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Meet the Artistic Director: Sam Longley

In the Spotlight: A Conversation with Barking Gecko Theatre's New Artistic Director, Sam Longley

From Frogs to Dragons: The Journey of a Lifetime

When we sat down with, Sam Longley, the new Artistic Director of Barking Gecko Theatre, it was clear that his journey was anything but ordinary. With a laugh, he began, "My first professional acting gig was 'Frog Opera' with Barking Gecko back in 1998. It was a show set around a swimming pool with giant fiberglass lily pads, where I played a human raised by frogs. Wearing a one-piece lycra unitard, I frequently dove into the pool. It was great fun. Since then, I have toured the world while remaining based in Perth, hosted TV and radio shows, performed in several movies, and worked with almost every theatre company in Western Australia. Taking the reins at Barking Gecko Theatre Company feels like coming home to where it all started. I couldn’t be happier."

The Magic of Theatre and the Allure of Barking Gecko

Asked about what drew him to the world of theatre and specifically to Barking Gecko Theatre, Sam, said, "As a middle child craving attention, the world of theatre has always held a special allure for me. Theatre is an incredible art form that transports audiences into realms of imagination and wonder. The lighting design, clever scripting, and the sweat of hardworking actors create a tangible experience of another time and place. Barking Gecko stands out because it places children and families at the heart of its mission. We create works that encourage families to switch off their screens, leave the house, and share in experiences that happen in the moment. The joy and excitement Barking Gecko brings to audiences of all ages is what drew me to this company."

A Vision of Courage, Generosity, and Joy

His enthusiasm was clear as he outlined his artistic vision for Barking Gecko Theatre. "As the new Artistic Director of Barking Gecko, my focus will be on the company being courageous, generous, and joyous. We will take chances on new works and artists, listen to our audiences, and be generous in our presentations. By reaching out to new areas and audiences, we will create joy in our work and strive to delight our audiences. My plan includes increasing our ability to reach more children, engaging them with the arts through tours to schools and regional areas, as well as national and international outreach. We aim to engage local artists and tell local stories."

Stories with Heart, Joy, and Dragons

When it comes to the types of stories Sam wants to explore, his face lights up. "I want to work on stories filled with heart, joy, and intelligence. The possibilities for stories are endless, and I am particularly interested in works that celebrate the children's worldview. I want young people to feel empowered, understood, and delighted. Oh, and I like dragons," he says with a playful grin.

Engaging the Community and Embracing New Trends

Discussing the theatre's role in the community, Sam thinks for a moment and elaborates, "Barking Gecko Theatre will continue to make stories that are accessible and enjoyable for young audiences and their families. We will listen to what they want and what matters to them, embracing these elements in our work. I am keen to explore the interplay between film, visual effects, and live performance to create more interactive and participatory artistic events."

Formative Experiences and Lasting Impressions

Reflecting on his career, he shares, "A significant moment was when I started playing theatre sports. The first time I went on stage without a script and created characters and stories with my fellow improvisers, the audience laughed and applauded, and I was hooked. Collaboration and joy became my tools for creating work."

The Power of Live Performance

We asked Sam, what keeps you motivated through the ups and downs of the industry? "The immediacy of live performance inspires me. Unlike film and TV, in theatre, you always see, hear, and feel the audience. This connection reminds me that we create work for a live audience of real people, which is both inspiring and motivating."

Balancing Artistic Direction and Personal Life

Balancing such a demanding role with personal life can be challenging. He nods thoughtfully, "My family keeps me grounded. Family dinners, dog walks, kids' sports games, fishing trips, TV show marathons, and general family hubbub keep me balanced and engaged. They support my role and the creative work I do, but they don’t want to hear about it all the time, ensuring my well-being through variety and hugs."

Heroes and Role Models

Talking about his personal heroes, Sam mentions, "Bruce Spence, Tina Fey, and Jim Henson have been significant influences. Bruce Spence gave me the courage to become an actor despite being told I was too tall. Tina Fey is amazing, and Jim Henson's work with the Muppets showcased craftsmanship and heart, using various tools to create intelligent and empathetic content for children."

Memorable Interactions

One memorable interaction with a young audience member stands out. "During a performance of Aesop’s Fables by Barking Gecko, a child asked if I was a puppet. When I explained I was a real person, they followed up with, 'But are your legs real?' To which I replied, 'Yes, my Mum made them for me.' That seemed to satisfy them." (we should mention that Sam is almost 7ft tall!)

Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, Sam expresses his hopes for Barking Gecko. "I hope to see Barking Gecko thrive locally and tour globally, delivering more shows to more people across WA and the nation. I envision Barking Gecko having a strong sense of identity and community around storytelling and culture-building, making WA proud of the work we do."

Dream Projects and Collaborations

On his dream projects, he says, "I am eager to work with Western Australian artists on new works, collaborating with artists from various disciplines to create exciting outcomes. The future of Barking Gecko is bright with the unknown projects we will create. And dragons… I like dragons."

Advice and Wisdom

Sam shares a final piece of advice that has guided him throughout his career. "A piece of advice that has stuck with me is from my high school drama teacher, Jake Newby, who said a good theatre practitioner should be able to tackle any aspect of performance-making. Whether writing scripts, sewing costumes, painting sets, selling tickets, rigging lights, or performing, this versatility provides a deep understanding of the work involved."