Tragedy turns triumph for Thomas



Growing up, Thomas Svensson lived and breathed movies and theatre from binge watching The Lion King to his first on-stage role as an echidna. But it wasn’t until the death of his mother that he realised theatre was also his escape.

The 20-year-old slouches in his chair, reflecting a casual nature in what he wears: a plain white t-shirt and a pair of dark blue denim jeans. Underneath his left sleeve lies a tattoo that says, “Take care and I will talk to you soon xx oo,” which was the last message his mother wrote to him before she died. The pain of losing her when he was seven sent him plummeting to the depths of despair and it was not until a couple of years later that he broke out of his shell. He found sanctuary in the theatre, and with it, new ways to cope.

The tattoo of his mother’s last message. Photo contributed by Thomas Svensson

Thomas says as a child, he always had a creative spin on life. Unlike other children who play with Lego or cars, he spent his time creating quirky things. His bent towards the arts was illustrated in such activities as snipping out images of fashion models from magazines and sticking them to paper to create fashion runways. In his year 11 drama class at Chancellor State High School, it all clicked into place, feeding his bohemian side and making him daring enough to put words around his acting ambition.

“It got serious and I actually had a love for the characters and the plays. We did a lot of Shakespeare and Palpatine,” he says. “That’s when I took it seriously in Grade 12, made a lot of friends and I think being able to produce and then act at the same time was really fun.”

But he felt pressure from within to be the perfect actor, bringing a perpetual feeling of discontent, which in turn pushed him towards his natural ability for writing and directing plays.

“I was doing it to escape myself when I should’ve been doing it to confront myself and confront who I was and really show who I was to people and that’s why I’ve given it a little break,” he says.

He is now in his third year of studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

“As I grew older, I did get bullied for being chubby and sensitive. I was very feminine: I was that kid. I think that experience has just allowed me to write. I think it took a long time but acting is not my primary outlet anymore,” he says.

Within a year of finding his true passion, Thomas wrote and directed his own play, The Forgotten Bird which was showcased at the Black Box Theatre in Nambour last year. This gave exposure to him and a couple of the actors and paved the pathway for his future by opening more opportunities this year. The drama major believes having

connections is good but working hard is more essential to make it big.

Svensson’s first written and directed play opened the door to an opportunity at the Powerhouse, Brisbane. Photo contributed by Thomas Svensson

“Yes, you could have a great uncle who has done some cool things like has a few agents around his finger, but if you don’t know what you are doing people will figure it out and you won’t get much attention,” he says.

Thomas’s directing career will hit a new high on June 12-15 when his work will be showcased at the Short and Sweet festival at the Powerhouse Brisbane, Even though the play, Ava Takes Up Aviation, was written in California by John Weagly, it is in Thomas’s  capable hands. Even though it was not his creation, Thomas says he feels like “it represents my weirdness and when I read it felt like I wrote it”.

There are four groups at the festival performing the same play but adapting it differently. Out of all the plays one will be selected by the festival panel to be considered in the gala finals. Accolades would be wonderful, but Thomas is just grateful for the opportunity.

“Right now, I’m just focussing on the four nights of our play and polishing it. I haven’t really thought about competition: it doesn’t really mean much to me,” he says.

Thomas aims to break boundaries about labelling gender and give voice to the characters through the dark comedy, drama and realism. He hopes these will help his work stand out from the crowd.

“I’ve never been attracted to mainstream comedy. I’ve always liked the smaller shows or the smaller things that are darker, more sinister,” he says. He reminisces over the scenes from his favourite comedy TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and glorifies artists who were different such as Charlie Chaplin, Tennessee Williams and Andy Kaufman. He draws on these influences in his plays.

“It’s comedy because it’s true, it’s not dark all the time and it’s a reflection of life and it’s about real people,” he says. “Real people are funny.” He chuckles at this.

Musical lyrics from alternative R&B artist Frank Ocean also inspires Thomas to write. “I resonate with the way he represents his sexuality and the way he’s sensitive and the things he talks about and I think that’s the core of my work at the moment: how sexuality is viewed.”

With the film festival looming at the end of the last semester of his studies the director is just focussing on one things at a time.  He believes that the theatre is for anyone who is willing.

“Theatre is for a lot of young people,” he says. “It’s just a place to go; it doesn’t matter who you are,” he says.

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