For Stefo Nantsou, theatre is a live experience where audience can be entertained, educated and moved by the art of performance.
Stefo, 52 years old Macedonian Australian theatre actor, writer, director and producer has been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has done more than 120 productions worldwide.
As an artist he prefers to create original productions with focus on historical or contemporary stories of political or social importance.
In his recent play, “The Other Side” he has tried to link and bring together people from other migrant backgrounds. It is play for all generations and is about very simple things like believing in God, believing in one self and also about the struggle of survival in the modern world where individuals and families are strained by clash of cultures.
In this play he has also showcased about Indian culture and community. In a tête-à-tête with ‘The Indian Sun’ magazine he reveals many things about himself, his work experience with different cultures and about his new play ‘The Other way’
When you started doing theatre?
I began my theatre career at the age of 16 when I started acting in amateur theatre productions in Newcastle.
What inspired you to choose theatre as a career?
My drama teacher at high school gave me the confidence. When she took me to see ‘East’ a play by English writer/actor/director/producer Steven Berkoff in 1977, I came back with the experience and thinking that ‘I want to do that’.
What is the insight of your plays?
I like to tell stories about people who have no voice in mainstream society. I want to analyse society in a way that provokes thoughts and feelings for an audience who are bombarded by commercial theatre/film/television and the brainwashing of tabloid media.
I also want to showcase the cultures of non-English speaking people in Australia.
You have worked on diverse subjects but what basically appeals you to write?
It is mainly the stories and characters with humour, drama, passion and pathos.
You are a multifaceted personality; an artistic director, writer, actor and producer all at the same time. How do you justify every role so impressively?
I can’t justify it. I just do it because I love it. Even I love playing guitar.
How many plays you have done so far?
Approximately 120 or maybe 130.
What’s your best work experience?
The work you do as a young actor is always inspiring, a production called ‘ADIOS CHA CHA’ with Sydney’s Sidetrack Theatre in 1985 was a large scale piece about revolution in 3rd world countries which I dearly loved.
When I started my own theatre company Zeal Theatre in 1989, a project called ‘TATAU’ was a co-production with New Zealand Company Pacific Underground and that was the start of my international career.
The success of the play ‘The Stone’ which I co-wrote and performed with Tom Lycos at the 1999 ASSITEJ Festival in Norway, has led to numerous world tours. Even that play has been produced in 30 countries.
What is your favourite play and who is favourite writer?
The work of Bertold Brecht has been most inspiring for me and I love ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and ‘The Resistible Rise Of Arturoui’. Also work of Steven Berkoff inspired me to do what I do.
What motivated you to establish Zeal Theatre Company in 1989? Could you please tell us something about your journey theatre?
I always wanted to tour the world with theatre productions which inspires people as I have been inspired by touring theatre companies.
I wanted a theatre company which should produce work for all ages and all cultures. I wanted to create original theatre and be somewhat unique rather than producing plays which every other theatre company makes. So this finally led to the foundation of Zeal Theatre Company.
I founded Zeal Theatre in Newcastle in 1989 creating plays for theatre goers, schools, site-specific productions and workplace performances. We moved to Melbourne in 1996 after a brief stint in New Zealand and focused our work on touring high schools productions and the occasional commission or directing work.
We started touring worldwide after 1999 and moved to Sydney in 2005 where we started being commissioned by the Sydney Theatre Company. I am resident director of STC since 2009. My work is now juggling projects with Zeal Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and the occasional play with Australian Macedonian Theatre of Sydney.
Tell us something about Sydney Theatre Company and your work experience with it?
Zeal Theatre started performing our plays at STC in 2000. The then artistic director Robyn Nevin loved our work and commissioned us to create new plays under their auspice.
When Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton became artistic directors in 2008 they asked me to join the company as resident director. STC don’t want me to make shows for their main stage program, they prefer me to continue my work in ‘communities’.
Except Australia, where else your plays have been performed?
Well, there are so many countries including New Zealand, Norway, Canada, USA, Wales, Holland, England, Germany, Denmark, Scotland, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, South Korea, Japan, Israel, South Africa, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Belgium, Italy, Cyprus, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia, Singapore, Switzerland, Macedonia and India.
Tell us something about your new play “The Other Way”? What’s it all about?
‘The Other Way’ is a Western Sydney version of ‘Neighbours’ except it shows real people doing real things and coping with being religious, employed, in love, hungry, addicted and alienated. It is about a range of families from different cultural backgrounds trying to live a ‘normal’ life in modern day Bankstown. Some become reunited, some are dysfunctional, and some are lost. All are Australian, though for some this is arguable.
You have roped in two well acclaimed Indian artists for your play, so what part they are playing in the play?
I met Aishveryaa and Shourya Nidhi during the ‘Leviathan’ project and I liked them as artists in their own right and wanted them to be a part of this project to represent an Indian perspective amongst the broad canvas of multi cultural characters.
Aish plays the character of Gayatri, a mother of two small boys, Bobby and Lucky (played by Arman Gupta and Rijul Banerjee) who takes them to a large shopping centre where they get missing. Shourya plays 2 or more roles of a studio producer who is recording some music by well known hip-hop artist Matuse, and also a range of shop owners at the shopping centre.
The story line of the play is quite unusual, it is based on four western Sydney families whose lives are interconnected by a woman who has lost her children in a large suburban shopping centre during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, so what is your message through the play?
Being a person from a non-English speaking background I have struggled to be a part of Australian society. I have experienced racism and I have found it difficult at times being the person I am with my parents, the person I am when I am at work, with friends and when I am abroad.
At times I feel I am not Australian and at times not Macedonian, yet I am both. I think many people feel ‘displaced’ in Australia. I am trying to bring together people from other migrant backgrounds to tell a story of all our communities, stories we can all relate to, stories that are as much about us as an individual and as an entire community.
It is also a play for all generations, and it is about very simple things, believing in one self, believing in a God, and trying to survive in the modern Western world where individuals and families are strained by the clash of cultures. There is no message. Hopefully the experience will make an audience laugh, cry, groove to the beat, and to think a little bit different about the country we live in.
I also want to give young performers an opportunity to be a part of a unique theatre experience.
You have done so many plays and have worked with people from different communities, so how is that experience?
Working with people from a range of cultures and experiences is a total pleasure and one of the greatest things about my job.
I am constantly learning about the world and the people around me and I am in a position where I can make judgements about things based on experience rather than what I am told to think by news editors and ‘mainstream’ media and educational institutions.
The world is an amazing place and I am very proud to be a part of the fraternity of artists who analyse life with respect and dignity.
Your awards and achievements?
My proudest award/achievement was Zeal Theatre winning the ASSITEJ International Honorary Presidents Award for ‘excellence in the profession of theatre’ in Montreal, Canada in 2005.
Winning the Golden Sun Award for my play ‘Mr Balkan’ which was about the stories of my parents who were child refugees which the Australian Macedonian Theatre company and toured throughout the Republic of Macedonia in 2011. I am also the single father of two wonderful girls and that is something I am very proud of.