Keep smiling: My mum always tells me this. When I was younger I took it to mean that one should deny “down days”. Now that I’m older (with experience haha) I understand that it’s my mum’s version of saying “keep vibing high”. OF COURSE one can have “down days”, and it is important to acknowledge these moments, but one doesn’t need to stay in them for too long.
As part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Clara Francesca. She is both an expert speech coach and an artist. As a speech coach, with an impressive client portfolio and thirteen years in the field, Clara specializes in speech-anxiety reduction, fostering people with the confidence to walk into any room and share their ideas, through practical, mindful and impactful exercises, to champion their authentic voice. Clara’s Medico-Legal training at Maurice Blackburn lawyers and over 10 years of experience within Medico-Legal University Departments both in the United States and Australia, equip Clara with a unique insight into Corporate Medico-Legal speech challenges. As an artist, Clara is an “athlete of the heart making art”. In 2013 Clara joined Anne Bogart’s SITI Company’s Inaugural Conservatory in NYC, later working with Chuck Mee on Cubist Productions. Prior to making the move from Australia to the States, Clara had been developing her career as an award-winning solo-theatre actor, directing at notable stages such as La Mama, Malthouse and later bookings at The Signature Theater NYC, in Korea, Japan, UK and more. Clara has performed in multiple award-winning feature films and has nationally toured bilingual children’s musicals. Most notably, her touring solo show Manifesting Mrs Marx (presented at The Edinburgh Fringe 2019 and scheduled to reappear in 2020, Best Performance Art SaraSolo Winner, Outstanding Solo Performance & Outstanding Original Script Nominee IT Awards NYC) has taken her across the globe, inviting audiences to laugh and cry with her as she tells tales of humans with hearts just like yours, the person reading this paragraph. Clara is a co-founder of The Extended Reality Ensemble (XRE). XRE was created as a response to the pandemic, with artists determined to make safe work regardless of lockdowns, by pioneering excellence in art, new media storytelling and creative coding. Clara continues to work as an artist and voice over actress with companies including Audible Books, Trinacria Theater, Phoenix Theater Ensemble, GF&Co, and household brands like Shiseido.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My growth started at birth, when I decided it was time to appear to the world in the middle of Melbourne (Australia)’s St. Kilda fabulous hippy festival… kinda literally… That’s a longer story. Then as young children my amazing family took my brother and I back to the motherland of Italy between Catania and Verona, then back to Melbourne. In 2013 I found myself in NYC after the honour of joining SITI Company’s Inaugural Conservatory. And I have had the joy of staying and working in NYC ever since. So I guess NYC is home now and where I based myself during the pandemic.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My first memory of engaging with this career path was playing dress-ups for hours with my Nonna before she died when I was five. We would re-enact and re-tell Little Red Riding Hood, changing roles each time. One day I found my dad’s old toy hammer and I started banging the walls as if I were cutting down a tree like the hunter would. Another day I found coloured string Nonna had and I created a giant multi-coloured one-meter-high immersive-art spider-web for the adults to have to walk through up and down like a reverse-maze. After Nonna passed away, I kept doing these immersive-storytelling fusions… Including re-designing all of my parent’s artworks that they had hung-up on the walls to create a “themed” art gallery in our home. I can’t say that they were thrilled but they did give me space to be me. I think I found a quality of my Nonna again in a childhood friend of mine called Dana York. Dana and I were from different friendship groups but we would meet up outside on the playground at lunchtime and together play for hours, creating the wildest tales about two young girls in a boarding school. It definitely felt like (what I would later come to learn was called) rehearsals and improvising, with a pinch of (health and safe) Method Acting. I loved it! My mum is a saint and deeply supported me pursuing acting training when I could and performing Shakespearean plays as often as I could. Dad treated us to watch so many movies (mostly dubbed in Italian) and he would always let me watch the BTS that would fascinate me. Eventually, I wrote a solo show that I submitted to the Melbourne Arts Centre Fairfax Stage Solo Under-18s festival and won Best Actress. From there I was hooked. I had not done film yet though… I remember my good friend Gin Singleton (who was at art school) getting me a referral on her friend’s short film and then once I had proven my screen-self years later, my dear friend and early-mentor Don Bridges scored me an audition for Donna McRae’s “Johnny Ghost”, which I booked! ☺
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This list would be endless; I find almost everything interesting when I’m “vibing high”… However, two memories stand out…
1) I did a leading role as a New York Psychiatrist for a Main Stage Theatre in Melbourne. The other characters were a Vietnam Veteran Tunnel Rat and a Viet Cong Officer. After the show, we got a plethora of accolades but the most notable audience feedback to me… was from a wife to a Tunnel Rat reaching out to tell us weeks after the show had closed, that her husband had cried during the show and for the first time EVER (apparently) it had caused him to speak to her about his PTSD and shame at being part of a war that was such a huge crime against humanity. I want to believe that the therapy she shared that he had started embarking on as a result, had caused their marriage to blossom ever since. I hope so…
