To the Wagga families whose lives she has touched, Louise Blackett is nothing short of an icon.
After 45 years of running the Children’s Theatre Workshop, Ms Blackett has put on thousands of performances, taught thousands of students, and mentored generations of budding young actors.
Now, looking back on the past four-and-a-half decades, Ms Blackett said running the workshop has been one of the greatest honours of her life.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful, and I take it very seriously, but some lovely things have happened,” she said.
“I remember there was one beautiful girl whose children were with me – she came to me and said ‘Mrs Blackett, I have breast cancer and I haven’t got very long, but will you make sure you keep teaching them’?”
It all began in 1973 when Ms Blackett and her friend Shirley Gorman recognised the need for a non-competitive environment in which children could learn the art of performance.
They staged six productions a year and charged a grand total of just $1 entry to the earliest shows – it was affordable entertainment by children for children.
“I thought it was needed – I just felt that we needed something to allow children to perform,” Ms Blackett said.
“You see little children come from the back woods and then walk away having played marvellous roles and talking to people with a lot more confidence.”
Off the stage, her influence has been just as far reaching – many of her students say she has been like a second mother to them, and she has even taken in children with nowhere else to go.
Genevieve Flemming was one of Ms Blackett’s first students back in the 70s; she loved her workshop so much that she has since enrolled her own children.
“My mother enrolled me in Louise’s classes at the age of about six and I just loved it,” Ms Flemming said.
“Many years later, when I was a senior director of a publicly listed company, I found myself about to go in and present in front of a board reflecting on what Louise had taught me – take deep breaths, look everyone in the eye, work the space, and believe in yourself.”
Ms Flemming said the teacher has become known for her tough-love approach, but her students would not have it any other way.
“She is definitely a hard task master – she expects a lot from her students, and she makes no apologies for that,” she said.
“But that means if she praises a child for a great performance, or because they have done a really good job, they know they can believe that’s what she really thinks.”
After 45 years, Ms Blackett said she still thinks she has the best job in the world, and plans to keep at it for as long as possible.