Perth based actor, writer and theatre maker Jay Emmanuel on the social and political power of Counting and Cracking, and his experiences of rehearsal as he works on his portrayal of young Thirru.
What did you expect when you were first cast in Counting and Cracking?
I expected it to be a life changing event and so it is for me. It is the biggest play I have ever been a part of. The magnificent scale and depth of the play has really moved and challenged me, something I expected but maybe not to this extent.
Apart from that I came in with an open mind and heart in the rehearsals.
Has working on the show differed from your expectations, and if so, how?
After having spent a few weeks in rehearsal it is quite clear now how much the stories have affected all of us. We frequently get goosebumps while rehearsing. You can feel the drama of the whole piece as the words take form.
We are working through the play very diligently, paying attention to every word and moment and it’s really good to have the time to be able to do so.
Also, it has been heartwarming to know how close the play is to the people it speaks to. We’ve had people from Sri Lankan community in the room, guiding and teaching us new things about Sri Lankan culture. It feels very much like a communal endeavour.
What are the biggest challenges of the rehearsal process?
It is a multi-dimensional world. There are multiple layers: social, cultural and political, all intertwined and affecting each other constantly. It took me quite a while to get my head around it and I am still discovering new things in the play.
What are you most enjoying so far?
There is a very strong complicity in the team and a communal desire to do things well. Most of us didn’t known each other before the first read but it didn’t take us long to become a tight knit fam. Also we’re learning multiple languages, accents and dance styles which is super fun and hilarious. Everybody is quite open to trying new things and there is a real sense of curiosity in the room.
Is this your first time in Sydney? What are you hoping to see and do while you’re here?
This is my first time ‘living’ in Sydney. I have already been to quite a few art galleries and beaches, including the nudist beach, which was an experience. I am hoping to be able to go to the Blue Mountains because about a dozen friends have recommended it. And of course, theatre! I am really looking forward to seeing as much independent theatre as possible; Belvoir 25A, Old 505 and King Street Theatre are on top of my list.
What does being a part of Counting and Cracking mean to you?
It actually feels like being part of a revolution. A cast of 16 brown and deadly actors in a main stage play by a major company! When was the last time that happened in Australia?
Why should people come and see the show?
When I first read the play, I was completely transfixed by the sublime poetry in the writing and its universality, it’s close proximity with the real, the truth, to life, as it is. It is not an interpretation of the story, it is the story told with complete truth and that has transformative power on anyone that encounters it. I believe it will leave the audiences transformed. Isn’t that the reason we go to the theatre in the first place?