Spotlight on ACA Alumni Eliza Reily and her Debut Book Sheilas

ACA Alumni Eliza Reilly releases her debut book Sheilas: Baddass Women of Australian History

Eliza Reilly is a writer, director and performer and a graduate of Actors Centre Australia (2014). ACA is proud to highlight Eliza and her tremendous achievements in the arts.

Her debut book Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History is described as an entertaining romp through Australian history that celebrates the badass heroes we were never taught about in school and who deserve to be printed on our money, goddamn it!
And it certainly does not disappoint!

In 2018 Eliza co-created the comedy web series SHEILAS with her sister Hannah. Previous to this Eliza wrote, directed and performed in ABC1’s GROWING UP GRACEFULLY featuring sketches that have been viewed more than 15 million times on the ABC Facebook page and also features voice overs done by ACA’s Jennifer West (Head of Voice).

Eliza co-hosted GIRLS GONE MILD on FBI in Sydney for 5 years and her writing has been featured on ABC’s Radio National, Syd Comedy Festival, Sydney Writers Festival and ABC TV’s THE CHECKOUT. In 2018, Eliza and Hannah wrote, directed and staged their original production of YARRAMADOON, a musical/comedy which sold out Belvoir Downstairs.

ACA recently had the opportunity to chat with Eliza to encapsulate the inspiration behind writing Sheilas and giving some advice to current ACA students.

  1. Congratulations on Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History. We know that you are a history buff and we’d love to know more about the research and thought process behind the writing of the book. Along with your web -series Sheilas, What inspired you to write the book in the first place?

Eliza: Learning about World War II and one of the most wanted women, that the Nazis were so scared of, Nancy Wake. Upon researching I was so surprised to learn that she lived just a stone’s throw away from my high school history classroom (Cremorne, North Shore in Sydney) where I was ironically learning about male convicts and war heroes in my history class. She (Nancy Wake) was so close to home, we didn’t learn about her in history until years and years later, and that really inspired the research and inspired me to think that there must be more.

  1. As a graduate of Actors Centre Australia (2014) and a writer/performer, is there any advice you can share with our current students about your time and training at ACA and how that influenced your career post graduating? 

Eliza:  I absolutely adored studying at Actors Centre Australia. ACA really did train you to not take anything for granted. For my personal journey, it taught me a work ethic to become a storyteller, not just through acting and character, but through film, writing, genre, theatre and most importantly history.

ACA taught me to use storytelling technique, particularly with ACA tutor Anthony Skuse (Head of Performance). He taught us to really analyse and appreciate texts and the history in source material. He taught us to develop an appreciation for researching and understanding the historical context of plays, texts, poems and source materials. Really that is what Sheilas is all about. And that is so important and so valuable as a performer and as a writer. The ACA teaching team, including Adam Cook (Head of Acting) have been fundamental to my success.

  1. Comedy is your forte, and we would love to know how do you interweave that into your writing so well?

Eliza: Comedy is a skill. I remember something that Scott Witt (current ACA Tutor) taught me and it stuck with me since “Never upstage a prop or a problem”. If there is a problem or you encounter a problem in your writing process, performance, training, then use it. In the book (Sheilas) if there was a problem I’d encountered, I’d make it a part of the joke or wit in my writing. Something else that I love to do is study my favourite comedians. Analysing their favourite jokes and really looking at the format and formula of them. Every comedian has a format and formula with their jokes. For Sheilas I was inspired by John Oliver and Samantha Bee and how they write about serious and complex characters and serious subject matter. They lay out the issue as it stands and I loved being able to do that for my book (Sheilas) as well. The problem or situation does not always have to have an answer.

  1. Were there any interesting discoveries, stories or experiences that occurred during the research and writing phase of the book that shaped a certain character or chapter?

Eliza: There were so many! You stumble across the funniest stuff in the research phase and I remember coming across a book about how to make Colonial Cocktail Recipes in the 1980s and it just had the weirdest recipes! One of them was an ‘Indigenous Porcupine’ recipe and it just had a strange mix of French ingredients.

  1. Is there a particular female hero or rebel in Australian history that is your all-time favourite and why?

Eliza: Oh there are too many. They all represent something and when they all come together, you can see an amazing picture of what makes sheilas. Each hero or rebel connects with you at a different level or a different moment in time, it’s almost like walking into a paint shop and asking for a different colour, because that colour represents you at that time and in that moment. But when they all come together, they all represent something and it is something you can connect to.

Sheilas: Baddass Women of Australian History is published by Macmillan Australia and available for purchase online and via most books stores.

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