Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University
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Brendan Cowell - Bachelor of Arts (Communication - Theatre/Media) – 1998

Actor-writer-director-producer Brendan Cowell says he is no tool. He says he's the whole toolbox! Brendan Cowell is one of the highest profile graduates from Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Theatre Media Communication course.

Brendan never sat around waiting for acting jobs to drop into his lap. "So many kids from drama schools wait for the phone to ring. Theatre/Media taught me that there is no such thing as the ringing phone - you have to make an audience, make art. You are the artist and promoter, the set designer, the stage manager, the writer.

"The course taught me not to assume the position of 'tool in a toolbox' waiting to be plucked out and used, but to get up off one's arse, stop the whinging and make the art happen yourself, to take it to the minds and hearts of the people; in essence to be the whole box of tools yourself.

"And I loved that, being the control freak that I am."

It's how Brendan got his start in show business – by producing his own theatre. At the time, he was doing what a lot of out-of-work actors in Sydney do – selling wine.

"It was at The Wine Society (TWS) in Woolloomooloo. I'd stack shelves, unload the trucks, and sell wine to rich people. I worked there on and off for five years.

"Working at TWS taught me to keep going. The shop is located next to The Old Fitzroy Hotel Theatre, where my first two plays were staged.

"Every day I thought about writing my plays and one day staging them there. My career path has changed enormously over the years. I've broadened myself at a steady rate, to the point where I am now not just an actor, but also writer, director and producer for theatre, television and film."

Brendan grew up in Cronulla. Straight out of school, he knew he wanted to be actor. He credits his mother, who nurtured his creative side (despite the "sport and sea landscape"), and his high-school drama teacher, who told him "he had what it takes".

"My mother was always reading to me and pushing me to use my imagination. To write poems, to write anything. She made sure I maintained my creativity and unique-ness.

"And my high-school drama teacher Ken Granneman told me to make waves and go forth.

Also, I think I was inspired by the fact that no-one was saying what everyone was thinking. There was radio silence on the issues, everyone holding back, no-one dared mention the storm beneath. I thought I would take that position."

Brendan is referring to another facet of his life: that of outspoken political activist. His play Self Esteem criticises many of the policies of the current government. On the other hand he always recognises that John Howard is a strong and extraordinary political leader.

He says his drive and commitment, "Has always been there, bellowing beneath. Some kind of need to relate, or tell, or engage.

"The world has grown odd and violent, and there's so much to fix, to consider, to debate. I'm now driven by my role as an artist."

It was the holistic approach of the CSU Theatre/Media course which really attracted him. He says it gave him a strong sense of 'self'. He is now a recognised, and well-rewarded, playwright, producer and actor.

"I like to know I am going to earn enough money to pay everything off. I'm not whimsical and bohemian like a lot of artists, I need to know I can afford the car payment. I'm committed to staying above the water and being able to afford things."

Brendan is probably best-known at the moment for his role in the acclaimed pay-TV series, Love My Way. But he is not resting on his laurels.

"Right now I'm writing another play. The attraction for me in that is being in the community that surrounds theatre. No one is ever going to make money or fame out of it, so everyone who works in it is a lover of ideas and the world.

"I also love the fear and danger that is inherent with the live experience, anything can go in any direction at any time. It is a place away from this hot buzzing world of instant gratification. You can take stock and engage with something primal, a simple live story involving actors and audience."

And his advice to young graduates starting out? "I would say, try your best to maintain an artistic community wherever you are, and keep making work together, whether people want you to or not

"This all-encompassing approach worked for me. That is when artists are at our happiest and most purposeful – when we are engaging with each other with ideas and with an audience."