Playing Out Life
Stepping in and out of character is all in a day’s work for Sam and Xanthe Coward as the couple spearheads the resurgence of the local entertainment scene. Anna Rawlings goes behind the scenes with the creative theatricals who share a vision larger than the stage.
“The theatre is a world of chaos and our lives are so ridiculous we just go with it,” laughs Sam Coward.
Theatre; a term loaded richly with substance and prestige, is the bread-and-butter of Sam and Xanthe Coward’s world, but the plethora of their other creative pursuits, well, that’s their strawberries and cream.
“In my job of radio it’s theatre of the mind. I’m telling stories and engaging with people through their ears and trying to get them to visualise things,” shares Sam.
Xanthe Coward, teacher, reviewer, blogger and author adds, “and then you’ve got your written word as well.”
Their insight into how life imitates art and how we are characters of our own design are gems of revelation, as Sam who resents the notion of being “told to grow up,” notes my role interviewing the couple.
“Everyday you come to work you’re representing Profile, you have a character who is your Profile character, you’re dressed immaculately and groomed beautifully, all the time selling the high standard of the publication you’re representing,” he points out.
Onto the main act of Sam and Xanthe Coward, and in their 15 years together they have played lead roles in each other’s lives and as owners of entertainment company XS Entertainment, each has an impressive swathe of credits to their name.
I think you have a richer life by engaging with people that bring more to the table, I don’t want to talk about the weather with people, that’s boring.”
Locals will be familiar with Sam’s gregarious voice as one half of Hot 91.1’s morning breakfast radio show ‘Sam and Nerissa’; he has acted, written and directed theatre productions and recently appeared in his first feature film movie role; while Xanthe is a drama teacher, stage actress, author, blogger and theatre reviewer. As we chat, I’m regaled with hilarious tales of the couple’s life – as a double act they are a show-stopper, stage managed by their nine-year-old daughter Poppy Éponine (her middle name honouring Xanthe’s roles as Éponine and Fantine during two productions of Les Miserables).
“When she turned nine it was evident she was far more business savvy than both of us so she’s in charge now,” Sam chuckles.
“She’s becoming quite the comedian. She’s also starting to look a lot like Xanthe now, but she might pull through,” he adds wickedly.
Xanthe, tall, blonde and stunning, laughs; witty banter seemingly part of the fabric of the couple’s ties.
“We value time together because it’s so rare. We are big personalities and that collective energy doesn’t fit all the time.”
The Coward family lives in Buderim, the epicentre for Sam to start his breakfast radio gig by 4am and for Xanthe to travel to Brisbane regularly for theatre reviews and her seat on the board of the Queensland Theatre Awards. Both long-term locals, each hails from a creative background, participating in community theatre, school shows and vocal classes; Xanthe going on to study drama and education. How the two met is told in deadpan humour by Sam. “It was 1999 and we were both in long-term relationships with other people at the time, Xanthe had been with a fella for three years and I had been with a young lady for about three weeks and we met at an audition for a play and Xanthe auditioned for the part of the witch and got it, and I auditioned for the part of Prince Charming and got it,” Sam says, smiling wickedly. “And nothing’s changed in 15 years.”
Since marrying in 2002, the dynamic duo has gone on to become local entertainment identities, poised to play a role in the resurgence of the Sunshine Coast arts and culture scene.
“The industry’s gone full circle ... it’s kind of earthy and grounded now. Because of the digital revolution people are wanting to see live entertainment and performers and tactile experiences,” says Sam.
“We’re looking at people like David Berthold (artistic director of Brisbane Festival), the way Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton have been changing the Sydney Theatre Company over the last few years, we’re determined to do the same thing to create better, more interesting work,” adds Xanthe.
The theatre is a world of chaos and our lives are so ridiculous we just go with it.”
Xanthe and Sam are invested in local talent and performances, with Xanthe recently appearing in David Williamson’s Dream Home at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival; both are on the festival’s board. Sam also made his first appearance on the silver screen in filmmaker and director Chris Sun’s horror flick Charlie’s Farm, and will appear in Chris’ upcoming film, Boar. Sam’s vocal influence on Hot 91.1 is his first radio gig.
“I certainly don’t undervalue the opportunity to be on air ... I’ve ticked a lot of lucky boxes on the way but I don’t take it too seriously,” he says.
“Radio, theatre, it’s all entertainment. There’s a lot of light-takers and I feel people who enjoy entertaining have a responsibility to keep that balance. The news can talk about ISIS all day, I want to talk about why cheese is better than chocolate.”
However, the thespian couple aren’t just actors and entertainers, and interestingly hold a strong interest in discussions of female role models, societal issues and equality.
“One of the things that inspires me and informs the shows I do is strong women,” Sam shares. “I think we have a responsibility to put messages into the work we do and I like to reinforce the message of strong, independent women, having a very strong, independent wife and developing a beautifully strong and independent lady ourselves.
Xanthe adds, “It’s important to see a male director and producer creating those works.”
“I think you have a richer life by engaging with people that bring more to the table, I don’t want to talk about the weather with people, that’s boring,” says Sam.
“I want to talk about anything that’s a bit deeper than surface-level and I think entertainment and theatrical people are more open to having those kinds of conversations.”
An illustration is the annual Sunshine Coast Theatre Festival – Sam is the chair of the Theatre Alliance, which incorporates 12 different age and performance groups.
“That is one of the most beautiful things about our game, it’s truly inclusive,” says Sam.
“Whether you’re performing or watching it, everyone is welcome and has something to take from it,” he adds.
As the interview wraps, I have a newfound respect for the art of entertainment. There’s the joy in a funny joke, the beauty of theatre and the richness of drama; but also the realisation that life is a cast of thousands and it’s who you choose to play with that matters.