Untold migrant stories reawakened on Port Pirie stage

The stories of Greek, Cypriot and Italian migrants post WWII will be brought to life on the stage for what will be the State Theatre Company’s first regional premiere.

South Australian actor, playwright and Greek Cypriot descendant Elena Carapetis is reigniting the oral histories of migrants in Port Pirie, where her grandparents settled and she spent her childhood.

Historical fiction The Gods of Strangers will in November have its world premiere in the seaport town, home to many Greek and Italian migrants who settled in SA from their homelands after WWII.

Elena is State Theatre Company’s artist in residence and so when she was approached by director Geordie Brookman to write a play about the country, she knew instantly she was set for a trip down memory lane.

“He said do you want to write a show about the country, and I said ‘yes!’. Immediately before I had even thought about it, I just said instinctively that it will have to be set in Pirie and it would probably be based on my family history,” she says.

“He said ‘great’, and that’s how it all started.”

Dina Panozzo in The Gods of Strangers. Photo by Tash McCammon.

Elena explored her own family’s history to create The Gods of Strangers, featuring Dina Panozzo, Renato Musolino and Eugenia Fragos, and presented in association with Country Arts SA and Playwriting Australia.

The play is the result of a major commission through the Regional Theatre Strategy, which is the basis of a four-year partnership between Country Arts SA and State Theatre Company.

Set in 1947, the performance explores the untold stories and challenges faced by Greek, Cypriot and Italian migrants, with Elena dedicating the work to her grandparents, Yianni and Eleni Carapetis.

It will be performed in three languages, English, Italian and Greek and also in Auslan for the benefit of the deaf community.

“When my family and other Greek and Italian people come to see this show, I think it’s going to be the first time that many people have seen their own language and culture reflected back,” Elena says.

“More often than not women aren’t featured in the centre of stories, they’re instead connected to being someone’s mother or wife.

“I’ve basically done everything that people don’t expect to see; two protagonists who are women, over the age of 50 and English is their second language.”

The Gods of Strangers tells the tale of two migrant women who answer a knock at their doors by a stranger.

Photo by Sia Duff.

“At the heart of Greek and I think very much so Italian culture, is this idea of the meaning behind the Greek word ‘filotimo’, which means the hospitality and love you show to a stranger,” Elena says.

“It goes back to ancient Greek times when the gods would disguise themselves as humans and come to Earth to test humans, even if a beggar was at your door you’d let them in because they might be a god in disguise.

“These two women let these strangers into the house and it’s about what happens when these new forces collide with their lives.”

Elena researched for months Greek, Cypriot and Italian settlement in Port Pirie, visiting the region to reconnect with locals and hear their stories. She also visited libraries and spoke with academics to learn about what life was like in regional SA post WWII.

The play is also inspired by the stories of her own grandparents, including her grandmother who came to Australia as a young woman, set to marry a man she had never met, but only seen in a photo.

“With Greek culture, and with my grandma, she was sent a photo of a man she had never met, he paid for her passage, she got on a ship and came to Australia to marry him,” Elena says.

“But when my grandma got here, the man wasn’t the same man as the one in the photo, so she basically said, ‘I’m not marrying you’, which was huge.”

Elena Carapetis reflected on her family’s history for her latest work, The Gods of Strangers. Photo by Sia Duff.

Eventually Elena’s grandmother married neither the mystery man in the photo or the man waiting for her at the altar, but instead fell for the man who lived next door to her best friend.

Elena says The Gods of Strangers honours the sacrifices made by the women in her family.

Born in Whyalla, Elena grew up in Port Pirie before moving to Adelaide towards the end  of her primary school years.

After high school she studied drama at the University of Adelaide before being accepted into Australia’s leading drama school NIDA in Sydney, at a time when acting royalty Cate Blanchett had graduated two years prior.

After NIDA, Elena scored theatre and TV gigs before landing a role on Aussie drama Heartbreak High.

She spent 12 years in Sydney, moving back to Adelaide in 2003 “just check in with family”.

But Elena ended up staying in SA, employed by the State Theatre Company and cementing herself on the local stage as well as teaching at the Adelaide College of the Arts and Flinders University.

“What has kept me here is my family and the lifestyle,” Elena says.

“I’ve made some really beautiful connections with people here, they’re like my art family.”

The Gods of Strangers will premiere at Port Pirie’s Northern Festival Centre on November 9 and 10 before showing in Adelaide from November 14–December 2. Click here for details on the Port Pirie shows and here for details on the Adelaide run.


Top 7 local picks at the Adelaide Festival

A spell-binding orchestra featuring traffic cones and water coolers, long lazy lunches on The Palais and world-premiere productions.