2) Actors often work as Teaching Artists… One of the gigs I had, had me teaching civil justice through performance art and devised theater at Coney Island to 5-year-olds. The children continuously taught me. One day I needed the substitute teacher to take care of the class for 20minutes as I had a prior appointment on this particular day that the school knew about when they booked me. As I was arriving “on time” to my “scheduled later arrival”, I walked down the corridors to hear screams. Then as I walked through the classroom door… Young A said to the fighting Young E and Young T … “Ms Clara would say, place hands on hearts, breathe, close eyes, open eyes, now talk”… And I watched these three children mediate why they had been screaming at each other. They worked it out… It was beauty in action. Later that session Young T approached me in front of the class and said “Ms Clara, stretch your arms out”. “Okay,” said I. “See Ms Clara, you and I are the same!” “In what way Young T?” “We both have two arms!”… I was the only non-BIPOC person in the room, including the substitute teacher. The message landed for me even more deeply because a family member of mine does not have two arms but I knew that didn’t matter to Young T and the message he was sharing. Young T and friends had taught me a huge amount that day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A close friend of mine and comedy-writer Cynthia Clemons likes to joke that all actors are narcissist so I guess, in true narcissist and white supremacist brainwashing fashion I could respond with “have I ever made a mistake?!”
I had scored a role-playing a very young Lady Macbeth (she’s my spirit animal, what can I say, I love her). We were doing it over the summer during my birthday. My amazing cast and friends had got me a gift of toner, moisturizer and cleanser. I was so excited and grateful that I immediately started putting the creams on… In that order. Doh. Everyone got a good laugh out of it and it taught me how to do my “creams correctly”… It probably was a good lesson for makeup overall for those independent acting occasions when a production is unable hire makeup artists.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There has been a lot of grief and hardship for so many. And I am reminded that many people on the globe live in crisis on a daily basis even pre-pandemic. However from a financial and professional perspective, a bunch of tours was canceled, some have been postponed to 2021 (here’s to hoping because I miss the stage, and breathing with the audience). I also was so looking forward to gracing a main stage in NY in a leading role with one of my favourite directors! This has all been put on hold. Having said that, the positive joys that I have received in 2020 for my career have also been wonderful.
My speech-coaching career “Speak Easy with Clara” where we reduce people’s anxieties has been blossoming https://www.clarafrancesca.com/. I have booked lots of voice-over work which has been great, as well as releasing an audio adventure I am deeply proud of http://www.trinacriatheatre.com/colapesce-an-audio-adventure. I have made some covid-safe movies and co-founded a covid-safe extended reality ensemble for interdisciplinary international artists https://www.xrensemble.com/.
AND! “In Corpore” is coming out December 26th, 2020! where I believe our movie is asking the question, “how do relationships crumble when communication breaks down?” and saying “live and let live (safely and with communication)”, because when we stifle unconditional love and choice, things crumble and get raw and ugly pretty quick.
There are some other works in making that will be released soon that I am super excited about!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I acknowledge that “In Corpore” does not represent diversity on the screen. I describe it as a film investigating three cis gender European/Australian white women’s fear of self-identify because they don’t fit with the “norm”; these women are surrounded by naysayers who believe that their “quirks” are somewhat of a “phase”. As a result the women omit revealing their full selves, most likely out of fear. These omissions cause uncomfortable side affects: Julia (who I play) comes across as extra in a desperate attempt to deflect her pain of not fitting in — Anna (Naomi Said) comes across as misleading for hiding her family planning decisions from her husband — Milana (Kelsey Gillis) essentially is told to choose between her love life or her job. It is (and should be) uncomfortable to watch.
I have been humbled to attend numerous workshops and participate in numerous panels where the entertainment industry is demanding we dismantle white supremacy in the workplace. I don’t think this would have happened as rigorously without the pandemic. There is so much change that’s needed. These two links I think are great resources for any of your readers who might be interested. https://www.weseeyouwat.com/ & https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html
Now to directly answer your question:
It is important to have diversity represented on our screens because…
- It just is important. Not to, actively excludes, and therefore is inherently racist.
- So that my friends and colleagues stop being harassed on set, in auditions, in interviews etc. A colleague was being interviewed and the interviewer kept making horrific racist innuendos that were offensive to not only the Black community but also the gay and sex work industry communities.
