Faustina Agolley tells us about making her theatrical debut in The Father, her rehearsal process and dancing to French hip-hop with John Bell.
What were your first impressions of the play and what compelled you to say yes to this production?
Firstly, being able to audition for top Australian theatres was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up. So many actors don’t even get the chance to get into the room. As for this production, I don’t think I’ve ever read a script so quickly. I was instantly captivated. When I soon cottoned on that this play was about ageing and told from André’s perspective, I knew that this story was particularly special.
This production marks your professional stage debut in Australia – what encouraged you to embark on a career in acting?
I’m stoked to have this opportunity, and for this co-production to be my debut. I’m still pinching myself.
I was craving something else. Coming from broadcasting and DJing, I wanted to love doing something as much as I loved sharing life stories of artists for TV audiences and connecting with people on dance floors and festivals.
The epiphany came when I sat in on a masterclass with acting coach, Larry Moss in Los Angeles a few years ago. The first time I heard him speak he said, ‘You know why people go to the theatre? People go to the theatre to see themselves.’
It seems obvious, but I think, up until that point, I was deterred by how the industry, particularly out of the epicenter of Los Angeles, operated through its use of power, and not being inclusive of people of colour. Though that one statement by Larry made me realise the higher meaning of this art form. So I gave myself permission. And when the veil was pulled back to see all the practical approaches to perform, it made my curiosity and my willingness grow.
What attracted you to the role of Laura?
I took a leaf from Cate Blanchett’s approach to picking projects. From my research, she looks at the overall story first, then the production team and whatever role she plays in the story comes last. So for this project, Florian Zeller’s writing was the first attraction. What came out of the rehearsal room is that Laura seems to be the only lightness in what is ultimately a very weighty play. There’s a lot of comedic opportunity in the role too.
Can you tell us about a piece of theatre that really affected you?
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall – a fictional tale set in Martin Luther King Jnr’s motel room the night before he was assassinated. I was fortunate to see it on Broadway in 2011 with Angela Bassett and Samuel L Jackson — twice! The thing that got me was Camae’s final monologue — on talking about Dr. King’s vision for equality, and his legacy being passed on through the African Americans, who would rise up beyond his death. I wept. And that play put a fire in my belly.
Who do you look up to in Australia’s theatre industry?
Cate Blanchett is synonymous with Australian theatre — especially for people like me who, until recently, have lived in an entirely different universe. I researched endless video and print interviews to find out her approach to her work like I would for a musician I’d interview. I think I’ve got a blueprint now. One of the best things she said in an interview once was, “Someone might have a germ of talent, but 90% of it is discipline and how you practice it.”
What have you most enjoyed about the rehearsal process with Damien Ryan?
Dancing to French hip-hop before rehearsing scenes! Not many people can say they danced to French hip-hop with John Bell. Ha! That did happen, but really, what makes Damien an incredible director is that he’s extremely intelligent, articulate and was open to see the tricky structure of this play take shape over the five weeks of rehearsals — I think that comes from his innate humility. And being an actor himself, he’s able to communicate in ways that could particularly relate to other actors. Seeing Damien give everyone the liberty to literally play, draft, try new things in the rehearsal room opened me up to try new things, even mid-season, knowing that I would get trustworthy feedback.
What’s it like to work alongside stage luminaries such as John Bell?
I’m getting a masterclass with John and the rest of the cast every single day. I call John the evergreen. I’ve been learning so much by simply observing him. His role requires so much stamina and his hard work and diligence makes him so consistent in his performances every night. He’s the star of the play, my aim is to support him in the best possible way.
What is at the heart of The Father?
This play has the ability to mirror back to audiences a period of their lives when faced with having to deal with a parent or grandparent who’s ageing. And it brings up the inevitability in our own lives — our mortality. What people feel is at the heart of The Father will be different for everyone. But, if I can impart what a resident said to me recently at an aged care facility, ‘Go and live your life!’
See The Father from 2 November at Arts Centre Melbourne. The Father is a co-production with Sydney Theatre Company.