After successful performances of HSC texts The Laramie Project and The Removalists in May, Actors Centre Australia’s ACA Company is set to stage The Female of the Species and The Shape of Things in September.
The Company – made up of ACA alumni – is staging the run of shows in Sydney to school students and the general public, and free for teachers, with live cast Q&As following the performances. The Female of the Species, which opens on 5 September, will also include a pre-recorded Q&A with the playwright Joanna Murray-Smith.
Olivia Hall-Smith, an ACA graduate and an actor in the recent ACA restaging of David Williamson’s 1971 play The Removalists, will direct Murray-Smith’s play for ACA Company. A 2006 satire about celebrity feminists, loosely inspired by a real-life incident with the Australian author Germaine Greer, it doesn’t lack for topicality and laughs.
‘The playwright has filled it to the brim with humour,’ Hall-Smith says. ‘But also all these intellectual ideas surrounding feminism, what it is to be a man and a woman, and the relationships between everyone in our society. I think it’s already so rich that it doesn’t need a heavy hand.’
The benefit of seeing this, and other texts from the HSC curriculum, brought to life can’t be overstated, and was apparent to Hall-Smith during her recent stint as an actor in ACA Company’s The Removalists.
‘I think the opportunity for anyone, but especially anyone studying a particular text, to be able to see it in front of them is amazing. It’s like music lyrics – if you read them on a page you’re not going to get the same feeling as hearing them performed. You can read a play, you can study it, but you’re not going to get that same sense of what it is and who the people are until you see it. It brings just a whole new sense of immediacy and realness to the text.’
ACA Chief Operating Officer Anthony Kierann agrees on the value of the performances. ‘We are proud of the achievements of our ACA Company and the positive impact it has on students and aspiring actors alike,’ he says.
‘The recent productions of The Laramie Project and The Removalists were outstanding successes – so much so that the ACA Company program for 2024 will soon be announced. Schools from as far as Woy Woy and Newcastle attended. Students who attended were inspired, and their understanding of the play and the text they were studying was greatly enhanced.
‘The feedback we received has been so enriching that we have developed a masterclass by our ACA staff. Schools now can book a three- to four-hour session that incorporates key fundamental teachings and learnings from our BA program. This masterclass aims to inspire the creative learning process in acting and text for students.’
The scope and positivity of that learning environment was obvious to Hall-Smith during her time studying at ACA, where she was able to build on her twin interests of acting and directing.
‘You go in very much as an individual, especially if you don’t know anyone,’ she says. ‘I moved from Brisbane, so I didn’t know anyone in Sydney. And I came out of it with, not only my best friends but, creative partners that I’ve gone on to make work with.
‘It was very much an environment where we weren’t competitive with each other – we were trying to help each other, to be as good as each other, and to be better as a whole. It was amazing to have that sense of support behind you, and then come out of it with those relationships.’
The Female of the Species, written by Joanna Murray-Smith (directed by Olivia Hall-Smith) opens on 5 September. The Shape of Things, written by Neil LaBute (directed by Kim Hardwick) opens on 12 September. Applications for the Bachelor of Performing Arts (Stage & Screen) and Foundation Program 2024 intakes at Actors Centre Australia are now open.