Kailah Cabanas graduated from AFTT (Previously ACTT) Advanced Diploma of Stage and Screen Acting and after producing excellent work in her student shows as a straight actor, went on to develop into a world-class puppeteer and physical performer, touring with War Horse and for the last year or so as a member of Cirque du Soleil.
We caught up with her to find out ‘Why Puppetry’?
Hey Kaliah, So tell us what you have been up to since Graduating?
Since graduating, I performed in several co-op productions, trying to get as much experience as possible. I actually received an email from the Actor’s college of Theatre and Television ( now AFTT), saying that there was a producer looking for an actor/puppeteer to play a character on his children’s television show “The Amazing House.” I auditioned not knowing anything about puppetry but thought it would be a fun new skill to learn. Funnily enough he liked what I did and I got the job! I played “Fi-be” on the second season and it was the most fun I ever had. From there I worked on the National theatre’s production of “War Horse” where I was the head operator for Joey, Topthorne and the Goose, in the Australian Tour. You can watch the video of Joey below with my colleagues; Heart operator Grant Foulkes, Hind operator Ben McIvor and in Topthorne (black horse) Head operator: Michael Wahr, heart operator: Michael Cullen, hind operator: Lincoln Hall. It’s a rehearsal clip of the “fight scene” in the show.
After which I also played “Martha” in the short film “Martha the monster” produced by “See Pictures.” I then worked with the talented people at “Erth” manipulating a full body animatronic dinosaur puppet on their touring show “Dinosaur Zoo.” I also played the conniving cat “Azrael” in the “Smurfs live on stage” which toured Asia and the Middle East, which lead to a whole new world of working overseas. I’m currently working with Cirque Du Soleil on their new creation “Toruk the first flight” a show inspired by James Cameron’s “Avatar” which is currently touring North America and Canada, but we’re coming to Australia next year in 2017!
What would you call your biggest achievement to date?
Each job I’ve done I’ve learnt something new and had to overcome different challenges. I would have to say my biggest achievement is surrounding myself with a strong support system. My Fiancé, family and my friends have been there since the beginning of my career and have always been so loving, supportive and keeping me grounded. It is so important to surround yourself with people who inspire and encourage you, and I believe I achieved that.
How did you get the opportunities working on War Horse and Cirque du Soleil?
I got the opportunities working on War Horse through an open audition process. A co-worker and a great friend of mine Kay Yasugi who I worked with on “The Amazing house” told me they were holding open auditions for “War Horse” so we auditioned together. The auditions went on for several weeks, and the numbers slowly dwindled down until there was just a small group of us left. We were thrown into the deep end as we had to operate “Joey” (a life size horse puppet in a team of three operators.) Even though I had never done anything like this before I just took each moment as they came and told myself “as long as it moves like a horse it’ll be fine!” It seemed to have worked because I got the job!
For Cirque du Soleil it was a very different process as it was all online auditions. A friend of mine referred me to a link on Facebook saying that Cirque was looking for puppeteers with experience manipulating full body puppets. Thinking I had nothing to lose I set up a profile on Cirque’s casting webpage and sent them an audition video. This is where documenting your work comes in handy! All together I had to submit 15 video auditions to cirque as they wanted to see different things, one of which was an improvised movement piece to music, where I had to pretend to be an alien exploring a new planet. You just go along with it no matter how ridiculous it may seem. After sending all these videos and waiting for two weeks, I eventually received and email saying I had been successful and offered a role as an acrobat/puppeteer on their new creation.
How did your course help prepare you for the industry?
The course helped me in the industry but not in the way that I anticipated. I learnt to work with people that you respect and find inspiring, the friends I made in Drama school are still good friends to this day. The course is great for developing technique and vocal training which is very important, but also as encouragement for putting yourself out there in the industry. You get to work with directors who are working within the business, so keep in contact with those you like working with because you may work with them again. I also learnt not everything goes to plan! I had my headshot, showreel and an agent all ready to go so I thought I would get work straight away! Not the case, you have to do all the work yourself, persistence pays off! Keep recording your work and learn new skills so when the opportunity does come along you’ll be ready for it.
What were your favourite things about the course?
Some of my favourite things about the course were working with different directors in second year. Each show we did was unique and memorable in their own way because of the influence of different directors. You learn how to work with each director and I loved creating new material within our team. Especially the shows that involved physical theatre, more specifically turning points in second year.
What advice would you give to people looking to make it in the industry?
What advice would I give…. Don’t take other people’s advice! Hahaha It’s true to an extent, as I remember asking the same question to my teachers and the truth is, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. Everyone has their own path and mine was through puppetry. I’d just say learn as many different skills as you can and be open minded to new experiences because you never know where it’s going to lead. I never thought that puppetry would lead me to where I am today but I’m so grateful I took that opportunity. Also if you liked working with someone, or if you want to work with them, talk to them! There’s always work being developed you just have to ask around, and not every audition can be found via google. Most importantly be professional and nice, there’s so many talented nice people out there creating amazing work, you just have to find them.
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