When Doorstep Arts production of the musical Dogfight opens at Chapel Off Chapel this week, the leading lady knows she won’t be playing a glamorous role. The musical revolves around a group of marines who play a game of “dogfight” where the winner is the guy who brings the ugliest date to the party.
“She’s a complex character,” explains Olivia Charalambous, who plays Rose, a shy and awkward, but very smart young woman.
Taking on the character of someone considered to be “ugly” was an interesting experience for Charalambous. The ugliness of her character didn’t really sink in until she began working through the script and realised all the awful comments made by the marines about the women in the story. However, Charalambous says the end of this story makes up for the nastiness. As Charalambous explains, “You have to show the ugly to find the beautiful.”
Finding the character of Rose was made easier for Charalambous by having a female director and a female choreographer. It’s been a refreshing change for Charalambous, who admits she is used to having male directors telling her how to play a woman.
“It’s been great having conversations about women with women,” said Charalambous.
Director Darylin Ramondo lead the female cast of Dogfight in a discussion about women in society during the 1960s compared with women in our current day, then helped the cast relate this to their own experiences in life. Charalambous said the process really helped to not only influence her character, but also to learn more about herself, Olivia.
Olivia Charalambous first started in professional theatre as young Eponine and understudy to young Cosette in the Melbourne season of Les Miserables in 1998. Her old sister, performer Lisa-Marie Parker, was studying classical voice at VCA when she heard they were auditioning for the children’s cast of Les Miserables, so she suggested her little sister should audition.
Olivia Charalambous agreed to audition and managed to keep getting through each round until she was finally cast.
“I didn’t quite understand what was really going on!” laughed Charalambous, but after this experience of life on stage she then pursued lessons in singing, acting and dancing before ultimately completing a degree at NIDA.
A friend suggested she audition for Dogfight, but Charalambous’ was initially not interested in a show she thought promoted misogyny. However, she then began to discover more about this musical and realised you can take what you like from the show and Dogfight is not promoting misogyny, but instead it’s about finding the beauty in each other and yourself.
Charalambous describes herself as being “not conventionally beautiful”. She has learnt not only to accept the fact she is short, ethnic and voluptuous, but to be proud of who she is, even if some people don’t regard that as beautiful. As she reflects on the struggles of her character, Rose, she knows that in some ways society has changed, but in other ways we are still fighting the same battles.
Despite being set in the 1960s, the themes in Dogfight are just as relevant in today’s society and Charalambous wants women to come away knowing it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you wear but believe in yourself and find the power within.
The Victorian premiere of Dogfight, by Doorstep Arts, is playing at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel from May 5th to 15th.
Photo credit: Jenna Ramondo