Stepping up for GAFA

Messiah,Pazifik: How I became a part of the GAFA Family


Being an Aussie in London has always been a great thing – my adopted home adopted me back easily and quickly, but you never lose that organic, easy connection with any other Aussie, or indeed other antipodean. This connection forges friendships, networks and work opportunities over and over again and most recently brought me into the wonderful creative world that is Gafa Arts Collective (GAC) and their most recent project – Messiah, Pazifik.


The call went out for antipodean singers to join the chorus and what a joy it was to get to the first rehearsal and discover that this production would exceed all my expectations. Our director, Sani Muliaumaseali’I had a vision for the production which was unlike any other Messiah I’d been involved in. Instead of ‘just’ singing chorus, we would be presenting the work staged, in costume, entwining the story of missionaries coming to Samoa and spreading the word of God with Handel’s incredible music.


The creative process that ensued was uplifting, exciting, enthralling and challenging – and one of the best rehearsal experiences I have had. The synergy Sani created and encouraged melded our core chorus group together incredibly quickly and each rehearsal brought out new nuances in our staging and singing. The words and music came alive in a new way – and every new idea brought me more joy.

Would my character – a Samoan goddess – believe these new words from this new God?


Would she welcome or fight the changes she sees in the others around her? Would this message move or drive her away? Would the missionaries be able to reach the people with their message? As the concert date drew closer, we had our first rehearsals with the incredible soloists and our inspiring music director, Stephen Anthony Brown.

Every character adaptation made perfect sense to me – by this point the solo arias could not be anything but the voices of the missionaries; the doubts of the people being voiced and answered; the fervent praise of the converted.


Costumes came together, and our props were presented to us – I was delighted to be entrusted with two Samoan pieces - a Tuiiga (head dress) and Talavalu (club) In another first for a rehearsal experience, we visited to the British Museum’s archive to view some of the Samoan artefacts in their care, and I was honoured to be able to share this experience and learn a little more about the culture I would be interpreting on stage.


In the final days of rehearsals our Alto soloist, Louise Callinan suffered laryngitis so the day before our concert, Sani asked me whether I could ‘step up’ to sing her arias as well.


Inspired by his confidence in me to be able to do the job both musically and creatively, I said yes - with only a little trepidation - and used my final hours to revise the music. Louise would be on stage with us, acting her character, a European mother of a mixed race Samoan daughter - but we didn’t have time to rehearse any specific adaptations – Sani just asked that I shadow her and interact with her as my original character of the Goddess. Thanks to Louise’s fantastic acting and the way in which Sani had created this whole new world for all of us to inhabit, it was surprisingly easy for me to embrace the challenge and we created some thrilling moments of improvised synergy during the show. It was a creative and musical experience I will never forget and I’m honoured to have been part of GAFA’s incredible Messiah,Pazifik.


Bronwen Stephens


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