The creative world is one that can feature numerous ups and downs, but also opens up a myriad possibilities for those who wish to bring change into the world. For proof of this, one need only look towards Steven Ljubović.
A seasoned performer and creative, Ljubović is a graduate of Sydney’s storied JMC Academy delivered through the Academy of Film Theatre & Television. An actor and storyteller by trade, their journey is one that has seen them go from embracing a desire to perform to being able to tell the stories of those around them, thanks in part to the launch of their own physical theatre company, MERAK.
As Ljubović explains though, the decision to attend JMC Academy was one that was life-affirming, cementing the direction their life would soon go. “I guess it all turned real when I arrived at the campus for the first time and was made to feel like I mattered and that my life experience was valid and appreciated,” they explain. “Regardless of the outcome of my audition, I knew that this institution is where I wanted to be and where I wanted to develop my skills as an artist.”
View this post on Instagram
Describing the decision to study at JMC as “the greatest decision of my life”, Ljubović explains that studying a degree such as this opened them up to learning so much more about the world, opening up their mind to more than just acting, but also allowing for more personal growth than would otherwise have been possible.
“They create a culture and a space that makes you feel like your walls can come down and that you can just be,” they explain. “You are in an environment that supports your growth and journey of self-discovery or rediscovery, and this education has given me something more than just an academic transcript.”
“It has not only helped me to hone my craft but has also allowed me to take ownership of who I am and take pride in my individuality.”
After graduating from JMC, Ljubović found themselves able to jump straight into the world of acting. Landing a touring Shakespeare role at the end of their studies turned into consistent work, taking on roles as a director, choreographer, consensual movement coordinator, and producer, in addition to sharing their knowledge of movement and acting instrument with the future generation of actors.
Ljubović’s ability to move quickly into acting work was a culmination of hard work, training and getting involved with as many projects as possible. It was this same desire applied to ensure that graduates and alumni of JMC felt supported, engaged in creative work, and able to keep their craft in tip top shape post-studies that inspired their move into their role as co-creator of Alumni Programs since the beginning of 2020.
“I met with my great friend and colleague, Kim Ramsay, and we brainstormed for hours to create an Alumni Programme that does exactly this,” Ljubović explains. “The programme includes drop in masterclasses with industry, film writing labs, access to rehearsal space, opportunities to direct/produce stage productions and much more.
“Founding the Alumni Programme has allowed me to give post grad creatives an opportunity and the space to keep creating the work they want to create and tell the stories that need to be told.”
This desire to tell stories that needs to be told also extends outside of JMC for Ljubović. In 2021, they launched MERAK, a physical theatre company named for the Serbian word which refers to the “feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe that comes from life’s simplest pleasures”.
Embracing their own cultural heritage for the name, Ljubović uncovered the concept behind MERAK during their time at JMC, discovering a love for physical storytelling during movement classes. Aware of the sort of assumption and bias that many physical performers may face, the concept of ‘merak’ that is experienced while performing is a universal one, and thus the company was made to foster a love of movement, and to promote body inclusivity. Put simply, Ljubović notes it was crafted alongside the hypothesis, “all body types can create physical performance that is effective, powerful, and engaging.”
“There is a place for all body types in the world of physical storytelling and movement doesn’t have to live in the world of the elite and untouchable,” they explain. “MERAK aims to create theatrical and film content that challenges the norms of body image and beauty standards in the world of dance/physical theatre by championing unconventional body types and casting people who would not necessarily be seen as ‘movers’.
“The aim for the company is to create movement from bodies that represent the people watching.”
Already MERAK has launched the company’s inaugural production of MORTEL, which felt like a fitting way to kick things off giving the company’s focus. “The show celebrates the individuality of a performer’s lived experience whilst exploring bigger questions of life, mortality and what it means to be humxn”. In the future, Ljubović aims to continuously create pieces of movement, theatre, and film that continue to challenge body norms and societal expectations, with the company’s first film currently in the works.
It’s through projects such as MERAK, or even their work with Overflow at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company this year, that Ljubović aims to create and tell stories. Projects like Overflow aim to provide voices to those overlooked by mainstream society, while MERAK shines a light on those often kept in the darkness. As they explain, it is the exact reason why they are an artist, and why they tell stories; “to give a voice and a body to marginalised individuals”.
“As someone who is part of the trans/gender diverse and queer community and I am fully aware of the weight in what telling these stories has,” they explain. “I also recognise that I am lucky to be able tell these stories and that I am standing on the shoulders of every trans/gender diverse and queer person that continue their activism by simply leaving their house each day.
“I know that by telling these stories, the conversations are reaching a wider audience and little by little, we are changing the landscape and how bodies are seen in space.
“After MORTEL, I was lucky enough to be asked to join the Directors Lab at Darlinghurst Theatre Company,” Ljubović adds. “This saw me working on the history-making production Overflow by Travis Alabanza, where the entire creative team and cast were trans/gender diverse. This is the first time an Australian mainstage theatre production has ever done this. I was lucky enough to work very closely with director Dino Dimitriadis as an associate director on this production.”
Ultimately though, all of Ljubović’s work and achievements could not have been reached without the experiences that JMC provided them with. As such, they hope to ensure that all future creatives, or even those who have a story to tell, or a desire to add to the quality of arts in Australia, are able to achieve such a goal. Of course, they urge anyone even considering a career in the arts via JMC to lean into it head-on.
“If you feel that studying in the arts is something that you want to do and you can feel it calling you, I say, absolutely go for it!” they explain. “As artists, I believe we have an obligation to listen to that calling, because we live in a world where being an artist or studying the arts is still not recognised as a viable career option.
“You are the next generation of artists and storytellers, and it is you who are setting the tone to re-value the arts in Australia and we need people like you to scream it from the rooftops and continue to push the envelope! Your stories matter, your art, whatever be your medium matters and we are ready to hear you!”