Emele Ugavule: Australia has seen four Prime Ministers in five years, resulting in our biggest arts funding institution, the Australian Council, being ripped apart & diminished to a shadow of its former self. Forcing a number of respected performing arts hubs to shut down. What do you think the role of Australian arts practitioners are in times of political trauma?
Briallen Clarke: What I love about being an artist is that work we create can be anything we want it to be. It can escape from reality, it can be a chronicle of the times, it can be accessible, it can be challenging, it can feed our culture, it can be a catalyst for change, it can be beautiful, it can reflect nature, it can soothe the soul. The role of an arts practitioners is to strive to make work that does one, several or all of these things. What is difficult in times like these, is how we can find ways continue to do this. Whether we create art to make a statement, as a form of therapy or as an emotional release, we must continue to do it. Artists by nature in this country are dogged in their resourcefulness and creativity. Never has it been more important to be keep going because if we stop making art, they win. Our role is to keep making art no matter what.
How important is relativity in a play? Do you think that the script & its delivery must attempt to resonate with its audience’s contemporary experiences or that no matter what, people will always find a way to relate to a story in their own way?
I do believe that plays resonate with people no matter what the subject matter or central issues are that are explored. Even if all it does is stimulate discussions about how outdated the views presented are, or how unrelatable it is to a contemporary audience, it is still serving to encourage audiences to reflect on their own lives and belief systems, which is valid. Of course there isa certain potency that comes with seeing a play which directly reflects events or themes as as they are being experienced, it is engaging and thrilling. However, I don’t believe that a play loses purpose or importance as the world changes, the function it serves and the impact it has just evolves.
Why and how is A Strategic Plan relevant?
I think that is for the audience to discover and decide.
Your comedic style is very unique and magnetic. What/who have you drawn inspiration from to create Linda?
Aren’t you kind?? Linda is definitely an amalgamation of a few people I have encountered in my life. She exists in a world that is so different from my own so I did a lot of looking out to initially create this character. The more I have come to know her though, there are aspects of her personality that I can relate to for sure. The world of this play gives license to making things slightly more heightened too so it has been interesting to decide on which parts of her personality to dial up, and at what points in the story.
Can you share a moment from your process whilst working on A Strategic Plan that you loved?
Something that I have loved and that has been such joy is how much we have laughed, like really hard belly laughing. Company fits of unable to breathe, bent over, tears streaming down face type of laughter. Any actor will tell you though that this kind of laughter exists in equal parts joy and torture so it has been an aspect of the process I have both loved and struggled with (see I’m even laughing now at the thought of it!).
Briallen Clarke: What do you think is the best thing about being an actor?
Emele Ugavule: Oooooo. Tough. Nice. To be honest this job is incredibly rewarding in many ways, but the one thing that I think I find the most rewarding is that it allows me the privilege of being a storyteller. I come from a culture where storytelling is how we pass on our legacy, our history, our traditions. Being an actor allows me to do the same but as a vessel for other people’s stories instead of my own – so it teaches me to look at people whose lives I would otherwise never encounter, with compassion and to tell their stories with empathy yet objectivity.
You love to travel. Which destination is next on your list?
The Pacific! Particularly, Melanesia. Specifically – Vanuatu!! I need to invest more in where I’m from and I’m very passionate about Pacific visibility and stories – and Melanesia is the key to Pacific identity. I’m half Tokelauan (Polynesia) and Fijian (Melanesia) and almost all the stories of the Pacific that we see today in mainstream media (including Moana) focus on Polynesia. Melanesia is a cultural mine. It was the first part of the Pacific to be settled and yet remains one of the last cultural & linguistic mysteries to the world so I’m incredibly drawn to it.
You’re a gifted musician and lover of music. Has that been useful in your creation of Jill for A Strategic Plan?
Oh you’re so kind! I mean totally. My life is pretty much musicians these days. All my mates are musicians, my partner is a musician. So it’s a world I’m very much invested in and have spent the last few years learning to create a strong dialogue within. Music has always played a huge role in my life – it’s actually the reason I got into acting, long story bla bla, so it’s been lovely to be able to engage with my friends in conversation surrounding their world to authentically tell their story through my world.
What artists have you had the pleasure of working with that you have found particularly inspiring?
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh man! Brag town. All my mates to be honest! Ngaiire, Wallace, New Venusians, Broken Mountain to name a few. Sydney has such an incredible hub of musicians & vocalists that it doesn’t get enough credit for!! All the people I’ve worked with have either been my mates first or have become my mates as a result of us working together and they all inspire me in different ways whether it’s Ngaiire’s incomparable stage presence & vocal agility, Wallace’s flawless dance moves & lyrical flow, the 7 piece band magnetic sound & dance inducing vibes of the New Venusians, or Broken Mountain’s nostalgically poignant yet sharp drops – all of them work so very hard at their craft and care so very much about the people they work with and I find that kind of work ethic inspiring.
Any artists at the top of your wish list to work with?
Oh. Uh. I’ve never really thought about this. I just love working with musicians and have been lucky enough to be asked to work on projects with artists who I find incredibly cool and interesting. I think 2016 really presented a new shift in sound and visual aesthetic for the pop music world as a response to the political climate in America, which brought artists such as Solange, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Common & Frank Ocean to the fore front of the GP’s consciousness. I tend to fall ‘out of love’ with artists just as quickly as I ‘fell in love’ – because should I ever meet them I don’t want to have this ‘You’re out of my league’ complex, we’re all humans and just because your career makes you more visible than me, it doesn’t make you any better than me – so there’s a lot of artists whose work I love and respect that challenges me and my work intellectually and emotionally but no one that I’m drawn to in a way that makes me think ‘I want to work with that person!’. I’ll just keep doing my own thing and if someone wants to work with me, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool too.
Briallen Clarke and Emele Ugavule can be seen in A Strategic Plan by Ross Mueller.
Dates: 27 Jan – 11 Mar, 2017
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre