Yamba champion dives into film festival debut
YAMBA-raised actor Adam Bowes has come a long way since making his stage debut in a Maclean High School production as a teenager in the early 2000s. The bit role that ignited his passion for performance was certainly not your run of your mill cameo. In fact he didn't even appear on stage.
"It was the school's production of The Wizard of Oz and teacher Matt Fisher asked my mum (who also teaches there) whether they could borrow my prosthetic legs to use as the witch's that poke out from under the house," Bowes recalled.
"I was so excited I went for it. So yes, my legs made their debut ahead of me. So from there I basically thought, I want to join my legs up there."
And that he did.
Bowes immersed himself into the Lower Clarence theatrical scene, performing at his high school and with the Maclean Music Academy under the formidable duo of director Connie Dedassel and singing coach Sr. Anne Gallagher.
"I was in Down Memory Lane in 2003 or 2004 with them. I also did Buddy Holly and Footloose at school, yeah Footloose," he repeats acknowledging the irony.
"I played the reverend. It was the funniest experience. I remember when we went down into the audience to do an encore and when we had to get back up on stage everyone went back up the stairs. There was no handrail so I had to pull myself back up and my leg fell off. After the show Matt thanked me for taking the show so literally," he laughed.
"I have heard them (jokes) all."
Bowes said he appreciated the rapport from people who were comfortable enough around people with disabilities that when a situation can lend itself to some lighter moments of jest it's a natural reaction.
"Being a performer I have had people say to me 'break a leg' only to then pause and go 'oh my god, I'm sorry'.
"I never take anything like that personally. My mum was the first one to tell me when I'm 18 I can go and get legless."
Bowes grew up in Yamba attending the local public school and demonstrating to his peers that nothing was impossible if you put your mind to it.
The talented athlete was a champion swimmer, not only winning at local meets but also representing his country at the Youth Paralympic Games in Melbourne where the then 16-year-old collected two gold medals while smashing two Australian records.
And it's his swimming that has come full circle to bring us up to date with his career as a filmmaker.
Inspired by his time in swimming clubs at Yamba and Maclean, Bowes' short titled Diving In is part of the Sydney Film Festival which is currently underway in the state capital with the official awards night set to take place tonight.
Of course COVID-19 means the festival and tonight's gala opening will have to take place in the virtual world of online, but the 26-year-old isn't too disappointed by that.
"It will certainly be different," he said. "I would have loved to have walked the red carpet, but it's really exciting even to be part of it online.
"Hopefully because of that the festival will garner an even wider audience because they can see it all online."
Bowes said among the championship swimming and stage performances he enjoyed as a kid, filmmaking was also something he felt drawn to.
"I used to love making my own little home movies, so to now be able to professionally direct and write a short for Sydney Film Festival is a fantastic feeling."
Bowes also stars in the film which is based on a mix or fiction and reality.
"When we made it we didn't want it to focus solely on the disability. It's a cute little romantic comedy with a bit of action thrown in comedically, but it also includes a couple of little jabs from my own childhood experiences in the Clarence."
These include encounters like the lady at the Maclean pool who no doubt well meaningly approached Adam and said very slowly and loudly 'you did very well today'.
"It was a bit awkward so when we were writing the script my co-director Nina (Oyama) said we've got to add that character in the film."
Bowes said he set the film in the early 2000s because he really wanted to create the asethetic he loved while swimming at Yamba and Maclean.
"At Yamba swim club we were all just mates sitting in a circle on the grass and just having hot chips in between races.
"There was just this general cameraderie that came around the swimming club which is what we've tried to capture in the film."
Bowes' journey from Yamba to the virtual red carpet was no fluke or freeride. Like most people aiming for a career in film, it required a lot of drive and determination.
After he graduated from Maclean High in 2011, he moved to Sydney to attend the film and television university Screenwise and work for a couple of years before heading back into study at the Australian Institute of Music, obtaining a Bachelor of Musical Theatre.
"I basically had to start again when I got to Sydney.
"I came from a small community where most people knew me, so I had to reintroduce myself to everyone.
"I didn't want people to feel awkward or uncomfortable around me, so whether I was attending uni or starting a job I'd just get it out there and be upfront about my disability.
"I'd say this is the situation and I'm more than happy if you have any questions about it."
Bowes said he takes the same kind of approach to his filmmaking.
"One of my main things with this kind of work is opening up a conversation.
"We were able to do the film through a Screenability grant which was such a great thing because they really emphasise the voices of people with disabilities. Artists and creators that either direct or write or act or do anything like that in terms of filmmaking."
Bowes said things had improved for people living with disabilities but there was still a way to go "in terms of authentic representation".
"Typecasting and able-bodied actors playing people with disabilities and things like that.
"One of the most important things is having people with disabilities tell their own stories and they don't always have to focus solely on the disability."
Bowes' Diving In is a prime example of that, and working alongside Nina was something he could never have imagined possible as a young kid running about filming his mates and teachers.
"She saw a few things I'd been in and reached out and we wrote the NDIS sketch together when she was working on Tonightly with Tom Ballard. It was based on my interesting start with the scheme."
Bowes recalls filling in a lot of forms but still having to provide further proof of his disability.
"I wasn't sure if they wanted me to go in and take my legs off at the time. Then I had Centrelink once ask me if my disability had gotten better, so I had to tell them 'no my legs hadn't grown back'.
"Thankfully things have improved since then but those stories do lend themselves to comedy."
He said the sketch appeared on TV and on social media and "got a lot of shares".
"That's one of the great things about it. A lot of people impacted in the same way then shared their own experiences with the NDIS. It helped to provide them with a platform to raise their concerns and their voices. The scheme does provide some great opportunities but for a lot of people it's still a bit of a struggle."
Bowes said he hoped his typecasting days were behind him even though they had provided him with some amazing opportunities.
"If you look at my IMDB page and the earlier stuff there's certainly a bit of typecasting, but when you get to the more recent work you get named roles.
"I loved doing those Hollywood films, Hacksaw Ridgewas my first massive film. I got to meet Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield. It was a lot of fun.
"I remember being at the cast and crew screening. I was so excited and seeing my name in the credits for the first time was so amazing. That was as 'rescued wounded leg soldier' but originally it was going to be 'Wounded soldier no. 11'.
"In Winchester (starring Helen Mirren) I was listed as 'farmer amputee' but you have to start somewhere," he laughed.
Besides his burgeoning career in filmmaking, Bowes said he hoped his career choices might inspire other people living with disabilities to look large and follow their dreams.
"My mum instilled that in me from the word go. My other advice is to be professional. Julie Andrews (stage and screen legend) always said 'just do your homework and show up before you are needed'.
"She said if you're early, you're on time, if you're on time, you're late. You just have to keep doing your thing, follow your passion and create your own work if you have to.
"You can't just wait around for the phone to ring."
You can watch the Sydney Film Festival virtual awards ceremony via their website tonight from 6pm.