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Richard Piper

richard cool.HEIC

When Richard Piper said yes to his first acting role in Melbourne, he didn't know what he'd signed up for. "It involved me rolling off the stage absolutely naked and then running up the aisle." He pauses for dramatic effect. "These days are long gone I think."

Talk about making an entry. It was 1987 and the play was What the Butler Saw, written by fellow Englishman Joe Orton. When he wasn't naked, Piper's character wore a leopard print dress. Back then, Melbourne Theatre Company's Russell Street venue had no backstage, so he regularly exited stage left onto the street, thankful that at least he had the dress on.

It was the beginning of a stellar career in theatre (Come From Away, Billy Elliot, countless MTC shows), with occasional forays into television (Blue Heelers, Neighbours) and film, including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Piper landed the role without auditioning; director Simon Phillips met him and "took a punt". It was a baptism of fire at a company that would become his spiritual home. Between 1987 and 1990, he did 12 shows and at one time was working on four at once. Next year marks 40 shows since he first trod those boards.

Piper's partner is opera singer Dimity Shepherd, a regular with Victorian Opera; they met while performing in The Black Rider. He describes himself as a "rock'n'roll screamer" so it's a meeting of two very different creative forms. A highlight of lockdown has been spending time together at night when traditionally they would be working. Cycling, reading fiction and a project he is working on with chamber music group Flinders Quartet kept him occupied.

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