The six wives of Henry VIII are back, and better than ever!
SIX The Musical is returning to complete its tour, which was initially delayed due to COVID shutdowns. The queens are set to visit Sydney in a week’s time, before moving through Canberra, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, and crossing the pond to New Zealand.
The intimate pop-style concert features 6 multi-talented performers in the roles of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. However, many people don’t know that the swings are the backbone for any major production, and with SIX this is no exception. Traditionally, a swing is an off-stage performer who covers any number of tracks – in this case, these swings cover all 6 of the lead roles. A massive undertaking for any performer, the 3 SIX swings really do set the bar high. We chat to Chiara Assetta (also Dance Captain), Karis Oka, and Shannen Alyce Quan, the superstar swings of SIX ahead of their Sydney opening.
Chiara trained at Glenda Yee School of Dance and went on to graduate from ED5 International with a Diploma in Performing Arts. Her credits also include the role of Teresita in Handa Opera Australia’s West Side Story on Sydney Harbour and Siblingship, the cabaret she co-created and performed in alongside her brother Daniel. She has also played ‘Brian’ in Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, ‘Hip’ and ‘Hop’ in Universal Monsters as well as appearing as a Frog Choir vocalist in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, both at Universal Studios Japan. Chiara originated the choreography for the Australian production of The Dismissal which will be playing at the Sydney Opera House in late 2021. Siblingship, which she co-created and choreographed, won ‘Best Cabaret’ in the Broadway World Australia Awards of 2020. On screen, Chiara’s credits include Dance Academy and So You Think You Can Dance Australia, as well as campaigns for brands such as Lynx. As a vocalist, she has performed the national anthem for the opening of Bankwest Stadium and backing vocals for Delta Goodrem on The Voice and The Footy Show.
Karis studied at Centrestage Performing Arts (Showfit) in 2016 before commencing training at Victorian College of the Arts, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre) in 2019. She was a featured vocalist in Woodstock: 50th Anniversary as a part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival in 2019, as well as in Morning Melodies (dir. Jayde Kirchert), which was presented by Arts Centre Melbourne. Shortly upon graduating university she made her debut at the Sydney Opera House as a Swing in the first Australian cast of SIX the Musical. In 2020 she was a semi-finalist in the inaugural Artists of Colour Initiative before returning to the stage in Yve Blake’s critically acclaimed FANGIRLS (Belvoir) 2021, in the principal role of Edna.
Shannen graduated from WAAPA in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts (Music Theatre). Theatre credits since graduating include Natalie Goodman in Next to Normal , Wendla in Spring Awakening, Swing and u/s Cynthia in Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical , and The Disappeared/The Soul in Torment in Tejas Verdes. Prior to the pandemic, they were a swing in the original cast of the Australian production of SIX The Musical. Most recently, she was an onstage swing in the tour of Yve Blake’s Fangirls - covering the roles of Edna, Brianna, Jules and Caroline.They have also been lucky enough to work on several other new Australian musicals including playing Kelly in The Gathering (Vic Theatre Company), Seela in Post: A New Musical (Something Blue Productions), and Maia in Matthew Robinson’s Atlantis.
Can you tell me a bit about your background with performing?
Chiara: I started performing because my brother insisted that I should be his duo partner/back up dancer from the moment I could stand and talk. Thanks to him, performing was something I naturally gravitated towards and I’m very lucky I had, and still have, him as my inspiration. My mum and dad were also the reason I started and continued dancing and singing as they were always so supportive of my dreams and ambitions. I trained at Glenda Yee School of Dance until the age of 18, and then graduated from ED5 International two years later with a Diploma of Performing Arts. My training was heavily influenced by Glenda Yee, Johanna van Althuis-Jones and William Alexander Forsythe and I wouldn’t be the performer I am today without their knowledge and guidance which I will always be forever grateful for.
Karis: I’ve always wanted to perform – wanted to be a popstar and then somehow became a music theatre kid (a very typical pipeline I think!). I did theatre at school, then went to uni and got my BFA, was bonked on the head with the lucky stick and booked SIX straight after graduating!
Shannen: So, the story goes that I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was 3. My mum told me to wait a year, and that if I still wanted to, then I could start classes. Then on the day of my 4th birthday I was like “So, when do I start?”. I started singing lessons in high school, did a little thing called YABC, and then went to WAAPA straight after graduating – which had been the dream since I was a pre-teen. There was a teeny tiny moment where I was deciding between WAAPA and VCA having been accepted into both courses (humble brag?). I remember calling a friend who was in the same position, not knowing what to do. She said, “If we don’t choose WAAPA, we’ll be poking needles in our eyes wondering ‘what if?’ the whole time” – and that was that.
