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All the world’s a stage

Retirement Living Connectedness Lifestyle Stories
  • IRT Peakhurst resident Tony Girdler is an actor who has been performing for seven decades
  • He has performed in over 100 plays as well as having roles in television and film
  • He keeps a treasure chest of memorabilia to remind him of all the good times he’s had in the industry
09 February 2022
IRT Peakhurst resident Tony Girdler is an actor whose professional performing career spans seven decades.
“It’s definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time...”
Tony Girdler
IRT Peakhurst resident

In the lounge room of Tony Girdler’s villa at IRT Peakhurst sits a very special chest. Filled to the brim with scripts, photographs, cards, and press clippings, this collection of memorabilia celebrates Tony’s impressive professional performing career that spans seven decades. “If you look close enough you’ll probably find some chocolates that died years ago still in the box,” laughs Tony.

A skilled actor in both comedy and drama, Tony’s first professional break came during a working holiday in his 20s. In 1965, a 24-year-old Tony decided it was time to see the world. He left his job with the Bank of NSW (now Westpac) in Queensland and packed his bags, with plans to pick up bar work as he travelled the globe.

“My first port of call was New Zealand, where I intended to stay for six months,” explains Tony.

From there he planned to travel to Canada and catch up with a former work colleague.

Tony has a chest of memorabilia filled with scripts, photographs, cards and press clippings from across his career.

In New Zealand, Tony found himself a job in a pub in the days of the six o’clock swill, where he noticed an ad in the newspaper for a professional theatre company. He applied, did the audition, and got the job! Tony spent the next 12 months touring both islands of New Zealand (twice!), performing excerpts from plays for primary and secondary school children. “I’ve seen more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders have,” laughs Tony.

At the end of the tour, Tony scored a job as a radio announcer with NZBC, and his planned six-month stint in the land of the long white cloud turned into a seven year stay! “I still laugh that I never did make it further than New Zealand on my working holiday,” says Tony.

Since returning to Australia in the early 1970s, Tony has performed in more than 100 plays as well as a string of roles in television and film. “I’ve never become proficient at any other job. I don’t have a career as far as traditional careers go – I’m not a labourer, I’m not an electrician, I’m not a painter, but I’ve always managed to find something to do, and have always loved what I do,” says Tony.

Tony’s main love is performing on stage, where he thrives on reactions from and connections with a live audience. His roles have ranged from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to King Arthur in Alan Jay Lerner’s Camelot, to Whiteside in Kaufman and Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, with a career highlight including playing George in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Tony has also landed a number of screen roles, including television commercials, cameos in short and feature films, and parts in popular television series including Water Rats and Number 96. His latest role is in a yet-to-be-released feature film titled Blaze, starring Simon Baker, Josh Lawson and Yael Stone. When it comes to performing on-screen, for Tony it’s not about the experience of production but more about the role he’s playing. “I’m most interested in what the part offers and how I can bring it to life,” says Tony.

And his dream role? Previously performed by famous names such as Geoffrey Rush, Brian Bedford and David Suchet, Tony says “I would love to play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest! I love the play, I love the character and I love the characterisation.”

Offstage (and off-screen), Tony has two daughters, Bettina and Meghan, who he speaks proudly of along with his wife, Suzanne, who sadly passed away aged 51 from motor neuron disease. Meghan has returned from the US in recent times to take up a position with the University of Sydney as Research Coordinator for the Faculty of Medicine and Health, while Bettina recently graced our screens as an AUSLAN interpreter during the daily NSW Government COVID-19 updates. Meghan and Bettina have both appeared on stage with their dad, with Tony also having the chance to direct them in a performance, although he maintains he showed no favouritism!

Tony starred in a number of productions with performers who would go on to become household names.

The treasure chest of memorabilia in Tony’s lounge room reminds him of an industry that does not present a linear career path but a rewarding one that has provided a wealth of good times and good friends. “Every now and then I get a bit sentimental and open up the chest and bring back the memories of people you haven’t seen for years, people you’ve lost touch with, and people you’ve lost.” Always the professional, Tony does not reveal names, but says he has worked with a number of people who have gone on to do very well for themselves. “It’s definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time, or being in a play where you’re playing a good role, you’re doing well at it, and you’re lucky enough that one particular person in the audience has seen you,” says Tony.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a pin in the performing arts industry for most of 2021, Tony remains hopeful that he will be able to entertain audiences soon. “So far, I’ve not been on stage and people have thrown things at me, although I have been booed! Maybe the audience will throw things at me one of these days,” laughs Tony.

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