Tamworth today may be firmly linked in people's minds with country music, but you may be surprised to find it also has a link to Hollywood.
That link comes in the petite form of Christine McClure, a former actor turned acting coach who spent her formative years as a student of the Dominican Convent, which is today home to the Tamworth Regional Conservatorium of Music.
As a teen, Ms McClure dreamed of becoming an actor, inspired by fortnightly Friday night movie classics from the 1930s, '40 and '50s which were screened by the convent, and the plays of William Shakespeare.
Leaving school at 16, Ms McClure studied at the National Institute for Dramatic Arts (NIDA), and later found success in Australia, featuring in such iconic television series as Matlock Police, Homicide, Division Four and Barrier Reef.
Succumbing to the allure of international movies, Ms McClure headed to Hollywood and established herself as a stage and screen actor before discovering a talent and love of teaching her craft.
Calling on her now more than 30 years of experience as an actor and coaching actors one-on-one, on set, and in group classes, Ms McClure has written a book, Drama for teen actors: A conversation with Hollywood acting coach Christine McClure which she recently returned to Tamworth to promote.
Returning to Tamworth this month, felt like a homecoming for Ms McClure.
"Tamworth is where it all started - it's where I fell in love with acting," she said.
Leaving school in 1963, Ms McClure had been exposed to movies like Singing in the rain, Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Olivia de Havilland, and Brando in The Young Lions.
"We got really wonderful films at the school - those films were so inspirational and helped me fall in love with acting," she said.
It was the chance discovery of a brochure for NIDA, which was then only in it's second year of operation, which opened a path to acting for Ms McClure.
She had "a wonderful acting career" in Australia", under the stage name Elli Maclure, at a time when the Australian film industry was "just beginning".
"Up until the age of 29 I was totally content in Australia with my acting and the roles I was playing - I was given a lot of opportunity through Crawford Productions, and played a variety of wonderful roles, but I think it was the exposure to international films at school that made me curious about that side of the industry," she said.
Ms McClure is "so grateful" for the education she received at the convent, noting "the nuns gave us an opportunity to experience all the things I loved", which included ballet, violin, music, and singing.
About the age of 12, Ms McClure started reading books by the Bronte sisters, Dickens, and Shakespeare.
"Reading Shakespeare is what got me interested in acting," she said.
As part of a Shakespeare day at school, the young Ms McClure organised a group of students to perform plays, mostly about the lives of saints. In one performance, playing St Dominic, she remembers overacting the saint's death scene and hearing somebody laugh in the audience, much to her humiliation.
The experience, however, was not bad enough to divert the budding thespian - the draw of Shakespeare and the glamour of the movies was stronger.
Ms McClure headed to Hollywood at a time when little was known internationally about Australian film - before the film boom from 1979 to '85 with films by Phil Noyce and Fred Schepisi.
With persistence, the young stage and screen actor found herself working with Academy Award-winning directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, John Cassavetes and Peter Bogdanovich, and actors such as Gena Rowlands, and Jon Voight.
In 1989 Ms McClure met renowned Los Angeles "method" actor and acting coach John Lehne.
"The first couple of classes I sat in, I thought, wow, this is answering a lot if questions had about acting," she said.
"John's work fascinated me, and I became interested in teaching, becoming his assistant."
Eventually branching out on her own, Ms McClure started teaching young actors in the 1990s, noting among her students Anna Jacoby-Heron (Contagion), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Josh Hartnett (Virgin Suicides), and her students have worked with some of Hollywood's biggest names, such as Matt Damon, Robert DeNiro, and Robin Williams.
"What I love about teaching young actors is that I remember what it was like when I was a young actor, starting with Shakespeare in school," she said.
"In Hollywood, young actors are thrust into an adult profession, and their skills need to be able to hold up onscreen while working with actors who have decades of experience - my job is to prepare them to meet this challenge."
Ms McClure said some people become actors because they wanted to be rich and famous, some just love acting, some have been told they need to be an actor.
"My advice is, if you have the desire to act, then act," she said.
"Try acting at school, do what you want, get yourself an agent but you have to love what you are doing - love creating roles and characters, and you have to be persistent."
Ms McClure will present Drama for teen actors: A conversation with Hollywood acting coach Christine McClure at Tamworth's the Capitol Theatre on Sunday, November 19, from 4pm.
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