CELIA Pacquola always wanted to make her professional debut in a play, but until now, comedy got in the way.
Growing up in Melbourne, Pacquola said she was a sensitive, dramatic kid who studied drama at university where she dabbled in sketch comedy.
“Then I started dating a comedian; I always liked comedy but I didn’t realise it was a job until I was doing it,” she said.
“At uni I realised that I didn’t like having to tell people how good you were and having to sell yourself was something I really struggled with.
“Nobody can stop you from doing comedy. People can make it real hard for you but no one can really stop you finding gigs and stage time.”
Between waitressing and bar work, Pacquola did her first TV role – a cold case murder scene re-creation on psychic show Sensing Murder, before her first cameo on The Librarians, followed by two seasons on Laid.
“I was getting roles because people had seen my stand-up and were getting me to audition,” she said.
Next came Utopia then a collaboration with comedian Luke McGregor to co-create, co-write and star in award-winning sitcom Rosehaven and a regular guest spot on Have You Been Paying Attention?
“Because my mind just goes to the joke; I’m still very immature.”
Wanting to share the stage with an ensemble cast, the stars aligned when Black Swan State Theatre Company artistic director Clare Watson had a vision of Pacquola playing the role of J.G Milford in Oriel Gray’s The Torrents.
Written in 1955 and a joint winner of the Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competition with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, the lesser-known play is a neglected Australian classic set in the Goldfields during the 1890s.
“It seems like it’s been advertised in places as a comedy and while it has moments of lightness, it’s not slapstick,” Pacquola said.
“It’s a bit like The Vicar of Dibley where they’re expecting a man vicar to turn up, the vicar turns up and the vicar is a woman.
“She hasn’t tricked them but they think they’re getting a man to come and work at this small town newspaper and Jenny arrives.
“She just wants to get on with the job and does that despite the way people respond to her negatively because she’s a woman.”
Relieved she doesn’t have to do an accent and gets to wear a corset, Pacquola said she found it unbelievable the play was written in the 1950s.
“There are such big themes of feminism and the environment; it’s something I would say to my friends,” she said.
“As someone who studied plays at high school, it makes me sad that people haven’t seen it before this; it’s important, particularly now.”
What: The Torrents
Where: Heath Ledger Theatre
When: June 15 to 30