Acting,  Producing,  Work,  Writing

2018 In Pictures – Howard Fine Acting Studios, Shakespeare Republic, Melbourne WebFest and more #acting #webseries #Shakespeare

Sarah Hallam and Sally McLean performing “Marvin’s Room” at the Howard Fine and David Coury Master Class in 2018

December already! Where has the time gone? 2018 has whipped by and brought so much wonderful stuff professionally with it, for which I am very, very grateful. Of course, as it’s nearing the end of the year, it meant that I fell ill almost immediately after the HFAS Master Class in November, as I was finally in the position for the first time in 12 months where I didn’t have to be somewhere doing something. Well, I had to be in a couple of places, but my body had other ideas and I just had to stop and rest for a while.

Of course, that enforced halt gave me some time for reflection, and while I felt listless and restless not doing anything, I also took the time to look back over my work and take stock of not just the past month, but past year. And what a year it’s been.


2018 was a year of re-orientation and redefining for me. I began the year as General Manager of Melbourne Web Fest (carrying over from 2017), which meant most of the first half of the year was spent in meetings with sponsors, partners and my fellow team members, with not much room for much else. The team that put that festival together essentially work year ’round to make it happen and the pace, particularly from March, is unrelenting. Luckily I love all the gang involved in that festival, so spending so much time with them wasn’t a chore, but it began to become clear to me by the end of January that I would not have time to do any of my own work until after the festival was done.

This was also because I was also doing various bits and pieces as a member of the Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia Trust, organising a couple of functions and helping with the various tasks needed to find the studio a new home (as the current building in North Melbourne is about to be redeveloped). Again, love all that team and believe in the studio, so that wasn’t a chore either, but those additional responsibilities essentially meant I was a right-off for anything else substantial until July.


February brought the Shakespeare Republic Plenary Panel at the Australia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association Conference. It was such an honour to be asked to present to the local, national and international delegates in attendance from universities around the world, sharing our take on Shakespeare in the modern age. Thankfully it was very well-received, with great feedback from those in attendance. This has led to my being invited to contribute a chapter to a new book about adapting Shakespeare for the 21st Century, to be published in 2019, which is also very exciting!


Of course, Shakespeare Republic, Speaking Daggers and the music video O Mistress Mine continued their trip around the festival circuit this year, and I deal with all the submissions and rendering of screening files, publicity material and all else that goes with having projects on the circuit, so that work continued all through the year, much to my delight! While there are long hours doing things like subtitling episodes, getting foreign language translations made, recording videos for awards and doing all the social media (among other things) that the various festivals needed who had officially selected the projects, the joy and pride I felt for the team’s work and the excitement of having it so well-received out there in the wider world, more than made up for all the sleepless nights racing to meet deadlines, assisted by the copious amounts of coffee I consumed to get everything done!

As of today, Shakespeare Republic: #LoveTheBard (Season Two) has been officially selected for 50 international film festivals, received 60 award nominations and been awarded 15 times to date. Amazing. Speaking Daggers (the short film spin-off from the series) has now been officially selected for 20 international film festivals, been nominated 8 times and won 4 awards, which is brilliant, particularly for a short film in Shakespeare’s language! Both projects continue their journey around the international film festival circuit, with a handful more festivals yet to screen the works in 2019. O Mistress Mine has now completed it’s festival tour, winning over the weekend just gone “Best Original Song For A Film” at the American Tracks Music Awards – it’s last official selection and screening on the circuit.


And then came mid-year, bringing with it the 6th Melbourne WebFest and the madness that entailed! I’ve already shared my experience of the fest in an earlier blog post, so I’ll just leave these photos here of that fab weekend in June/July (where I naturally also involved some of my favourite people from the Republic world and the wider biz, because they’re awesome and why not?)


I was also amazed at the success of the trailer for the feature documentary, Champion: The Franz Stampfl Story, which is an ongoing project that we continue to film – most recently interviewing the wonderful Australian Playwright, David Williamson while in Queensland at the Noosa International Film Festival representing Speaking Daggers at it’s Queensland Premiere. The documentary has been a labour of love and I put the trailer out on the festival circuit just to see if there was interest in the story beyond Australian shores. And it turns out that there is. The trailer was officially selected for all seven festivals it was submitted to (an unheard of 100% success rate on the circuit) and has now won awards at four of the festivals – three of them in 2018. The most recent award was announced just yesterday, where it won “Best Trailer” at the Independent Talents International Film Festival in Bloomington, Indiana in the USA. Amazing! So grateful for the interest and support for the project. Here’s to completing it next year!


