IT was almost like a scene from a Hollywood movie for aspiring Australian singer-actress Alexis Fishman, who has spent the past few years trying to carve out a show-business career in the United States.
While waitressing in a New York cafe between acting jobs, Fishman began chatting with one of the customers, who turned out to be the brains behind one of America’s top television shows.
“We were talking about Australia and he mentioned that he was a producer and director, and had just shot a [television] pilot outside Melbourne,” Fishman tells The AJN in a phone interview from New York.
“He told me to call his production company and send over my resume.”
Fishman’s customer was Thomas Schlamme, executive producer and director of Aaron Sorkin’s award-winning drama series, The West Wing.
When it comes to breaking into the notoriously difficult US entertainment industry, it always helps to know an influential insider.
“New York has been great, but it goes up and down,” says Fishman, who is looking for her first Broadway role. “I have goals but the bar keeps rising with every success. I’m always auditioning and looking for new opportunities.”
Fishman, 29, has been based in New York for the past five years.
“I first moved to America in mid-2008, but was home in Australia for most of 2010,” Fishman explains. “I wasn’t quite ready to make the commitment of a permanent move, but I realised I wanted to get back to New York.”
Fishman’s green card came through in 2011, although she did return to Sydney to perform the role of vampish Aurora in the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman.
“The show was great for me artistically. Aurora was a role I loved but didn’t think I’d ever be cast in.”
After completing her role in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Fishman returned to New York and last October competed in the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s annual talent quest.
After the field of 200 entrants was narrowed down to eight finalists, Fishman went on to win the coveted Next Broadway Sensation contest. Part of the prize is her own show in March at 54 Below, a trendy nightclub near Times Square which is popular with the Broadway crowd.
“It was a great experience and to win was fantastic,” says Fishman, who is busy working on ideas for the cabaret show.
“Without giving too much away, there will be a brand new song written exclusively for the show by composer Craig Christie, and some old Broadway favourites.”
Fishman says her future lies in the Big Apple.
“I love Australia but nothing compares to New York. You just never know what’s around the corner. Anything you look for in New York, you will find.”
Fishman cannot speak highly enough of her adopted city and its strong Jewish flavour.
“It’s a very Jewish city: you have to wade through all the Jews to find the non-Jews,” she laughs. “It’s impossible not to mix with the Jewish community here.
“Everyone is very entrenched in the Jewish culture. As a Jew in New York, you feel very secure and safe, and there are so many Jews in the arts.
“There’s a real love of opportunity and making things happen. People are always willing to talk to you or take a meeting; there’s always a lot going on.”
One of those meetings has led to the possibility of a New York production of Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), which Fishman created and performed in Australia in 2011 at Sydney’s Seymour Centre and the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.
Fishman is currently meeting with producers, discussing ideas to expand it into a fully fledged musical, featuring a larger cast.
Set in Berlin in 1933 as Hitler was taking power, Fishman’s protagonist Erika Stern is the darling of the cabaret scene performing her last show. As a Jew, she
is banned from the club after this final performance.
“I wanted to explore the unspeakable tragedies of the Holocaust from the point of view of someone I could truly relate to: a performer,” says Fishman, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.
“I wanted to try to understand what it might have been like for me.”
Fishman, a graduate of Sydney’s Moriah College, trained at the highly regarded Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
Among the stars to attend WAAPA are Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger and Lisa McCune.
Her stage credits include a role in the Australian musical, Dusty – The Original Pop Diva and the New York production of The Hatpin.
REPORT by Alexandra Roach
PHOTO of Alexis Fishman at the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s talent contest.