The Sapphires

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HIT Productions brings one of Australia’s most popular and best loved stories to the Glasshouse April 27The Sapphires, written and directed by Tony Briggs, is inspired by the true story of four Yorta Yorta women who were given the opportunity to travel to Vietnam during the war to sing and entertain the American troops. Proud Wiradjuri woman Mindy Kwanten plays Cynthia in the production; she’s thrilled to be touring such a positive and inspiring show to major cities, regional and remote areas of the country …

Hi Mindy. What’s a little of your background?

I was classically trained as a singer by my grandma, when I was younger, and I got into musical theatre when I was 17. My first lead role was in the original cast of Fame the Musical – and that was back when tours used to go for a really long time. That went for two years, and we even toured to Asia.

I was also in David Atkins’ production of Hair the Musical, and did a return season to Sydney as one of the divas in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

In between those productions, I’ve done a lot of backing vocals for artists, I run an adult pop choir, but my main focus – which I’m still working on while I’m on tour with The
Sapphires 
– is my electric soul duo with my husband, Mitchell, called Bow and Arrow … We recorded a few pieces before we went on tour, but Mitchell is travelling with us, and we plan to do some more recording along the way.

What have you loved most about being a part of The Sapphires production?

The bunch of people who were cast, and also the crew who are part of this team … it’s really a testament to the people up top who have brought this group of people together. Everyone involved with the production has the most massive heart – they’re all beautiful people. It’s always such a joy to come to work! 

It’s really great to make art every night with them, and to share this story of four wonderful Yorta Yorta women.

This brings me to my favourite part … The fact that there are four female lead roles in this show, and that they’re
Aboriginal women – you don’t get to see this anywhere!

You play Cynthia in the show. What’s her character like?

She’s so much fun. She’s all the sass! She’s the electric current of the four sisters, but that’s also a front for a lot of her insecurities as well. I enjoy playing her a lot and trying to bring out the many layers that I’m finding in her. I also love that the more I play her, the more things I find – she’s really deep. 

I do relate to all four of the lead girls, but Cynthia’s
definitely more like a younger version of myself – she’s a bit wild and out there! (Laughs.)

Many of us are familiar with the story of The
Sapphires.
For people who may have heard the story before, or seen the movie, how much do you feel they will relate to this production?

Tony Briggs wrote this story based on a true story about his mother and his aunties, who travelled to Vietnam during the war. The movie was actually based off this play; there have been several smaller productions of this play around over the years, and then the movie was made – which boosted the story into the stratosphere. There was even a soundtrack made from the movie! The show was also performed in London at one stage.

I guess the only thing left to tick off on the list is to do a major tour of this production all around Australia!

There are a lot of essential things I missed when I watched the movie, and they’re actually integral to the storyline. If you loved the movie, I’d say definitely come along and see the show … and if you haven’t seen the movie, definitely come along and experience it too!

There are some things that were left out of the movie, which I was a little sad about – but you should come along and check out what they are if you’re curious.

The music from the show promises to be spectacular – but what are some of your favourite songs to perform?

I think that’s one of the clever things Tony was able to do – he was able demonstrate what was happening in that climate with Aboriginal women and Aboriginal people in general, and particularly how they felt in another country, which was such a different experience. So, for the show to be peppered with and to sizzle with these amazingly
awesome songs – it’s such a great mix! 

I love doing my solo song, I’ve Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, by Aretha Franklin. It’s my favourite one to sing – it’s quite ballsy; it’s out there … 

I remember practicing this song before I had an audition for the show. I was at the gym – it was around 12:30am – 1am – and I was on the treadmill, singing this song over and over, crafting how I’d perform it at my audition. 

When I woke up the next morning, I found out Aretha Franklin had passed away just hours before. I saw this as  an omen … there I was, this little black duck on a treadmill in an empty gym, singing her song over and over again, while Aretha was rising up into heaven. I hope she saw me there!

I also love singing Ngarra Burra Ferra, which is a famous song in the Briggs family. It’s a song that all four of us girls sing. In the show, we’d been touring in Vietnam for a little while, and Dave, our Manager, organised a phone call with our mother – who wanted to hear “our song”. 

It was a Hebrew song originally. Theresa Clements, who was the great-grandmother of Aunty Lois [one of the original Sapphires] did the translation of that song into Yorta Yorta language. The song has been passed down from generation to generation in the Briggs family, and it’s such a treat to sing it in the three part harmony with the girls. It’s very special.

This tour is taking you far and wide, and to some very special places. Are you in Queensland at the moment?

I am! I’m staring at the most beautiful view of the coastline going up north, the vast ocean and the glistening sun making diamonds on the water. It’s so lovely! 

There’s something so amazing in every place we visit though. When we were in Wiradjuri Country, at Dubbo, it was quite stricken with drought. But, we got to visit a grinding group – where people sharpen their tools and axes and even grind seeds. No one knows how old these grinding groups are – but they know from the rocks used that they are over 20,000 years old, and they’re the oldest grinding group in the world.

Australia is just so amazing! It’s really great to be touring such a strong Australian story around the country – it’s so important to share our stories. 

This tour covers major cities, regional areas, but also remote areas. We’re taking the show out to places where there aren’t any theatres. Phil Harris from Troppo Architects, based in Adelaide, has created a popup stage for us. It will be a slightly stripped back show, but we’ll be performing on this stage in remote areas – free – for these communities, under the stars. This is such an amazing thing for HIT Productions to do, and I’m really proud to be involved with this. No show, in the history of Australia, has toured in this way. It’s such a courageous show! We’ll tour to over 140 venues in eight months.

Wiradjri Country is where your roots are, I believe?

Yes. It’s such a big, big Country – my grandma was from Cowra. I was super proud, and it was really overwhelming to visit the area. We had such an amazing time there …

What do you feel are some of the messages people will take away from watching the show?

I love the whole notion of stepping outside your comfort zone and the great things you can achieve when you do this.

I love the idea of the four women coming together – they’re all very different, even though they’re sisters – but it’s amazing what they can achieve when they come together.

Another major thing is getting out there and following your dreams – that’s such a massive theme in this production.

It’s such a beautiful, positive show to be a part of. I feel it’s very important to share a show like this with the current climate in our country – youth suicide is a massive issue, so it’s important we share a story like this.

Thanks Mindy.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

THE PLUG

The Sapphires is proudly presented by the Glasshouse Port Macquarie and Greater Port Macquarie FOCUS.
See The Sapphires at the Glasshouse on April 27 at 8pm.
Tickets: adult $64.90 / conc. $59.90 / U18 $29.90
Visit glasshouse.org.au for tickets and details.

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