Musical theatre performer, Shakespearean actor and fight director Ava Kostia (BA Musical Theatre 2015) is enjoying a varied, exciting career in the performing arts.
The 23-year-old, who is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, discusses her work in the world of theatrical combat and looks back on her studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
(Ava is pictured, above left).
Tell me about performing as Ariel in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare-in-the-Schools touring production of The Tempest.
AK: It’s been a joy to play Ariel and to serve as the production’s fight director and fight captain. I’m able to incorporate my training as an actor-musician, musical theatre performer and actor combatant. In addition to performing, I have the opportunity to teach student workshops on improvisation, Shakespearean text and stage combat. It’s been a privilege to witness the immediacy and relevance of Shakespeare’s work and to tell Ariel’s story.
How did you become interested in fight directing and duelling arts?
AK: I’ve always been drawn to the athleticism and mastery of fighters but it wasn’t until I spoke to Fight Director, EmmaClaire Brightlyn, that I realised theatrical combat was an option – especially for a young woman. Her encouragement inspired me to pursue stage combat.
Shortly after graduating and moving back to the US, I was fortunate to cross paths with fight director and master teacher, Chris DuVal, who introduced me to the organisation, Dueling Arts International. I’m grateful to now work as an actor and fight director, creating from both sides of the table.
What is the secret to effective theatrical combat?
AK: People often approach stage combat with a ”˜superhero’ mindset; they want speed, capes flying and iron fists. They soon realise this work is a choreographed dance with safety as the utmost priority. Warfare and the cultural appropriation of violence teaches us to dehumanise. It’s imperative to see both opponents as human beings; only then can we effectively enact theatrical combat. Stage combat urges us to be present in our most base instincts; to protect and survive. Only when we tap into what makes us human can we truly represent violence and connection on stage.
How important is it to develop theatre combat skills with a qualified teacher?
AK: This is vital, not only in terms of skill and depth of knowledge but to maintain the physical and psychological safety of all involved. To study under a qualified teacher means learning from someone devoted to the craft of theatrical combat and towards properly translating the language of violence to the stage in a healthy and sustainable way.
How do you look back on your studies at the Royal Conservatoire?
AK: I remember those days with great fondness and I have a lot of respect for the lessons provided by my professors. Looking back, I see how important my time was at the Royal Conservatoire and how it pushed me to become the artist I am today.
What are some of the highlights from your studies?
AK: Singing On the Willows in Godspell, directed by Andrew McGregor, was a highlight. When I think of my studies, I’m brought back to that moment performing alongside my classmates. Also, the opportunities to explore roles I had admired for so long: Masha from Three Sisters and Beatrice from Much Ado, which led me to receive the Norah Cooper Mulligan Voice Award for Shakespearean Text.
Tell me about some of the work you have been involved in since graduating.
AK: I’ve been fortunate to work across many genres of live performance since graduating. I’ve performed in new works of musical theatre, Shakespeare’s canon and theatre festivals in university settings. I have served as an assistant director, fight director and a collaborator of original work.
Outside the theatre, I continue my practice as a visual artist, student of the martial arts, writer and a volunteer in the local community.
How did your time at RCS help equip you for your professional career?
AK: The process of earning my degree in Musical Theatre meant I learned to exist in each genre of live performance: voice, text, movement and music. My studies at RCS have empowered me to claim space in every creative room I enter and to openly collaborate with my fellow artists. I feel fortunate to approach life as a perpetual student and to exist with passionate curiosity, an approach I was able to cultivate during my time at the Royal Conservatoire.
What was Glasgow like as a place to study?
AK: Living in Glasgow was an education in itself. Having moved from Utah to Scotland shortly after leaving high school at the age of 18, I soon learned to act independently and adapt to a new culture.
Glasgow taught me to claim my place in the world with bravery and a proud joy. I have a deep love for Scotland and its people, who showed me such kindness and generosity of spirit during my studies.