I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down and chatting with Darcy. He’s someone who is very engaged in life and all that he does – whether it be his TV work or his involvement in the Hampton Scouts. Again, sit down with a cuppa or a wine and read all about Darcy Bonser…
I was born in 1986 and we moved to Hampton when I was two, so I’ve lived here for 28 years. I have two brothers, Tim who is 2 years younger than me and Sam who is 4 years younger.
I went to school at Hampton Primary from 1992 to 1998 and then I went to St Leonards. My parents got married at the Catholic Church in Bluff Road in Hampton but that was four or five years before they moved here. I was able to walk to Hampton Primary every day and loved going to school there. There are still two teachers from when I was there: Dimi Beratis and Traci Cendese.
A lot of my childhood was performing, acting, singing, music. When I was two or three I was already putting on shows and I still do to this day. I sing and act, I play the piano. I was in the Victorian State Children’s Choir for about 6 years and after seeing a flyer at Hampton Primary joined The Victorian Youth Theatre which is now The Children’s Performing Company of Australia. They’re a drama school who really focus on performing arts.
During the choir and drama school, apart from the performing, you learnt some serious discipline very early on which I think is helping me even now. The discipline was more like learning to stand on stage for 20 minutes and not scratch your nose or move a muscle.
The drama school was focused on musical theatre which is what I really wanted to do. At 13, in the first or second year of being there, one of the patrons, Dennis Olsen, who is a well-known musical theatre performer, was doing a play with the Melbourne Theatre Company at the Arts Centre. They were looking for kids to be in this show and I got a role in this play called Burnt Piano which was about this woman who was obsessed with Samuel Beckett. I played the woman’s son – I was suffering because my brother had died in a fire and I survived because I jumped into a piano, so the whole house burnt but not the piano. I survived but I could hear my brother screaming. Sounds quite dark but at 13 I didn’t really take it in, I was like “oh I’m stage at the Arts Centre, this is great”.
At the time it was an incredible experience and I had my name on the poster outside the Arts Centre. I’ve still got all the stuff. I was in all the articles and I recently re-read reviews about me because it’s more relevant now. But at the time all I wanted to be is on TV. I never wanted to be an actor but always performed all the time. It’s quite weird when I go back and watch old videos of myself. I must have been such a pain in the arse because all I was doing was performing all the time and I must have driven my parents mad. When I watch them back I think my parents must have thought there was something seriously wrong with me.
What is also interesting about all this acting I was doing was that I had, and still have slightly, a stutter. Now anyone who has a stutter would not get up on stage or public speak and that’s what I did a lot of. It was a lot worse when I was a kid but it still affects me to this day.
When I was in Burnt Piano there was a casting agent who had a connection with the play and they said “you should come and audition for this kids show” which I thought was very exciting and I got a role in Eugenie Sandler PI. It was on the ABC in the year 2000 but a real standout show. The episode I was in won an AFI Award. It was an incredible show, probably the best I’ve ever done.
I then got an agent and started going for auditions when I got a semi-regular role in Neighbours in 2000, which seems big but every actor in Melbourne has been on Neighbours. I was Tad’s half-brother and the character was really into skating which is not me at all so I’m not sure how convincing I came across. Essentially I had cancer and he gave me his bone marrow for a transplant. The producers would ring my mum and ask if they could shave all my hair off and my mum would say “well can’t you just put a beanie on him?” The whole Neighbours thing was a bit surreal because I remember being at our end of school term excursion at a park and there were a few other schools there. I’d been in an episode the previous night for a minute at the end of the show. It was the start of my character. And there was this whisper going down the line and eventually someone said “were you on Neighbours last night?” and I’m like “how did anyone notice that” and then all of a sudden everyone’s turning around going “oh that is you” and all my friends are going “what”. I was recognised in public at least once a day for twelve months and I still can’t quite work out how because I had a semi-regular role. I was only in eleven episodes so we’re not talking a lot of screen time. I’d get recognised at Southland and on the train and people would ask me for my autograph, I got fan mail. I’d pick up a magazine at a newsagency and think “oh there won’t be anything in there” and there’s a big photo of me.
