Actress, singer, director, creative director, designer, coach and Broadway star, Kaye Tuckerman cannot be categorised – and that’s just the way she likes it. Amanda Smith caught up with the Sydney-born artist in the Big Apple, for a chat about Tuckerman’s impressive career.
As a kid growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with a creative, naïve mind, Kaye Tuckerman didn’t know making it to Broadway was unlikely. But her “yeah, I can do that” ethos carried her there, via many adventures in Australia, Africa and Asia along her escalator to the big time.
Tuckerman’s insatiable creative appetite, fascination with human nature and rejection of labels has helped carve a multifaceted career. She’s one of a coterie of Australians to have performed on Broadway (The Boy From Oz, Les Misérables and Mamma Mia!), appeared on screen, worked as a designer on award-winning commercial projects in Africa (Nike’s Write the Future advert) and creatively produced productions (The Lion King and the Australian Dance Awards).
She’s a graduate of Australia’s two most prestigious arts institutions – the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), won the City of Cabaret Award and was nominated for an African Movie Academy Award. In fact, Kaye’s accolades are too long to list – yet she remains humble, kind and generous to a T; traits Aussies are loved for abroad.
For Tuckerman, her work is now more important than ever before. “We’ve seen recently just how important the arts are. In times of crisis and chaos, art calms us down, inspires and mirrors society,” she says.
“When art has been removed on a big scale, like it has during Covid, it’s interesting to see how much we crave it. How we experience the arts is often unconscious. It’s everywhere – the theatre, live music, a singer in a café, the clothes we wear, the buildings we work in, even ads and the political speeches we hear. It’s all art. It’s nuanced in its role in society. There has long been a disconnect from how often we’re impacted by it. I think prioritising the arts is something good that’ll come out of this.”
There’s a memorable line in a short film of Tuckerman’s that’s now in post-production: ‘Art is everywhere, you just have to see it.’ Whether it’s organic or manmade, art is there – we just have to be open to seeing, interpreting and celebrating it, in all forms of expression.
Tuckerman has just wrapped up a fascinating project, Voices of Women Entanglement, a mosaic of 12 monologues on film, packaging incredible stories from the Indigenous community, the Stolen Generations, African Americans, Asian Australians, First Nations peoples and abuse survivors.
“This project allowed me to connect with extraordinary Australian creators and keep me emotionally close to home, at a time when I can’t be there,” says Tuckerman, who acted on the project as co-director, co-producer and cast member.
But being the global citizen she is, Tuckerman doesn’t categorise her world in terms of Australia vs America. She wants to continue learning and travelling everywhere, chasing opportunities and adding more hats to her costume collection.
“I wanted to be a hairdresser, growing up in Sydney. A change of events leads you to a different path. A route you don’t even know is possible. Broadway! It’s that old adage: If you build it, they will come. If you dream it, it will happen.”
Creative naivety paired with a go-getter spirit has helped Tuckerman land fascinating assignments. She got invited to design a TV series in Kenya, which led to six years designing film projects in East Africa.
She laughs about getting invited back to Kenya to design the Nike Write The Future commercial on a flight from LA to NYC, having just received her Green Card. “I was back in the air two days later, but it turned out to be an inspiring time working with director, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Seven weeks later, she booked the lead role as Donna Sheridan on the Broadway tour of Mamma Mia!
The ability to reinvent and expand herself is part of Tuckerman’s success. And to her, this is essential for the performing artist. “It’s important to understand every aspect of what’s going on, whether that’s from the side of the costume designer, writer, actor or director. I make an effort to learn the whole spectrum of the career.”
Sometimes this is an intentional decision, like completing her doctorate (PHD) in creative arts at the University of Southern Queensland or being strategic with decision making.
“A big shift in my career was the [Sydney 2000] Olympic Games. No producers were going to compete so I thought, if I can’t beat them, join them. I took a VIP Management position for the opening and closing ceremonies, where I met a lot of directors. This was the springboard to get into NIDA to study directing – which led me into film, casting, cabaret and finally, Broadway.”
Tuckerman encourages artists to take the future into their own hands. “Don’t wait for your agent to call. Create your own trajectory. If you have a dream, go for it, even if it takes time.”
She recalls her favourite line in The Boy From Oz ‘I Go to Rio’ virtual reunion video she worked on: “You will have a wonderful life. There’ll be good bits and bad bits, but you’ll make the most of every moment. You’ll tell your life like a story, and it’ll be a real adventure.”
But just be sure to clock these moments when they become a reality, she says:. “As artists, we’re all on the mouse wheel for so long going after our dreams, we forget to absorb it when it happens. Absorb it, recalibrate and keep looking ahead.”
And when everything inspires you, that next muse isn’t far away. “I’d love to win an Order of Australia medal someday. And of course, get back on Broadway when it opens.”
The past year has shown us that, despite the cliché, the show doesn’t always go on, even on Broadway. But challenging times make fertile ground for creatives, and for us all, to see what’s important in life. Art connects us all. It triggers something in us, inspires new perspectives, builds bridges and makes life interesting – and it’s something Kaye Tuckerman never takes for granted.
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