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Interview: Disa Swifte
A Canberra-based theatre maker and actor
Disa Swifte is a Canberra-based theatre maker and actor. Disa has been in love with theatre since they were four but only got involved in theatre in 2021 and has since gained experience in acting, directing, writing, stage management and other behind the scenes roles.
This year, Disa has played Sye in Sunny Productions’ Happy Meals Happy Kids, filmed their first short film as Little Sister in Sunspot Cinematic’s Halo and worked as Sound Operator for Canberra REP’s Home, I’m Darling. They are currently developing and performing Sympathetic Resonance by Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerge Company and working on some smaller projects. Disa will also be playing the role of Anika in Canberra Youth Theatre’s Rosieville later this year.
What do you enjoy about being part of Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerge Company?
As an Emerge Company artist, I am able to develop my skills as an actor, writer, director, designer, and more. Emerge Company has provided me with a supportive environment that has encouraged me to experiment and grow as an artist.
I have had the pleasure to learn from industry professionals such as Emerge Company’s mentor, Christopher Carroll; set and costume designer, Aislinn King; playwright, Dylan Van Den Berg and artist and producer, Bonnie Curtis.
As my time with Emerge Company comes to an end, I feel that I have gained so much experience and a skill set that otherwise may have taken years to acquire. Emerge Company demystified so many aspects of theatre making and the theatre/arts industry which made me feel a lot more confident as a theatre maker and a little less terrified as an emerging artist.
What is Emerge Company’s new show Sympathetic Resonance about?
Sympathetic Resonance is about communication and all the ways it can affect our lives. Communication is such a broad concept and we look at all the ways that it can be used and manipulated. Sympathetic Resonance is a collage of those unforgettable people, moments and feelings that you think about when you’re lying awake at 2:47 in the morning. From bearing your heart to your closest friend to that awkward interaction with a stranger on the street, Sympathetic Resonance examines the complexity of communication in its many forms.
Sympathetic Resonance is devised and performed by seven emerging artists. What is it like to devise and perform in a new work?
It has been an incredible experience to watch an idea evolve into a production over the course of just a few weeks. Being able to have had a hand in every part of the production process has been, although quite stressful, a dream come true. The seven of us all have our own creative styles and interests so it’s been really wonderful to have had complete freedom with the forms and styles of theatre in each scene that we’ve developed. It means that we’re able to look at each concept from different perspectives and make it the best possible version it can be.
There have been so many changes along the way so it’s quite refreshing to see it all come together as we enter tech week. I think that as we approach production week and shift focus to the acting portion of our roles, we’ve all had a little difficulty letting our scenes be and not tampering with them too much or coming up with new ideas for the show.
Devising and acting in a show can be a blessing and a curse because you can have all the fun and freedom you want when you’re devising your scenes but you eventually have to stop and put it to rest. It’s a very emotional process for an already stressful and exhausting (and exciting) week.
What is involved in the process of collaborating on the creation of Sympathetic Resonance with six other emerging artists like yourself?
Sympathetic Resonance is a collection of fragmented scenes and stories so we’ve all been able to offer and develop our own ideas of what communication can be and do. We have all had the opportunity to be writers, directors and/or actors for our own scenes and ideas while helping others to develop theirs. The creative freedom of working on this show has allowed us all to experiment with our styles and test the boundaries of what theatre can be. There has been so much curiosity and creativity from the beginning which is what makes our show so dynamic and entertaining.
You’ve been involved both on and behind the stage in different theatrical productions. What draws you to both on and offstage roles?
I am fascinated with every aspect of theatre. There are very few limitations of what theatre can be and there are so many roles that go into making any production. For a while, I was only interested in acting in theatre. The process of reading a terrific script and then creating a character, building their world from the ground up alongside a team of artists and the immediacy of performing to a live audience was and is still one of my favourite things in this world.
When I first started working as an actor on productions, I always wanted to know what was going on for other creatives and crew. I would try to be within earshot of directors and designers as they discussed ideas and changes and I would note down literally anything that happened during rehearsals and tried to learn from it.
When I was offered to work as the Assistant Stage Manager on Canberra Youth Theatre’s The Initiation (2022), I thought that it would be a good opportunity to gain some first hand experience of what it was like to be an active part of those decisions and to see theatre from another point of view. Working on The Initiation made me fall in love with stage management and made me even more curious about other roles.
I have found that every time I work in a new area, the process of creating a show becomes so much more complicated, confusing, elaborate and fun. It also makes being an audience member really exciting. Whenever I watch a play, I can see all of the different elements a little bit clearer and better appreciate all of the thought, care, effort and pain that it took to make them come alive. It makes me ecstatic but also a little dizzy. I think that I’m just tremendously passionate and curious about theatre and everything that goes into it.
What have you been reading/watching and loving lately?
I am currently reading Supper Club by Lara Williams which has become my new favourite book. I’ve been rewatching the 2017 series of Howards End and once Sympathetic Resonance has closed, I plan to rewatch Killing Eve. I also recently saw Griffin Theatre’s Pony on tour at the Canberra Theatre Centre and oh my goodness it was incredible!
What would you like to see more of in Canberra theatre?
I would love to see more local theatre being supported and celebrated. Canberra has so many incredible theatre makers who create innovative and exciting new works but they are often overshadowed by larger touring productions. I would also love for Canberra to be more inclusive to emerging artists. So many terrific young theatre makers and actors are planning on leaving Canberra as soon as they can because they feel that there aren’t enough creative opportunities here and I would love to see that change.
Disa is currently performing in Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of Sympathetic Resonance at Gorman Arts Centre (C Block Theatre) in Canberra from 14 to 16 July 2023 and will be playing Anika in Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of Rosieville from 29 September to 8 October 2023.
You can follow them @disaswifte on Instagram.