Living life between two continents is the life of the modern troubadour actor, if Kurt Phelan’s life is any indication. Nance Haxton chats to Kurt ahead of his new cabaret show in Brisbane.

Well known in Australia for starring as Johnny in the stage version of Dirty Dancing, Kurt Phelan, the country boy from the tiny North Queensland town of Ayr and now international cabaret performer, lives his life between the stages of Australia and New York.

Kurt is performing his New York cabaret show, Phelan Groovy, as a special treat for Brisbane audiences just before Christmas 2018 at Kenmore’s Retro Bar. He tells Nance Haxton in this episode of her Streets of Your Town podcast that he’s living the dream he’s had since he was a small boy.

“A few years ago I was invited to New York with a cabaret I’d written called Phelan Groovy – pun intended. From there I started meeting some people and getting interested in New York. Then I fell in love, not just with a city but with a certain American, and I’ve been going back and forward.”

The actor, singer, writer and choreographer cannot remember a time that he didn’t want to be a performer, despite the almost non-existent art scene of the small Queensland town where he grew up.

“I’ve never wanted to do anything else ever.

“You know those MGM documentaries called That’s Entertainment – I saw that when I was a little kid. My Mum was a ballet teacher and my sister was a great dancer. I just wanted to be Gene Kelly, that’s all I ever wanted to be. And my first musical was Singing in the Rain.”

Phelan is also starring in a new Australian musical, Any Moment, recording an album with 12 other Brisbane artists by local composer Brad McCaw.

“It’s a song cycle so we thought we’d make an album first so people can fall in love with the music and then fall in love with the show.

“To be part of a new Australian musical doesn’t happen very often. I’ve made a career out of making other people’s dreams come true. Shows come from overseas and they tell you how to talk, where to stand, what to do. I mean as excellent as it was Dirty Dancing was really controlling because it has to look a certain way and there’s people watching that.

“When you create something new you get a chance to help it grow and put your own stamp on it and be the first person to play a role which doesn’t happen in Australia much, and it’s good that we’re doing it.”

The modern actors’ life is now made up of Skype auditions and hashtag monikers in order to stay on top of the game.

“Meeting managers in New York, they don’t have time and nor do they care. “It’s something to get your head around, they may really like you but they’re like `quick I’ve got a meeting let’s go’.

“One of them said to me `what’s your sentence?’ And I was like `oh, Hugh Jackman’s getting old, I want to be the new Hugh’. And he was like – `well there’s your new hashtag – the new Hugh!’

“So that’s my plan to go to New York and become #thenewHugh.”

He says while the international jetsetting life has great allure, it’s vital that actors have a good support network to cope with the highs and lows of the industry.

“It is hard, I’ve struggled a lot in my past of worrying about the expectations put on me to succeed. And I think the hardest thing to do is to try and please people as an actor, you just have to be confident with your own work and trust that what you do is the best you can do.

“It’s really hard in those down times when you don’t have gigs to not take that personally, and think `what have I done – what’s wrong?’, but it’s really important to create two worlds to be a human as well as an actor. Because if you are just an actor the whole time, you’ll burn out.

“Having good training and good teachers has really taught me that, and a good technique in which I can step away from my work.”