Peter and I coffee’d literally “down under” at the St. Kilda Coffee in midtown. Since Peter is Australian and this café is also Australian… we agreed it was the best place to meet for a chat. With busy New Yorkers getting work done on their computers silently, we gabbed at a table near the window for a whole hour about Peter’s regional gigs, his love for New York, his dog Gunnar, and some profound bits of wisdom he’s accumulated throughout well-travelled life.
*Ideal cup of coffee: Latte or Americano
AF: What are you drinking right now?
PS: I’m drinking a latte. So simple. I typically order a latte or an Americano. You’re drinking a Flat White which is the MOST Australian!
AF: It is!? I didn’t even know!
PS: Yep. Starbucks tried to bring them in a few years ago and failed. So then they rebranded it. If I’m forced to go to Starbucks I just get a coffee… I don’t like to give my money to the big corporations except for like Amazon…
AF: I’m addicted.
PS: I just moved to a new apartment so I’m ordering everything from Amazon… so much easier!
AF: Describe yourself in 3 words.
PS: Oh woah… sure. When do you ever have to answer this question!? Tall? I feel that I am tall of heart! Easy-going and spontaneous. Although it depends on who you talk to because there have been moments in my life when I was not easy-going.
AF: Well you go through seasons!
PS: Of course. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t pretty happy to say yes to what happens. This wasn’t the plan originally…
AF: So let’s talk about that.
PS: So I studied in Australia at QCM which is the Central Queensland Conservatory of Music. It was a tiny little course and it was brand new and I did Musical Theatre as an afterthought. I wanted to be a Forensic Psychologist. It’s Criminal Psychology. Now I like to play bad guys- it’s the same thing!
AF: Analyzing the characters…
PS: I think what we do is psychology. Understand people and then try to recreate it. But I got accepted into Psych School, got accepted into Law School, and got accepted into this Musical Theatre degree. I was so young- just after my seventeenth birthday I graduated high school. I thought, I’ll do this for a year and if I don’t like it I’ll be eighteen and I can go do something else. I liked it… and I did another year…and then I was on stage playing Anatoly in Chess and I was like, “I have to do this. Damnit.” So then I graduated, moved to Sydney, and a year into Sydney I was doing a production of Jekyll and Hyde that I then left for a production of Into the Woods. I was Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf. I was managing a Virgin Music store in a mall in Western Sydney. I’d been to these auditions… but I just didn’t know how to be an actor in the business. I knew how to perform. We didn’t get taught about the business. And the business in Australia is so small and so different so I just had no idea how it worked. It didn’t make sense to me. So I did this audition for Tokyo Disney and I got it. So a year after I moved to Sydney, in January I moved to Tokyo, and I meant to be gone for eight months and I haven’t lived in Australia since. I met an American girl… and kind of chased her here. I knew I wanted to know about New York. I spent a couple months in London.
AF: Wow- world traveler!
PS: Well I just wanted to know where I was meant to be. I kind of got the impression that the Australian theatre scene didn’t make sense to me, so I spent all my savings traveling the world with my sisters, my girlfriend, and my mate- it as awesome. At the end of that live in London for a bit and then came to New York in March of 2006. I moved right as there was this blizzard. I was living in West New York, New Jersey… You’d walk down to Boulevard East and see the entire skyline and it was perfect. It doesn’t snow where I’m from so still when it snows… I love it.
AF: Do you feel like you were meant to be here?
PS: I felt I understood it the minute I got here. For me it’s been New York, Berlin, and Sydney… Those are the cities where I walk in and think, “Oh… I get this.” So that’s kind of how I got here. I knew I was prudent professionally to find out…and that I was kind of chasing my girlfriend here…
AF: But—it worked out!
PS: We’re still really good friends… and she’s killing it on Broadway!
AF: So what would you say some of your highlights in New York have been?
