Originally from Poland, Marta Kaczmarek has called Perth home for 25 years but she is in Melbourne now celebrating her recent Green Room Award Nomination for her work in the highly successful 45downstairs play, Café Scheherazade
Kaczmarek has an impressive CV with performances in Out At sea, Princess Ivona, Hunting Cockroaches, Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, Elizabeth Jolley’s Milk and Honey and Breadtrap. She has also worked on the big screen in the Oscar nominated film, Shine, as well as the film Justice and TV credits including Wild Kat, Sweat, Clowning Around, Blue Heelers, UnderBelly and her most recent TV work, The Circuit. . Her first theatre performance in Melbourne was in Café Scheherazade but her appearance in that play was not through design explains Kaczmarek: “My involvement in the production of Café Scheherazade is circumstantial actually. The play was already cast. Unfortunately due to personal reasons, the role of Masha had to be re-cast. I received a call from my agent Catherine Poulton, with the offer of auditioning for the role.”
Fortuitous indeed for both Kaczmarek and the play as she now, happily, finds herself with a prestigious Green Room Award Nomination. “To receive this nomination is wonderful, mainly as it is a recognition bestowed by my piers,” she says. “I was in Bendigo, having my car serviced, when the 1st message with congratulations arrived. It was such humbling and exciting news, I headed straight for the movie theatre and watched The Descendants treating myself with pop corn and coffee of course.”
Café Scheherazade played for two sold out seasons – such is the power and worth of this sort of story. The Australian play by Thérèse Radic is based on the best-selling 2001 novel by Arnold Zable and shares the stories of Eastern European migrants in Melbourne – whose journeys and experiences of displacement and survival are universally resonant of refugee lives. The original Café Scheherazade in St Kilda was an Acland Street icon. Set in this former iconic café, it shares the stories of the proprietors, Avram and Masha Zeleznikow, and their Eastern European patrons.
“I was lucky to find the last copy (of the novel) at Borders,” says Kaczmarek. “Right at the beginning of the rehearsals we were introduced to Arnold as well as to the playwright, Therese Radic and learned of the almost 20-year-long journey this play had travelled, before arriving at 45 Downstairs. The creative process that started in early 90’s with Arnold’s visits to Masha and Avram Zeleznikov’s restaurant on Ackland Street, St Kilda called Café Scheherazade, continued through Therese Radic’s fine writing and script development workshops.”
It wasn’t difficult for Kaczmarek to empathise with the plight of those refugees of the story as she is a self proclaimed immigrant and refuge herself. The tone of the project is sombre but simultaneously uplifting and certainly served to linger in the minds of all involved. “I feel extremely lucky to be involved in the production so relevant still and so powerful emotionally,” explains Kaczmarek. “Life itself creates the most moving, most desperate, most exhilarating storylines. It is even more telling when we have opportunities to meet real characters, living unsung heroes. My respect to people willing to share their stories is immense. We learn from them, we get to know and perhaps better understand each other. My fondest memory of the production is meeting Mrs and Mr Zeleznikov. The morning they came to the rehearsal, we were a bit nervous and at the same time excited. We had paczki (polish cakes) on the table. And then we met two beautiful individuals, a striking couple and two instigators of our story, so generous in their willingness to share and to teach.”
Kaczmarek is quick to acknowledge the wonderful team of talented individuals who worked alongside her: “I was also lucky to find myself working with the finest theatre practitioners in town; director: Bagrayana Popow then Elissa Goodrich, Adrienne Chisolm, Richard Vabre, Alison Huth, musicians: Ernie Gruner, Justin Marshall and with the most generous, gentle team of fellow actors: Jim Daley, Richard Bligh, Bruce Kerr, George Werther, Jacob Allen. We laughed, we cried, we drank wine, we ate lollies and we supported each other.”
Whatever the outcome for Kaczmarek at the Green Room Awards she is already a winner. It is her survivor spirit that shines through, the voice that stands behind the message of the play which is to remind us to celebrate and embrace those refugees who continue to arrive in Australia contributing to the rich diversity of this culture out of their experience of distress and displacement.
“I feel that bringing this type of local work to Australian theatre is more than just telling stories. Our society is forever changing, we have the original owners of this land as well as people from all over the world living here. Let’s get to know each other better. It will help us create a more unified, even stronger nation.”