I caught Naomi Rukavina in her Melbourne share-house, on a typically weird weathered Melbourne day. Naomi has just returned from a sell-out season of Away at the Sydney Opera house and diving headlong into another season at Melbourne’s Malthouse theatre.
Away is a quintessentially Australian classic that explores family, conflict and loss in 1960s Australia. Originally written in the 80s by Michael Gow and set against the back-drop of the Vietnam war, Director Matthew Lutton’s rendition has been described as dark, tightly-wound, and at times hallucinogenic. Naomi plays Meg, a daughter in a spiralling conflict with her emotionally charged mother Gwen (Heather Mitchell), and love interest for the play’s principle, Tom (Liam Nunan) who has a terminal cancer diagnosis and parents unable to confront this reality.
“It sounds heavy - and it is very stoic 1960s Australia, but there is also quite a lot of humour. Matthew Lutton has really tried to explore the gravity of what’s happening - which is a bit darker than the way the story is usually told - but the humour is definitely there, which takes the edge off.”
The production has been received with overwhelming praise, which adds a little extra shine on Naomi’s debut with the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Opera House stage –
“It was amazing playing in this building, which feels really unchanging, even as Sydney and the Harbour has changed around it. The Opera House is one of the 7 man made wonders of the world, and it’s pretty exciting to say - ‘I’ve worked there - I’ve done my thing there’ – and that is something that can’t be taken away.”
But working as a female actor of colour in a traditionally white-washed industry that favours male-heavy ensembles has made the journey to one of the world’s most distinguished stages an uphill one.
“There is no reason why a cast of seven men, and one woman should be a thing – but it absolutely still is. And realistically, if there is one slot for a woman - it’s not a woman of colour.”
Naomi is pretty frank about her experiences, and the undercurrents that have too often washed diverse actors out to sea.
“Although audiences want more diverse casting, and are proving it with their viewing choices - the argument is still made that this is not what the audience wants. And that always comes from the producers and the heads (not the directors or the casting agents) and the fact is that the circle they travel in looks like them. For them that is their truth - their Australia is a white-washed Australia.”
While there is little else an emerging actor can do other than to ride the slowly turning tide back to shore, Naomi tells me she has her Rise moments every day –
“I feel fortunate that I have worked constantly since graduation. But it’s still hard. The tide is turning on diversity – on casting more diversely. It’s happening, but it’s slow. But I feel like I win the battle everyday if I get to live off my DREAM job.”
On that positive note, we take the opportunity to talk fashion and design. Naomi’s appreciation for design has a strong influence from her mother –
“My mum was a seamstress, so I really look for quality tailoring. I also love fine fabrics and natural fibres - cotton, linen, silks. I hate fast-fashion – socially, environmentally, and from a pure design point of view it has really changed things for the worse.”
Naomi’s passion for design took her back to study at the International School of Colour and Design, where she graduated with a few tidy industry commendations and awards for her work in colour, style and woven rugs. “It was super tough, but it really deepened my appreciation for design and creation.”
“I like loose fitting, something that can look dressy – pieces like this that can effortlessly be thrown on, but look really sharp.” The loose fitting Lui, and understated hip hugging fit of the Valentia seems to perfectly match Naomi’s subtly fashion-forward flair, as does the block coloured lilac and dusty blue.
“I have very eclectic taste” she explains as she sifts through gold pumps, deliciously gaudy chokers, and antique bracelets. She settles on a pair of big tooth earrings and a crochet liquorice all-sorts necklace with white laces-free brogues. And there is no hint of fast-fashion junk in the contents of her closet, or half-unpacked suitcases from her months away in Sydney - every piece seems to have a story that gives it life and meaning.
“My liquorice necklace was a hand made gift from Julia Blake, an actor who was 78 at the time she knitted scenes from 'the Crucible’. She knitted every character and staged them in vignettes, and this necklace is a very special gift.”
With a few thoughtfully chosen accessories, Naomi creates an outfit that is playful, confident and low-key sexy (and I have a feeling this is Naomi all over). But beyond looking stunning, she’s pulled together a look that is a celebration of the art of things made well, and made to be cherished. The true art of looking and feeling good – and we are all about that.
If you are down South, you can catch Naomi doing her thing at the Malthouse from 3-28 May. This bum will definitely be filling a seat!
Sharna is the Co-Founder of The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working with conflict-affected women. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.