PS: I haven’t been here for very long! I got here in 2006 but I didn’t have my Green Card until after 2009 so for three years I did Cruise Ships and then I did an International Tour. I was in a break between ships and I was in the city around Christmas time and I thought, “I need a vacation…but I should do ONE audition”. There was this tour of Cinderella with Lea Salonga… it was the only audition I went in for and I got it! That’s how I met my agent. It was an International tour so they could hire me as an Australian. That was 2008 into 2009. Our tour ended a few months early, went back to Australia, came back to America and got my Green Card later that year. So it’s been almost eight years. For most of that time I’ve been out of the city!
AF: That’s what’s so funny about our business—you come to the city to work in the city and then book work out of the city!
PS: Mathematically there’s not enough work here for everyone! The first job I got as an American actor was Jersey Boys. I played Gaudio… in Vegas. So case in point… I got my Green Card in October, had my interview on a Wednesday and my final callback on a Thursday, and the offer Thursday afternoon. Amazing. So then I spent the best part of three years in Vegas. Great community there. I opened in November of 2009, and at the time Musical Theatre was killing it in Vegas. It’s hard for a musical to get traction there now so I was lucky to be working there when Lion King and Phantom were running… I didn’t get back to the city until 2012. And at that point I was just kind of a newbie with two kind of good credits. I didn’t really know anybody.
AF: So you really had to work on cultivating Industry relationships? Let’s talk about that…
PS: I’ve been every lucky to have my agents since 2007. They’ve been amazing and supportive. I’ve never had an instinct to network. My instinct is to do the work. I guess we could all say we start from that place as actors. So what I wanted when I got back from Vegas was a body of work. I realize that I couldn’t control that in New York but I could control that to an extent if I did that regionally… I also contemplated Grad School… but I tried as best I could to make my professional choices my Grad School. I chose projects that were interesting, tried to work with people who I could milk for information. I tried to be as receptive in my career as I could be. Until this year I’ve been regional and then I just decided to settle down here…
AF: And now you’re starring in Desperate Measures!
PS: Yes! And I just did Law and Order…
AF: Amazing. Okay so I want to know… obviously you’ve played Gaston…
PS: Three times.
AF: What was your favorite theatre that you did it at?
PS: I got to go back to Sacramento Music Circus. I did Hair there. It’s stock theatre, eighteen days total, but that eighteen days was the most profound theatrical experience I’ve ever had. And then I had the chance to go back and it was all I wanted to do. Also- Glenn’s Beauty & the Beast is kind of dark and earthy… I’m grateful for the breadth of experience I’ve had with the show. I love him. I love Gaston. It’s funny when you book that job and people are like, “You’re perfect!” I’m like, “How dare you!” Or the people who bring their daughter to the stagedoor and they’re like, “You were my daughter’s favorite part!” and I’m like, “You need to read some different books!”
AF: So what else have you done in New York?
PS: My Off Broadway debut I made in 2012 which was a play at 59E59 with the Brooklyn based company called, One Year Lease- they produced a show called, Skin Tight which was physical theatre and was a two-hander- just me and one other girl. And then straight off of that I did my second Off Broadway show with Prospect Theatre Company and was part of the first mounting of, Death of Five Voices that we then did in Italy at the castle where it is set. It’s wonderful to be in Desperate Measures that’s gaining a lot of buzz…
AF: Well that is all very cool and exciting. Now I want to talk about your dog. When did you get him?!
PS: I got him in Vegas… in the middle of nowhere in Pahrump. He came from a breeder out there. When I was a teenager I wanted a Great Dane and mom said, “No Way.” So I found a Weimaraner, a dog that looked like a Great Dane but was smaller… and he died when I was at University so I had this chip on my shoulder. So then I was in Vegas and had a house and a backyard and enough money to pay for a dog…so I got one! That was 2010.
AF: And he loves the city?
PS: He’s happy. I’m walking him constantly.
AF: How do you think having a pet in the city has been beneficial?
PS: It’s been a good thing for me. I’m not out as often. He keeps me in line. I’m not a creature of habit… I don’t like routine. He gives me a regiment. He’s the most beautiful thing!
