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  • Writer's pictureJack Ward

Jacob Gibson’s journey from Marian College to Billy Elliot, now jobless

Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's local weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.

Jacob Gibson spent hours in the Marian College drama hall as a teenager, discovering his love for stage management and the magic of a live performance while growing up in Ararat.

Jacob Gibson with his high school drama teacher Teresa Tonks (Jack Ward/The Ararat Advocate)

Now, a decade later, he has several professional productions under his belt such as Phantom of the Opera, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the 2018 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies.

Billy Elliot has been his most recent production, working behind the scenes and managing the entire company - including the cast of 21 children. At least he was before the pandemic left him jobless.

Mr Gibson’s love for the theatre is a two-part story. In the early years of high school, his mum Robyn, began to take him to professional productions in Melbourne where he was blown away.

“The other part would be at high school when I was at Marian College. I got quite involved with our high school productions from a backstage perspective,” he said.

He worked closely with Marian College’s Head of Drama Teresa Tonks on West Side Story, Jekyll and Hyde, and Into the Woods. Mr Gibson would spend hours with her building sets, planning, rehearsing and time after school putting a show together.

“I just loved all the effort and hard work we put in, that then culminated in these wonderful shows at the Town Hall,” he said.

Ms Tonks is still teaching now and remembers Mr Gibson as an extraordinary student who appeared out of nowhere.

“I do think it was the school trip to Wicked that finally sucked him in. He was never the same after that and even devoted his Art Folio to creating a costume based on Emerald City,” she said.

In 2009, Marian College presented Into the Woods and Jacob approached Ms Tonks, offering to be both Stage Manager and Musical Director.

“He was so committed and we developed this incredible trust. I could shout instructions down the (radio) and he would never take offence,” she said.

“He took his role seriously, did his homework and then some and was always a great laugh.”

“I recently found a disc with writing in his hand, ‘prologue edit 23’. That is the level of perfection and professionalism he brought to the shows.”

In year 12, Mr Gibson did an internship with the professional production of West Side Story in Melbourne. It was there that he was sure theatre was the dream.

“I was so lucky to have that opportunity. Now I look back and think that I'm now friends with a lot of those people that I met on that internship. So it's wonderful to think of how full circle I've come,” he said.

In the years after that internship, he went on to complete a course at the Victorian College of the Arts and began to navigate his path into the highly competitive industry.

He said there was a lot of emailing in the early days of his career to gain as much experience as he could, whether that was going in and observing, or giving up his time for free and learning from industry professionals.

“Having internships and gaining those contacts are the most important things you could have up your sleeve when you're trying to get a job in the industry,” he said.

“I finished at the VCA during 2013 and then I did a lot of work with The Production Company.”

“I learnt a lot of the basis of my experience there in their office and then putting on the shows with them which is really wonderful.”

Mr Gibson said he was saddened to hear news about The Production Company’s closure earlier this year but said that “the market’s becoming extremely difficult at this time for the industry.”

He has also completed stage management roles on shows Once, The Rocky Horror Show, Phantom of the Opera, Singing in the Rain and then the Book of Mormon.

After working on the Gold Coast’s 2018 Commonwealth Games Mr Gibson moved into company management roles, a broader management role of productions. Since then, he has worked on Evita, West Side Story and Billy Elliot.

Mr Gibson now finds himself back home with his parents, waiting to see if he is eligible for JobSeeker.

“I think in a way, the short term nature of our contracts, and going from job to job and trying to work out what's next, makes us more resilient and it makes us able to handle these times much better.”

“But it is difficult, especially knowing that there's no future in sight.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of jobs in the arts sector has dropped by 18.7 per cent between the dates March 14 and April 4.

Mr Gibson was not surprised considering how many people it takes to stage a production.

“The industry was quite fragile at the time when this pandemic struck, so it'll be interesting to see how we bounce back,” he said.

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