First published on 12 Sep 2010. Updated on 24 May 2012.
It's not unreasonable to presume that Wayne Blair is the only person to have played for both the Bell Shakespeare Company and the Canterbury Bulldogs. Nor is it hard to imagine that he may have ended up with a career in sport. He was a sporty kid - a devoted follower of the West Indies cricket team and the St. George Dragons - who spent his childhood, as he says, trying to win grand finals in his hometown of Rockhampton, Queensland. "I had no idea about places called NIDA or QUT or Company B or STC," Blair says. "I had no idea that this whole world was out there. But I was sure that there was something else out there for me."
That ‘something else' turned out to be writing, acting and directing across theatre, television and film, and if Blair arrived at it late, he's such a fixture these days that you wouldn't know it. He's played Othello for Bell Shakespeare, performed in Neil Armfield's landmark production of Cloudstreet and directed The Removalists and Romeo and Juliet for the Sydney Theatre Company. Recently he directed Brendan Cowell's Ruben Guthrie (upstairs and downstairs at the Belvoir Theatre), starred in Steven Soderbergh's Tot Mom and just wrapped up the B Sharp production of Dirty Butterfly.
It's a long way from Blair's NIDA audition, which he recalls vividly. "I walked into the room and I had my football shorts and mountain boots on," he says. "The room was filled with Jason Priestley look-alikes and all the girls looked like ballerinas. I was so out of place it wasn't funny. I did the ‘friends, Romans, countrymen' speech from Julius Caesar at the end of the day to a group of sixty people. That was quite daunting - having just done these speeches to myself in my room with The A-Team playing in the background."
He was unsuccessful in the audition, but one of the NIDA judges encouraged him to try out for the Queensland University of Technology drama course. He was 24 when he was accepted into QUT. Most of his classmates were still in their teens and, Blair isn't afraid to admit, more knowledgeable than he was - "They lived and breathed drama and I was just getting used to it," he says - but what he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm. "I was a sponge. It just opened my eyes to this new world - what it means to the people, what it means to the actor and director about telling a certain story."
Since then, Blair has become a mighty presence onstage and off. He's currently co-directing Namatjira, the remarkable story of the celebrated Aboriginal watercolour painter Albert Namatjira, and at the end of October will be performing in True West with the STC, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's also writing a new theatre piece for Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page and gearing up to direct the film version of Company B's hit stage musical The Sapphires.
The rugby fields of Rockhampton are far behind him - he hasn't played a game since his QUT days - but, clearly, Blair is now working up a sweat in the theatre. He insists that he is still working it out, one day at a time. "I'm getting to know my own strengths and weakness and where I want to concentrate on," he says. "I love it. I love it all. I love that you have to work hard. You mightn't get there in the end but at least you're not going to die wondering."