She Loves Me at The Hayes Theatre
On Monday Carly sat down to chat with Zoe Gertz, one of the stars of the upcoming Hayes Theatre production of She Loves Me. Without a doubt, this was easily one of the most fun interviews to date - Zoe is beyond delightful and it was a pleasure to spend our time together chatting about the industry and laughing throughout! Have a read below and get excited about this gorgeous production making its way to the Hayes in just a couple of weeks!
Zoe Gertz stars as Ilona in She Loves Me at Sydney's Hayes Theatre
Zoe, it is great to see you back at the Hayes this year after your runs in both ‘Big River’ and ‘High Fidelity.’ What attracted you to this particular project and how did your ‘She Loves Me’ journey begin?
Well, I was very interested the minute that they announced this new initiative at the Hayes Theatre – the Artists Led Project. I myself had even thought about submitting an idea and then didn’t but when I found out that the piece they were doing was She Loves Me and it was to be directed by Erin James, who I already had a relationship with - we were at university at the same time - and I have always admired her as being a really amazing performer and she has been a Resident Director on a lot of things – I was really excited for her to have this opportunity! I had just done Big River when She Loves Me was announced and had just finished working with a first time female director at the Hayes, Ellen Simpson, and I thought, you know, it is such an honour when someone is a first time director and they entrust you into going along on that journey – and I thought, how wonderful, I really want to go along and audition for She Loves Me and get to enjoy that same sort of experience whilst also getting to support Erin on her first time being a director.
As a Director myself, I think that when you hear Actors say something like that, it is just so exciting to know how much mutual respect there really is in this industry…and I really feel like in Australia in particular that is so true at the moment.
I think that it is an exciting time for theatre in Australia at the moment. I think that, as well, when you have the opportunity to work with someone that you already know and you trust each other implicitly, then it just makes for a really exciting rehearsal room, which is exactly what we have at the moment. We are always bouncing ideas of each other – Erin and the entire company – and it is a really exciting dynamic space to be a part of.
Talk to us a bit about Ilona – what are her greatest traits and flaws? And how do you go about portraying these honestly?
Well…Ilona is a tricky character in that in the past she has maybe been portrayed as being a bit dumb and has perhaps been performed with quite a bit of judgement. From the first audition that I did, because I went in and tried this kind of ‘Marilyn-esque’ sort of characterisation, Erin has been clear and stopped me and said, ‘no no no, I don’t want you to do that. Ilona is not dumb. Think of the time that this is set – maybe she has been working in a shop from when she was quite young and she hasn’t been exposed to the same education that her male counterparts were at the time, but she is very street smart and a lot of these lines can be performed as her being a lot more dry.’
So we have found this different interpretation of her and that has been really fun and exciting as well. And of course, getting to bounce all of those ideas off of Kurt Phelan who is playing Kodaly, because we have a lot of stuff together and a lot of how your perceive Ilona is based on their interactions – he has just been really great with us changing our ideas all the time about how we want things to be presented and he has just, you know, gone along with it and been great with all of that.
It is though a character that is really well known and her songs are well known so it is definitely nerve-racking knowing that people will come in with an idea of what they expect her to be and hopefully they enjoy what we have come up with!
What have you learnt from Ilona and what do you expect to take away from the experience of playing her once the show is through?
I think that from getting to play her, it has really forced be to go back to basics of that idea as an actor that you never judge a character and that you need to have a different level of empathy for their feelings and what they are going through. It has also just been so fantastic – it has been such a long time since I have got to do a role where I get to dance a bit and to do a character that is part of a classic piece like this. I have got to do so many modern things of late that to do something that is a real ‘legit’ musical theatre role is exciting – it’s like how do I sing like that again? How do I move like that?
Oh of course – because it’s a completely different sound isn’t it…
Yes! And having to find her voice and her physicality and everything has been so interesting and so great to be in a different era to what I have been performing and what we have all been auditioning for of late too – everything that is currently auditioning has really been in the here and now – very contemporary – so it has been great to be back in the 1930s where people held themselves with a different carriage and everything. So playing this character has probably forced me to be a bit more physically aware on stage…initially…because then at some point you have to let that go because you cant be stuck in your head thinking ‘ahhh how do I look right now whilst I am doing this…’
But I don’t know if Ilona has necessarily taught me as much as the process of becoming her. I don’t know if she personally has taught me anything but I think that if Ilona were to meet me, I would have a few things to teach her – maybe a few choice words for her =)
I love that! That’s the best answer I have gotten to that particular question before!
Okay, well I feel like you have touched on this already but…She Loves Me is set in a 1930s Parfumerie in Hungary. What themes in the show make it relevant for today’s audiences and what should Sydney-siders seeing the production expect to enjoy?
