Mothers and Sons

Adelaide’s Rosalba Clemente will return to the stage for the first time in a decade to play Irina Arkadina in Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull.

Adelaide’s Rosalba Clemente will return to the stage for the first time in a decade to play Irina Arkadina in Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull. Clemente, the current Head of Acting at Flinders University and former Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company of South Australia, had been in discussions with current State Theatre AD Geordie Brookman for a while about a return to the stage. Her decade-long acting sabbatical was because of family reasons, as Clemente wanted to spend the time raising her two sons. With her boys now in their teens, she felt the timing was perfect to appear in Chekhov’s tragicomedy, adapted by Hilary Bell and directed by Brookman. “Geordie asked me to come back and perform for him many times before, but it never felt right,” Clemente explains while on a break from rehearsal for the first State Theatre production of the year. “This was the first time in 10 years where I had an impulse to say yes to something as an actor, and there were all sorts of reasons for that. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate why that it is. I didn’t act for 10 years because I got to a time in my life where my children became the most important thing to me, which is why it’s interesting to be playing a woman [Arkadina] whose career is the most thing to her and she leaves her child behind, because I made the reverse decision 10 years ago.” In The Seagull, Clemente plays the infamous character Arkadina, a fading actress and aristocrat who cares little for her son Konstantin’s (played by Adelaide-born Hollywood star Xavier Samuel) passion to be a writer. “I’m really committed to bringing them up [her sons], so I had to put something aside. Acting is a very absorbing, obsessive craft. I tend to carry my characters with me the whole time and I don’t know how healthy that is for children to live with. I made a conscious decision to leave it alone for a while. Geordie offered me a lot of work as an actor over the years, and I had lots of offers interstate, but I found it really easy to say no to all of those offers because I found something more important in life. While there’s always grief associated with saying no, when you have a real reason to say no, you know it. And you follow that internal directive.” Another reason the NIDA-trained actress and former director agreed to appear in The Seagull is because of her respect for Brookman. “I’m really excited to work with him and that was part of the reason I said yes, but it also felt like the right time to take that step back onto the stage. And Chekhov. And that role – it’s pretty hard to turn down. As an older actor, you don’t have many opportunities to play some of those great iconic roles – it was too good to pass up.” While Clemente hasn’t appeared on stage for 10 years, she has been writing. Her first play, Helly’s Magic Cup, won the Rodney Seaborn Award and was produced by Windmill. The play she’s currently working on, which also features a complicated relationship between a mother and son, Silvana’s Garden, is a work that Clemente has been writing for some time. “It’s about migration and schizophrenia; a relationship between a son and a mother who are displaced from each other. She lives in Adelaide and he lives in New York. Actually, it’s about a son and mother too! This is the story of my life,” she laughs. Last year Silvana’s Garden was one of three plays chosen to be workshopped at Playwriting Australia’s Cultural Diversity Playwriting Workshop. Clemente says the play has progressed since that experience. “I know more about the structure and the form that I want to bleed this story through. It’s about a young man being haunted, I suppose, by his mother, and not knowing that she’s already dead and she’s a ghost in his life now. For her, going through an inventory of her life, she has to face all the things she did wrong with her child and confess to the fact that she had tried to steal his soul, in fact. In a way, the last thing she needs to do is give his soul back to him.” Clemente says this play is the one that’s taken the longest to complete because it’s “deeply personal”. She hopes it will be ready for production in 2015 or 2016. “It will take the time that it takes. What I don’t want to do is birth it too soon. I don’t want to fall into that trap.” Clemente will let fate decide if she will regularly return to the stage after The Seagull’s run. “I’m really nervous about getting up there and meeting the audience again. I’m terrified and excited and, I guess, at the end of this process I’ll gain a lot of information about what the future might hold. I’ll always be an actor. I’d like to think I could do it again in a more regular way but you’ve got to hand that over to the gods and surrender to the opportunities that life hands you.” State Theatre Company of South Australia The Seagull State Theatre Company Scenic Workshop Friday, February 21 to Sunday, March 16

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