A chat with My Brilliant Career’s leading lady Luisa Scrofani

My Brilliant Career follows a young Sybylla as she navigates growing up in rural Australia, and her struggles with being a woman in the 19th century.

Luisa Scrofani

A new musical adaptation based on the acclaimed novel by Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career is part of Monash University’s partnership with the Jeanne Pratt Artists in Residence Program, allowing a professional team to come in and workshop a new musical alongside theatre students. The show opens this week, and is a wonderful display of new Australian theatre.

Having previously spoken to writers Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank, I felt it was only fitting to chat with Luisa Scrofani, who is playing the leading role role of Sybylla in the show. Luisa has had a whirlwind few years on the Australian theatre scene, gathering an impressive list of performance credits. Most recently, she was nominated for a 2019 Helpmann Award for her performance as Nina Rosario in In The Heights (Blue Saint Productions/Hayes Theatre Co.).

Could you please tell me a bit about your performance history?

Like so many others, my first taste of musical theatre was seeing Wicked. My family were living in the US at the time, so I saw it on Broadway for my 13th birthday – and I caught the bug from then on! I threw myself into singing and acting lessons, did all of the school musicals, and when I graduated high school (back home in Australia), I attended Showfit, which is an intensive musical theatre course here in Melbourne. Mathew Frank (our composer) was, and still is, the musical director of the course, so it’s a really lovely full circle moment to be working professionally with him now. Since studying, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a number of shows, including Violet (at the Hayes Theatre Co.), Spring Awakening, Fugitive Songs, Blackrock, and In The Heights, which was also at the Hayes Theatre Co. and then a thrilling return season at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year.

My Brilliant Career in rehearsals

What has been the most interesting part of playing Sybylla?

The most interesting part of playing Sybylla has been exploring how flawed she is, and how wildly ahead of her time she is also. She is incredibly stubborn, contradictory and rude, yet also has an intelligence, softness and vulnerability that is so interesting to delve into. Her flaws make her very human, and it’s wonderful to have permission to play the ugliness of her personality as well as the very intuitive, intelligent side of her. Apart from that, it’s often hard to believe this story is over 120 years old. All through the show, Sybylla fights against the ideas of marriage and traditional conventions a woman should “fit” into. Wearing a corset in the show, it’s an interesting dichotomy to say her very modern lines about the independence of women, whilst being constricted both physically by the corset and metaphorically, by the patriarchal era she was born into.

Luisa as Sybylla | Photo by Sarah Walker

Why do you think the story of My Brilliant Career is still relevant in the 21st century?

One of the the most prominent things that struck me about the relevance of My Brilliant Career in the 21st century is the concept of women “juggling” both a family and a career. In the 1890s when this story is set, the idea of a woman pursuing a career whilst also maintaining a marriage was unheard of. Marriage simply equalled children, because there was no contraception at the time. Therefore, women were expected to pop out and take care of the babies, while the men were the breadwinners. Nowadays, women are much more liberated in terms of maintaining a career and a family. But they’re still berated with remarks of how they can “manage” both, how lucky they are to have a partner who will “babysit” the children when she’s at work, and for unmarried or childless women, questions of when they’ll “settle down” and start a family. It’s proof that though we have progressed as a society in terms of allowing women to be independent, we still haven’t progressed THAT much in the 120 years since this book was published – and makes this show all the more relevant to today’s audiences.

How has it been working alongside a student ensemble?

It’s been a really interesting, reflective process to work with the student ensemble. Having been a student myself only a few short years ago, it warms me to see particular students take such interest and initiative in the process. I really see myself in a few of them as well, which is a weird but exciting feeling! There’s the adage that you don’t learn anywhere better than you do on the job, which has certainly been my own experience, so I hope that’s a sentiment the students can also share. With theatre veterans like Nat O’Donnell, James Millar and Anne Wood, it has been an absolute masterclass to watch them work, learn from, and consider a peer. The opportunity for us all to share a stage, both the actors and student actors, has been a very humbling experience.

My Brilliant Career | October 18 – 25

My Brilliant Career is presented by The Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, The Centre for Theatre and Performance and Monash Academy of Performing Arts in association with the Jeanne Pratt Musical Theatre Artists in Residence Program.

For tickets and more information, please visit the MLIVE website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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