Of course, there was also my return to teaching this year, joining the Howard Fine Acting Studio Australia faculty teaching Shakespeare to two rounds of Scene Study students and also the 2018 Full Time Student Ensemble. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy coming back to teach, as it’s been a decade, but I loved it. Luckily my students seemed to enjoy it too and I’ll be back at the studio next year doing the same thing again, which is fantastic and something I’m looking forward to!


And while there wasn’t a lot of travel this year, I was also lucky enough to be able to attend a few festivals with both Shakespeare Republic and Speaking Daggers, which was great fun and something I feel very blessed to have been able to do.


And I also got fully back to acting, joining the stable at Natalie Hall Management (which I am so thrilled about) and returning to study with Howard Fine at HFAS Australia in Scene Study mid-year and then the November Master Class taught by Howard Fine, David Coury and Barbara Robertson, which was amazing and a fantastic chance to stretch my wings further – as all good classes do!


And finally I had a couple of headshot sessions this year, but these were just taken only a couple of weeks ago by the fab Julian Dolman, so that’s what I’ll finish on.

It has been a great year professionally with a lot of lessons learned and lovely moments that have made my heart sing. There were also some changes – for example, in September I officially stepped down from the role of General Manager for Melbourne Web Fest and have instead accepted a place on their Advisory Board, as things are starting to gain momentum with my own projects and I need to be fully back at the helm of Incognita to steer that ship. And there was also some heartbreak on a personal level.


Patrick Constantinou

The biggest heartbreak was losing Patrick Constantinou to brain cancer in May. He was just 37 years old. Pat was a dear friend of mine and my partner’s, Billy Smedley (who was one of his drama school classmates) and someone whom I have known for over a decade. Pat was also a valued colleague and was the man who got me fully involved in the Howard Fine Acting Studio six years ago (he was the founder of the studio here in Australia along with his business partner and friend Phil Hayden). He was a huge supporter of me and my work and I still don’t think I’ve quite accepted that he’s gone.

Seeing him only a few weeks before he passed, despite being exhausted and medicated to make his final weeks as easy as possible, he still wanted to know about everything we were doing and was so intensely thrilled to hear that Speaking Daggers had got into St Kilda Film Festival’s Top 100 Official Selections, and excited about the other awards we’d recently won for Shakespeare Republic. And he was delighted to hear that I was about to start teaching at the Howard Fine Acting Studio in Melbourne. Him grabbing my hand and looking me deep in the eye, saying “That is awesome!” on hearing that news will stick with me forever.

This man who had been so gloriously alive, even after diagnosis, and was now having to fully face his mortality, only wanted to cheer everyone else on, just as he had when he was well. I’m still deeply moved by the memory of the day he and Billy and I said goodbye and always will be. Having to teach the day after Pat passed was horribly difficult and I’d like to thank my students and friends for getting me through that class as compassionately as they did. Helping his beautiful wife, Claire, organise the funeral and taking on the role of MC for the wake felt completely natural to me, and I was honoured to do so, but I realise now that it was also a way for me to delay my own grieving.

So, as 2018 comes to a close, I am signing off to take some time for me (as per Pat’s advice about 18 months ago. I’m finally doing it, my friend). I’ll be doing some writing. But also some walking, some diet adjustments, some lying down in a park, staring at the sky and some reading. I might even write some more poetry and take a gondola ride. I need to recharge to be able to fully move forward again. Life is too short. Be the best you can be, but also take time out to take in the world, re-centre, notice things around you, find joy in all the little wonders life brings – and just breathe.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday Season and a wonderful New Year and see you in 2019.

With love and best wishes, as always,

Sal x

SUGGESTED ACTION: If you would like to support Brain Cancer research and help finally find a cure for this awful disease, please consider donating to Claire Constantiou’s “Walk4BrainCancer” fundraising drive here: – With love and light x