- So that we stop hurting each other: I was listening to colleagues discuss their experience of showing up to set and not having a hair and makeup person know how to do their hair. These colleagues were then perceived as “too difficult” and the hair and makeup person proceeded to put these colleagues down. That aggression towards someone, especially in a place of work, especially in an industry where the actor has to stay vulnerable and connected to their instrument, must be exhausting and infuriating and so hurtful. I don’t want to wear down anyone, least of all my colleagues. I’m not okay with this industry being okay using the words “tough” or “discipline” as a cover-up for “cruel” and “abuse”.
- I was listening to ballet dancers discuss their experience of buying ballet shoes labelled as “skin toned” and not being included. That has got to be emotionally exhausting, and I don’t want to live in a world where my friends, colleagues, strangers or people I have nothing in common with, are emotionally exhausted.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t listen to stupid statements: My dear friend had an anxiety attack over affording braces because some hate-fearing-hurting agent told my friend he would never work if he didn’t fix his teeth. We’re done with this crap. If you want to get braces, go for it. But not because a bully lies.
- Harvey Weinstein stories have not been the exception so surround yourself with supportive colleagues and not vile players: I have two stories on this and whilst I thrived pretty scar-free because I downplayed that they were “not that bad attacks”, I didn’t tell anyone for years. Who knows how many other times this person did vile things to others. I didn’t have the language to discuss these topics back then. I think #metoo has done an incredible service to raising awareness.
- Beware of ageism: Experience definitely can be enhanced with age but it does not give the right to oppress another. The entertainment industry has had a pretty vile history of this too. When I was in my early 20s everyone wanted to tell me how I reminded them of themselves at that age. Whilst their intentions were noble, the impact was devastating and caused drama where there didn’t need to be any because the “warnings” from these well-intentioned people all came from fear and not altruism or wanting to help me grow.
- Play: stay curious and play, research, investigate yourself, be curious about others, and learn how to ebb and flow rather than push (especially in filmmaking).
- Keep smiling: My mum always tells me this. When I was younger I took it to mean that one should deny “down days”. Now that I’m older (with experience haha) I understand that it’s my mum’s version of saying “keep vibing high”. OF COURSE one can have “down days”, and it is important to acknowledge these moments, but one doesn’t need to stay in them for too long.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would probably be considered a hypocrite if I gave any advice pertaining to this subject matter by any of my friends reading this. I burnt out A LOT and whilst I don’t anymore, I love doing lots and I don’t love being told I can’t.
But I think the tip I would give is, be really kind to yourself, always. And try not to judge self or others so much.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The person of influence I would want to be is Marry Poppins 2.0 Clara Style inspiring a movement of Unconditional Love (with healthy boundaries, space to express and activating giggles when fear shows up).
However, this movement has already begun. It’s been happening for a long time and 2020 consolidated the clear need to dismantle white supremacy by reinvigorating Black Lives Matter as December 21, 2020 brought in the “official” Age of Aquarius. I think the movement has been triggered! I’m excited to see it blossom.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is so curious… I was thinking about this just before I received this interview. I was reflecting on how everything I have experienced has the potential to shape me and how even the things that appear “icky” can be springboards for great help. I know this might seem vague or avoiding to answer but I really do believe that. There are those loved ones I mentioned earlier who definitely helped me and I am deeply grateful towards. I’m taking a moment right now to think about everyone I can recall in my life, and I really am grateful to all of them, even those who said distorted things. But I am especially grateful to Sarah and Ivan who helped me co-create “In Corpore” with them. And my family who have come to accept me as I am. And my fun and funny friends who hold space for me to get on my integrity-queen soapbox from time to time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dear friend, mentor and healer Sheliah Smiley likes to say “I am open to everything and attached to nothing”. I think as an actor who auditions, that’s a super important quote!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Authority Magazine, I am blushing as you ask this! I would LOVE to have a private breakfast AND lunch (we have a lot to talk about, scripts to review and rehearsals to begin) with Johnny Lee Miller and if he’s available also Sir Mark Rylance! The stagecraft of these two men completely blows me away and I have a dream of performing with them both on stage very soon! The pandemic pending, I’ll also accept working with them on screen ☺ lol When I saw Miller as the Monster in Nick Dear’s Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle, I wanted to be Miller in that role! And seeing Sir Rylance as Olivia and what he conjured with Shakespearean text that is so well known and yet, it felt like I was witnessing it for the first time! OMG! Yes please! Private brekky (as we say in Australia) and lunch with both! Lol I’m in! Let’s find a project we can work on together and get curious over, with some really juicy acting opportunities.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! THANK YOU ☺