The Rob Guest Endowment annual gala concert is just weeks away and it’s going to be a night to remember in the Aussie Musical Theatre calendar. The big event is all set for Monday November 14, where six finalists — emerging stars of Australian musical theatre — will take the stage at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre to compete for a a prize package of over $50,000.
Previous winners of the top prize include Daniel Assetta, Joshua Robson, Samantha Leigh Dodemaide, Glenn Hill, Blake Bowden, Francine Cain and Danielle Matthews.
Now let’s get to know one of our future stars: Stefanie Jones! She’s just now been starring in The Sound of Music as Liesl, but she’s been performing for a while – she was young Eponine in Les Miserables, and Brigitta in the last professional Sound of Music. She’s also appeared in South Pacific, Once, and the workshop of King Kong the Musical.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Stefanie Jones and I’m from Brisbane, Queensland. I graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011 with a Bachelor Degree in Music Theatre and I’m also a classically trained violinist (A.Dip) turned Celtic / Jazz / Country music enthusiast. I’ve lived in Melbourne for the past eight years, had seven different apartments and eleven different room mates, and Christmas is hands down my absolute favourite time of year.
When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
It’s such a cliche to say ‘I guess at some point I always knew’ but it isn’t that far from the truth. My first stage experience was when I was seven years old playing Young Eponine in Cameron Macintosh’s 10th Anniversary production of Les Miserables. Whilst most of my memories from that time have faded, I’ll never forget how at home I felt on the stage. It wasn’t until I hit my teens I started to recognise you can in fact do this as a career – so that’s when I knuckled down and started to take it very seriously.
What does Rob Guest’s legacy mean to you?
My first two stage experiences (Les Miserables in 1999 and The Sound of Music in 2000) were spent with Rob. He was our Jean Valjean and my first Captain von Trapp. Those two years were life changing for me as I had truly found my passion, and Rob being present for it was something I loved a great deal but no doubt took for granted being so young. It was only later in life and after his passing that I realised how special and invaluable that time was. Still to this day, I associate Rob with the beginning of my Music Theatre career. I have nothing but fond memories of him, and I know if he were still here today and our paths had crossed again, he’d be encouraging me. He was very passionate about the future of our industry and I think the Endowment is something he would have really loved. I’m honoured to be a part of it.
Whose advice do you always take?
I don’t think there’s anyone whose advice I ALWAYS take (sorry Mum). I have wonderful family and friends, so I have a wealth of people to talk to about anything and everything, but I think there are different people who are good to go to for different things. And when in doubt, or left to my own devices, I always just follow my gut instinct. It rarely leads me astray.
What is your all-time favourite memory of being onstage?
Many to choose from, however I can’t help but reflect back to my time on Once. I was an offstage Swing covering three of the four females in the show. You can practice and practice and practice, and know your plots back to front, but nothing can really prepare you for your first time on stage. Covering on Once was particularly difficult as we were essentially stepping in to a fully-fledged band. A band whose sound was so tight, and so well balanced, where every member was so acutely aware of the next that any change, no matter how small, felt huge. It was daunting, but when we reached the end of Act One and ‘Gold’ happened – I’ve never felt anything like it. The song was old to me, I’d heard it and played it a thousand times, but suddenly it was a whole new experience with every instrumental part covered, with world class mixing and all the elements of the show combined. It was incredibly gratifying. That song still stirs me and can easily make me weep. What a thrill that was.
This can be a tough industry. What keeps you going?
I wasn’t a fresh grad who got work straight away. It took me a few years (and many tears) before I got that ‘yes’. I remember being devastated when my first job (South Pacific) ended. I worried it was a fluke and I’d never work again. Some of my more experienced cast members assured me that ‘there’s always something’. And it’s true. You can finish a job and have nothing lined up, not a single audition or even a prospect of one, but still there is ALWAYS something. So, I think the will to trust that (along with patience and a good work ethic), is probably a good recipe for longevity. We’ll see!
What are you currently singing in the shower?
In truth a long contract with eight shows a week makes shower time very sacred, and often reserved for warming up and warming down. However… Like the rest of the world, I have every part of Hamilton’s opening number down pat, but I’m also partial to other genres in my down time, like Americana (an amalgam of American folk music), or some blues and standard soul tunes.
What’s your dream role?
Liesl was always a role I loved and hoped to play on a professional stage one day, especially since my experience with the show as a child. When auditions came around I actually tried to tell myself I didn’t want it only because I knew how devastated I would be if it didn’t go my way – but it did and I am so unbelievably happy and fulfilled. So what comes next I don’t really mind!
You’ve been starring in The Sound of Music. What’s your favourite thing about the show?
The Sound of Music has an astonishing ability to appeal to everyone, young and old. At every show we can have three generations all taking their seats together, there to introduce it to generation four for the first time. It has captured the hearts of millions for years and I think our show has rekindled wonderful memories for many. I love leaving the theatre and hearing people’s stories of what The Sound of Music means to them. To be a part of that is very special.
What do you love about musical theatre?
I believe those of us who do it all have that thing in common where we feel the urge to let song and dance take over when we can no longer express ourselves with just words. People love music. It has many abilities like making you remember, or making you forget. And it can heal. People also love being told a good story, to be taken on a journey elsewhere for a time. Music Theatre combines it all in this wonderful grandioso way, all the while communicating with us on such a personal level yet still remaining open to everyone. That’s certainly something to love, I think.