By Tania Phillips
Actor, director, producer, writer, tour organizer, café owner children’s book author, wife and mother – Noosa’s Alli Pope has packed a lot already into her 50 plus years.
“It’s funny how you see a story in me, but I’m just doing my thing,” she tells me when I suggest she’d be perfect for this first edition of Seniors Today Sunshine Coast.
We’d been talking about Margaret Fulton – The Musical, which her production company Jally Entertainment has just had performing on the Sunshine Coast, unfortunately it was too late for this paper but then Alli mentioned her acting, the children’s shows she’s written and the children’s books she wrote when Covid shut down theatres and it became apparent that her story was worth telling.
“I started in Melbourne where I grew up, I started with a range of television commercials and films, I had feature roles on Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Country Practice – not major roles just walk-ons – you might have a line here and there,” she said.
“That was great – I loved it but I had two children then and I really wanted to bring them up somewhere else. I thought Melbourne was getting a little congested – we lived on the Mornington Peninsula – beautiful part of the world. They liked to surf and swim so I thought move to Noosa because we used to go up for holidays and we thought moved up there. Moved up there, had two more children, marriage went bust and found my new partner – he had two children. We had six – we were like the Brady Bunch and all the kids grew up together so it was the perfect set up – I mean you have your moments when you’ve got six kids and a big Rottweiler under one roof. He was a rescue I couldn’t resist his face.”
Moving to the Sunshine Coast in 1995 Alli said it was harder back then to go down to Brisbane for auditions and she knew it would be time to make a change.
“It was like a three hour return trip so I decided to get back into community theatre,” she said.
“I got involved with a couple of local theatre groups and then I decided to start doing my own. I decided to start doing some directing and I wanted to do shows that I wanted to do, shows that I thought would get bums on seats and bring community groups together. “
With a passion to bring popular “bums on seats” shows to theatre she picked a couple of beauties.
“The first one we went out with was Popcorn which is a Ben Elton play and that was really well received, then we did Sleuth and then Steaming,” Alli explained.
“I don’t know if you know about Steaming – that was amazing we put that on the road as a professional tour – not then but some years later and Val Lehman she directed and played the mother role and I played the lead role of Josie which Is about two hours of full frontal nudity every night. It was funny because I got interviewed by a paper and they said what is it like to be naked on stage and I said I feel naked on stage all the time even with my clothes on so this is really nothing.”
More shows followed including Gallipoli, Calendar Girls, Dimboola, Menopause the Musical, Ladies Night – many taking in national tours, trips to the Adelaide Fringe followed with shows and as producers and in more recent years a guest judge.
“I guess I branched out as a producer about 15 years ago now a bit more with John my husband – he wasn’t in it and all of a sudden he said – we had a café at the time and were doing theatre part time. As it grew he said we should sell the café and try and make it into something which is exactly what we did. It took a long time to get it up and going and actually be able to make a return but it’s not a quick rich business if you don’t love it you should never do it.”
Jally Entertainment (John and Alli) was born in 2004 becoming a progressive professional touring company based on the Sunshine Coast aiming, to provide high quality, popular choice theatre.
“We are one of the country’s most progressive and busy touring companies we’re always got something on – we’ve got stuff booked up until 2023,” Alli said.
While they are currently touring Margaret Fulton Alli and John will soon swap over to their other love – introducing children to theatre.
“I write scripts for children’s educational interactive theatre and we tour that through schools,” she said.
“Every year we do one kids show and it goes out for a couple of months usually along the East Coast of Australia, sometimes to South Australia if we think there’s time. I’ve been writing them for about ten years and they’re great, there is always a really important message in them and this year it’s kindness. That’s Snow White and the Seven Cool Dudes and the messages that are in it are all about kindness and keeping fit and healthy and making good food choices. The teachers asked me to write that a couple of years ago.”
As well as Snowy – her other shows include Aladdin and his magic iPod (be careful what you wish for) Cinderella Spinderella, Goldilocks Rocks and Cuckoo Kookaburra.
And now, after suddenly finding herself with time on her hands, she’s writing a Childrens. Book (or two) based on her shows.
“I’ve converted Snow White and The Seven Cool Dudes into Snowy and the Seven Cool Dudes and turned it in to a children’s picture book for young readers up to about eight and it’s a full colour story in full rhyme and it’s all about kindness,” she said.
“All my characters are all Australian animals in the book – snow white Is a white cockatoo and the old grumpy aunt who comes to stay is a blue-tongued lizard, and the ranger that takes snowy into the forest is a big Kangaroo and all the back drops are things like the three sisters at Katoomba. The tag on it is if you can be anything be kind that’s the whole motto to that book.
“That was my lock down – plus ten kilos of cake I ate. I gained about eight kilos but I’m starting to get a bit of now because when I get into rehearsals I’m usually a bit stressed.”
And with shows running through to the end of the year most of that lockdown weight is sure to disappear by the time she gets a chance to formally launch her new books towards the end of the year – if she can stay in one place for long enough.