Love is always relevant. Work place romances are always relevant. And even though a lot of the correspondence in the show is via letters and everything, I mean, we have lost a lot of that romanticism in letter writing I suppose…actually, it would be interesting to set She Loves Me now and have people communicating via Tinder or Social Media and see…
It somehow just doesn’t seem quite as romantic
No, it somehow doesn’t seem quite as romantic
They can just text each other!
I think that Sydney-siders if they come along can expect to leave the theatre with just the biggest grins on their faces and just glowing from inside out because it is one of those shows that is just such a joy to perform and such a joy to watch. I love it when I am in the rehearsal room watching the other actors do their scenes – I think I have told every member of the cast that I have a show crush on them! Because every one of them is just so gorgeous and the show just brings out those feelings in you because everyone is just so lovely and charming. So I think that if Sydney-Siders want a night of really beautiful, classic storytelling – the script is really good as a well and very funny – then yeah, it’s the place to be if you just want to end up with a great big grin on your face!
And who doesn’t!
Exactly! Why wouldn’t you!?!
Now I know you opened with this but I want to give you an opportunity to talk a bit more about it…This show is the first Artist Led production at the Hayes and features a number of returning Hayes performers, including yourself, Rowan Witt and Caitlin Berry, as well as new faces too! How has working with this cast been and what has the process been like in working on the first Artist Led production because it is ground breaking in our industry…we haven’t had something like it! So what is it like, behind the scenes?
Behind the scenes it’s great! The Hayes Theatre has offered amazing support to Erin but, from what I can see, also given her amazing freedom. And this cast that I get to work with…oh my gosh! I had already worked with Rowan on Les Miserables, we did that together. Caitlin I had never worked with before but I was such a fan of her work in Melba that I saw her in that and went ‘oh goodness, I hope to get to work with her one day!’ Jay James Moody, oh, he has me crying with laughter in rehearsals! Then Kurt Phelan who I get to play opposite, he is just the best onstage partner. Audiences will remember him as the lead from Dirty Dancing and he just throws me around the stage and I have never felt safer in my life! It is wonderful! It’s a wonderful wonderful company and from what I can tell, Erin’s experience has been really joyful – every step of the way through auditions and rehearsals, we have had a Hayes representative there for support but also never in the way. There can be a fine line with something like this where you need to really give people the freedom to take risks and not be micro-managed – you have to feel like you can take those risks – and Victoria (Of Hayes Theatre Co) has just been fantastic at that – she is awesome! She is such an important part of that building and of that company – she wears so many hats there! She is a bit of a superstar.
Many have deemed this musical the most charming and endearing of Broadway shows. Why do you think this show has withstood the tests of time and how does it continue to charm audiences nightly?
Because the book is so good – the text – it all goes back to that. The music is beautiful as well but you could take away the music and what you have is just a really lovely story. It is about people really getting to know each other before falling in love. The relationship on stage that has been fueled by lust and they haven’t really got to know each other is the one that falls apart. The relationship that is based on a meeting of minds and on similar passions, they’re the ones that end up working. As I said, in the rehearsal room, we all just have the biggest grins on our faces the entire time because it is so charming and lovely. It is just such a beautiful story!
Cast of She Loves Me in Rehearsal - Photo Credit: Victoria Wilde
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS.
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Ohhh, gosh! That’s like asking a mother to pick a favourite child!
I think the Laramie Project, the play, was a bit of a life changing moment for me where I kind of went ‘oh, oh I want to do that. I want to be an actor’ because of the amazing story telling.
And then of course when I was five years old and my mother took me to see 42nd Street and I sat in the front row and that was when I went ‘okay, I want to do this for the rest of my life! I want to sing and dance!’ And apparently it got to interval and my mum went ‘okay Zoe this is when we go and have an ice cream,’ and I burst into tears going ‘if we go and get an ice cream what if we don’t get these seats back!’ So my mum had to explain that it was all okay because we had paid for Act 1 and Act 2 – so I think that it is fair to say that I obviously enjoyed that experience!
Ohh that is SO cute!!
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
I feel like we are very similar people!
Dream role to perform?
Oh no! That’s so hard! You know what the funny thing is, I get to play my dream role next year but I’m not allowed to tell you what it is yet!
Oooo that’s a good answer! I get to do it but I can’t tell you…keep us in suspense!
Exactly! I get to do it but you have to wait to find out more!
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Reading…I always love a good book!
What’s next for you after this show?
I mean, straight after the show…I’m not sure
Preparing for secret role of 2019
Yes! Pretty much! And probably before 'secret role of 2019'I am going to find some retail work or something - I've never worked in a shop before but since doing She Loves Me and working in a Parfumerie on the show, maybe I can put that on my resume! Haha
Well Zoe, that is it - thank you so much! I am so impressed and so excited to see the show!
She Loves Me begins performances at the Hayes Theatre on August 24th - for tickets, visit https://hayestheatre.com.au/event/she-loves-me/