Alex Papps is one of the few TV stars to have not one but three of his shows inducted into the Logie Hall of Fame: Play School, Neighbours and Home and Away.
The actor / performer just so happens to have a shared with Play School colleague, Justine Clarke, who played his girlfriend on Home and Away.
“Our friendship has been constant since I started on Home and Away. When I started Play School it was a lovely full circle moment to work together. And the Time of our Lives episode I did was with her, and we hadn’t done any dramatic acting together since Home and Away,” he recalls.
Papps has been with the iconic ABC show since 2005, and it’s proven to be a reliable job during quieter acting periods. But learning how to connect with younger viewers requires a unique approach.
“It demands that you are entirely unselfconscious in front of the camera, and that you can multi-task very easily. It looks deceptively easy but the challenge is finding a version of yourself that is very personable, and that you are comfortable addressing a camera in an unpretentious, conversational style,” he explains.
“No-one really tells you how to do it, is the honest truth. The most useful piece of direction I got back at my audition was to imagine I was having a conversation with one child. That was spot on and it gives you an insight into the unique ‘Play School voice’ which is different to any other kid’s TV presentation style.”
Thankfully for ABC, child viewers are happy to watch repeat content, meaning only 45 new episodes are produced each year, but can be recycled over 7 years. Papps presents around 12 new episodes a year.
“An episode is about a day’s work. We rehearse 2 episodes a day, for 4 hours each, and then the following week we do the filming. So it’s basically a half day’s filming per episode.
“But on top of the TV commitment I do the Live Play School concerts throughout the year, so that’s a big block of time.”
“I was really little but it had a big impression on me.”
Play School concerts have been staged around the country for over 25 years, now licensed to Kids Promotions via the ABC. For many kids it’s their first experience of Live Theatre.
“It’s good fun to watch their initial reactions of stunned disbelief, when they see the people and the toys right in front of them!” Papps observes.
“Part of the appeal of doing the show for so long is looking into the audience and seeing grandparents, parents and children. It’s very much a family affair.
“I remember going to very early play readings and productions, back as far as age 3 or 4. One of my earliest memories was seeing Royal Hunt of the Sun, and another one Dark of the Moon. I was really little but it had a big impression on me.”
Papps is the son of parents who have decades of involvement in community theatre themselves. But he had formal training at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, undertaken after his memorable role as Frank on the earliest years of Home and Away.
“I’m lucky to have a history with something that goes that far back and that people still think of fondly. It hit me the other day that it will be 30 years since we did the Pilot, next year,” he laughs.
“I was (last) there for one of Sally’s weddings and I think a sesqui-centenary of Summer Bay. But even that’s going back to 2001 or something. I haven’t been approached since, but that’s ok. I suppose with the exception of Alf, and Georgie Parker as Roo, they are the only connection to the past for my character.”
“I do love acting and miss doing it more regularly.”
There have been various other roles, including Flying Doctors, City Homicide, Blue Heelers and MDA, plus earlier credits on The Henderson Kids and The Factory. He recently filmed another role for an upcoming ABC drama.
“I love Play School and I hope it will continue on for me forever. But I do love acting and miss doing it more regularly. I had a fantastic time on Seven Types of Ambiguity, and I’ve worked with Anna Kokkinos who is directing that block a few times. She’s an excellent actors’ director, and a fantastic person to have on your side on a film set.
“But I’m still auditioning and chipping away at it.”
Big Ted’s Excellent Adventure: 50 Years of Play School will be narrated by another Home and Away graduate, Kate Ritchie, and features anecdotes for famous Australians who have grown up with the show, plus memories from presenters including Benita Collings, John Waters and Justine Clarke and classic clips, some of which have become YouTube institutions.
When the actual anniversary rolls around at 10:05pm on July 18th Papps will be found doing what he does best …..entertaining families.
“I will be on stage in Dubbo doing a Play School concert and we fully intend to let the audience know that it’s a special day,” he notes.
“I imagine we’ll get everyone singing!”
Big Ted’s Excellent Adventure: 50 Years of Play School airs 7:40pm Sunday on ABC.