FOR former Horsham resident Alex Rathgeber, home really is where the heart is.
Although he has lived away from the Wimmera town since the age of 15 – first to go to boarding school and then to pursue a career in the arts – the stage and screen actor still calls himself a Horsham local at heart.
For the last year, Alex has graced stages across the country, performing the iconic role of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. He is just about to wrap up his run of shows, with the musical finishing its Melbourne leg at the end of the month.
He said it had been a once in a lifetime experience.
“It’s been absolutely incredible – a mix of lots of different experiences really,” he said.
“I’ve never played a role where I’ve had to wear a costume like this, so that’s been a huge challenge that I’ve really enjoyed stepping up to and the awkwardness of.
“I do a tap dance in it which is quite difficult – it’s a lot to manage day-in-day-out. It’s quite hot in there, so I really have to look after my health and stay fit. I’ve also got to make sure that I’m really well hydrated everyday.
“Those little things you don’t notice when you’re wearing a normal costume – you don’t have to go to those kind of extreme lengths. I also do all the makeup myself and I’ve really enjoyed having a go at that.”
He said The Wizard of Oz had an everlasting impact on people because of its beautiful story and themes.
“I get to share the journey with three amazing people – Dorothy (Samantha Dodemaide), Lion (John Xintavelonis) and the Scarecrow (Eli Cooper),” he said.
“Over the course of the tour, we’ve become really great friends and I think we’ll be mates for life after this.
“The messages of each characters’ journey really resonate with people. In Dorothy’s dream-state, she meets all these characters that represent parts of who she is and parts of her story. So in the end, it’s really about her heart, and her brain, and her courage.
“Plus, the music is so joyful and beautiful. The film came out in 1939, in wartime so it was really needed back then.
“For a show that is so bubbly and colourful, it will always have a lot of substance because it’s dealing with things that every human needs to connect to.”
Although he said he loved every part of the musical, Alex said the highlight for him came from the audiences’ reactions to the show.
“The most consistently rewarding part is when the kids in the audience are laughing throughout the show,” he said. “It’s so great to be a part of a show that adults and kids can both enjoy.”
Alex first kicked off his performing career as a child, singing in the choir of St Michael’s and St John’s Primary School.
“I just loved it. I was also the lead choirboy for a couple of funerals,” he said.
His first taste of real performing on stage came when he was in Year Five.
“Horsham High School was doing The King and I and they needed kids to play the little princes, so I put my hand up,” he said.
“When I was a part of Horsham Arts Council, my first role was Friedrich in The Sound of Music.
“My voice was breaking at the time. I was 13 and turning from a soprano into a baritone. It happened across the performances and I had to sing this huge soprano note in one song. We had the two weeks of shows and my voice broke completely just after the shows ended.”
Since then, Alex has starred in a number of stage shows, including Anything Goes – with Todd McKenney and Caroline O'Connor – and the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone – co-starring with Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush.
For those wanting to pursue a career in the arts, Alex had some sound advice.
“If they love it, then they should get out there and take all the different kinds of opportunities to get involved in performing that they can – whether it’s the Arts Council or school productions or classes,” he said.
“Other than that, they should listen to a lot of singing and watch lots of musicals. It’s also important to not feel afraid.
“You might feel scared the first time you try something – be it an acting class or a dancing class, but just dig deep, find the courage, have a go and have fun.”
Next up, Alex plans to head back to the silver screen, having previously starred on TV shows such as Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and Winners & Losers.
“It’s the classic tale of an actor, you constantly have to audition and look for the next job even when you have a great job,” he said.
“I haven’t really auditioned for anything since I started The Wizard of Oz, because I haven’t really felt like I was right for anything. I’m just really keen to do some work on screen – TV and film – so that’s the plan.”
He said he appreciated the effort Horsham people had made to see him perform in The Wizard of Oz.
“I left Horsham when I was 15, but it will always be home to me,” he said.
“The show is all about ‘home is where the heart is’ and ‘there’s no place like home’, so that really resonates with me when I think about Horsham.”
Alex will be performing in The Wizard of Oz at Melbourne's Regent Theatre until July 18.