Darwin’s Stevie Jean (aka Stevie Kyriacou) is full of surprises. She is an indie-rock singer/songwriter but has cut credible hip-hop with the likes of rising star Tasman Keith. She has a secret history of competing in poetry slams. And Stevie is a professional theatre actor. But, above all, she’s a dreamer. “I always did everything creative with the same amount of passion as a kid,” Stevie recalls. “It’s just doorways opened up to some things earlier than others. I was always obsessed with music, acting, writing, all of that, at the same time.”
Latterly, Stevie has focussed on acting, appearing in the Australian Theatre For Young People’s rendering of the play CUSP. It will now journey to Sydney after an acclaimed premiere season at the Brown’s Mart Theatre in Darwin in late 2019.
Stevie, 20, is a product of Darwin’s multiculturalism, being a Cypriot-Australian. However, the Northern Territory city has informed her artistic outlook, too. In an interview with the local magazine Off The Leash, Stevie suggested that “Living in Darwin presents a unique opportunity to pursue art uninhibited by boxes or stereotypes.” Today she attributes this to its small population compared to other Australian capitals. “There’s just not enough people in any given area of art to form a clique. You don’t have any pressure on you – ‘though you can’t even really take the easy route and go and start making stereotypical stuff, because there’s actually no blueprint for it up here in Darwin, whereas trends hit down south and high-populated areas quite hard. They can’t have the same grip here because there’s just not enough people. So you always have to make your own stuff because it’s just easier!”
Growing up in rural Humpty Doo, Stevie became enamoured of those fabled Brit hard rockers Led Zeppelin, having been introduced by her dad. Even early, she knew instinctively that music was her vocation. “It’s just always something I wanted to do – always. I started playing violin at seven years of age, I think. Since then, it was just music. I picked up the guitar at 10. It’s crazy to think that I’ve been playing guitar for 10 years, ’cause it doesn’t sound right! But there you go. I don’t know – I always knew I wanted to be in art. It wasn’t really a deep thing to think about, it was just something that I did. I’ve just kept my blinders on and kept going.”
Stevie performed in high school bands – one of them, GAIA, successful on Darwin’s live circuit. Along the way, she teamed with Darwin’s James Mangohig, the former Sietta member now a buzz producer. “Him and Caiti [Baker] were doing a gig the same night that I was. I was doing a little Battle of the School Bands. But they were just outside doing a gig that was set up in the park. I thought Caiti was a goddess, so I was catcalling from the crowd, like a pretty arrogant 14-year-old kid. Afterwards, I went up and I was like, ‘Hey, that was amazing – come to my gig.'” The pair were persuaded – and, impressing Mangohig, Stevie found herself in a session with him, recording her bluesy break-out ‘Hell In Every Religion’. She was a finalist in triple j’s 2017 Unearthed High competition. “The exposure was really great,” Stevie notes. “High rotation time on triple j is invaluable, especially in Australia.”
Stevie would embrace collaboration. The musician bonded with Tasman Keith, whom she calls “Tas”, at the Barunga Festival in 2018. Last August, they issued a joint hip-hop album, Evenings, with the banger ‘Prey’. Stevie also featured on Horrorshow’s 2019 ARIA Top 10 blockbuster, New Normal.
In November, Stevie dropped a debut solo EP, Blame Game – with tunes such as ‘December Song’ chronicling her coming-of-age as a young queer woman. “I wouldn’t say I was in a particularly different headspace than any other 15/17/18-year-old girl; [there were] just lots of complications. When you’re a kid, you think that the people you grew up with, they could never do you wrong or betray you – and then the gods start laughing and life flips itself around in the meantime and you gotta deal with it somehow. I dealt with it with music.”
Still, Stevie was simultaneously forging parallel careers in the performing arts. Then a high schooler, she was a finalist in 2016’s Australian Poetry Slam. The next year, Stevie was cast in her first play, Mr Takahashi (And Other Falling Secrets). “I was doing Year 12 then, so it would have been just before ‘Hell In Every Religion’ came out; just before everything happened with triple j,” she says. “Since then, I’ve been working professionally pretty much on a play-a-year basis.”
Stevie’s boldest theatre foray, CUSP was written by the award-winning Darwin playwright Mary Anne Butler and has Fraser Corfield directing (the Sydney run will commence at the Griffin Theatre in Kings Cross, prior to heading to Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres). It centres on three young Territorians contemplating major life decisions under societal constraints.
Rounding out the cast are Larrakia woman Nyasha Ogden, currently a Year 12 student, and Sydney’s Josh McElroy, another actor/musician. In fact, Stevie originally associated with Nyasha on the set of Mr Takahashi. “I had worked with Nyasha when she was much younger; when she was much littler,” Stevie reveals. “She was really shy back then and now she’s got a lot of attitude. She’s getting stronger with every performance. So it’s really great to see her progress as a woman.”
In CUSP, Stevie’s character, Maddie, faces the prospect of single parenthood as a teen. “She’s a very, very resourceful character. She has to go through so much. I really connected with this character, because her struggles are struggles that I’ve seen a lot of my friends go through… [But] some of things she went through are quite similar to the things I went through. I kind of built her using my experiences, and experiences that my other friends have had. She’s a champion, really. She’s an incredible character. She was a joy to play.”
Stevie hopes that CUSP will allow Sydney audiences to appreciate different Australian stories via the medium of theatre. “I’m excited for this play to come to Sydney because I feel like there might be a little bit more sheltering in Sydney than there is in the NT – because everybody goes through what they have to go through because it’s a bit remote. We don’t have the level of support sometimes that people in Sydney have. So I feel like people in Sydney sometimes might be a bit sheltered. I’m really interested to see what happens when the Sydney audiences are presented with such a raw and truthful telling of a young woman’s life.” That said, she stresses that CUSP isn’t all drama. “This play is very truthful and raw, but it’s also very funny and very feel-good, in some ways. If you’re older, it will make you feel nostalgic in a really good way. And, if you’re younger, you will totally understand and relate to this play. So, really, it’s brilliant. I’m just trying to say it’s not a tragedy, really. It’s just a life play that’s very truthful.” Is there music in CUSP? “Yes, there is, but not from me!” Stevie laughs.
Stevie remains busy on the music front. Following CUSP‘s first season, she opened for Montaigne and performed an exclusive slot with Tasman Keith at Victoria’s NYE On The Hill (they’ve lately returned to the studio). A Stevie Jean album has been mentioned in the media – but she only refers to a mystery “project”. “I can’t even talk about it yet,” Stevie begins. “There’ll be new music coming out very soon. But, yeah, this year you can expect a lot.”
Many Australian creatives from regional hubs end up moving to Sydney or Melbourne. Yet, for now, Stevie is committed to staying in the Top End. “I like Darwin,” she enthuses. “So, at least for the next six months, I’ll be in Darwin. I’m not sure what will happen after that. But it’s nice to come home, actually. It’s almost a better place to be artistic because you can really go out on the road, hang out with other people, and exert yourself emotionally – and then I’m just gonna come home after I’ve been out for a month working and I sit down and I read cartoons and I play guitar. I mean, that’s the musician dream! I don’t really wanna go out anywhere. I’ve been out so much straight, I just wanna chill out writing music; drink some coffee.”
This month, Australian Theatre For Young People in association with Brown’s Mart Theatre (NT) present award-winning playwright Mary Anne Butler’s newest work, CUSP. Head here for more information and show dates.