FANGIRLS – Karis Oka On The Electric Edna And The Power Of Teenage Girls

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'Fangirls' 'Fangirls' Image © Brett Boardman

Fangirls are a phenomenon. They've stood the test of time, idolising singers, bands and figures of pop culture for decades – so there's plenty of material to write a musical from!


Playwright, screenwriter and composer Yve Blake has done just that. 'FANGIRLS', presented by Sydney's Belvoir St Theatre and playing the Seymour Centre, explores and exposes the public's perception of this die-hard group of people by making audiences think about just why fangirls are more often than not labelled as 'crazy' as opposed to 'passionate'.

The story is led by 14-year-old Edna – played by performer Karis Oka – who is madly in love with Harry, the lead singer of a boy band. Edna will do whatever it takes for Harry to notice her, even if it means pushing her brains and resourcefulness to extremes.

Here, Karis Oka fills us in on Edna and 'FANGIRLS'.

Tell us about the character you're playing – Edna.
Well she's 14 so naturally she's weird, but on top of that she's one of those 14-year-olds that the other 14-year-olds think is weird, so she has a bit of a tough time. She's tenacious, intelligent and very in love with boy band icon Harry. I think she's quite electric and probably a Virgo.

Before you, the show's writer Yve Blake played the character. What's it been like to step into her shoes for this?
Honestly it could be a lot scarier – Yve and the rest of the cast have been nothing but supportive and that's taken heaps of pressure off. I've very much been given permission to make Edna my own.

KarisOka Fangirls 2021
Karis Oka

What's your favourite thing about Edna?
She's just so gutsy. Like yes, she's nervous, awkward and self-conscious, but she also has endless faith in herself. I love that those opposites exist in her.

Can you think of an element of Edna that you might relate to as yourself?
I think we have a similar love-hate relationship with being different. Some days 'different' feels like 'wrong', but on other days being different means being special. It can be isolating or a super power. You definitely see Edna jump between these polarities in the show, and it's something I very much relate to.

How did you find out about 'FANGIRLS' and what made you want to be a part of it?
I heard a lot about it when it debuted last year, but didn't catch it as I was finishing uni at the time. Instead I just did a lot of stalking of the show on social media and was obsessed with how brave and young and fun it looked.


Why do you think the themes within this show have resonated so much with audiences?
The show taps into this memory of being a teenager without romanticising it–- it's there in all its awkward glory – so regardless of your relationship to adolescence, it hooks you in. All characters are kids you catch the train with, maybe your own kids, maybe who you were a few years ago or even who you are now, so it tends to tug on the heartstrings in one way or another.

What are you most looking forward to about being a part of 'FANGIRLS'?
Besides performing again, just being able to tell such a relevant story (cheesy I know, but seriously)! The world needs more shows like 'FANGIRLS'. We need more casting like this, more writers like Yve (kind of impossible though because she is once in a lifetime), and more stories about how teenage girls are the most powerful forces on the planet.

What's the biggest misconception about fangirls?
That they're 'embarrassing'. It's pretty amazing that anyone can love anything as loudly and proudly as fangirls do. They really are out there putting in time, money and energy into something just because they love it, and we as a society are absolutely conditioned to shame that. Specifically in girls. We need to re-frame how we view the level of passion that fangirls have as something to celebrate rather than ridicule.

What do you think would be an ideal audience reaction/response to this show?
That the audience leaves understanding the power of both teenage girls and fan culture – specifically that fan culture is more than just having a crush on a pop star; that it's a community and a safe place for people who share the same love.

'FANGIRLS' plays Seymour Centre (Sydney) 30 January-20 February.

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