Josie Parrelli now.
COURTESY CHRIS HUZZARD \ LADY SCORPIO PRODUCTIONS
Josie Parrelli has never been afraid to think big. A decade ago, she ditched a hairdressing gig in Perth to chase a television career on the east coast. She turned up in Melbourne with an empty address book and no background in the media. One year later, she was hosting her own TV show.
It’s a startling example of what can be achieved with a little elbow grease and a lot of self-belief.
“I didn’t know anyone,” Parrelli says. “I was 21, I was determined, so I hopped on a plane and that was it. I had such a passion for what I wanted to do.”
Half an hour in Parrelli’s company leaves you in no doubt of the power of her passions. When I speak to her, she’s about to fly out to New York to see her play Mirror Image performed. But no matter if she’s talking about her new career as a playwright or sharing her enduring love of ’80s pop, Parrelli seems to squeeze more words and enthusiasm into each second than should be humanly possible.
Anyone who tuned into Chartbusting 80s during its long run on Channel 31 won’t find this surprising. Her presenting persona, Queen Josie, was a larger-than-life “bogan wog goddess” (as Catherine Deveny once called her) with a blinding smile, terrifying hair and the relentless energy – and often the leotard – of an aerobics instructor.
The show, which has gone down in history as one of the community broadcaster’s greatest successes, was entirely Parrelli’s brainchild. A letter-writing campaign on her arrival in Melbourne had seen her win a hosting slot on PBS radio. From there, it was a short hop, skip and jump to Channel 31, where she found a demand for new material.
“(Production group) RMITV were looking for new TV shows,” she says. “Because of my love of the ’80s, I thought, ‘how cool would it be to have a TV show, where every weekend it’s just ’80s music’.”
When pitching the show, she had no plans on taking up a role as presenter, imagining herself in a behind-the-scenes role.
“I thought I’d be happy just to produce it, just to see the music videos. When it got accepted, I had to make a pilot and I realised I needed a talking head. I didn’t really know anyone, so I put myself in it.”
As it turned out, performing before a camera didn’t present much of a challenge.
“I’m such a talker anyway and being Italian and a hairdresser, it just came naturally. I love to make an audience feel that they’re involved in something. People love people.”
Enthusiastic: Parrelli as she appeared on Chartbusting 80s.
Chartbusting 80s was a massive hit for 31, often drawing in audiences of 100,000 (big numbers for the little station) and inspiring a successful series of DVD releases. A commercial television career seemed a very real possibility, but Parrelli had other plans. She dabbled in acting, taking up roles in short films and the lead in a feature – the latter offered to her by a fan of her show. But her new career choice has seen her swap the silver screen for a computer monitor and keyboard.
If others were surprised by this sudden swerve into writing, Parrelli wasn’t.
“That’s what you’ve got to do as an artist: reinvent and re-educate yourself,” she says.
Most new playwrights would be happy to see their work performed on local stages. As usual, Parrelli had bigger ideas.
“The Weekend was the first play I’d written. I could really hear it with American voices so I thought ‘you know what, I’m just going to send this everywhere’.”
The play was snapped up by the Strawberry One-Act Play Festival in Manhattan. While Parrelli couldn’t make it over to see it performed, she did fly out to see her second play when it was performed there in June. The reception she has received Stateside has left her in no doubt that skipping the local theatre scene in favour of pursuing success overseas was the right decision.
“I think if you just isolate yourself and say ‘I’m only going to stay in one place’, then you’re only going to get known in one area. Over there, I feel incredibly respected as a playwright. Playwrights are revered. Here, it’s a bit different, it’s more of a ‘prove it’ approach. Over there, they’re a bit more open.”
Parrelli’s third production, Mirror Image, ws performed at this year’s festival, to much acclaim. But she isn’t satisfied with that.
“I’d love to see it developed into a Broadway production,” she says. “Or a film.”
Big thinking. It pays off.