By Peter Oglos.
Recognised as Australia’s most respected, trusted and longest-running children’s series, it was known that if you had made it on the ABC program ‘Play School’, you had made your mark on the television industry.
For Greek Australian actor Alex Papps, being accepted as a cast member in 2005 was a dream come true. Now, 15 years after his debut on screen, The Greek Herald speaks exclusively with Alex, who reminisces on his wonderful experiences on Play School and his Greek heritage.
The “juggling act” of Play School
Since first broadcasting on July 18, 1966, Play School has been entertaining and educating Australian pre-schoolers with music, crafts, stories and games. Every actor dreams of walking in the footsteps of Australian icons Benita Collings, Noni Hazlehurst and George Spartels, who all left their mark on the ABC set.
When the audition day finally came, Papps was in awe of the piece of Australian history he had walked in to.
“I was extremely well prepared and nervous on the day but when I walked into the rehearsal room, there was the director, the piano player, the camera man and the producer, who all greeted me,” Papps said about his audition.
“But the main impact was that they had all the toys lined up to greet the auditionees as they came into the room, and that’s kind of amazing to be confronted with these iconic figures that many of us grew up with.”
Since his audition, Alex has evolved his entertainment style, benefiting from an increased level of relaxation and comfort on camera. However, paraphrasing Play School veteran Noni Hazelhurst, Alex still describes it as one of the “best acting lessons you can have”.
“It’s sort of the ultimate juggling act, Play School presentation, because you are presenting hopefully a genuine version of yourself to the camera and to the child.
“But you have to keep a lot of things up in the air. There is a lot of technical aspects that you need to be aware of and lots of interaction with props and remembering song lyrics and keeping a serene, friendly presence, whilst juggling all those things.”
“I still pinch myself I’m part of Play School”
15 years after receiving the job, Papps has shared countless memories with all of his Play School co-workers. However, recording the “Friends All Together” DVD towards the beginning of his career, still has a special place in his heart.
“We did two performances in front of an audience, in order for them to cut together the DVD episode,” Papps says.
“Everyone worked incredibly hard to get this mammoth thing up and running, and I have great memories of that. That was with Karen Pang, Jay Laga’aia and Justine Clarke. And I was still relatively new then.
“I mean I still pinch myself I’m part of play school, but I kind of couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be part of it.”
Being former co-workers together on the drama series Home and Away, Alex Papps and Justine Clarke shared a special bond on the children’s show.
“We’ve known each other now for 13 years and as you probably know we worked together on Home and Away, so working together on Play School was kind of a lovely for circle for us. We’ve been very lucky with our friendship.”
A healthy workplace environment on Play School has allowed for Alex to continue to enjoy his time on the program. In Alex’s eyes, a strong relationship with his Play School co-workers is really what has kept the ball rolling for over 50 years.
“With Play School, we all get paired up with different people but we all get along really well and each of those pairings has its own dynamic and identity because we’re all different.
“We all get along really well and have a great time, which becomes particularly important when we go on tour.”
An “enthusiastic respect” for his Greek culture
Coming from a very diverse background, Alex Papps has always had a strong awareness of his heritage. His mother, while born in Australia, is of English and German background.
Alex’s father migrated to Australia when he was only six years old from Cairo, which continues to hold a large Greek community.
“With my yiayia, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago, we used to ask her a lot about her life in Cairo and the Greek culture and food,” Alex says.
“My mum, when she first met my father, went to great trouble to learn how to speak a bit of Greek and cook Greek dishes.”
While describing himself as an “enthusiastic home cook”, Alex never forgets his love for the simple Greek dishes, particularly dolmades.
“I’m immensely proud of my Greek heritage and when all this pandemic hopefully resolves itself…. I’d love to go back as an adult, and hopefully that might happen one day.”
Asked if the 20 year milestone was in his sights, Alex expressed his hope for a long career with the children’s program.
“If it were up to me I’d love that! But it’s not in my hands. I would like to think I could be on play school forever but it’s not up to me unfortunately.
“I really hope I’m there for a lot longer, but we’ll see.”