GETTING TO KNOW: KIKI SKOUNTZOS

Kiki Skountzos is Canberra-born, public-servant-raised, an actor, writer and collaborator. Recent performance highlights include Stevie in The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? (King Street Theatre), Something for Cate (STC Rough Drafts), Request Programme (NIDA 2015 Director’s Showcase), Sophocles’ Antigone (PACT Theatre), under the direction of Jordan Best, Goldilocks and the Three Bears(Q Performing Arts Centre).

Kiki graduated from the Australian National University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Art History, securing a graduate position within the public service while moonlighting as an actor. Realising that her penchant for the dramatic was more suited to the stage than an office, she went on to complete an Advanced Diploma of Performing Arts (Acting) at Actors Centre Australia in Sydney. She is a proud member of Equity.

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THE STREET TALKED TO KIKI SKOUNTZOS A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE OPENING OF COLD LIGHT.

YOU WERE BORN AND RAISED IN CANBERRA. YOU HAVE RETURNED TO CANBERRA TO TAKE ON THE ROLE OF JANICE IN COLD LIGHT, THE LOVE INTEREST OF FRED BERRY AND ALSO A COMMUNIST AGITATOR. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE?

What attracted me to the role was the opportunity to work on a play like this in my own home town! I fell in love with Janice (and Amelia) through the rehearsal process, but truly it was the opportunity to be part of an exciting ensemble in the premiere of a new Australian work by Alana Valentine, starring a beautifully strong and daring female protagonist like Edith Campbell Berry that was utterly irresistible.

TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF BRINGING JANICE TO LIFE.

Lots of reading – reading the novel, reading the play, talking to Caroline and the cast, and doing lots of research into all things communist! I love improvising in character, and we did a really powerful improvisation in rehearsals where we discussed each character, the facts, everything they said about themselves, what they said about others, and what other people said about them, then we got up on the floor and improvised aspects of the character that most resonated with us. Watching how people improvised around Janice and what people responded to most was fascinating, and has provided me with ongoing inspiration through this process.

WHERE DOES KIKI SKOUNTZOS MEET JANICE?

Hahaha, I meet Janice with a great deal of warmth and empathy because I think we’re both stupidly passionate, idealistic women. There’s a kind of clumsy boldness to Janice to which I’m not a stranger. She might lack Edith’s sophistication and class, but it doesn’t stop her trying to better her or rise up to challenge her. Janice is deeply committed to creating a brighter future, fights to the death for what she believes in, lashes out when she’s hurt to her core, and can’t make sense of people who are fence sitters. And she’s a villain who would do anything to win. Oh, how can you fault her? She’s dynamite!

YOU PLAY MULTIPLE ROLES IN COLD LIGHT. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES IN DOING THIS?

 The quick costume changes – having just a few lines of dialogue between scenes to change clothes and dash back onstage in a completely different character and voice is utter madness! But when it’s done well, then an audience can pick up immediately from a few visual clues that an entirely different person has just walked on stage.

THERE ARE SIX ACTORS IN THE WORK. WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED TOGETHER IN THE LAST FOUR WEEKS OF REHEARSAL?

A lot of cheekiness and laughter! It’s always fun to find the rhythm of each new cast, especially when we’ve all got such different styles and personalities, but we really crack each other up a lot which has been a great source of joy in the rehearsal room.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR? AND OTHER ACTORS IN THE ENSEMBLE?

Generosity, trust and honesty. And a safe rehearsal space to completely be yourself in with your fellow ensemble members, because there’s plenty of failure in a rehearsal room. But there’s nothing better than finding glorious solutions and feeling the excitement that comes from unlocking a scene or a moment together.

THE WORK DEALS WITH AMBITION, WOMEN, AND PEOPLE OF DIFFERENCE – IS COLD LIGHT A WORK FOR OUR TIMES?

100% it is! What can be better than studying a deeply human and complex heroine like Edith under the microscope for 2 hours as she bashes it out against the loves of her life, professional glass ceilings, and uses every tool available to her to make her dreams a reality in a flawed society. It’s horrifying in some ways to think that even though the years have rolled on, as women we’re still fighting the same fights and trying to conquer the same ground, in art, in politics, and often in the walls of our own homes. There’s also a lot of beautiful and provocative ideas explored about sex, gender and sexual fluidity, which I think will resonate powerfully and poignantly with modern audiences.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?

I love a vocal audience, and I relish the opportunity to shock and titillate an audience! I love people who laugh or gasp or sigh in satisfaction or mutter in exasperation.  Its utterly addictive knowing that people are sitting inches from you, outright rooting for your character’s success or failure, and who are on the edge of their seats trying to keep up as the plot unfolds.

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?

I am not superstitious but I definitely have certain routines – I must change into fresh underwear as soon as I hit the theatre. And I have to brush my teeth and read through every single line out loud.

YOU’VE BEEN IN REHEARSALS SO NOT EASY TO DO MUCH MORE WITH YOUR INTENSIVE SCHEDULE. WOULD YOU LIKE TO COMMENT ON THE CANBERRA ARTS SCENE, IN PARTICULAR ITS PERFORMING ARTS, AND ANY CHANGES SINCE YOU’VE MOVED TO SYDNEY?

I haven’t had the chance to see much Canberra theatre in the past few years, except for “Playhouse Creatures” at The Q Performing Arts Centre and “Wait Unit Dark”, currently on stage at Canberra Rep – both directed by Jordan Best. Both were excellent productions and made me reflect on how great the work is that is made here and that tours from here. I think we’ve got a lot to be proud of, and it frustrates me that more people from interstate don’t make more effort to come and see what’s cracking in the nation’s capital. Because there’s plenty that’ll take your head off!

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

The writing and essays of Anne Bogart, watching lots and lots of live theatre, and having feisty discussions with friends and strangers in theatre foyers about what we’re seeing and making in this country. I’m also enjoying dabbling in a bit of writing, bashing away at a couple of feature film ideas, and hoping to mount a play by David Finnigan later in the year at Sydney Fringe Festival…but more on all that as it unfolds!