Irish-South African director/performer/artist, Colleen Rae Holmes, was born in Johannesburg. She made her Operatic debut while still a scholar, singing Arias by Handel with the Johannesburg Symphony under John Hancock.
After matriculating in Music she studied at the University of the Witwatersrand where she graduated in 1985 with a BA Honours Degree in Acting and Stage Design.
Colleen Rae Holmes’ early stage career encompassed acting roles such as Adriane in “A Comedy of Errors”, Titania and Hippolyta in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet” and Solange in “The Maids” as well as musical roles including Ursula in “Sweet Charity”; Johanna in “Sweeny Todd” and Vera Lynn in “Happy as a Sandbag”. Aside from performing she was active in all aspects of theatrical endeavour, being engaged as a set and costume designer (“Is Uncle Jack an Anarchist?”, “Prince of the Pagodas”); as musical director and composer (“The Bacchae”, “The Hostage”, “Genocide”); and working in several other technical theatrical disciplines such as set construction, lighting, stage management and production.
She finally decided to focus entirely on a classical singing career after a breakthrough success in the operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” (for which she was awarded the Nederburg Opera Prize). She appeared in several operatic roles, at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg and the Nico Malan Opera House in Cape Town; among them Olympia (“Les Contes d’Hoffmann”), Queen of the Night (“Die Zauberflöte”), Fräulein Silberklang (“Der Schauspieldirektor”) and Cunegonde (“Candide”) before moving to Vienna in1990.
Colleen Rae Holmes has subsequently performed in opera and concert throughout Europe and has been a guest artist in several festivals; among them the Haydn Festtage in Eisenstadt, Klangbogen in Vienna and the Wienerfestwochen.
Motivated to return to her theatrical roots and the possibility of integrating the various and disparate aspects of her artistic experience, she began to move into the realm of stage direction in 2011, beginning with the musical revue “Moulin Orange” at the Black Box Theatre in Vienna. She has since directed and designed several productions, including German language versions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”, Marlowe’s “Dr Faustus” and Euripides’ “Trojan Women”.
She is co-founder of the Conservatorium for Acting: The Open Acting Academy in Vienna; and has been Director of the Academy and Chairwoman of the Association since 2015.
Colleen Rae Holmes is also part of an international European research team funded by PEEK (The Program for the Development and Inclusion of the Arts) and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, researching the implementation and integration of virtual, and extended-reality devices in theatrical performance, this project “Wearable Theatre. The Art of Immersive Storytelling” has led to her participation as panellist and speaker in several international conferences, such as Actor and Avatar (Zürich 2019), New Forms of Theatre (Warsaw 2019) and Xchange Reality (St. Pölten 2020).
She is the founder and president of the Rough Magic Theatre Company.
as a performing artist
Colleen Rae Holmes showed vocal talent very early and was accepted at the age of 7, into the prestigious girls’ choir of the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy. Until the age of 14 she performed regularly and made several recordings with this choir, appearing also as a soloist.
She attended the Johannesburg School of Art, Ballet, Music and Drama where she matriculated in piano and singing. During this time, she participated in the national Eisteddfods winning a total of 24 First Places and three gold medals. She made her Operatic debut while still a scholar, singing Arias by Handel with the Johannesburg Symphony under John Hancock.
Showing as much aptitude for straight theatre as she did for music she opted after matriculation, to study acting, and was accepted into the School of Dramatic art at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she graduated in 1985 with a BA Honours Degree in Acting and Stage Design.
At the end of 1985 Colleen was engaged by the Natal Performing Arts Council to play Mabel in the Broadway version of “The Pirates of Penzance” directed by Geoffrey Sutherland, to inaugurate the new Natal Playhouse. This was her first major vocal role for which she was awarded the Nederberg Opera Prize in 1986.
After the success of “The Pirates of Penzance” she decided to specialize in opera and began vocal training with Joyce Barker, Sarie Lamprecht and Michael Strauss. She appeared in several roles, at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg and the Nico Malan Opera House in Cape Town; among them Olympia (“Les Contes d’Hoffmann”), Queen of the Night (“Die Zauberflöte”), Fräulein Silberklang (“Der Schauspieldirektor”) and Cunegonde (“Candide”).
In 1989 Colleen Rae Holmes was awarded a scholarship which enabled her to move to Austria, where she studied at the Vienna Conservatory. Her international singing career began with the title role in Istvan’s oratorio “Santa Chiara” which was premiered in Budapest in 1991.
She subsequently performed in opera and concert throughout Europe and has been a guest artist in several festivals; among them the Haydn Festtage in Eisenstadt, Klangbogen in Vienna and the Wienerfestwochen.
Her repertoire has included roles such as Agathe, Donna Anna, Fiordiligi, Contessa Almaviva, Violetta, Mimi, Michaëla, Thaïs and Cordelia. She also appeared as the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, “Elias” by Mendelssohn and the Mozart and Fauré Requiems and in solo recitals.
Her most recent public performance was in “Tod und Erotic” with Marcus Josef Weiss and Franzobel at the Volkstheater in Vienna.
Colleen Rae Holmes has since retired from the performing aspect of her career and now focuses on directing. She has staged and designed several plays and musical revues, and has recently founded her own theatrical company, Rough Magic Theatre.
as a director
Colleen Rae Holmes’ debut as a director was the musical revue “Moulin Orange” which premiered in the Blackbox Theatre in Vienna in 2011 and featured choreography by Danielle Elfaye and the acting talents of, amongst others, Thomas Tiberius Meikl and David Ketter. Her first major production was “Ein Sommernachtstraum” by Shakespeare, premiered in 2013. She has since directed several productions, focusing particularly on classical theatrical repertoire by authors such as Marlowe, Shakespeare and Euripides. She has been fortunate to have developed an ongoing collaboration with the composer Abraham Goldstein, the choreographer Miriam Kerneza, and lighting designer Clara Zeiszl.