Why State Theatre newcomer Maiah Stewardson prefers ‘growing in’ to growing up

Four years after making her screen debut as a scene-stealing mean girl in Windmill Theatre’s Girl Asleep, 21-year-old Maiah Stewardson will graduate to the State Theatre stage this month in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge.

“It’s been an absolute dream,” Stewardson tells The Adelaide Review. “I grew up watching all the State [Theatre] plays, and now to be able to be working on a State gig is just not something I ever thought would happen this quickly. I’m super super grateful, and truly in awe of how talented all the other performers are, and what I’m able to learn from them.”

Stewardson’s appearance in Rosemary Myers’ 2015 film Girl Asleep marked her first professional acting gig, but a return to Windmill Theatre Co. in last year’s schoolyard two-hander Amphibian gave Stewardson room to show off a range much broader than the perfect Regina George eyeroll. With State Theatre’s Kate Champion-directed production of Miller’s 1955 play A View From The Bridge, her portrayal of 17-year-old Catherine has afforded her the opportunity to work in a large ensemble for the first time alongside State Theatre mainstays like Mark Saturno, Elena Carapetis, Antoine Jelk and Dale March.

Stewardson in Girl Asleep (Photo: Nat Rogers / Windmill Theatre)
Stewardson in Girl Asleep (Photo: Nat Rogers / Windmill Pictures)

“It was daunting to go into a big ensemble but also so exciting; there are so many people in the room to bounce ideas off of, so many more people to, sort of, steal all their knowledge and ideas and wisdom that they’ve all accumulated from the years of doing what they’re doing. It’s been fantastic.”

Acting across from Carapetis, who plays Catherine’s aunt Beatrice, has been particularly formative. “We’re the only two women in the cast, and from day one I’ve really felt like she’s been in my corner and had my back,” she says. “Which I think is really important given that the characters in the play, upon some readings, might easily be opposed. But actually there is a love and respect and a trust between Catherine and Beatrice. It’s been really lovely to have such a good relationship with Elena so we’re able to honour that in the story – rather than just having these two women at each other all the time, which is something that personally I’m a bit sick of seeing in film and theatre.”

While Miller’s plays often reflect the gender politics of his time, under Champion’s direction the production’s stripped back set design and costuming works to unmoor the text from its original setting in the docks of 1950s Brooklyn, to something more timeless. And, despite much of the play’s tension emanating from Beatrice’s husband Eddie (Saturno) whose affection for his niece grows into a volatile mix of paternalism and desire, Stewardson is enjoying the chance to explore Catherine’s own agency. “I think Catherine’s a fantastic role. She’s a delight because she is on this cusp of womanhood, but she’s just grappling with her sense of self and her voice, and her ideas. She’s questioning things for the first time and is being vocal about it, and that is something I think is so special.

Stewardson, Saturno and Carapetis (Photo: Matt Byrne / Kojo)
Stewardson, Saturno and Carapetis (Photo: Matt Byrne / Kojo)

“I think about the female roles that moved me when I was between 14 and 19, and I think about how I loved seeing women portrayed as these clever, powerful and intelligent beings rather than just sexual objects that were desired or fought over as a narrative point,” she explains. “I think it’s fantastic that Catherine has so much to her, and yes she’s falling in love for the first time, but what I actually think is more interesting about her as a character is she’s finding herself; instead of growing up, she’s actually growing in to who she is.

‘Growing in’ is a favourite term of Stewardson’s, and it’s something she admits to doing much of herself lately. With a role in Melbourne writer/director Katie Found’s feature debut My First Summer already in the can, not to mention a dizzying variety of spoken word and art projects also on the boil, Stewardson has applied her own growth to the young women she portrays. “It’s really easy when you look as young as I do – I’m 21 but I can easily pass as 15 – to stay in the world of the 15-year-old and be constantly playing characters in that world, and feeling a certain level of disconnect. But in the last 12 months I’ve been playing 15, 16, 17-year-old women, and because I’ve had some life experience behind me, I’ve been able to play them with an authenticity and sensitivity that I certainly appreciate when I see other portrayals of other women.

“That’s partly because I’ve worked with some fantastic female performers and directors and writers who have taught me that there is nothing more powerful than a young woman.”

A View From The Bridge
Dunstan Playhouse
July 12 – August 3
Tickets

statetheatrecompany.com.au

Header image:
Mike Smith / State Theatre Company

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