KRISTELLE ZIBARA ALMOST QUIT ACTING BEFORE LANDING THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME
Meet Kristelle Zibara, the Sydney actor set to hit the big time. Every so often a certain type of person crosses your path that mesmerises with their talent and gusto. Take Bachelor of Dramatic Art graduate Kristelle Zibara. She approaches her work in a refreshingly frank and brave way. Empowered, resilient and yet still happy to be vulnerable, Zibara is a breath of fresh air.
This year saw the actor make her stage debut as Fatima in James Elazzi’s sold-out show Queen Fatima. The high energy comedy directed by Paige Rattray played at the Riverside Theatres last month as part of the Sydney Festival and received glowing reviews from major mastheads such as the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Zibara admits she was drawn to playing someone who was not the conventional image of beauty.
“Stepping into this role has felt like trying on a dress for the first time and it being tailored to your every curve,” she explains. “In reading the script, I found myself relating to Fatima on more levels than one, and in parts of her story I felt like I wanted to be as strong and as confident as Fatima. When playing her, I felt just that. I was able to embrace my body and my culture for what felt like the first time. Fatima gave me the strength to listen to myself, and my heart, rather than the ridiculing mouth of society, or other people's ideas of who I should be.”
Zibara has never been one to shy away from speaking up about topics that matter to her most. Last month, she told ABC News, “So much of the time bigger girls have to be down on themselves because of the way they look, and how they're perceived.” Zibara’s personal take on female empowerment and representation in general is both refreshing and inspiring.
“People of any gender, age, cultural background, weight or sexuality can relate to feeling societal pressures when it comes to how people should act, look and be, and I feel as though this play turns those standards on their head,” she explains. “For a character to be bigger and confident is a rare find. I'm hoping that people walk away from this play loving themselves and feeling empowered to take on anything.”
Zibara graduated from Excelsia College back in 2016 and partook in three months of study in the United States with Excelsia’s exclusive OZ to LA program. Since graduating, she has had an impressive and steady career, though she argues that Australia is not quite there yet when it comes to achieving true diversity and representation in performing arts. “In some cases, a production's definition of ‘diversity’ would be casting a person like me (a white passing, half-Lebanese, half-Australian actress), as the most diverse cast member, which to me is a shame,” she says.
“The arts still whitewash to some extent and don't always give opportunities to disabled performers, larger people, or persons of colour in general. In saying this, I have seen a shift in the arts as of late, especially during 2020, beginning with the Black Lives Matter movement starting in America, and spreading to our own backyard, with First Nations and people of colour living in Australia. I feel like it’s just the beginning, but I’m very hopeful for permanent change in our industry.”
Zibara believes casting directors can play a role in encouraging authentic casting and believes Australia must eliminate disparities in the wider culture that result in already marganalised groups having a much harder time breaking through. “I have always felt comfortable with my Australian heritage, but initially I was nervous to tell people of my Lebanese heritage, because of some of the negative portrayals of Middle Eastern people in the media or the stereotypical roles seen in the arts,” she explains.
“Seeing the different sides of people of my Lebanese heritage slowly being represented in the arts and other medium has helped me to accept and embrace that culture. When securing the role of Fatima, it was extremely special to be surrounded by a cast all being of Middle Eastern background. That almost never happens, and it’s important for younger Lebanese people to see themselves being represented on stage in a positive way.”
Dedicated to her craft and devoted to making an impact, Zibara is as empathetic as she is funny, and Australia is responding in kind. “Theatre will always have my heart, so I would love to continue to perform in and create works that push the boundaries,” she says.
In the fickle world of the arts, Zibara has proven herself to be both adaptable and astute, realising the power she has to make a difference in the industry through her work. “I would love to become a triple threat in the professional world. Be it stage or screen. I see myself working worldwide and producing many different works that show different bodies, cultures, relationships, and I would like to be a voice for people who may not have the opportunity to be heard,” she says.
Zibara tells it like it is. She is a woman on a mission making the most of her success and we are all along for the ride.
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