On the Couch with Shakira Dugan

VO-Cassandra-Shakira-Dugan-photo-by-Phoebe-PowellWho is Shakira Dugan?
Country kid from Stratty in East Gippsland. The cool kid that rides motorbikes and can flick her hair in slow motion when taking off a helmet. Known by friends as ‘mum’ or ‘omg Shak *eye roll*’, known by my family as the ‘odd duck’, known by my dog as ‘The One True God’, known by strangers as ‘That’s not your real name’ or ‘Shakira Shakira’.

Self-described “Shak of All Trades” – Fine artist, actor, graphic designer, interior designer, craftsman etc. but primarily classical mezzo soprano. I’ve been working professionally in my dream job for the last few years, slowly honing my craft under the guidance of the beautiful people in the industry. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect as a lot of what I had to show was quite raw, but people were willing to give me a go and then have continued to support me as I’ve developed.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
Depends on whether I am free to make the decision and it is not based on circumstance. Through Covid lockdowns I was put into a position where I had to keep myself busy both for my financial and mental well-being and I tried my hand at construction and interior design by renovating and selling caravans. Whatever I do, it is not a singular thing and cannot be defined by a particular trait or industry. I must keep my mind active and my skill set vast as you are never sure where you will end up at the end of the week.

Who inspires you and why?
Depends on the day. Who inspires me to get out of bed? – the dog. Who inspires me to go to work? – the people, the love I have for what I do. Who inspires me to create? – my dad. Who inspires me to be strong? – my mum. Who inspires me to sing? – it has changed over the years, the reason I got into it and the reason I stay has only changed by degrees of intensity.

I don’t like singing by myself, it is a joy that should be shared (sometimes forcefully, sucked in family!) so the people that sing with me are who inspire me more now. When you find voices that match yours well it’s spine tingling, it’s that wave of emotion that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, or punches you in the gut, the adrenaline hit like a fly kick to the face, that’s the stuff that inspires me.

I spent my high school years listening to Suzanne Johnston, David Hobson and Anthony Warlow, and I am in one of the very rare and fortunate position of working with them. I fell into opera via musical theatre and it was these three that bridged that gap with shows such as the Opera Australia productions of Gilbert and Sullivan that were recorded.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Create artistic opportunities for people who would not otherwise get a look in whether it be based on financial, physical, geographical or social barriers that would prevent them from attempting or even contemplate the possibility of success in the industry. Coming from a lower socio-economic background should not mean you cannot do something.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Wait… I am unfamiliar with this word…

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Take them for a motorbike ride out in the country, or if in the city then go out to a show. I used to save up to go to the city a few times a year, to see a musical, so I would work multiple jobs throughout my schooling years to pay for the round trip.

What are you currently reading?
I’m an audiobook nerd so I can physically keep myself busy with tasks but keep my mind from getting too bored. So ‘reading’ Mythos by Stephen Fry. Shak loves stories and it is quite nostalgic as I grew up listening to Stephen Fry. I had bought the book years ago but I got distracted halfway through and ended up leaving it aside, but my current production with Victorian Opera (Cassandra) has brought me back into it.

What are you currently listening to?
Sea Shanties! In my downtime I’m a folk music kind of kid, when I’m working in the shed its Rock ‘n’ Roll, when I’m in need of an emotional outpour I put on the musical theatre tunes and sing like you’re living it (sometimes drag another human in to sing with me). When I’m in need of a reminder of the love for my industry I throw on some Rossini and marvel at the coloratura, that boy knew how to write a banger.

Happiness is?
Watching puppies play, watching Paw Patrol with my nephews under my arms, my friends in the one place at the one time, the whole family together at home for dinner, beers with the lads, singing with people, the rehearsal process etc. Happiness for me is the energy from others, I surround myself with good people and to have the lockdown rip that away from you for such an extended period can make finding it again genuinely difficult, even when looking in the same place.

What does the future hold for you?
That’s Future Shak’s problem… It can be a dangerous business looking too far ahead and sometimes getting through the day and deciding what you’re going to have for dinner can be enough.

Shakira stars as Cassandra in Victorian Opera’s production of Cassandra, presented in a world premiere double bill of new works with Echo and Narcissus in the Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne from 17 March 2021. For more information, visit: www.victorianopera.com.au for details.

Image: Shakira Dugan – photo by Phoebe Powell