AF: What’s your piece of advice that you’d give someone moving to the city…
PS: You know that’s funny because I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m going back to my alma mater next year to direct. I just started working on it and trying to come up with a design. I’ve had no desire to direct, but I taught a master class and I like working with the kids, but what I’m good for is to teach the process. I have a great respect for the space and the people in the space and understanding of who’s doing what. We have this weird way of putting divas on pedestals in this industry because the divas that we know of are incredibly successful… so a lot of performers think that they need to act with that kind of entitlement. It rings as false confidence to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about approaching the role as a teaching director… I want them to learn how to approach the process with absolute respect for everyone in the room. You’ve got to be humble AND stupidly confident. Life’s too short to not treat people with integrity. It’s so competitive and we’re just trying to make our rent. I would say… remove your expectations from what you define as achievements or success and instead place your expectations on your work ethic and sense of self… because those are things you can work towards to and aspire and achieve. There are so many intangibles and so many things that are uncontrollable as you pursue this profession…. Every job you do could be your last job. It’s weird at the same time of feeling like, “I absolutely deserve this…I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be” to think how lucky I am and to find that balance between the two. My answer to the, “What is your dream job?” is “I refuse to have a dream job or role…” because I don’t want to end up disappointed. There are things that I’d play… I’d love to play Joey in Most Happy Fella, to my taste it’s perfect Musical Theatre. There are these things I want to do… but I’m not going to get attached to that. If I can be an actor, pay my bills, feed my dog, and buy my mates a beer… seriously that’s it.
AF: What your favorite beer?
PS: Just… yes. Sure. Any.
AF: You need a nice little night-cap at the end of the day.
PS: There’s nothing I don’t eat or drink.
AF: What’s the most Australian thing that you miss that you can’t find here?
PS: My mum. Seriously… I haven’t lived there since 2004. I go home every couple of years. I’m very close with my family. It’s really hard to convince four people to take two weeks vacation. Everyone came over while I was in Jersey Boys… so that was great. I love Australia, I love going back but I don’t have a home-sickness for it anymore. I left when I was twenty-one.
AF: And now you’re twenty-two!
PS: Yeah- twenty-three! (haha) My social circles are here. My professional circles are here. I get homesick for New York. I miss a meat pie every once and a while but you can find that here…
AF: What’s in a meat pie besides meat?
PS: It’s like a chicken potpie but with mince meat or with beef and liver…all kinds of good stuff. Also Vegemite… I got some in my pantry!
AF: I’m not sure if I like it!
PS: It’s very salty. My sister used to have it with honey.
AF: I worked with an Australian on my first summer-stock contract and he let me try some.
PS: It’s your duty as an Australian. You make people try Vegemite and get people drunk.
AF: So you mentioned as long as you can be an actor, pay your bills, feed your dog…you’re happy. Is that how you define success?
PS: Yep. Satisfaction. You’ve got to define your own satisfaction. There are things that I want and things that I expect of myself that are profound… It’s kind of difficult to articulate. At the same time that I have an awareness that I’m not done at finding what I need to find… I also have a satisfaction that as long as I listen hard and treat people with integrity and love hard on the people that I love nothing else is important at the end of the day. So really… to me success it has nothing to do with Broadway, TV… just to be present and to live an examined life and to be curious, and work on getting better at my career. It is to pay tribute to those blessings by investing time and energy. I refuse to hang my hat on achieving something I can’t control.
AF: Words to live by…
PS: Be nice to people… for God’s sake! I went through a divorce in 2012… and you know you go through a season of searching. My middle name is Kahlil…named after the Lebanese philosopher, and he has this quote, “Out of suffering emerge the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars.” I love that concept of embracing the pain. It’s not something that is black or white or good or bad…just a facet of your experience. It all feeds back into approaching your experience with integrity.
AF: Being fully human and open…
PS: The thing that spleens me the most about people is when they’re ignorant. It’s amazing to me when I meet someone who doesn’t take the time to educate themselves about the things they don’t know.
AF: Well cheers to that!