Doris to Divas! Five Minutes with Ali Harper

Ali Harper as Doris Day.

Award winning actress, gracious diva, soulful jazz singer and all-round joyous entertainer, Ali Harper, has been a long-time friend of Orange Studios. Ali has rehearsed, filmed, recorded and filled our rooms with her beautiful voice and bubbly personality. Jo Bean managed to chat to Ali while in prep for her latest project called: ‘Songs for Nobodies’ coming to the Court Theatre in June.

JB: Ali, you have been performing professionally here in NZ and overseas for more than 25 years. Wow – and still much more to do, I think! Can you tell me a bit about your early influences?

AH: From the age of around 9yrs, I knew what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up.’ I threw myself into joining lots of school choirs, performing in the school plays and playing the piano. My mother said I should be sensible, so I did a Secretarial and Business course at Polytech… But, yep, as you can imagine, the old bug bit hard, and I auditioned for ‘Chess’ and got in! Wellington’s Toi Whaakari soon followed and, well, 23 years later I am still here.

JB: Putting a concept together, rehearsing, performing, touring, recording etc all must keep you very busy. So can you tell me a bit about what motivates you to keep going?

AH: What motivates me is passion for what I have always loved to do since I was that 9 year old. Determination to keeping creating quality work. The enthusiasm and loyalty shown from my audiences who keep coming back for more. Collaborating with people I admire and enjoy working with. Telling a good story whether it’s through a song or a well-written character.

JB: You’re a unique phenomenon: you’ve defied all odds and made a living from performing, From what I can see, your formula is you record and film the concept, then take it on the road with you and your husband.  So how do you do it – make a living out of your shows?

AH: I started my production company, Ali-Cat Productions, 18 years ago. Since meeting my husband, Iain Cave, we have taken more risks. Some of those risks have not always paid off but we have learnt each time what to do, and what not to do next time, which is making us stronger. Also with his management skills and love of very ‘detailed’ spreadsheets we compliment each other’s strengths. We also really love travelling together so he is my roadie especially where there is an elaborate set to assemble. 

JB: So you’ve recorded 4 albums to date, all at Orange Studios. Can you tell me how you got involved with Orange?

AH: Yep, we love Orange Studios. We are adding another album to our tally later in the year. Michael makes it easy for us. He is so incredibly talented; his arrangements, his fab musical ear, Orange’s equipment as well as the great staff, oh yeah, and his quick replies to his emails (a must if you are going to work with me!). I can’t remember who introduced us, but it was after the Feb earthquake and Michael had had to move out of his central studio and was operating in the garage off his house. I do remember how he drew me his plans for the current Orange Studios at Ferry Road on a napkin. What I really admire about Michael is that he is fearless. When you surround yourself with people like that it rubs off on you. Oh, and did I mention, reliability and promptness? When they say ‘yes’, they deliver. Love that, and it makes my busy, organised life all that much easier.

Ali Harper preparing for ‘Legendary Divas’.

JB: Tell me about the new, one woman show you’re in “Songs for Nobodies”.

AH: Yes! I toured Joanna Murray-Smith’s play ‘Bombshells’ a few years back all over NZ and took it to New York. ‘Songs for Nobodies’ is one of Joanna’s latest one-person plays and I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into it. I know it will have its challenges as I have to impersonate some incredible women and I will definitely be stepping out my comfort zone.

JB: When the lights turn off and the phone stops ringing, what is your favourite relaxation activity?

AH: Over the last 6 months I have succumbed to Netflix and it’s tantalising offerings. I have feasted on all those great series that everyone was raving about long ago. I have always been a bit of a workaholic so this allows me to relax and escape. Oh and I love yoga!!

For more information about Ali visit her website or her Facebook page.  

Get tickets to her Songs for Nobodies at the Court Theatre.