Side by side for a swansong to the island

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Martina Cuschieri and Yandrick Agius about Side by Side, an evening of musical theatre in which the young performers will recount their experiences of auditioning abroad, ahead of a move away from Malta to pursue career opportunities

First of all, could you tell us a little bit about the show and what we can expect from it?

Martina Cuschieri: The show is a musical theatre concert where we will be sharing a variety of songs from shows such as Company, Waitress, Showboat and many more. On top of the usual concert format, we will be sharing stories and scenarios from our audition experience and our friendship.

How would you say ‘Side by Side’ reflects and builds on your previous work?

MC: ‘Side by Side’ is an interesting step for us, it builds on our previous work because a lot of the content is material that we have been working on in preparation for our auditions for drama schools. In addition to this, we’ve both been involved in a number of musical theatre productions on the island.

Yandrick Agius: That being said, it is different as it is about the two of us as individuals, as opposed to the usual characters that we put on for performances. It is a lot more personal and intimate than the usual format, however we’re very excited to be sharing this performance with the public.

The show will also be your farewell performance as you head off to the UK for drama school. What led you to opt for this path, and what are some of your most pertinent hopes and anxieties ahead of the trip?

YA: I think that in order to pursue any path, you need a lot of perseverance, passion and determination. We both decided to pursue this profession because we are very passionate about theatre and it has been on our minds for many years. I personally decided to make this leap because I knew that I wanted to be a professional performer and due to the fact that we do not have full-time vocational training programmes for musical theatre and acting on the island. I’m quite excited for what lies ahead and I’m really looking forward to be doing what I love on a daily basis.

MC: I’ve been dreaming of doing this for some time now – finally auditioning for schools and managing to get a place is a personal achievement. I’m hoping to gain as much experience as possible and to be learning alongside like-minded people. I’m also quite excited and nervous to be leaving the island and living on my own.

Do you think Malta is experiencing something of a ‘brain drain’ when it comes to young performing artists departing the island? What is the upshot of this, in your view?

YA: I think it would be remiss to deny that we’re experiencing a brain drain of sorts, however it is somewhat inevitable when you bear in mind that we still lack vocational training for actors and performers. I think that while local training and opportunities are great, one has to broaden their horizons and look at new opportunities in order to learn and grow – otherwise we’d be living in a vacuum. When a young artist leaves the island, not only are they investing in themselves but they are gaining experience that they can bring back to the local industry. I have quite an optimistic outlook on this because we should be proud of our heritage and I hope that our generation will continue to boost our industry with their knowledge, because it is our responsibility to keep it alive and moving.

With that in mind, what do you make of the local performing arts scene, and what would you change about it?

MC: I think that our audiences have a tendency to look for established and well-known productions because they know what to expect. On the other hand, there is a lot of new and original material being produced and I feel that this needs more appreciation, especially when it’s a Maltese artist’s original work.

YA: The theatrical community in Malta is quite unique because it is such a small one, whenever you’re watching a show, you will always know at least one person in the cast. In my opinion, it’s something really special, we have a small community that is full of many talented artists.

Side by Side will be performed at the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Republic Street, Valletta on August 17 at 8.30pm. The show will be performed by Martina Cuschieri and Yandrick Agius, who will be accompanied by John Cutajar. Bookings: [email protected]