For me personally and for most of our readers here at Bravo Brisbane, theatre is a way of life. Our participation in the arts is as much a part of us as breathing. We live for the thrill of a curtain rising and the satisfaction that comes from a crowd cheering. But for my dear friend, Rach, this joy has been inhibited by illness.
I first met Rach during Lynch & Paterson’s 2019 production of Lush. We were both singing soprano in the choir. During this same show, I had the pleasure of also meeting Rach’s good friend, Kat. Later, Rach, Kat and I all participated in Lynch & Paterson’s 2020 production of Cinderella. And today, it is because of these friendships forged in the fires of Brisbane’s theatre scene that I have the honour of telling Rach’s story to all of you.
Rach has been a part of the Brisbane theatre community since she first moved to our lovely city in 1998. During this time and up until her last show in 2020, she has played a multitude of roles from ensemble, to choir, to props, sets, lighting and everything in between. Rach is the very example of someone that our theatre community relies on and values infinitely.
But following a seizure in 2020, Rach has been unable to participate in theatre. Subsequently she has been diagnosed with a 3cm hole in her heart for which she needs surgery and a debilitating condition called lipoedema. For Rach, these diagnoses are more than just serious medical conditions to cope with, they are the very thing standing between her and her love for the stage.
Worst of all, due to recent changes in Medicare, Rach’s heart surgery is not covered. Rach needs this surgery to be able to get the other surgeries for her lipoedema so that she can get her life back. But the surgery is expensive and she does not have the funds. Luckily, Rach’s friend, Kat, has created a GoFundMe page to raise the money that she needs so that she can get back out on stage with the rest of us as soon as possible.
I sat down with both Kat and Rach for a chat.
Kat, you’ve known Rach since high school. Tell us about her!
Rach – how to describe her? She’s the best kind of nuts; clever, hilarious and kind to a fault. She was waaaay cooler than me at school and probably still is. Devastatingly harsh sense of humour and comic timing for days.
She’s a giver – studying social work, works as a disability support worker, has been pen-pal to death row inmates in the USA and is unfailingly generous of her time and care.
Our first show together was in 2000 – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at QPAC when we were in year 11. Our last performance together was Lynch & Paterson’s 2021 Season Launch. Whenever and wherever we perform together is always a riot of laughter, deep and meaningful conversations and sooo much fun. She’s the best performing buddy a lass could want.
Rach, tell us about your involvement in Brisbane’s theatre community?
I did my first show the year I moved to Brisbane – 1998. I participated in school musicals from 1998-2001 and was super lucky that my school hired out the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC for our productions. Working on a stage that had seen so many talented performers over the years was an incredible experience!
I started working with Beenleigh Theatre Group (BTG) in 2001. My first BTG production was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which funnily enough had been my school musical the year before! I sang as an alto in the school performance, but switched things up to sing soprano in the BTG performance, and I have remained singing soprano ever since.
Over the years since (I’ve never stopped doing theatre), I have bounced around a bit, I did a few paid gigs, which can be hard to come by with so many talented performers in Brisbane. I did a show at Sunnybank Theatre Group, at Act One Theatre in Strathpine, with a company called Theatredreamt which no longer exists, which performed at the Kingston Butter Factory, and I studied Applied Theatre at Griffith University on the Gold Coast. I have auditioned for just about every company in Brisbane at least once! I’ve also worked as backstage crew, as props mistress, painting sets, operating spotlights and as an assistant director.
In 2019 I performed in the last show I was able to do at BTG, Victor Victoria, where I met some friends who have turned out to be a great support network. I also did my first show with Lynch & Paterson that year, performing in the Lush choir at the Princess Theatre. I managed to squeeze in one more show with L&P, which was Cinderella in 2020, before I had my seizure which has left me with very little arm mobility. L&P were kind enough to include me in their 2021 Season Launch Concert towards the end of 2020, despite my seizure, and were so accommodating, agreeing to let me have a chair on the stage if I needed it, and to come up to side stage early, so I could take the stairs as slowly as I needed, without holding anyone else up. Although I was only onstage for the duration of one song at a time, I found it difficult to manage even that, and have not been on stage since.
Kat, do you miss your theatre buddy? What is it like participating in shows knowing that Rach can’t?
So much. So so much. I just feel so damn sad and angry that she can’t do her thing and I want to fix it. It makes me angry that she’s been dealt such a rough hand and I want to fix it.
Rach, what do you miss the most about being involved in Brisbane’s theatre scene?
The sense of family! I love everything about being in a show and feel most at home on the stage. But that sense of bonding with your cast and crew as you bring a show to life, and the amazing friends you make (who for me have become a second family), that’s what I miss more than anything. I’ve always said that theatre people are the best kind of people. We have to make ourselves vulnerable when we perform, so people are intensely supportive of each other and create such a safe space for that freedom of expression. It really bonds you all together, and I’ve made so many friends in the Brisbane theatre community over the years that I wouldn’t trade for a sack of gold – even if it was enough gold to pay for all my surgeries!
Rach, tell us about the impact of your medical conditions on your involvement in the theatre community in Brisbane?