Up until year 12 I did other TV shows. I played a semi regular role in Blue Heelers which was extremely exciting for me because I was a huge Blue Heelers fan up until Maggie Doyle (Lisa McCune) died. I was obsessed with it because Traci Cenedese was on it a few years before that. I remember we were on school camp and we all sat around and watched it. I was on for 3 years in a semi regular role from 2001 – I remember it was 2001 because my first rehearsal day was September 11 and then I think my last episode was in year 12. Debra Lawrence, who played Pippa on Home and Away was a Reverend on the show and I played her son. She got married to Tom Croydon so I was Tom Croydon’s step-son. So that’s my claim to fame. I was such a huge fan of Blue Heelers; to say I was related to one of the cast members… I still can’t get over it. It’s 10 years ago now but to walk around on that set – the Mount Thomas Police Station – I had to control myself not to show that I was a fan. I remember one time when we were all in a car together, all the actors, and we were heading to a location somewhere out in Werribee and we drove past the Werribee Hospital and I was this close to saying “oh that’s Mt Thomas Hospital where there was a bushfire and Maggie and Wayne…” but I went “no I can’t say that!”
I used to hang outside the Channel 7 studios a lot when I was a kid. I’d go into reception and ask for stickers. I’d make my mum drive past so I could see the studios, so when I was in Blue Heelers I thought “this is so strange to be here”.
I also did another kids show called Pirate Islands which was on Channel 10 and was filmed here and in Port Douglas. It was about kids being sucked into computer games and it was quite a popular show. I did another small role on Stingers and a small role in a two part telemovie called Bootleg which was a BBC/ABC production basically about the government banning chocolate.
So growing up I had a very interesting time because I was half at school and half not. In between the TV I did other musicals and school musicals. I had a lot of time off school but never enough that it affected my schooling. I think my parents would have hated it if that happened.
At 18 I still had an agent. I’d done pretty well for my age – I pretty much walked straight into it so some people would think I was crazy giving it up because I could be still acting today but it’s a very harsh industry. I did probably 100 auditions; I auditioned for every TV show and film you can think off, including Harry for Harry Potter. But then it was like “well I’ve got to go to uni now” so I just decided not to do acting any more I guess, I just stopped doing it.
I went to Deakin University and studied film and television, it’s like an arts degree but media based. I knew that I had to get experience because no-one’s just going to hire you without experience. So I started volunteering on Channel 31 shows where I’d do anything. At Deakin I started up a club called Deakin TV which is a uni club where we can make TV shows mainly for Channel 31. The first class I walked into in the TV studio I thought “I’m working in TV, no question about it”. I loved the idea of what a director does. No-one’s going to just give me a director role because all the Channel 31 shows all their own directors so I thought “well if I just start my own show then I can make myself the director”. Which I did. I made a student show called Theatre Games Live, which is like a theatre sports show. I had plenty of other people doing it with me and I learnt also how to be a producer. We made three series of that over three years and all of these were student products so they were all getting experience. Basically over the next five or six years I made many, many shows. A lot of them I did with a friend of mine, Lisa Sloetjes. We made Theatre Games Live and then another show called The Mutant Way which was an improv panel show that had a lot of celebrities on it. That won two Antenna Awards which are Channel 31’s version of the Logies. We then went on the make another show with two comedians, Stefan and Craig. All this time I’m just trying to get as much experience as I could learning how to direct.
Around 2009, in the midst of doing all this stuff, I got this opportunity to be a student intern on the Marngrook Footy Show as a camera operator. I did that for a year and then at the start of 2011 I started working on the show full time as an editor. I did that for the whole season and got pretty entrenched there. At the end of that year the show got picked up by the ABC. Very fortunately I got hired by the ABC as an editor and then I worked for the production company in a lesser sense to be a field producer on location producing shoots with an ABC crew, which I’d never done before but all the acting and all the Channel 31 stuff was starting to finally pay off.
I did that for two years when one of our Producers, who was the Executive Producer of the ABC Paralympics, said “there’s this volunteer opportunity with the Paralympic Committee to go over to London and work in their multimedia team and film stuff online, would you be interested?” I said yes! I was treated like any other team member; I got the whole uniform and I lived in the village with all the athletes. I got to march in the opening ceremony, I met the Governor General, I came in very close contact with everyone. Because I had my accreditation I could go to the swimming and sit with the team. It just never stopped the entire time. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t feel like I really should be there because these people had worked for years to get there and all of a sudden I’ve just walked in. We were filming little things in the village for online. I also took some photos that ended up in the newspapers back home. I filmed for Sky News and ABC when they couldn’t bring their cameras in.