What is the most challenging part about being a swing?
Chiara: The most challenging part about being a swing for me personally, is learning and remembering all the different vocal parts, harmonies and knowing where everyone is standing on the stage at all times throughout the show. Don’t get me wrong, I get there in the end but let’s just say the journey is eventful!
Karis: Besides holding the whole show in my head? (haha but seriously)… Honestly just trusting that I can do well at any moment’s notice is pretty hard. It’s a great skill to have because in musical theatre a lot of emphasis is placed on rehearsing heaps in order to feel confident, but as a swing you really do just have to trust in your ability to whip out a good performance at any time which is a lot easier said than done.
Shannen: It definitely takes a lot of big brain energy. But I think the most challenging part is always having to be ready to jump in at any moment. Steadying those nerves. Sometimes we’ll find out we’re swinging on for a show hours before, sometimes minutes, and on the rare occasion you might have to go on mid-show.
And the most exciting?
Chiara: The most exciting/rewarding part about being a swing is being given the honour and opportunity to play the most incredible roles! I think all six queens are icons in their own right and being able to step into each of their shoes and tell their story is nothing short of amazing!
Karis: Getting to switch it up and play all six of the different queens is pretty fun. All the queens are SUCH great characters and I feel super lucky to get to have my time exploring all of them.
Shannen: I mean, it’s always a massive adrenaline rush when we go on. And because it’s rarer that we get to be onstage, it makes it even more precious. More of a gift. With SIX, the most exciting thing is getting to play on stage with 5 other power-house Queens. We’re encouraged to bring a lot of ourselves and our own energy to our interpretations of the roles. So every show the chemistry will always be a little bit different, depending on who’s onstage. And it’s always such a joyful thing to feed off of each other and share that with the audience.
Chiara, can you explain a bit about your role as dance captain?
Chiara: The role of dance captain basically means I overlook all the dance elements in the show both on and off the stage. The show’s choreography was created by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille and our rehearsal process was led by the associate choreographer, Freya Sands. These two incredible women have given us the gift of this choreography, therefore it is one of my duties to make sure all the detail we learn in the rehearsal process remains the same when we put the show on the stage and when we tour it onto different stages around AUS and NZ. I also have the pleasure of being able to work closely with our incredible Resident Choreographer, Cristina D’Agostino.
Do you have a favourite number to perform in the show?
Chiara: I am obsessed with EVERY number in the show and I’m not just saying that. They are all so different and clever in their own ways. I think if I had to choose one, I would say the last number hits my heart strings the most which is SIX. It’s the moment in the show where the queens are celebrated for the individualities altogether but also for their love and respect for each other. It’s also the part of the show where we get to celebrate the audience and empower them to embrace their own individualities.
Karis: My answer to this changes all the time but at the moment it’s Ex-Wives. It’s just such a blast of energy, and it’s the first number so the audience is really in the palm of your hand as you introduce them to the queens.
Shannen: It always changes. But at the moment it’s No Way. Honestly, the grooves are unparalleled.
Which of the SIX queens do you relate to the most?
Chiara: I like to think I relate to Cleves because I absolutely love having fun, I don’t take things too seriously and I’m also that person that’s constantly on the dance floor. But I also don’t think I could ever be as cool as her!
Karis: I’m really feeling Cleves lately! She’s got no time for competitiveness, she’s just doing her thing. ESPECIALLY coming out of the pandemic I’m truly just here to have fun and vibe so I’m with Cleves on that.
Shannen: Ooooooooh – I think I’m a big loveable dork like Seymour, plus a sprinkling of chaos-goblin like Bobo, with a generous handful of ‘no wait, let’s be serious for a sec’ like Parr. A true mixed bag. Love that for me.
Why should people come and see SIX?
Chiara: SIX is such an amazing show for multiple reasons! It’s like going to your favourite pop concert but better because there are SIX pop stars! Not only do you leave the show singing all the incredible songs and doing all the cool dance moves but you’re also left thinking about all the empowering messages that come along with it. You will not be disappointed!
Karis: It’s a pop concert about the ex-wives of Henry the Eighth… If that doesn’t pique your interest even slightly, you’re lying or boring. Kidding! (am I?). But for real, it just has so much heart and it’s an absolute party.
Shannen: First of all, it’s a straight-up party. And after the last 20 months, we could allllll use a party. But it’s also super empowering, with heaps of heart. I think that no matter who you are, (or how much knowledge of Tudor history you have), you’ll walk away with the biggest grin and the songs stuck in your head for at least a week.