Hello, Adelaide Festival 2018.

The annual festival has started with a bang and will bring four world premieres and 13 Adelaide exclusives to various venues across the CBD until March 18.

Audiences have enjoyed the Adelaide Festival for more than half-a-century, with internationally acclaimed performers, musicians, dancers, writers and artists sharing their masterpieces with the city.

So for the Adelaide Festival in 2018, we’ve unpacked the program and picked the top seven local productions, events or instalments, each with a strong tie to SA.

For tickets or to read the full program visit the Adelaide Festival website.

Helen Morse stars in ‘Memorial’.

1. Memorial

Adelaide-based Brink Productions is transforming the award-winning work by British poet Alice Oswald to create a truly moving performance.

Memorial personalises 215 fallen soldiers in a modern day approach to a war story.

The 215 soldiers will be brought to life by the same number of performers drawn from the Adelaide community, while the cast is lead by Aussie stage and screen actor Helen Morse.

This world premiere and will also feature a live ensemble of singers and musicians lead by Golden Globe nominated composer Jocelyn Pook.

WHEN: Friday, March 2 – Tuesday, March 6.

WHERE: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.

Lost and Found features hundreds of locals taking part in the percussive performance. PHOTO: Steve McNicholas.

2. The Lost and Found Orchestra

One of the standout instalments in the festival program is this uplifting UK production featuring hundreds of local musicians.

The large scale musical spectacle features participants playing instruments made from musical saws, bottles, water coolers and traffic cones.

From the creators of STOMP, Lost and Found will be performed for the first time outdoors.

But it’s only here for the first weekend of March, so hurry along!

WHEN: Saturday March 3 and Sunday March 4, 8.30pm both nights.

WHERE: Adelaide Riverbank, Elder Park.

Long Lunches on The Palais will delight foodies.

3. Long Lunches 

The festival’s “beating heart” is The Palais, a floating venue on the River Torrens offering views of the city and parklands, evening breezes and sunset drinks.

Enjoy a variety of lazy long lunches aboard The Palais throughout the Adelaide Festival, in addition to a range of forums and talks.

Long lunches are prepared by a selection of culinary experts, all of which are connected to Adelaide by two degrees of separation.

More of an early riser? Head along to Breakfast With Papers, run by The Advertiser.

Grab a coffee and a spot on The Palais and listen to a panel of journalists, academics and thought provokers dissect the news of the day each morning from 8am.

WHEN: Check the program for various dates.

WHERE: Adelaide Riverbank.

21: Memories of Growing Up will explore the different experiences of people who have turned 21, whether it was decades ago or recently!

4. 21: Memories of Growing Up 

Ah, the age of 21. When life has truly begun.

What happened when you were that age? Swiss artist Mats Staub has asked this question to more than 100 people of various ages and backgrounds.

He recorded the participants’ stories before allowing them to listen back to their own voices three months later – and recording their facial expressions while doing so.

The oldest participant recounts the year of 1939, while another participant explains being 21 in 2015.

The result is an emotional installation at the State Library of SA.

The emotional installation also features a selection of Adelaidians who have shared their experiences within the milestone age.

WHEN: March 2 – March 18, 10am–5pm.

WHERE: Institute Building, State Library of SA.

In The Club’s world premiere is presented by the State Theatre Company.

5. In The Club

The State Theatre Company SA will bring this heavy production that is bound to have everyone talking.

However, In The Club is not for younger audiences as it tears through some pretty tough topics around sexual violence.

Australian author Patricia Cornelius wrote the script that looks into the dark corners of Australian football culture.

WHEN: Most nights until March 18.

WHERE: Odeon Theatre, Norwood.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will reawaken the brilliance of American composer Leonard Bernstein.

6. Bernstein on Stage!

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late great American composer, Leonard Bernstein, this production will bring New York alive … in Adelaide!

The performance will take place under the baton of John Mauceri, founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, who worked alongside Bernstein for 18 years.

Celebrate the exuberance of one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers with hits such as New York, New York, and Maria.

WHEN: Friday, March 16 and Sunday, March 18, 7pm both nights.

WHERE: Adelaide Festival Theatre.

Can the colours of the rainbow be heard? PHOTO: Paoli Smith Creative.

7. Can You Hear Colour?

The Adelaide Festival will be the first Australian venue to showcase this delight of a production that explores a tale of when a child discovers a gift – the ability to hear colour.

This Adelaide-based Patch Theatre Company production was directed by Naomi Edwards and composed by the award-winning Alan John and is a good one to help kids explore their imaginations.

