A Little Piece of Ash at KXT
Shortlisted for the 2017 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and presented at the Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival, A Little Piece of Ash is a stunning new work from Megan Wilding about grief, loss and the survival of the modern Aboriginal woman.
Carly spoke with actor Stephanie Sommerville about the universal experience of grief and why A Little Piece of Ash is such an important story to tell. Read the full interview below:
Megan Wilding’s new work ‘A Little Piece of Ash’ focuses on grief, loss and the survival of the modern Aboriginal woman. What is your role in the telling of this story and why did you personally feel that this was a story that needed to be brought to the attention of theatre-goers? What attracted you to the role and what are you both excited about in ‘A Little Piece of Ash’ and/or challenged by in this script?
I take on the role of Jedda in the play. At the start of the performance, she’s just found out that her mother has passed while she’s on the other side of the country. A couple of years ago, around the time Megan sent me one of her first drafts for 'A Little Piece of Ash', I had just lost my grandad, who was very much like a father to me. At the time it was such a relief to for me to see a young Aboriginal woman struggling to deal with her grief. The loss of a parent or someone that is close to us is something that we will all have to experience at one point or another in our lives and Megan’s play doesn’t shy away from the awkward and absurd ways in which we, and the people surrounding us, react to grief. That’s what I love about it, and I hope that other people really connect to that as well.
Working with a fellow cast member who is also the brains behind the script and direction, as Megan is, can be both exhilarating and nerve-racking. What has the rehearsal process been like and how does the cast work together in bringing this story to life? Is it quite an ensemble heavy piece or does each character really need to find their own reason for telling a part of the story?
I’ve never had the opportunity to work with a writer-director on a show before and it’s really exciting. An actor’s job is to tell the playwright’s story as best they can and it’s really cool getting it straight from the horse's mouth. If there are any nerves it’s only because I want to do right by Meg and make her proud. Although every character in the play has their own journey, it’s really important that as an ensemble we’re working together to tell the story. A really important part of our rehearsal process has been ‘play’: making sure we’re always listening to each other and finding the lightness in even the darkest moments of the show.
What is your personal process in approaching a new character and a new work? How do you go about finding your character and taking them from the pages of the script to the world of the play? Do you prefer trial and error or a research heavy approach, etc?
For me, my approach to every character is a bit different. I think every role usually requires a different kind of ‘in’ to connect with the character. Sometimes it can be easy to hide behind the performative exterior of a boisterous character. But working on this play with Megan is a very personal process that involves a lot of talking with her and reflecting on my own experiences with grief. There’s no other way to go about it with a play like this. I do love just jumping up on the floor and playing, but research in whatever form it takes is an important part of what gives me the freedom to do that and explore the character and play in a constructive way.
Was there a moment in the script, when you first read through it, that really packed a punch for you? Whether it really left you thinking or laughing – did you have that ‘ah ha’ moment with this script during that read and if so, how did that change the way that you saw both your character and the others that you occupy this world with?
There are so many moments in the script that had me laughing out loud when I first read it. For a play that’s about experiencing and living with loss, it’s really pretty hilarious. Throughout the play, Jedda is kind of “haunted” by the spirit of her mother. This sort of eternal, magical connection between mother and daughter was a something that really got to me. There’s a moment towards the end of the play that packed a huge punch right in the guts for me; it really puts what Jedda’s experiencing into perspective. But I don’t want to ruin it, so you’ll just have to come to see!
What do you hope audiences leave this show talking about? Why do you think that it is a story that will resonate well with a 2019 audience and what do you hope sticks with them?
Like I said before, the loss of a loved one is something we all deal with at some point, however poorly or ungracefully that may be. I think a 2019 audience will find it really refreshing to see grief approached the way it is in ‘A Little Piece of Ash’. I hope audiences leave laughing and maybe crying a little and talking about their own lived experience with grief. It might be the first time some audience members have heard or learnt a bit about the dreaming, so I hope they leave thinking about that. And if they still have their mums with them, I hope they give them a call.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
‘Barbara and the Camp Dogs’ or ‘Black is the New White’
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Probably to Perth to visit my mum.
Dream show to perform in?
Venus in Fur
Plays or musicals?
Plays, but I do love a good musical.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Very long walks to the middle of nowhere and writing.
What’s next for you after this show?
I’m performing as one of the witches in Bell Shakespeare’s learning production of ‘Macbeth’ at the Opera House.
A Little Piece of Ash opens at KXT on 12 April 2019 as part of the Hi-Jacked Rabbit season. You can get your tickets here.