Theatre Interview: Devonecia Swartz – Calling Us Home, Or Succeeding By Grace

December 29, 2022


In the musical Calling Us Home at Artscape, Grace (Devonecia Swartz), an African princess, flees a devastating war in her homeland, arriving penniless in the freezing, grimy docklands of an American city. The underworld of this city is ruled by the evil gang lord Ivan who, after an unexpected encounter, has set his sights on Grace. But the street-smart Rafael, a young construction worker with bold ambitions, is determined to capture her heart. In this new world, Grace befriends Rafael’s reckless sister Isabella and together they must fight to survive and keep their dreams alive… The musical, composed and written by Alice Gillham and directed by experienced New York director Peter Flynn, features spectacular music as it celebrates love and the triumph of hope.


Live performance: the thrill versus the nerves – where are you on that curve as a new show starts?

I usually start a project with childlike excitement, which, about two weeks into the rehearsal period, turns into a state of dread and panic that it won’t come together. And then somewhere between the uncertainty and nervous energy, something clicks. The thrill is what I love most about live performance, and it lives beyond the point of the nerves, in the understanding that we know what we’re doing. It is the joy of pushing through that feeling of anxiety that makes it worthwhile.


How do you find a balance during rehearsals or other preparation?

I find balance in being as prepared as possible for rehearsals. The rehearsal space is where I play, try out new things and craft a performance. I try to keep the rehearsal space as decluttered as possible by doing my homework.


In a best-case scenario, what are you looking for in a role? What is the main basis for that decision – the script, the people involved, the challenge to your skills, the impact (positive or negative) it might have on your life in general, or perhaps something else?

The most important thing I look for in a role is whether I can sympathise with the character enough to want to play them. Then, I look at the next step that I want to take in my career: be it a movie, because the character is going to test my skill set; a musical, because I’ve always wanted to be part of a company; a television show, because I want to work with a certain director, or whatever – it all depends on what I need at that time and what I think my necessary next step needs to be.


Acting is often a vocation, a thing you can’t not do. How true is that for you now? Has it changed over the years – for practical, perhaps banal reasons? And how do you, or would you like to, keep your calling front and centre in your life?

I do believe I could have done some other job, but I would not have been as happy, satisfied or fulfilled as I am now. I think my understanding of why I am an actress has shifted – I’ve identified that not only do I have a love for playing different characters, but I have an incredible need to work with people, engage with human stories and practice empathy. I romanticise the process much more than the product and therefore have been able to grow rich from every experience by not only basing it off of the acting part. As long as I remember Who to give the honour to and to lead with pure intentions in everything that I do, the “calling” will be intentional and clear.


What are the toughest expectations to deliver on – all the way from the first audition to the end of the run?

The toughest expectation is letting the product go and trusting that the work has been done by the time you have to perform it. I think it’s linked to my idea of perfection, even though I know the best moments exist in the “mistakes” and usually make for those memories that we take with us forever. But one has to release the idea of perfection first, because you might discover something way more interesting and human in the process.


Tell us about your current production, and what makes your character interesting to play?

Grace is wonderfully multi-faceted, which is every actor’s dream. We don’t only get to see the strong, self-assured woman that she is, but also the vulnerable, heartbroken and in-love version of herself. I am always excited to work on a character like this because the more you engage with the material, the more the character reveals themselves to you. That process of discovery is incredibly fascinating and I am blessed to be able to go on this journey with the talented cast of Calling Us Home, under the direction of Peter Flynn and Alice Gillham.