Can You Hear Colour invites children to discover the musical world of pitch, intervals, scales, rhythm and harmony.

WHEN: Friday March 9 – Thursday March 15.

WHERE: AC Arts Main Theatre.


Header image by Sia Duff

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It’s all so seamless for State Theatre Company’s Enken Hagge

Hand sewing hundreds of fish “scales” onto a waistcoat, making a post-apocalyptic costume out of curtains and having to think about fake blood stains on material are just some of the work challenges faced by Enken Hagge, the wardrobe supervisor at the State Theatre Company.

Enken Hagge had done two undergraduate degrees, in media and arts, and had started an honors degree in English Literature when she suddenly realised she would spend most of her life “writing essays that no one would see”.

That realisation was the catalyst for the 34-year-old to pursue a whole new career, based on her love of sewing.

“I’d always liked sewing as a hobby but I have little interest in commercial fashion, so I had no idea how to make it a career until I found out about the Diploma of Costume Construction at AC Arts, which sadly no longer exists,” she says.

While completing her diploma, Enken managed to find work on some feature films and TV shows being filmed in Adelaide and also did work experience at State Theatre Company on a show called Three Sisters.

Enken Hagge, wardrobe supervisor at the State Theatre Company.

“From there on I was employed casually until I finally joined the State Theatre family in 2014,” she says.

Enken’s daily routine involves working closely with a production’s costume designer interpreting their designs and deciding what parts of the costume need to be handmade and what can be sourced or bought.

“A lot of my job involves finding bits and pieces of a costume out in the ‘real world’ and bringing everything together,” she says.

“I also source all the fabrics for the sewing room, shoes and accessories. Essentially, a designer shows me their dream costume and I work out how to make it a reality.

“So imagine we need a ladies’ Victorian era outfit consisting of a skirt, blouse, hat, shoes and undergarments.

“I might buy the fabric for the blouse in a local fabric shop, purchase the trims online, find an appropriate skirt in our vast State Theatre store that we can alter and use again and make a new corset from scratch to fit the actor.

“The shoes I might also find in a vintage shop, or source online.

“The hat base might be vintage but we can re-decorate and trim it to suit. Often I buy fabrics from all over Australia and worldwide.”

Enken with colleagues Sandra Anderson and Martine Micklem.

Being able to bring a simple costume sketch to life and see it work well on stage is the most rewarding aspect of the job for Enken.

“I love getting a design that looks impossible to pull off and then making it a reality,” she says.

“The most challenging part is realising a costume design that may look pretty as a sketch, but would not be appropriate onstage – for example, where a designer has drawn a female character in a slinky, restrictive dress and high heels although her role requires lots of physical action on an uneven stage.

“In that case it’s a delicate negotiation between the designer, the actor and myself to get to a final design that everyone loves.”

A typical day for Enken involves doing fittings with the actors and the designer first thing, then there is usually sourcing to be done, fabric buying and returning unwanted stock.

The best part is later in the day when she gets hands on, crafting costumes and accessories such as hats, bags or masks, or altering existing costumes.

Enken and her partner Kyle Bowen.

Being able to problem solve creatively and thinking outside the box are key qualities of any wardrobe supervisor, says Enken, pointing out that costume making is very different to fashion design.

“Theatre is not the real world – clothes often have to do some interesting things,” she says.

“Our costumes need to withstand both rough treatment and action onstage as well as repeated laundering.

“They also need to accommodate things like quick changes (very fast changes of costume at the side of the stage) so we have tricks to make those possible.

“Also, actors might be dealing with things like fake blood onstage, so the fabrics that we use have to be appropriate. Anything we make ourselves is made to be as tough as possible to survive a season of a show!”

“For Masquerade (2015) I made a fish’s waistcoat which involved hundreds of individually sewn-on shimmery fabric scales.

“For Mr Burns (2017) I created a post-apocalyptic dress for Lisa Simpson that was made out of old curtains and that I embroidered with nuclear waste symbols.

“Sometimes the fabrics are silk, and sometimes we make very intricate costumes out of humble cloth – it takes an equal amount of time!”

Working with natural fabrics, especially linen and wool, is a highlight for Enken because they “behave” well under the sewing machine, are comfortable to wear and are long lasting.

“But there are now really interesting developments in thermoplastics – heat malleable sheets of plastic that can be bent and formed into any number of useful things like headpieces and armour,” she explains.

“I’m always finding new ways to use them.”

Enken says there is still so much to learn in her field, improving her skills and learning new techniques, and in the future she’d love to do more costume designing.

Not surprisingly her philosophy on life is “be curious, and never stop learning!”.