Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Vegemite Tale!

Jan.s: Jessica, I've known you since you were a young girl; wise and witty beyond your years! Your family is steeped in Opera/Theatre and you've not surprisingly taken to the boards. Tell me what you're up to? Jessica: Since the time when we lived together in that beautiful house in Chatswood much has happened. My path into the theatre world was fairly inevitable. As much as I tried in my youth to persuade myself and my family that I’d be happy collecting the toll on the Harbour Bridge, or becoming an accountant, or a beach bum, the theatre lured me back in. It took until I was 23, after a few years of trying unsuccessfully to get into Australian drama schools and generally wasting time, to make the decision to travel to London and audition for the numerous quality schools over here. This was initiated by my Mother Beverly who was in London at the time and sent me the application packets. I was loathe to leave Australia, after only having made it back there after completing high school in Europe (and having lived in London as a nanny when I was 18 and hating it), but was spurred on by friends and family. So I packed up my belongings and left them at my then boyfriends house and whizzed off to London to begin 2 months of auditions. I was accepted into two schools, one of which was the Drama Centre London…or the Trauma Centre as it is affectionately known. Luckily for me I knew nothing about it when I auditioned or I might have felt more nervous walking up to the old Methodist church in Camden. Actually what I left the audition thinking was – what a bunch of old bastards, I’m glad I probably won’t get in there. Unbelievably, I got the call! I decided to go to the Drama Centre as the other school I was accepted into was in Oxford and I wanted to stay in London. I’m glad I did. It was an intense, wild place and I had a wonderful time learning, acting every day and making great friends who are still part of my work circle. I didn’t agree with everything they taught and sometimes I’d come home seething and angry. Luck would have it that I was living with some brilliant women who would set me straight, or I’d call my Mother, a hugely talented Director, and she would give me advice on how to deal with some of the psychotic personalities you come across in the Arts! After graduating I produced a number of plays at fringe theatres to keep myself and friends in work. Beverly came over and directed ‘The Feigned Courtesans’ a terrific restoration romp by Aphra Behn. Myself and 5 friends crossed dressed like crazy and played multiple characters in a frenzy of pink frills. ‘Marx brothers on acid’ was the description from one critic. I produced ‘The Secret Death of Salvador Dali’ by Stephen Sewell, in which myself and one other actor played a combination of about 28 roles. It was very successful and although strenuous acting, producing and marketing I had a great time. My partner and I have just taken my one woman show ‘My Year Without Sex’ ( also ) also directed by Beverly and in which I play about 18 characters, on a tour to the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festivals. That was a blast and it was very well received. I found my target audience was middle aged women. They would come and scream and hoot all the way through. We plan to put the show on here in London in 2009. I’ve managed to get on the telly, film and other productions here and there playing a range of parts from Lady Macbeth to a cocaine addicted window dresser. The biggest turning point in my life was getting involved with a production called ‘The Vegemite Tales’ ( in 2005. Written by a young Aussie woman, Melanie Tait. It tells the story of a household of young people living in London – their trials and tribulations. I played the part of Gemma, an artist who encounters some serious problems living in London. My character had to kiss her flat mate Sam. This happy event lead to falling for my other half, Andrew Robb. Andrew started out acting in the play and took over as producer a couple of years later. He is largely responsible for taking the play and turning it into such a huge success. The play started in a fringe theatre in 2001 and by 2006 he’d taken it to the West End. For the last few years I’ve been his production assistant as well as acting in the show. It is a huge cult hit and great fun to be a part of. We even get spotted when we go back to OZ by people who have seen it. At the moment I’m teaching and directing, Andrew is in a play called the ‘The Ides of March’ by Canberran writer Duncan Levy, and we are working out when, where and how to put on ‘The Vegemite Tales’ and ‘My Year Without Sex’ in 2009. So a life in the arts seems to be sustaining us for now. Lucky! If only we could bring the Australian sun and countryside over here life would be pretty perfect. xxxxx

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Part Two - Hilde Hefte! Egil Kapstad...and not stealing the singers notes!

Jan.s: Your partner, accomplished pianist/composer Egil Kapstad provides a solid and seamless basis for your vocals. His arrangements/orchestrations support the nuances of your voice.  Tell me about the process you both might enter into preceding a recording or occasion, for example the Prague recordings.

Hilde: Egil is a word freak himself and he never writes a music arrangement until he’s read the lyrics. And after he has read it he’s focusing on telling the same story as the singer; both in the arrangement, his own fills etc.

About the Prague-recording: First I had to find the songs, and then the right keys. The key is not only the key I feel is right for my voice, but it’s a question about color.

Every key has its own color and I always have to find the right one for the story I want to tell from the lyrics. When that is done Egil starts to work with the arrangement, instrumentation and orchestration.

He’s not afraid of telling a plain, a complex or a straight ahead love-story so if it’s supposed to be “sweet” he’s not afraid of doing that. He’s also very aware of not stealing the singers’ notes. Like he’s saying: “Singers have one note, a pianist can place several at the same time, so why steal the only one the singer’s got?”

By doing this he’s also lifting the singer, making her/him more interesting because he’s lifting the singer by giving her/him space and leave her/his notes alone and give other colors by the notes he’s picking.

So when I’ve done my piece and he’s written a sketch or an opening we’ll test this out on the piano. I’m singing, he’s playing and explaining - and sometimes we play four-handed piano while I’m singing so we’re able to hear with our own ears that we’re on the right track. And while he was writing I did all the practical things just so we were able to focus on the important things when we arrived in Prague.

We didn’t have much studio time and the record was going to be recorded live at the studio, so everything had to be prepared for it to run smoothly. And it’s so very important to feel ok and being able to focus on good music, wonderful people and ensemble-work so we tried to prepare it well, down to the tiniest thing. ~~~~~~~ To be continued!

Jan.s:  Thanks so much Hilde!