Australia’s favourite Greek goddess Effie is finally getting married, and she’s bringing the celebrations to Brisbane!
Set to grace the Tivoli’s stage in March next year, Effie –The Virgin Bride is acclaimed actress Mary Coustas’ newest stage show, all about — you guessed it — Effie finding love. She’s ready to get hitched!
We sat down with Effie and her creator to find out more about the show and the pair’s long life and friendship together.
Effie, can you tell us a bit about your new stage show?
Well, I’ve been single for the longest time and desperately looking for love, failing miserably. I was just about to give up, thinking maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
I did contemplate turning gay, but I decided maybe I should back off for a minute and wallow in the pity of being alone, hot and single. Then someone from my past came and snapped me up and he’s definitely the most attractive man I’ve ever met. I mean, chemically, there is something spectacular going on there and it was someone that I kissed at primary school, it was my first ever kiss. He’s a very spunky guy called Shane Cooper Brown.
We lost touch after school, he went off and became a legend and had a life of his own and obviously I became a legend too, but he never got me out of his mind. Then, he came back and found me in my weakest moment, thank Christ and I’m laughing now, I’m happy as Larry. I mean, where is Larry? I want to see whether Larry is happy as me. I suspect he’s not.
Do you get nervous up on stage, Effie?
I’m very good at sharing whatever I’m going through with my audience. My last show was called A Date with Effie when I was looking for love and now I’ve found it and I’m about to get married and I’m inviting them to my nuptials. I was once a picky woman, then I became desperate and now I’m about to get married.
I love the limelight; I’m a narcissist, a good narcissist, and I would be offended and nervous if no one was watching.
Let’s talk to Mary for a moment. Mary, are there any similarities between you in real life and Effie?
Effie would be the child in me, I suspect. I grew up in Collingwood, a working class suburb, so for me Effie’s the love letter to my childhood. It’s very much a celebratory, affectionate characterisation of the happiest days of my life, which was the first decade of being a part of something very multicultural and what was essentially a very urban village.
Effie represents a lot of the confidence that I had and a lot of the vanity I had as a young girl, who was very fashion obsessed and very much was into whatever was trending at the time. I think Effie is a version of that, what I would have been had I not been thrown out of that and thrown into the white middle class for the rest of my life.
Is it difficult to switch from Mary to Effie and vice versa?
I’ve been doing the character for 28 years, so it’s very familiar and comfortable for me to switch from one to the other. I know her (Effie) as well as I know myself.
Obviously, I work very hard at creating shows and don’t take any of it for granted but it’s definitely something that feels very close to me and I’m able to maintain a sort of standard because I’m so passionate about the character. I never want to slack off in any way. I love Effie now more than I ever have and that’s a good sign.
Do you ever get annoyed at people recognising you as Effie, rather than Mary?
Not at all, because that’s what I’ve given them for the past 20 plus years. I think they’re more familiar with her (Effie) then they are with me, although that’s changed in that last few years because I went public with some of the stuff I went through.
I’m thrilled with the relationship that I’ve got with my audience, they’ve been incredibly loyal and they’ve grown alongside me. In the initial stages, when I did Wogs Out Of Work it was predictably a very multicultural audience but now I have a huge gay following and a lot of Aussies come to my shows.
If they’re not Greek it doesn’t seem to matter at all, because they relate on so many other levels. So many Australians have had close relationships with Greeks, either they’ve gone out with them, lived next door to them, worked with them or gone to school with them, so they really understand that world. Effie represents some of that but she represents a lot of other things they connect to.
I think if you’ve been marginalised or you feel like you crave a really honest mouth piece, a good laugh or someone that makes you feel better about who you are, then you’ll come see my show. The common denominator is that Effie is the underdog and a lot of people think they are too.
What’s your favourite part about performing?
I love discovering what else is out there, I don’t like to turn up to every performance and think I can control every aspect of it. I love to improvise and I love to turn up to the magic that happens every night. And it does. I don’t know how it does but it does. I try not to over think it or jinx it, so I do get a lot of return business. People come back to the shows that I do, because they know that the shows are completely different each night.
I don’t ignore my audience, I make it very interactive. When we started doing our live shows like Wogs Out Of Work, because they weren’t accustomed to theatre, they’d talk back to you, so I just chose to incorporate that into my shows. If people want to have dialogue I’m happy to have it. It makes it more exclusive and exciting.
Have you ever had any hecklers?
Not really, I just try to be as honest as possible and people get it. It’s weird, though, I just did a public Q&A where we talked about heckling and there were a lot of other comedians there talking about it and I said, “Well, I hardly ever get heckled,” and at the next show I got heckled. It was funny, though, because the guy was the biggest fan. He wasn’t trying to cause a problem, he was just trying to connect. Afterwards when I saw him, he was like, “Wow, that was the best! I love talking to you!” And I was like, “well, that’s weird”.
Did you ever think Effie, as a character, would take off and be so popular?
I didn’t really think about it. I was just very fascinated by some characters that I’d stumbled across in reality that were very similar to Effie. I certainly knew 100 per cent when I did Acropolis Now, the impact Effie had on that show and I remember very vividly thinking, ‘I just got married, I think I just got married to this character for the rest of my life,’ and it was comforting.
I’ve done other stuff, serious acting, and played other characters on stage, but I’ve got such a soft spot for Effie and I’m thrilled the audience has too.
I just wanted to work as an actress. I had no ambitions to win a Logie or be on TV. I thought I would be doing theatre for the rest of my life and I would have been very content doing that.
When you first broke out with Effie, was it a struggle for people to take you seriously as an actor?
I was doing comedy, I didn’t want them to take me seriously. I wanted them to do exactly what they did and go, ‘I know girls like that, I grew up with one in school, I got served in the deli by a girl like that, my hairdresser’s like that’. All I wanted to do was reflect back on what ifs to the audience and make them feel like the life they were living was worth being put up on the stage.
I didn’t want to play characters that no one could relate to, I wanted to play characters that were part of the community I grew up in, and that’s what I did. I think it became commercial because people could really relate to it. I still bump into people like that all the time, they might have a different hairstyle but their attitudes are the same and the accents the same.
Effie has definitely evolved over the years. I’ve consciously taken her down a more glamorous road, but the hair’s still big and the dresses are still familiar even though they’re a modern version. The attitude and the stuff that she talks about is still very relevant and that’s a conscious thing on my behalf.
What’s your advice for aspiring actors or comedians?
I would say to anyone that is really serious about performing to get trained. I trained as an actress for three years as part of my university degree and my major was performing arts. The comfort that brought me and the skills I was able to accumulate over those three years, the problem solving abilities, and just to be in an environment where there was no risk because there was no public, was a really great thing.
A lot of the best performers in the world are trained; it’s just part of the devotion to your craft. It will iron out whether you’re serious or not and if you are, it will give you the confidence to go out into an industry which is extremely difficult, with a 90 per cent unemployment rate.
You’ll also need to find out where you fit in and where you think your strengths lie. Do everything to learn from the best where you can, to have mentors, to have teachers, to do classes every now and again. I was lucky that I was always surrounded by people that I could learn from.
In Wogs Out Of Work I use to stand in the wings and watch everyone else’s monologue every single night, even though I wasn’t supposed to go on for another 20 minutes. From that I was able to get a sense of what great comic timing was and how to make the most out of every minute and how to connect with the audience. I wanted to get really good at it and it really did propel me forward by doing that.
Effie – The Virgin Bride will play at the Tivoli on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 March 2016. For tickets visit www.ticketmaster.com.au