A Wollongong-born and raised director is set to stage an all-local production of a beloved classic at Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) next week.
Billee Paige Harris’ production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will bring the March sisters to life on the Bruce Gordon stage from Thursday 18 January.
It will be the first time the University of Wollongong Theatre graduate will stage a production at IPAC, having directed four other shows since debuting her first full-length production in 2020.
“It’s an incredibly exciting thing and an honour to bring such an integral and classic coming-of-age story to our local stage and on such a grand scale,” she says.
With 16 cast members, eight crew and four production team members, it will be the largest crew Page 9 Productions has ever worked with for a single show – and all are either Wollongong-based or trained.
Billee says the tale at its heart is “a story about women just being women” which brings to the fore themes that are as important to women today as they were 150 years ago when the book was first published.
“I’ve always been incredibly passionate about any story that puts women centre stage and allows women to be people in and of themselves, without being a love interest or a motivation for a man,” she says.
“It’s about the lives of four incredible female characters for whom yes, love is a part of their story, but it’s not presented as all they’re good for. They’re four women with dreams, passions, skills, talents, highs and lows that are displayed in a way that is not stereotypically feminine because sometimes they’re pretty brutal and cruel towards each other.
“This is a story that has transcended 150 years to showcase themes and struggles still relevant to women in 2024.”
The production homes in on the moments in the books where the characters choose to or are forced to grow up, the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that prompt that growth, and the struggles they face in relation to their identities both as girls and women.
As such, there are two actors to play younger and older versions of each of the four sisters and Laurie.
Mia Eileen Frew, who was bitten by the acting bug at IPAC’s children’s program and attended Wollongong High School of Performing Arts, will play the iconic Jo March.
Though the 22-year-old thespian has studied at the likes of NIDA, worked for the likes of Belle Shakespeare and played other central characters such as Abigail Williams of The Crucible, playing Jo is something of a dream come true.
“Little Women was probably the first story I read with my mother, so it’s always meant so much to me and Jo has been a favourite character of all time. When I found out I’d be cast in the role, I was over the moon.
“To have the privilege of becoming a character that I see so much of myself in, a character so timeless and inspiring, even for a couple of hours, is such a privilege.”
Mia says the all-local cast and crew have managed to establish a critical and sometimes elusive element of becoming a version of a family in itself, the chemistry of which will no doubt delight audiences.
“That dynamic and closeness really brings something to a show like this, which is so much about family and how they love each other,” she says.
“I cannot wait; I am bursting to get on that stage.”
Little Women will show four times at IPAC from Thursday 18 to Saturday 20 January. Tickets cost $50 for adults, $30 for under 30s, $40 for concessions and students and $44 for groups of five or more – book here.