There’s this unbelievable respect you have for people with a disability to the point where you felt uncool being there. They were the cool ones. I saw incredible things there and I know this sounds really cheesy but the Olympic Village was like being in heaven because everyone was equal, it didn’t matter what your disability was or where you were from: Afghanistan, Israel, Australia, Canada, wherever. Everyone was equal. Everybody was happy for two weeks, everything looked beautiful and the sun shone in London the whole time so it was this incredible experience. I’m still very appreciative for that experience.
When I got back from that we finished the show for that season and then I went overseas with mum. I got off the plane in LA and I read all over the media that Marngrook had been axed from the ABC. I then did some work for Swimming Australia over summer, going around with the swim team and filming stuff for their online site when Marngrook got taken up again by NITV which at this stage had become a free to air network with SBS. I went back to work for them and I’m still there. The big difference is that since halfway through 2014 I’ve been directing the show which really has been my lifelong dream and there aren’t many directors who do the sort of directing at my age. I feel very privileged to get to do that.
At the end of last year I got to achieve my ultimate dream which was directing an outside broadcast – our grand final show at the Forum Theatre. After spending years taking photos of OB (outside broadcast) trucks and being an OB geek, to be sitting in one directing, well I think I cried a bit when we went off air. I was just shaking because we had this big musical number to end it. Still to this moment that’s my biggest achievement in life because I always wanted to be a director and I thought I wouldn’t get this opportunity for another 20 years.
The show has a really strong reputation now. We’ve just been nominated for a second Logie Award which is a massive achievement for a show on NITV and the fact it’s competing with 15 other footy shows out there. Now people go “oh yeah, I’ve heard of that” or “I watch that” when they ask you what you do. And one Friday morning last year when I was sitting at the Brown Cow meeting my friend Lisa I just couldn’t believe that these 3 guys at the table next to me were talking about Marngrook and every little story that the footballers told on the show the night before. I was like “wow, we are really quite big”.
The show is still broadcast live at Deakin and we have a partnership with the University. Half our crew are students and they get real life experience working alongside other professional crew. They’re getting this one on one experience with them in their very own classroom. We have two females on the panel the entire show and we’ve been doing it for years. For ten years we’ve had two females on our show but now they’re actually on the panel giving their opinions.
I’ve always done some form of volunteer work but when I stopped the volunteer work at Channel 31 and it became a paid job, I didn’t have a hobby or a little community to be a part of, so at the end of 2013 I thought maybe I should become a leader at Scouts, to do something with my Dad as well as he has been a Scout Leader in Hampton for around 20 years. I was at 1st Hampton until it was merged with 2nd Hampton (Ludstone Street). The great thing about Hampton Scouts is it has such a history in Hampton because apart from the fact that Scouts has been in Hampton for over 100 years, Hampton Rovers Football Club was formed by the Hampton Rovers Unit. So Hampton Cubs, Scouts, Venturers and Rovers, they started a football team. That’s why the colours of the football team are the same as the First Hampton scarf – gold and green. And the founder of First Hampton was Boss James, whom the football ground is named after.
I’m the Scout Leader now and my Dad helps me heavily because I’m the last person who would be outdoors and camping but I guess I’ve just made myself like it and I actually think it’s great. I love being a Scout Leader; it’s really addictive too. I have so much fun every week with the kids. I don’t know whether they’re aware of that, but I just get so much out of it.
I went to Jamboree earlier this year. My friend Lisa and I produced, directed and put on the opening ceremony for 12,000 Scouts and Leaders. We worked for nine months to make it as good as we possibly could. Lisa and I were members of the entertainment team, which consisted of about 100 people based at the arena. That, second to the Paralympics was the best experience of my life. I get emotional thinking about it because I knew when we were planning it we were thinking “this has to be the best show we can possibly put on”. It needs to be unbelievable so that they remember this, the best night of their lives. It was just an incredible vibe.
I love being at Scouts; you’re part of the community. I love doing it and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. You see these kids develop and become either more confident or you’ve helped them become a good person and that’s a great thing. I think Scouts is very underrated, people don’t really understand it. I’ve explained to a few people and they’re really surprised about what kids do. It’s not this old-fashioned thing that people think it is. I’m afraid that if people really found out this big secret we’ve got going on, we would not be able to cope.
I miss the acting. I’m envious of people who are professional actors who were around when I was and now they’re a lot bigger and I think of what I could have done. I also realise there’s not always longevity onscreen, on stage or on camera. But I love doing what I’m doing and feel very privileged to be doing it.
You can watch The Marngrook Footy Show at 7.30pm Thursdays on NITV/SBS.
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