Even after half a century in showbiz, the light of Aveo Roseville retirement village resident Dot Parker still shines brightly.
Walking in someone else’s shoes is a hobby Dot Parker has quite literally turned into a career of acting, singing and dancing acts spanning five decades.
Residing at Aveo Roseville, a retirement village in Melbourne east, Dot has appeared in more than 54 amateur and semi-professional shows across a range of mediums including cabaret, theatre, restaurant and television.
During this time the vivacious cabaret performer has played an eclectic mix of characters, pushing herself to vocal and physical extremes in roles ranging from Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! and Yente in Fiddler on the Roof to Mama Morton in Chicago and Mrs Strakosh in Funny Girl.
And she is good. So good in fact that in 2011 she was recognised by the Music Theatre Guild (MTG) of Victoria for her outstanding contribution to musical theatre and later spent ten years touring the state as a judge for the same organisation.
Even today at 79 years of age, notwithstanding two knee replacements, Dot still craves the comfort that the stage brings and the adulation that an audience offers.
But as those who work in the arts industry will attest, a career in the theatre is almost always an exercise in patience.
The early years
From the time she drew her first breath, Dot knew she was destined to be a performer.
“It’s like a life force within me. I just loved the vibe and the reaction from audiences.”
Born in Flemington to a dressmaker mother and a school teacher father, Dot was barely out of nappies when the war struck and she was forced to leave Melbourne to live with her grandparents in Portland in Southern Victoria.
It was here Dot was first exposed to the joy of singing and dancing when her grandmother, who in earlier times had worked in music halls in England, began teaching her young protégé some basic song and dance routines.
“I guess she ignited the spark but it wasn’t until I was back living with my parents in Melbourne that I received any kind of dancing training. As a young child I had a chiffon scarf that I used to swan around in. If my mum went out I would go into her wardrobe and put on her cocktail dresses and dance around.
“I was merciless as a young girl. I also used to bring all the kids home from school and I would make them sit on the wash house roof and watch me. When I felt they hadn’t shown sufficient appreciation for my performance, I would stand there and demand they clap. I just knew from an early age that was what I was born to do – to entertain.”
Dot says her father had a beautiful tenor voice but was never formally trained in how to use it. Despite their busy lives, they would always find the time to take the eldest of their five children to musicals at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Princess Theatre, where their favourite seats were always “up with the gods”.
“We always had the radio on at home and we used to listen to the P&A Parade where I would sing along with all the songs. I used to make up all the words. Very often I’d be up on the kitchen table singing Ukulele Lady,” Dot says.
As time marched on, the engaging youngster with the comedic bent continued to hone her dancing and performance skills at home, confident in the belief this was where her future lay.
It wasn’t until she started at secondary school under the watchful eye of nuns that she received any formal vocal assistance. It was the ladies of the cloth who helped her fine tune her range before encouraging her to join the school choir.
But all good things must come to an end. Towards the end of her schooling career, Dot had had just about enough of the uncompromising approach taken by her instructors.
She suspected the feeling may have been mutual.
“I was too flamboyant and had way too much personality for them,” she recalls.
When it came time for her to leave school, Dot began entertaining the idea of finding a fulltime position that drew on her performance skills.
It was against the wishes of her father however, who begged her to consider pursuing a teaching career on the basis that singing and dancing was a hobby “but not a job”.
Eventually they reached an agreement that if 15-year-old Dot was able to secure a paid position then she would be allowed to leave at the conclusion of Year 11.