making a new work, brainstorming new ideas and working across cultures to create cross-cultural theatre productions. I love watching young emerging artists grow into their art form and ardently pursue their careers. Puppeteers are deeply connected everywhere and I enjoy the camaraderie and friendships with fellow artists all over the globe.
What are your goals for the future?
To remain healthy while I pursue my various endeavors, to continue to train artists, to create new theatrical productions, to travel to new places, to always be curious and open to new ideas and concepts and to keep my cheeky and playful manner constantly alive.
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