GETTING TO KNOW: LEXI SEKULESS

Lexi Sekuless graduated from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama on their Bachelor of Acting program with first class honours. During her time she learnt acting craft and technique from some of the UK’s top tutors. Her career highlight was performing at the Globe as ‘Lady Anne’ in Richard III for the 2013 Wanamaker Festival. Lexi also performed in her own one women show about Marilyn Monroe, a version of which will return to Canberra later this year. Her training specialised in classic texts such as Chekhov and Shakespeare and included techniques from Mike Alfred, Uta Hagen, Sandford Meisner, Cicely Berry and Kristen Linklater. Since returning to Australia, Lexi has been working as a voice-over artist and began teaching acting and voice around Canberra.

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The Street talked with Lexi just days away from the beginning of rehearsals for Constellations.

HOW DID YOUR TIME TRAINING IN LONDON INFORM YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ACTING AND THEATRE?

My relationship with acting changed and matured one hundred fold. You usually get into drama school based on talent or instinct combined with the right temperament for those teachers and that school. They then decide to endow you with technique. Acting and theatre experiences expanded from what felt good to what you had studied, devoured, skilled yourself in. I had a movement teacher who would ask me why I was making a certain choice. I liked to say ‘cos it feels good’. This sharp and loaded response would slap me in the face ‘your feelings are lying to you’. It may be my work, but the work became more important, and is always more important, than me. And of course, because I was in London, I was fortunate to be exposed to some of the best theatre in the world. Learning about Pinter during the day then being able to watch an Ian Richardson production of Betrayal with Kristen Scott Thomas that night consolidates the learning and inspires you so much.

YOU PLAYED LADY ANNE IN RICHARD III AT THE GLOBE THEATRE – TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE. 

Earth shatteringly divine.  I will never forget the first time I entered on the stage in rehearsal and then to a live audience. The Globe is almost holy, church-like. And there is no where to hide; no set to distract, no long scene changes or lighting cues, nothing to shift the focus but the actors. That was epic. It was different then with the audience because you need to reach all of them, all the time, all around, all levels. It was almost like a microphone all over you and a camera all over you, at the same time. I had a director who thought I would peg things down too much so I was under a lot of pressure to shake things up but wonderfully the space kind of took care of me. Maybe more so than the director!

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RESPONSE TO READING CONSTELLATIONS?

I saw the play in London in 2012 but did not remember just how non-linear the text actually is. My reaction to my first read was a strong response to how this piece is epic, in its own way. I have been fortunate to do work that is epic. Maybe I am a bit obsessed with that side of theatre – it is greater than us. And Constellations presents choice and love and death again and again. Those are huge themes, glorious themes. But when you look at the text, you really are confronted with how non-linear it is.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE OF MARIANNE IN CONSTELLATIONS?

She is about 50 Marianne’s, not just one. I get to play all her doppelgangers in all the universes that she may or may not be in. Every actor likes all the bites of all the cherries!

YOU’RE PLAYING A QUANTUM PHYSICIST– HOW IMPORTANT IS UNDERSTANDING MULTIVERSE THEORY TO PLAYING THE ROLE.

I think it is mandatory. Even if the play wasn’t constructed around multiverse theory, you have to be deeply connected to the world of your character. You have to curious about every single element or else why would you do the show? It is always a privilege to be given someone else’s story to show. You have to respect that and do the work. And for this show the multiverse theory informs every aspect, it is the thread running through the show. Now, I won’t pretend I have it all under my belt! I’m getting there – it is complicated! Also someone’s profession is hugely informative about their personality, their movement code and thought processes. I have been watching some students at ANU who study physics.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS OF BRINGING MARIANNE TO LIFE.

Research, ask, study, watch, listen, read, dig, dig, dig, dig. You have to be deeply curious and start by collecting everything you can. One English actress used to describe it as a creative oven or cooking process. Everything is an ingredient, you add and add, then rehearsal is like the oven and performance is the meal coming out, piping hot. I always do Katie Mitchell’s facts and questions first. That will guide you for the research. I have spoken with a physics professor and a surgeon and been reading about Marianne’s quantum cosmology work. I also sat in on some ANU lectures to observe. Any question mark in the text I will answer with facts or the work in the room will reveal possibilities. Now I’ve done Mike Leigh’s four character lists.  I guess I work the text pretty hard so that I’ve got loads of gas for rehearsals. Well, here’s hoping!

THERE ARE OVER 50 SCENES AND UNIVERSES. HOW DO YOU PLAY EACH SCENE AS REAL AS THE NEXT?

Providing I know the given circumstances, (and there just happens to be heaps of those because of the 50 odd scenes) all you need to play truthful work is connect honestly to the other actors. You have to be 100% available to them and to yourself. No covering anything up and no playing the end of the scene.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO DISCOVERING IN THE WORK?

How do a physicist and a beekeeper fall in love? Love is always fun to discover. It is in real life too. Also where Marianne is vulnerable and how does that manifest itself. It is also deeply exciting to work on such an abstract show because at any one moment all of us, audience and actors, could be in relationship with something like a lighting cue or a sound. What will those moments be?

WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?

Language. We have to have a shared language. Musicians get to talk in time signatures and notes etc. If a word means one thing to the director and another to me, it might take weeks to be able to produce work. This is why you hear about directors always working with the same actor or actors and a lot of people bemoan that. It is totally understandable. I think it’s on the actor to try to understand the director’s language.

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

Arrive, turn the hot rollers on, physical warm up, rollers in, voice warm up, read the entire script super fast. I always have to curl my hair before, even if I brush it out. I think it comes from watching my mum do it before she leaves the house. I guess creatives do such abstract work and those little ‘warm ups’ to leave the literal day to day behind seem ‘superstitious’. Maybe it is the warmth of the rollers? It is just a ritual and I couldn’t skip it.

CANBERRA HAS AN EXTREMELY DYNAMIC ARTS CONTEXT. WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU HAVE OBSERVED SINCE RETURNING FROM LONDON?

I think the unplanned is now welcome here. Before I left there was almost zero organic growth in Canberra. Now we have precincts that either are or mimic an organic or unplanned ‘pop-up’ nature. This has opened the city up hugely and added to the culture, which will always inform art. There a lane ways in town covered in graffiti art and that was all arranged and promoted by the city. We also have far more mature theatre seasons in the two professional houses here so Canberra feels more connected to the rest of Australia’s art scene.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I just did a Marilyn Monroe photo shoot and material and dresses are really inspiring me at the moment. I commissioned a dress made of sequins for photos and choreography and I am endlessly excited by how much material can affect you. Perhaps it is because it is winter, so we all want to be covered up! Clothing used to have such meaning. Hats and gloves were for certain occasions and immediately meant something. Perhaps I should move into costuming.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?

Brian Green’s The Elegant Universe, which Nick Payne used as inspiration for Constellations, and a lot of Marilyn Monroe biographies which contrasts hugely! I have a stack of David Lynch DVDs to get into the non-linear art forms.  And UK plays are always in my reading pile including a stack of Mark Ravenhill plays but I have to be in a really good mood to read his stuff.