Effie creator Mary Coustas brings This Is Personal stage show to the Sydney Opera House

Effie’s dream is finally coming true.

The larger-than-life Greek Goddess with her big hair and even bigger personality has held a place in our hearts for decades.

It started with Wogs Out of Work and then morphed into the popular TV sitcom Acropolis Now.

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She’s played to full theaters across the country, leaving audiences crying with laughter.

But there was always one stage that felt off-limits.

“So much of my work has been around race and being seen and belonging, no matter where you are, and that you deserve to be in any room,” Effie’s creator Mary Coustas says.

Which is why, when she stands on the stage at the Sydney Opera House at the end of May, it will be an incredibly powerful moment for a woman who has refused to accept that anything is beyond her reach.

And she wants to look out at the audience and see herself reflected.

“One of my good friends, whose dad worked there his whole life, used to be woken up at 5am by her mum so they could drop him off at stage door.

“She grew up running around the corridors, but she never saw a show there.”

Her will be in the audience this month.

There might be hints of Effie in the performance but these shows are very personal for Mary

Behind the scenes for a traumatic decade, Mary Coustas underwent 23 gruelling IVF attempts, 18 with donor eggs, and grieved the loss of her daughter, Stevie, who was stillborn in 2011.

When her daughter, Jamie, was born eight and a half years ago, Mary’s story became public and her audiences found another reason to love her.

Entertainer Mary Coustas and her daughter, Jamie Betsis.(Supplied: Mary Coustas)

They would approach Effie, in full character, and want to talk to ‘Mary’, to break through the barrier Coustas had created.

So it will be 57-year-old Mary Coustas who steps on stage at the Opera House in what will be her most-intimate performance yet.

“It’s scary,” she says.

Scary because having her own show at the Opera House has been on her wish list for as long as she can remember.

Scary because she’s desperate to give the audience the show they deserve.

“It’s a lot of money to go out, if you’ve got kids and you’ve got to pay for parking and buy a cocktail, that’s putting people out.

“I want it to be worth it.”

She’s unlikely to disappoint.

From the moment Coustas broke the news to her parents that it wasn’t law school but drama classes that called her, she’s been knocking on doors and demanding attention.

For so many Australians in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Effie wasn’t just a character but part of the language.

Mary Coustas on stage as Effie Stephanidis, wearing a gown, holding microphone and surrounded by balloons
Mary Coustas on stage as the glorious Effie Stephanidis.(Supplied)

The name was interchangeable with being strong and sassy, ​​of taking the barbs of racial slurs and owning the term ‘wog’ with pride, of refusing to be shamed for being a working-class woman.

Could a character like Effie be created today, in a more politically correct 2022?

She doesn’t see why not, but she’s wary of conversations that question who can play what characters on screen and on stage.

Mary Coustas poses in sparkly jumpsuit as Effie Mary Coustas as Effie Stephanidis
Mary Coustas as Effie Stephanidis.(Supplied)

“As an actor, I played animals and men and children and all sorts of stuff, that’s why you go to drama school to learn how to play characters and beings outside of yourself.

“I get it, on one level, but I was a fan and I am still a fan of Con the Fruiterer and he’s not Greek.

“Mark Mitchell — the actor who played Con the Fruiterer — was a genius, he’s a comedian, he’s playing characters he fell in love with in his suburb.

“At what point do we stop acting and how narrow does that expression get and are we then just essentially scripted reality stars?”

Coustas says she prefers to deal with the transparency of intention and believes intentions with the characters from shows like Acropolis Now and Wogs out of Work have always been genuine and positive.

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She’ll be drawing from those life stories for her Opera House show.

And she can’t wait to be back on stage after a brutal two years of COVID-19 lockdowns.

It’s a celebration to be in front of an audience after so many long periods without it.

She realized that minutes into another performance a decade earlier that almost became her last.

It was 2012 and she was still raw from the loss of her daughter, Stevie.

She agreed to do a show for three nights but, for a month beforehand, had struggled to remember any of the words.

On the night, she started to panic and, as the minutes ticked down, she realized, weirdly, that she hated the idea of ​​anyone laughing at her.

She didn’t want to be the joke

Mary Coustas sits to smile for the camera
Mary Coustas is ready to get personal on stage.(Supplied)

She decided she would fake a sudden illness and collapse on stage, forcing a cancellation.

But, as she began to perform, she felt the wave of warmth and the laughter, instead of frightening her, enveloped her.

The audience never knew they almost missed their date with Effie.

She’s confident that won’t happen again. It was a turning point for her.

And the show, This is Personal, is another turning point, when Coustas will reveal her own stories of her migrant upbringing, her life’s experiences, the questions from her daughter that she’s been able to answer and the ones she can’t.

And she’ll deliver it with her trademark humor to an audience she hopes will recognize themselves in her.

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