Zoe Ioannou talks all things Dubbo Championship Wrestling
An original Australian musical about wrestling, featuring true to fashion wrestling moves all while the performers, act, sing and dance? Sign us up!
Theatre Thoughts editor-in-chief, Justin Clarke sat down to speak with leading lady Zoe Ioannou about this original Australian work that finally premieres at the Hayes Theatre Company after its COVID-hiatus from 12th May 2022.
There’s not a spare seat in the Dubbo Dome. Ozzy the Aussie Battler flicks his cape and steps into the ring, and the crowd go troppo. This is Dubbo Championship Wrestling, the hilarious new Aussie rock musical that will change everything you thought you knew about professional wrestling, regional Australia, and musical theatre itself.
Rose, a young woman from Dub-Vegas with wrestling in her blood, has long ago turned her back on the family business and Dubbo’s stifling small-town ways. When circumstance brings her back to her hometown on the eve of Dubbomania, the biggest wrestling tournament of the year, Rose is drawn into a monumental battle over family and identity, featuring capes, choreography, and some of the most colourful characters you’ll ever meet.
The violence, the joy, the costumes, the thumbtacks. Will there be blood? We bloody hope so. Dubbo Championship Wrestling, written by rising stars Daniel and James Cullen and directed by smackdown champion Sheridan Harbridge, has been developed through Hayes Creative Development. Content Warning: Dubbo Championship Wrestling proudly makes FULL use of our filthy national lingo. Language may offend others!
Zoe Ioannou and Aaron Tsindos star in Dubbo Championship Wrestling. Photo: Phil Erbacher
Zoe is a graduate from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, with a Diploma of Musical Theatre. Zoe made her professional debut at a young age playing the role of Pepper in GFO’s production of Annie. She made her television debut on Disney Playhouse, and has since played the ongoing guest role of Paige in the ABC TV series Dance Academy. Zoe has featured in numerous TVC’s throughout the years and has performed solo with iconic musician James Morrison. She was most recently a solo vocalist for the Australian Diving Championships. Other credits include the Lord Mayors Picnic, New Year’s Eve at Hyde Park and New Year’s Eve at the Domain.
What drew you to this show and made you want to stay onboard throughout the pandemic?
Zoe: I think it was the challenge of doing something outside of my comfort zone which was quite thrilling. I personally fell in love with the music, it has a lot of influences from Australian rock, which is quite heavy, and then a lot of influences from the 80's and the 90's from punk music and even country Australia thrown in there. This really made me wanted to stay through the development and the redevelopment of the show itself. It merges both worlds of theatre and wrestling which is so unique and something that's never been done before. So, I basically grew to love it, I've grown a love for it. And I really was captivated by wanting to tell the story of wrestling in Australia, which is something not a lot of Australian's may be familiar with. There will be most who follow American wrestling closely, but I think Australian wrestling is still unfamiliar to most, so I think I really found this as something I wanted to tell. As well as the connections in the show to country Australia.
Speaking of the wrestling, what was your initial reaction when you were told you would have to act, sing, dance, and wrestle throughout the show?
Zoe: Look, when I signed up to acting school, I didn’t know that wrestling would ever be something I would have to do. But it’s been so rewarding! As a performer, the wrestling aspect of the show offers the same thrill as nailing the choreography in a dance, or finally hit that high note in a song. It’s thrilling. I think the main challenge has been marrying the two fields together. You know, you have to really work on your core muscles and strengthening your core and your neck muscles so everything can be done as safely as possible. This aspect of the show has probably been the most rewarding for me personally.
The show’s set is a physical wrestling ring, what challenges did that bring to the production when blocking the choreography?
Zoe: Well, it’s funny because it’s not just a prop wrestling ring, it’s a literal wrestling ring. So, we have the turntables, the ropes, everything you’d expect and it’s on a raised platform. For those who know the Hayes Theatre, it’s basically a black box set where the audience are on tiered seating up to the back of the theatre. So, the ring had to be created in a smaller proximity to the stage in order for the sightlines to be correct. Normally in wrestling there’s four sides of the audiences for you to play off, but we’re only working with one in the theatre, so everything had to be focused towards the audience in terms of blocking and choreography. It's been really fun in marrying up to the aspects of wrestling moves and the theatricality of the production itself.
In your career so far, you’ve starred in a variety of musicals from West Side Story to The Wizard of Oz, so how does this show add to your skillset as a performer?
Zoe: For starters the music, I think, is important for a performer. You know, the heavy rock score is important to develop as part of your skillset. I’ve had to sing in a variety of compositions from operatic and classical and I think that learning how to strengthen your skills in this show’s heavy rock score has really added to my repertoire. The wrestling aspect as well, obviously, has been massive work. It’s really similar to stunt work. There’s a lot of trust and faith you have to develop as a performer in your partners in the show to make sure that everything is performed as safely as possible. If done right, you should be able to pull of these amazing moves and there be no injuries at all. It's also the fundamentals and the muscular tension that you need to develop. Especially if you’re doing eight shows a week, you need to focus on producing the fundamentals of these moves, like choreography, to make sure you and your partners are safe. So, you literally have your partner’s life in your hands and developing this skill with such an amazing cast has been something special for me.
Do you have any favourite moves that you’ve learned?
Zoe: Look, there’s so much we do in this show, without giving anything away. But the locks have probably been my favourite moves to learn, you know, the headbox, ankle locks, they’re a lot of fun. There’s also some surprise moves that the audiences won’t see coming, things like jumps and throws – there’s a lot in store.
You’re led by Sheridan Harbridge as director, what has that experience been like?
Zoe: Sheridan herself is a phenomenal actor, so she understands the fundamentals of performing and she really gets up and interacts with you on the stage. It’s really useful for us because she jumps up and embodies the characters and she clearly knows what she wants out of each moment and each scene of the production, which makes it so much clearer for us. Mostly, she makes it fun. Especially throughout covid and the postponements of the show, she’s kept it fun and kept us motivated. It’s all about motivation really and I think this is something she instils in all of us.
Lastly then, what do you believe audiences will get out of seeing Dubbo Championship Wrestling?
Zoe: The show is for any that will understand the Australianisms, anyone that is a musical lover and anyone who is a wrestling lover. There’s so much in this for everyone. There are a lot of F-Bombs and Australian slang that people will recognise but mostly I think it’s true to the wrestling world. I think this is something that most audiences will be able to discover with the show. But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun! It’s an amazing time and it’s something so unique for Australian audiences. It’s a new original Australian musical, but mostly it’s something that hasn’t been done before. Australia hasn’t seen any musical like it. I’m really excited for audiences to see it honestly.
Dubbo Wrestling Championship opens at the Hayes Theatre Co in Sydney from May 12th. It then moves to Riverside Theatres Paramatta from June 16th. For tickets and information, visit the Hayes Theatre website or the Riverside Paramatta website.
You can listen to the concept album of Dubbo Championship Wrestling here See footage of Zoe Ioannou singing songs from Dubbo Championship Wrestling here Check out the behind the scenes footage of the Wrestling Workshop at the Hayes Theatre Co here
Follow Zoe's journey throughout the production by following her on Instagram @zoeioannou