Although Sylvia Rands began acting at high school in Auckland, she really got serious about it at university. In her second year of studying English and languages, she did a drama workshop at Theatre Corporate; after graduating from Auckland University she was offered a job with the company, initially in the Theatre in Education programme.
“From then on being an actress was my job,” said Rands in 1985. “I’ve never done another one since then.”
In the early 80s Rands had done a couple of parts for director Alan Lindsay, including a television adaptation of Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party. Her first showpiece screen role came in 1985, playing Polly Hanlon in big budget historical drama Hanlon.
The brainchild of director Wayne Tourell, the show covered 20 years in the life of legendary Dunedin barrister Al Hanlon. Rands played the woman married to the workaholic barrister. “Polly was definitely a woman of her time, aware of the family’s social status and the importance of achieving status,” she said in a contemporary interview. “She was subservient, a very good mother. [...] The scripts deal with the strains in such a marriage. There is one scene where she says she feels lucky to get his nights.”
Hanlon sold to America’s Paramount Pictures before it was even finished. Locally the show got peppered with accolades, and Rands was nominated for best supporting actor at the 1986 Gofta Awards.
1985 proved an intense year. By the time Hanlon went to air that October, she had already juggled four plays at Theatre Corporate — including co-starring in TS Eliot romance Tom and Viv — and was alternating stage rehearsals with TV melodrama Heart of the High Country.
In the 90s Rands went on to act in the high profile but short-lived TV drama Homeward Bound, playing “keen, bold” family member Suzanne Johnstone, a one time assistant to the Beatles. She also appeared on Marlin Bay, cult comedy The Neighbourhood Network and one-off drama Matrons of Honour; 1995 saw her nominated for another best supporting actor award, thanks to big-screen teen romance Bonjour Timothy.
Rands played kind-hearted screen Mum to Dean O’Gorman’s character, who falls for a Canadian exchange student staying with them.
By then she had debuted Shakespeare-inspired solo show Such Sweet Thunder at the International Festival of the Arts; three NZ tours followed.
Rands had studied with Scottish voice expert Kristin Linklater early in her career. In 1997 she studied voice healing in Germany, then began working as a voice tutor at drama schools in Australia. From 2005 she did three years leading the voice department at Toi Whakaari drama school in Wellington.
Rands continues to do voice training and professional coaching, while making occasional appearances on stage and screen (Shortland Street, Go Girls). After playing Poncia in a 2010 production of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, The NZ Herald's Paul Simei-Barton argued she commanded the stage, utilising “a wonderful array of vocal techniques to hold the audience spellbound as she swings from contemptuous irony to explosively timed humour and a brief moment of heartfelt anguish as the play reaches its electrifying climax.”
Further raves were earned by live voice and music piece The Angel and the Beloved, a collaboration with composer John Gibson. Rands then travelled to Papua New Guinea to work as a vocal coach on movie Mr Pip.
Paul Simei-Barton. ‘Review: the House of Bernarda Alba at TAPAC’ NZ Herald, 14 June 2010
Peter Shaw, ‘Sylvia Rands - Just resting, thanks’ (Interview) - New Zealand Women’s Weekly, 28 October 1985, Page 93
‘Strains develop in Hanlon’s marriage’ (Interview) Date and publication unknown