Entertainer Iopu Auva’a joined me for a Coffee Break to chat about his current role in Stage Art’s production of Memphis The Musical, studying in Ballarat and his career to date.
You’re a cast member in “Memphis The Musical” which is currently being staged at Chapel off Chapel in Melbourne’s until 28 October. Can you tell me a bit about the show?
Memphis is about a white radio DJ, Huey Calhoun who wants to change the world and a black club singer, Felicia Farrell who is ready for her big break. The story transports you back to Memphis in the 1950’s, when Rock & Roll was about to take over the world, when people were screaming for social progress and when falling in forbidden love was not just frowned upon, it was a crime.
What character do you play in ““Memphis The Musical” and how would you describe your character?
I play Delray Farrell who is the older brother of Felicia. He’s definitely the protective older brother figure especially when Felicia falls in love with Huey as it was a crime back then.
Can you tell me who are the other performers involved the production?
James Elmer plays Huey Calhoun, Elandrah Eramiha-Feo as Felicia Farrell, Mandi Lodge as Gladys, Nik Murillo as Bobby and Isaac Lindley as Gator. We have an amazing ensemble of actors consisting of Lucas Biondo, Jason Yang-Westland, Wem Etuknwa, Lachlan Nash, Callum Warrender, Tanisha Buhanec, Agnes Fifita, Tsungirai Wachenuka, Bianca Bruce, Laura Greenhalgh, Stephanie Marion Wood, and Vidya Makan.
Has this role bought you any challenges as an actor?
Definitely the intensity of the role requires a lot of strength and commanding presence has been a challenge. I’m normally used to the laid back nature of characters I’ve played in the past so it’s good to showcase another side.
Did you enjoy studying at Federation University Arts Academy in Ballarat?
I had the best time studying in Ballarat. It’s not for everyone because it’s rural and away from home but I guess that’s the reason I enjoyed it so much. Being away from home gave me the independence to grow into my own as a person and as an actor.
The course itself was eye opening to the foundation an actor should have to enter the industry with.
What made you decide you want to study music theatre?
I actually studied the Acting course. Doing music theatre was definitely on the checklist when I graduated and I’m glad I’ve been able to check it off 4 times with StageArt. I’ve always had a keen eye for performing since my childhood. Being Samoan our culture is all about singing and dancing and it wasn’t until high school that I wanted to pursue it professionally.
Are there any actors who you’re influenced by?
I’ve always looked up to Sam Rockwell and the roles he chooses. They’re not always the same and I love that about an actor. And then the great Viola Davis. I’m a big fan of her work and especially the way she’s an advocate for diversity within the industry not only for actors but those who work behind the scenes and the equal opportunities they should have.
This show is produced by StageArt? Are you able to tell me a bit more about this company?
I cannot thank StageArt enough for giving me the opportunities to tell amazing stories on stage. They gave me my first gig after graduating from Fed Uni and 4 years on, I’m very lucky to continue working with them. Not only are the creative team amazing to work with but as an actor of colour who already struggles to find roles within the industry, StageArt pride themselves on colour blind casting giving equal opportunity to everyone who auditions for their productions.
You’ve previously worked with StageArt in “The Color Purple” and “Dreamgirls” what were roles in these productions?
In The Color Purple, I played the role of Harpo who in the film is the husband of Sofia played by Oprah. And I was in the ensemble for Dreamgirls.
You’ve starred in the movie “Henry Haus”. Are you able to tell me more about this film?
Henry Haus is a webseries produced, written and directed by one of my best friends, also a Fed Uni alumni. As it’s hard to find work within the industry, it’s great to make your own. The series is about a group of friends in their twenties who are also housemates and the first world problems they face in their everyday life. Sounds boring but I’m bias and encourage you to watch it.
Can you tell me about your involvement in the show “Screws, Nuts & Blokes”?
This show was part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival produced and directed by Fed Uni graduates Samantha Wojcik and Sarah Spaven. They contacted me to be a part of their production playing a hoarder and exploring the notion of hoarding not only in physical belongings but feelings and emotions we continue to delve in from the past.
Do you have any hobbies?
What is your favourite food?
My go to is a great chicken parma.
Do you have a favourite movie?
Not only because Viola Davis is in it but the story is quite touching – The Help.
What is your idea of a good holiday?
I’m more of a stay at home kind of person binge watching my favourite tv series so anywhere that I can do that with the beach just outside my door.
What is the last album you listened to?
Adele’s album – 25. It came out back in 2015 but I still listen to it continuously.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what items would you take with you?
Any device to watch Netflix on.
Is there anything which you don’t leave home without?
My phone. I know, how millennial of me.
What’s next for Iopu Auva’a?
Currently writing a short film. I have no end date for it. Rather perfect the script before getting it up and running. I’d love to write a cabaret one day because I have a fear of singing in general and singing alone on stage for a period of time is much scarier for me – the irony because I’m doing a musical. And just auditioning for more gigs. I plan to make the move to Vancouver this time next year to check out the scene on that side of the world. There’s only so much work here in Australia for an actor of colour.
Iopu Auva’a is currently performing in Stage Art’s production of Memphis The Musical which is being staged at Chapel off Chapel until 28 October. For further information about StageArt Australia, visit the website here.
Images supplied. Photos by Jayde Justin.