By David Southwell
Trail-blazing UCA minister Coralie Ling has never been one to follow the script, even when making her debut as a stage actor.
Coralie, 80, who is the first woman to have been ordained a Methodist minister in Victoria, recently starred in the Gasworks Theatre stage show Beachside Stories, which featured the stories of five “local heroes” from the Port Phillip area.
For her 10-minute segment, Rhapsody In Purple, Coralie talked to her 30-year-old younger self, following a script written by the show’s producer, Clare Mendes – or at least that is what mostly happened.
“On opening night, Coralie steps on stage resplendent in purple, which is her trademark, and the first thing she does is open up her jacket and she’s got a T-shirt on that says: ‘Refugees are welcome here’,” Clare says.
“I didn’t write that into the script – that’s her. I also noticed she’s added in some of her own lines. She wanted to be a bit stronger than I allowed her to be, she wanted to be a bit more vocal.”
Although she was fully involved in preparing and approving her script, a chuckling Coralie admitted to doing a bit of improvisation.
“Every now and then I ad-libbed a bit, not major stuff,” she said. “It was in the context that I protest and work for justice in a lot of ways.
“For example, my younger self wanted to know if I am still doing it now. So on the first Saturday I said ‘well Refugee Week begins next week and I am doing something about refugees’ – that isn’t in the script.”
Coralie said she was used to doing things in her own fashion, having been the second woman to become a Methodist minister in Australia only a couple of weeks after the first was ordained in Perth.
“I didn’t have any models did I?” she says. “That was the really good thing about it back then. No one could say ‘you aren’t doing it right’.”
For Beachside Stories, Coralie was asked to identify a moment that had changed her life and also to bring in something that mattered to her.
She chose her ordination on 23 October, 1969 and brought a picture of herself at the service surrounded by 10 men – a print of which was on display in the theatre’s forum.
Having never really done any stage performing before, Coralie said being approached to do the show was a surprise.
She said the scripts for each segment, written by different authors from the Melbourne Writer’s Theatre, attempted to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of the five featured personalities.
“I think it comes out pretty clearly that I was pretty strong over the years,” Coralie says. “I have certain weaknesses, such as being very untidy, that’s the one that goes in the script.”
This year is shaping as very memorable for Coralie, who turned 80 in June, spoke at the tributes service during the Synod meeting in July and has the 50th anniversary of her ordination coming up in October.
“It’s a year of celebration, that’s for sure,” she says.