Acting up with Lelda Kapsis

Lelda_Kapsis

Method student refuses to act her age

Those who work in film and theatre are usually driven by passion, rather than money. But passion doesn’t always pay the bills. “I needed to find a way to make money out of my creativity,” Lelda Kapsis tells Clare Kennedy.

At 21 Lelda Kapsis, a WAAPA graduate with a BA in musical theatre was off to a flying start when she scored her first professional gig playing Lisa Houseman in Dirty Dancing the Classic Story Onstage. She received a Green Room award nomination for best supporting musical actress and, over the next few years, gained an impressive list of credits in theatre, advertisements, radio and TV voiceovers.

Blues on tour

When on tour with Cats, however, her interest in a musical theatre career waned and disillusionment set in. “I felt displaced,” she says. “I really wanted to pursue straight acting and earn a reliable income. I needed to establish a secondary career to support my acting aspirations.” So the young actress began studying yoga and Pilates, and working as an instructor. But as that business grew and she took on more and more classes, Kapsis realised she had nothing left in the tank to pursue her acting aspirations. “I felt emotional and physically exhausted. There was a sense of longing to be creatively engaged and really, I was just sad. I felt like the artist inside of me was ailing, withering. I realised that to be a yoga and Pilates instructor, you had to devote yourself to it full-time,” she says. “I realised that I wanted to go back and act.”

Change of direction

To reignite her passion, Kapsis enrolled in a full-time program at 16th Street, an acting studio based in Melbourne’s Caulfield. “It was a really special and beautiful time for me. I was blessed to meet there my mentor, dear friend and teacher Gabriella Rose-Carter, who taught me the Strasberg method of acting. Rose-Carter, who has since opened the Melbourne theatre company Q44, invited Kapsis to work alongside her as a director’s assistant. In August, Kapsis played a role in the company’s  four-hander, Spike Heels, a feisty comedy-drama that explores sexual politics, gender and power play between the sexes.

Children’s acting classes

This year Kapsis found a secondary career that allows her to share her theatrical skills and passion with a younger generation. In February, she and one-time boyfriend, actor colleague and now business partner Nicholas Colla established Act 1, an acting school for children of all ages. The pair teach after-school-hours classes from a primary school in Point Cook. And there are plans afoot to open another studio in Richmond this year. “Children are so naturally beautiful and open and creative. Through the process of life, people turn into adults who close down and aren’t as willing to share creative thoughts and ideas. But this acting school is a place where children can share their ideas and feelings,” she says. As well as encouraging self-expression, the classes explore acting skills such as improvisation in theatre sports. The children also learn to analyse scripts – a simple matter of discussing the playwright’s intentions for the setting, characters and their relationships with each other, Kapsis explains. This term her students are looking at the classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde and Orphans by Lyle Kessler. “I don’t feel there is any need to write scripts for children or use scripts specifically written for children because these wonderful scripts already exist. Children get it, sometimes better than adult actors,” she laughs. “It blows my mind.”

Reflections on childhood

Kapsis’ love of movement and theatre revealed itself when she was very young. “I was a bit of a pain of a kid, really,” she smiles. “Mum tells a story of when I was three and used to sit at the front window looking out at the street. She would ask, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m waiting for a taxi to take me to ballet class.’ I’d sit there and wait and wait and wait, till Mum finally said, ‘I should probably get this girl into a ballet class.’” Ballet lessons led to high school musicals and a growing love of drama. At 14, Kapsis stumbled upon a text book about Constantin Stanislavski, the Russian known as the grandfather of method acting, and began applying his techniques to high school productions. “At 14, I was learning about acting methods, which I later studied at university, just because I was a bit of a nerd,” she laughs. With hindsight the decision to run an acting school for children was a no-brainer. “I am extremely passionate about theatre, acting and film and I got to the point where I felt I am going to burst unless I share it with somebody.”

“Being a member of Media Super, I feel that I am connected to an artistic and creative community. Living as a creative can feel very isolating at times, and I feel it’s important to find a sense of inclusion, belonging and support wherever you can. Being part of an industry super fund is just another way to do that. Also, it’s just so easy – I get the information I need from them, I trust that my super is safe and they don’t bother me with complicated junk that, frankly, I could never hope to understand. I’ve been with Media Super since my first acting job, over 10 years ago.”   Find more details about Act 1, the school for young actors at www.act1school.com Spike Heels is being performed at Melbourne’s Chapel off Chapel from August 28 to September 14. Visit q44.com.au/spikeheels to book.

Photos supplied by Lelda Kapsis.