I’ve always been hard to cast and costume because of my size, and even though I’ve been part of some shows with very intense choreography, where everyone else was dropping weight, I was never able to drop more than a kilo or two and could never understand why. Now I know it was because I had lipoedema. But at the time I just felt incurably obese, and thought I must be lazier than everyone else around me. That affected my confidence a lot. I never felt that I looked like a leading lady and so I never auditioned for leading roles.
I’ve also found it difficult over the years, despite intense vocal training from some amazing coaches, to hold a note for a long period of time without running out of oxygen and could never understand why. The cardiologist who found the hole in my heart actually answered that for me, apparently people with a PFO often have a chronic problem with breathlessness. So both of those conditions have contributed to keeping me in the background of most shows I’ve done, which has been fine, as I just love being on the stage!
When I had my seizure in August 2020, though, I shattered the upper bulb of both humerus bones (where your arm connects to your shoulders) in 12 pieces each, and required metal implants in both arms. Through no fault of my surgeons, these have not healed and have left me with a chronic pain condition as well as barely being able to lift my arms above waist height anymore. There have been quite a few shows since then that I have really wanted to audition for, but they all required dancing skills, and that’s something I can no longer do unless it’s purely down to Irish jigging!
There are shows that don’t require dancing, and I’ve done a few plays over the years, but unfortunately my chronic pain has left me unable to handle the strain of performing, and the many different medications I’m now on have also given me serious brain fog, so I can’t memorise lines anymore either.
I’ve still been part of the theatre scene in Brisbane, just on the other side of the curtain, clapping and supporting my theatre friends from the audience whenever they are in shows. It’s always a bit bittersweet though, as it makes me wish I was up there with them instead of only being able to watch.
Kat, what would it take for Rach to get healthy and back to theatre?
It will take about 7 or so surgeries. But getting this heart surgery is the first and biggest hurdle. She can’t get her arms fixed or her lipoedema under control until it happens – major surgery with a dodgy heart is.. Bad. Problem is, the heart fix is not covered by Medicare unless she has a stroke first! I’m not waiting for that to happen and so here we are.
Rach, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
I’d like people to know about how many surgeries were deemed “inessential” and therefore are now considered cosmetic, over the last few years. Not only heart surgeries, but joint replacements too, as well as others. We always just count on being able to go to hospital and get fixed up if something in our bodies doesn’t function and impedes our way of life. I always took it for granted, until I found myself excluded from heart surgery because of changes to Medicare made only a year ago. I’d like people to know that we can’t count on this anymore, and to encourage people to do some investigative work and see just how many things that are really important, may now be out of your price range if you have an emergency.
Additionally, I would love to bring awareness to the existence of lipoedema. It affects many women, and has been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as a serious medical condition. Yet a large number of doctors have never heard of it and instead keep telling women like me that we are lazy and just need to get more exercise and eat right. Overhearing nasty comments about my weight when I go to the shops, being considered essentially undateable due to my size and constantly feeling heavy and sore no matter what I do has had a massive effect on my mental health.
Finally, I would like to thank my dear friend Kat, from the bottom of my heart, for setting up this fundraiser for me during one of my bleakest times. Not only could it make surgery possible if we raise enough, each donation and each person who shares the link to my story and the GoFundMe page reminds me how many amazing people I’ve met (most of them through my years in the theatre) and that I am loved, and should keep on fighting. Thank you Kat for showing me that, and thank you to Anina for sharing my story among the community I’ve loved so much and for so long.
Kat, tell us about your GoFundMe campaign and how we can help?
In short, we need funds. The surgery is $25k. Then there’s the cost of nursing while she recovers properly, and after each of her limb surgeries. It’s a super long road.
We’ve got the GoFundMe which is amazing – people are showing the love there. I also have pledges of goods and services to use as prizes from some amazing local businesses including Kenn at PIF Productions. I want to start discussions about holding a fundraiser benefit event with prizes and an auction.
Anyone can help in so many ways. You can donate, share our link or touch base with me if you’re keen to jump in on stage or behind the curtain to help put on a show. Perhaps you have a business that can help with a donation, venue or something else I haven’t even thought of!
The Brisbane community is a huge family and we’ve shown what we can do through literal fire, flood and fever. Any contribution of time, money or even just a share to your mates is worth so much. I can’t wait to show Rach that she IS loved and to get her back on the boards where she belongs.
Rach, do you have a final message for our Brisbane theatre community?
Thank you. I have enjoyed every minute and every person I have met doing theatre. You’ve all been so supportive of me over the years, and I treasure all the memories. I have kept my programs from all the shows I have done over the years – over 30 in total – and hopefully will one day be able to treasure them without tears that I can’t add any more.
Rach’s story has made a huge personal impact on me. As some of you may know, I myself have been doing music and theatre my whole life and I could not imagine not being able to do so. For many of you reading this, I suspect it would be the same. We love theatre, we love the arts, it is the very oxygen we breathe. But for Rach, she can no longer share in that joy, for this thing she held so dear has been ripped from her due to illness and when it came down to it, she could not rely on Medicare.
I hope that reading Rach’s story has inspired you to act. Whether that be through a monetary donation to the GoFundMe page or volunteering your time, expertise and resources to raise funds or simply through sharing Rach’s story on your social media. Let’s band together as a community and support someone who has given us so much of her time, talent and energy.
If you are interested in supporting Rach outside of giving a donation, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can point you in the right direction.