We rarely see it, even though we know it’s there. The hours, the rejections, the sticky tape that holds the facade in place. As a performer who seems to be flying, Melbourne native Stefan Lagoulis certainly does the big talk; yet he is also quick to acknowledge the hidden ground.
“When I tell people about my journey, it sounds like I’ve had all these amazing wins but, it’s like on social media, I’m not showing you everything,” he admits. “Of course, there were times when I had self-doubt, when others doubted me. You know, ‘You’re not the right look for this, you’re not the right body type.’ But then that became a big driver for me. Like, ‘Let me prove you wrong.’ Not in a spiteful way, but, like, I just kept going.”
Now, fresh from tours with both Aladdin and Hamilton, Lagoulis is in the midst of a run with Moulin Rouge. As he duly notes, it looks like he has made it. But then he emits a wry laugh and adds, “You never really make it because your dreams become bigger.”
For Lagoulis, this means New York. “We have an amazing industry here, but I always want more,” he explains. “So, when I went to New York this year, I saw there’s this energy there where everybody’s working towards something. Working towards bettering themselves. And that feels like a challenge.”
Scratch the surface of this ambition, and you get a sense of where the drive comes from. Born into a sporty family, Lagoulis was more at home dancing in the loungeroom. “But I was actually quite shy, so when my parents took me to dance class, I didn’t really want to get amongst it.”
Instead, it was gymnastics that caught his eye, and before long, there was talk of him training for the Olympics. However, that was a bridge too far, and dance came back into focus. Soon, people began to notice his talent, but this made things difficult for his parents. Some dreams can seem prohibitively expensive. “But somehow,” he recalls, they made it happen.
From a small suburban academy to the Centrestage Performing Arts School, and thereafter to a role in the children’s musical The Balinese Princess and the Funky Monkey. Then, in his teens, a scholarship to the newly opened high school at Patrick School of the Arts in 2014, where he became the first school captain. “It was next level,” he elaborates. “I remember walking through the corridors and thinking, ‘Whoa, this is like Fame.’”
It was while still a student at Patrick that Lagoulis booked his first mainstage show. A day later, he left the school and has been busy – pandemic notwithstanding – ever since. “It’s like, my friends and I often say that this industry moves so slow, until it doesn’t. And then it turns your life upside down, and you’re going.”
Today, he is performing at the same theatre (The Regent in Melbourne) where he saw his first musical, The Wizard of Oz, as a child with his family. If this sounds like full circle, in truth it is more like the start of a new cycle. Next is the Green Card.
In this, Lagoulis is treading a path well worn by Australian artists. As a small and often ‘provincial’ market, this country frequently exports its creative talent. (Melba, Helpmann, Humphries, Cave, et al.)
Recalling his first trip to America, Lagoulis says, “I saw all these shows on Broadway with boys who had bodies like mine. Not the typical dancer body. They looked like me, had the same hair, and they were playing leads. It kind of opened my eyes.”
Yet, for every story of expat success there are numerous tales of anonymous struggle. Of this, Lagoulis is all too aware. His response? “If something scares you, it’s definitely worth chasing.”
As we might expect from a young man brimming with the confidence of domestic success, he is clearly motivated by the lure of the Big Apple. Beneath the obvious, though, something more valuable than glitter.
Pondering a jump Stateside, Lagoulis declares, “The reward doesn’t necessarily have to be that I go to New York and book the next Hamilton, whatever that’s going to be. It could be, ‘I went to New York and look how much I’ve learnt.’ Going there isn’t just about booking the job. That doesn’t mean you’re successful. Success could mean that I go there for six months, or five years, and I come back a better artist, a better person.”
Here, we glimpse the bigger picture. “What I think performing teaches you is to be the best version of you, and to bring the best, most open version of you into the world. It also teaches you to become resilient.”
Nevertheless, Lagoulis does have something to lose. Momentum and currency are critical in a career that is so often short and always highly competitive. The next big thing is only ever a cattle call away. Weighing the odds, he ponders a future self looking back. What if he doesn’t go?
The answer is easy. “I’ll know that I let fear control my fate.” Given this, New York is a no-brainer.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.