The Hobart

How a Covid Change of Course Led Stephanie Jack to Hobart

by Stephanie Williams
How a Covid Change of Course Led Stephanie Jack to Hobart

Stephanie Jack is a true triple threat in the performance world, returning to Hobart after living in Shanghai when COVID hit.

You’ve been described as an actor, a writer, and a vocalist, which has your heart? I want to say acting because that’s what I did my Masters in, and it’s probably the thing I delved the most into. But it’s a tough one because I enjoy all three. I also enjoy work that brings all three of those together.

How did you get into performing? It happened really organ­ically. I was always putting on shows for my parents. I wasn’t one of those kids who specifically thought they were going to go into that as an adult. In a way it was part of what I did, but I actually wanted to do totally different things. I think at the time I wanted to be an archeologist. But then as I got older, I realised that whenever I wanted to be something else, it was more like I wanted to be the movie version of that! By 16 I was performing in everything I could at school while studying. My first degree was an undergrad degree at the University of Bristol (UK), a Bachelor of Drama, which allowed me to explore it more broadly. And then after that I went and studied acting.

And you did your Masters at Harvard? Yeah, I did my Masters at the – it’s a very long name – American Repertory Theatre/ Moscow Art Theatre School Institute for Advanced Theatre Training, at Harvard.

Stephanie and her mother Mei Jack in Singapore.

Wow that is a mouthful. How does that work? It’s on hiatus at the moment, but it was a program that ran from the eighties through to a couple years ago. There’s a working theatre called the American Repertory Theatre that’s on the Harvard campus, and has productions that often transfer to Broadway. Around that theatre, there are rooms and classrooms and workshops where we train and some of the work we do ends up going on the main stage at the theatre, and learn from the people who are working on those shows, like Bryan Cranston was in a show when I was there. It’s a very cool experience to be right in a working theatre. And then also it’s just very cool to be on the Harvard campus and it means that you get to meet a ridiculous array of very talented people from so many different realms. You also do one semester in Moscow at the Moscow Arts Theater School, which again lends a totally different perspective, being trained by Russian practitioners.

You started a YouTube series in China in 2019 called Mixed Up. What was the impetus for that? I’m still creating it, but production on it has slowed down a lot because I’ve been busy with other projects. Just before I moved to China, I’d been living in London, I’d gone through a break up. And it was one of those moments where I thought, “okay, well, now what?” My mum is Singaporean Chinese. I hadn’t lived in China and it was a bucket list thing. My grandfather came from China and all of my ancestors on that side. It just happened to be the perfect time, so I moved to Shanghai to learn Mandarin and also to take Kung Fu classes. I started Mixed Up to document what I was doing. And then as I stayed longer in China, I started to move away from documenting my life, and more into the interviews with people who I was meeting, like for instance, the representation of Asian men on screen, or talking to Asian men about their experience using dating apps, or their experience dating in China versus dating in America and things like that. It broad­ened and I continued making it when I came back here, interviewing Chinese people who were living in Hobart. When I was growing up in Bendigo (which wasn’t very racially diverse in the 1990s!) I went to Singapore with my mother every year to visit her family, which kept me connected to Asian culture and customs. And might be part of the reason I ended up wanting to explore my roots further by living in Asia and making Mixed Up, and now Mixed Feelings, my new show.

I follow a fashion commentary account Diet Prada and they call out fashion brands who inappropriately use cultural references. Recently one notable post was about Miss Singapore, Bernadette Ong. She wore a look inspired by the Singaporean flag that had the words “stop Asian hate” appliqued on the back of it. As someone who identi­fies as being Australian Singaporean Chinese how does that make you feel that people are supporting a campaign to stop Asian hate? I think it’s incredible Bernadette Ong is using her platform to bring awareness to the Stop Asian Hate movement. Bold actions like this are important in sparking necessary, well-overdue conversations. I love that she harnessed fashion in order to make a statement – the red and white cape, inspired by the Singaporean flag, is an incredibly empowering image, and also acts as a reminder of how much we all still need to do to address anti-Asian racism.

Stephanie as a kid in Bendigo

You have recently been awarded a Regional Arts Fund Fellowship. What does that mean for you? It’s very exciting. The project is something that’s very close to my heart. Mixed Feelings is a new project, currently in develop­ment, funded by the Regional Arts Fund Fellowship and an Arts Tasmania grant. It’s a one woman theatre show that will delve into my mixed race identity as a Singaporean Chinese/Anglo-Australian woman, and look at the intersections between my life and the lives of my mother, grandmother and great grand­mother. It will also incorporate kung fu-inspired movement, songs in Mandarin and Fuzhou dialect, and hopefully the guzheng (Chinese harp), which I have just started learning.

How has COVID played out for you? I was in Shanghai when COVID started. It was really strange. There just wasn’t much clear information on what anyone should really do until I actually left. I left China when there were no restrictions on coming back here. But I didn’t expect to be gone for long. I actually thought I’d just come back for the rest of the summer because this was late January.

And why Hobart? My parents have lived here for about 10 years. When I moved overseas at 18, they had just started living here. Hobart’s been the place that I’ve come back to on summer holidays or any time when I didn’t know what to do with my life. I’d be back in Hobart, figuring it out.

Stephanie and partner, Blaise Garza. Pic: Kishka Jensen

You and your partner, musician Blaise Garza are about to launch a music duo called Workplace Romance. Did you meet at work? Ha, yes we did meet at work. We both perform at Faro at Mona, and both started when they were doing themed weeks…Blaise is half Mexican and it was Mexican week. I was dressed in a cowboy hat and this gold Brocade suit, and he was dressed as a Mariachi. The name also refers to the fact that we both feel very lucky to be working in fields that we love so much. In a sense, it’s also that romance of just being able to work as creative people. Blaise has been touring with the Violent Femmes since he was 15. He’s a saxophonist and also plays keys, trombone, clarinet, flute, harmonica, and is now learning a Chinese instrument called the erhu. He is from San Diego and has been based in Hobart since 2015. We have our first gig as Workplace Romance in July as part of Friday Nights Live at Moonah Arts Centre (more details will be released on their website soon.)

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February 2024

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