Holly Austin during rehearsal for Cyrano. Photo: Charlie Kinross
Holly Austin during rehearsal for Cyrano. Photo: Charlie Kinross
Q&A

Cyrano

Meet Your Chorus: Holly Austin

Holly Austin is an actor, a musician, a playwright, a trained clown and improviser, and chorus member number 3 in Cyrano. Her character’s bravery changes the course of the play.

By Melanie Sheridan

I studied acting at NIDA and trained in clowning in Switzerland with Pierre Byland and Improvisation at The Second City in Chicago. I was co-awarded The Philip Parsons Award for playwriting and have created a number of theatre works including Ruby’s Wish and Dr AudiYO’s Giant Adventure, which tours to Arts Centre Melbourne in September. With the support of Screen Australia, I am currently co-writing Butch, a queer comedy series. I am also a musician and beatboxer and have performed with the likes of Common, John Butler and Amanda Palmer, and I played at the SXSW Festival with Sui Zhen.

Tell us about your character

I am playing the role of 3. She’s the newest member of the chorus. In 3’s opening line she admits she’s always felt small. Whist Cyrano and other characters in the show struggle to truly be who they are, it’s 3 from the outset who has the courage to say how she feels; the same courage that is required in love, as Roxanne say’s ‘… love is the only thing where you have to go in, again, for the first time, every time… you have to go in an innocent’. 

3 is an innocent, she’s naïve. Cyrano calls her ‘an idiot’ however it’s 3 who risks everything to offer a new perspective. She dares to ask the simplest questions of Cyrano. It’s because of 3’s bravery that she changes the course of the play and is ultimately rewarded by becoming a named character.

How do you embody your character?

At the beginning of the play, 3 is at the bottom of the pecking order in the chorus. She’s a low status character so I’ve focused on physically taking up less space and vocally using a higher pitch. As she becomes braver throughout the show, her physicality starts to open up and take up more space and her voice becomes bolder and more grounded.

 

I’ve also been inspired by meerkats as sometimes it feels like the chorus are ducking a weaving their way through the drama of the show.

 

My costume has really helped achieve this. Inspired by a turtle I use her hoody, beanie and backpack to retreat into when she is shamed or fearful, and as she becomes more courageous she slowly peels off layers of her costume. I’ve also been inspired by meerkats as sometimes it feels like the chorus are ducking a weaving their way through the drama of the show.

What creative challenges does this role present you as an actor?

One of the biggest challenges has been finding the rhythm of the text and matching the vocal energy within a scene. As the chorus we often bear witness to a scene between other characters and then have to interject mid-scene with a line. We’ve been working with Sarah [Goodes], our director, in rehearsal on making sure we vocally inject energy into a scene and not deflate it. We’ve also discovered that because Virginia’s text is so rich with poetic imagery, it demands a real vocal dexterity and to trust that the words will do a lot of the work in creating the image for the audience rather than us pushing emotion onto the words.

What made you want to be an actor?

I grew up in a really remote area and from an early age found myself playing make-believe and dress ups with my sister to entertain ourselves. My parents were very supportive, and I was very fortunate that they would often drive me into the city (a four-hour drive) to see theatre from a young age. Those shows were hugely impactful and definitely inspired me in wanting to pursue acting. During high school, I studied drama and participated in all the school plays and musicals. I was also lucky to have a couple of amazing teachers who were really encouraging.

After high school, I moved to Sydney and auditioned for NIDA. I failed… twice. Though crushing at the time, these fails were a true gift and a vital lesson in becoming a professional actor. I think to survive in the industry you have to be extremely resilient and make friends with failure. I also try to bring that same sense of play that I possessed as a kid to my work in the rehearsal room. Both failure and play always led to discovery.

Published on 27 July 2021

Explore More