Mary Coustas is an unabashed fan. If she has a strong reaction to someone’s work, she’ll walk straight up and tell them. But as a performer herself, she knows that not everyone has that kind of confidence. So, after performing as her infamous comedic persona Effie for over 30 years, she’s thrilled that her new touring stage show This Is Personal has compelled even the shyest of audience members to approach her after the show and share how the performance moved them.
“One night after a show in Brisbane, I was talking with five women. And this very low-key, shy man came up to me and started talking to me, and I could tell he’d never really had the confidence to do that with anyone else. But because I showed so much on that stage, he felt that he could show me something. He said, ‘I need to see the show again. I’m scared that I’m gonna forget all the things that I want to remember from the show’.”
This Is Personal spotlights the woman behind Effie – the bombastic second-generation Greek-Australian character who appeared in the stage show Wogs Out of Work and ’80s sitcom Acropolis Now, lovingly crafted as an ode to Coustas’ own heritage and experiences. Her 2013 memoir All I Know revealed her struggles with IVF, drawing in a whole new audience who resonated not just with her comedy character, but with Mary herself. “My memoir ripped open my heart. I spewed my most painful moments onto the page and then the Australian media really took to that, and my story became very known.”
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This show has been a long time coming – Coustas kept hearing from loved ones that while Effie would always be a special character, it was time to bring Mary to the forefront. And so, it was time to get personal. The final push happened when the Sydney Opera House approached Coustas and invited her to do a one-woman show – but there was a catch. They wanted to see Mary, not Effie. “I suppose that’s why it was so challenging for me to put together. It wasn’t a story I made up. It was a show that was built from real moments in my life that were there to illustrate something bigger for the audience. It stops being my story at a certain point and it becomes a story that the audience completely connects with. You can almost sense that they’ve taken ownership over it and that it’s triggered something that is very familiar to them.”
The show has given Coustas a chance to turn her memoir into something alive and visceral. She recalls having to carve out her own space in the performance industry as an emerging actor when she was told her options were limited. “When I started, there was no one that was really successful in the arts that looked like me. I was just lucky enough to have a healthy enough self-esteem to think ‘I’m not going to put myself in those conversations anymore. I’ve got to create my own stuff’.” This Is Personal has already toured Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide earlier this year. It will land in Sydney and Melbourne in June and July before heading to Darwin in October.
Coustas describes it as funny, dramatic, and intimate with big moments of slapstick comedy. “People literally go from tears to laughter to tears again within 30 seconds. This is literally me on a stage, a chair, a jacket, and a console table. That’s it.”
This Is Personal tour dates:
June 13–17 – The Concourse, Chatswood
June 27–July 2 – Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
October 4–7 – Playhouse, Darwin Entertainment Centre
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