Thoughts of diplomacy led Jon Stephens to ANU. It seemed the logical place for him to go to get the appropriate training for that career.
“I was then at McMaster University, Canada doing a course in Monetary and Mathematical Economics. It was the tail end of the Woodstock-era and during the midst of the Cultural Revolution in China.
That was, says Stephens, until he met some ‘real diplomats’, which put him right off the idea.
Luckily, ANU in the 1960s hosted an array of extracurricular activities outside his chosen discipline of Political Science.
“ANU Theatre Group was in existence, and there was a period of time where every year there was a thing called the ANU Revue.”
"It was highly political and highly satirical and it used to pack out Childers Hall every year."
"I remember turning up to it in my first year and being knocked out by it. And then saying to myself, ‘you know, I think I can do better than that.’"
"So I auditioned for the end of the year pantomime and I got in, to my surprise, and I’ve never looked back."
Stephens was only 16 years old when he started university, and was at ANU right through his formation into adulthood and also through the years of crafting his profession, not that he was aiming for a creative career.
“I think the inklings of a performer had always been in me,” says Stephens, “I’d always written and I’d always wanted to do something in performance terms.”
He persisted with turning up to the appropriate classes, but really, his time was spent producing, rehearsing, writing and of course acting too.
“My supervisor on my honours thesis used to look down at me occasionally and pat me on the head and say ‘it might be better if you spent a little less time in the theatre,’ and I thought, ‘hmmm you’re probably right,’ so I tried to."
“And at the next production he turned up and auditioned for it! I thought ‘righto, I’m not paying any attention to what you are talking about from now on at all!’”
He also helped form the group ‘Stage’ and was involved in the early years of the Australian Theatre Group, and the Festival of University Arts.
“Paul Thom, a lecturer in philosophy at the time, and I wrote an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that we did in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin on Springbank Island.”
Still, years later, after writing, producing and directing for the ABC and many other media and theatre companies, including two feature films and a hundred odd hours of TV series his time in the actual classes at ANU has come in handy.
“I had a real problem when I was an Executive Producer, and I had a producer fighting with the compere, and I had no idea how to handle it. And I thought, ‘Ah! Right! Camp David, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter! RIGHT!’"
“So I did a Camp David. I put them in a room together and let them sort it out.”