It’s the typical theatre cliché – “young girl from small town books one way ticket to the big smoke to make it big on the professional stage”, but that’s exactly what rising star Celina Yuen did. From humble beginnings in Mackay in far north Queensland, Celina has landed a plum role as Liat in Opera Australia’s South Pacific. It’s two hours before show time as she bounds into the theatre people office, bright eyed, brimming with confidence and endearingly humble.
Celina had just finished high school when she decided to make the move to Melbourne. With the support of her parents, who are well known restauranteurs in Mackay, and several years of dance training behind her, she decided to study with APO Arts Academy. “I knew I wanted to move to a big city and APO offers one year courses, which was a huge benefit for me, as I wanted to commit myself and study hard, but I also wanted to get out there and working as quickly as possible, so that’s ultimately why I decided to go with APO. I’d heard that Dance World has a fantastic reputation and I knew APO and Dance World were one and the same, and I knew they offered the three strands – music, acting and dance.”
“I was unique in the fact that I did a double qualification, a diploma of dance and diploma of musical theatre. In the musical theatre course, you do all three disciplines, but I didn’t want to let go of the dance side and I wanted to expand and refine that further. The dance component focuses on a mix of lyrical and contemporary, with a strong emphasis on technique. In musical theatre course focuses on voice classes (while learning your musical theatre repertoire) and particularly on singing technique. Then there’s the acting classes which concentrate on stage work and screen work. Then there’s the musical theatre dance, which not surprisingly, is centered around the musical theatre style and jazz technique and ballet.”
Photo: Blueprint Studios
“I really enjoy a “tough love” environment. I don’t know if that’s because my mum is Pilipino! Competition starts on day one with an “audition concert”. We each got up and sang one of the songs we sung for our audition, so it was a chance to check out the competition and see where the standard of our year level sats. The teachers at APO are quite tough in terms of discipline and focus and I can guarantee that you will only get out what you put in.”
After spending just one year in full time study, Celina was quickly drafted into the South Pacific cast alongside Lisa McCune and Eddy Perfect.
“I was really lucky to graduate from APO and go straight into South Pacific. I think my time at APO gave me excellent exposure to working with industry professionals, so it was not such a “culture shock” leaving school and going straight into a professional environment. I know it sounds weird, but I actually got the most out of just watching them work. That learning has just continued on, beyond school. One thing I’ve noticed about even the biggest names in South Pacific is that no matter how experienced the performer is, they are all still learning, still trying to better themselves as performers. I’ll be walking through backstage and someone will be off having a singing lesson via Skype, or preparing for their next acting or a dance class. It’s part of a continual evolution that keeps you working like a machine and ready for the next challenge.”