Before Marlanie Haerewa came down to Perth from her hometown in the Kimberley, Derby, she felt a lot of shame around wanting to be involved with performing arts.

“Ever since I was a little girl, there was a lot of, ‘Oh too shame to do this, too shame to do that,’” Ms Haerewa said.

“We just didn’t have drama at my school, we didn’t have any music … It just wasn’t a big thing.”

Only when she boarded at St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School on an Indigenous scholarship did the shame go away.

“They had a lot of drama and the arts, and I didn’t get that in Derby … I thought I’d put my name down and try it out, and I actually really enjoyed it,” Ms Haerewa said.

In 2017, the young Nyikina woman started at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Art) where she obtained a Certificate IV in Aboriginal Performance in a year-long intensive course.

“I learnt a lot of basic drama skills in that Certificate,” Ms Haerewa said.

“Every day, we just did Indigenous plays … it definitely [helped] you audition and have the confidence … and have the basics of doing an audition.”

Before she auditioned to study a Bachelor of Performing Arts at WAAPA, Barking Gecko Director Matt Edgerton had already noticed her.

Mr Edgerton called Ms Haerewa and asked her to be Ophelia, the lead in award-winning play My Robot.

She notified the Academy before her acceptance that she already had work lined up with the established theatre company in WA.

“WAAPA is so good with being flexible with me and my times, and allowing me to have the opportunity to step into the professional industry,” Ms Haerewa said.

WAAPA allowed her to perform this season despite not yet being a graduate of the Academy – an uncommon feat for young performers.

“That’s the big thing … it’s quite competitive.”

Mr Edgerton is directing Barking Gecko’s My Robot, a children’s theatre play about a little girl who moves to the seaside, becomes homesick, and builds a robot to be her friend.

For Ms Haerewa, the major highlight of working on My Robot is that it doesn’t feel like work to her.

“I’m waking up and I know I’m going to have the best day and each day that goes by … I just try and take in everything. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me,” Ms Haerewa said.

“It’s just awesome, I’m definitely just breathing it all in day by day.”

The young actress also said she tries to get back home to Derby when she can.

I definitely try go out to the Mowanjum Festival, during Boab Festival week in the July holidays, and just connecting back to country.”

Ms Haerewa said she’d like to be more involved with the Mowanjum Festival in the future.

My Robot is on at the State Theatre Centre of WA (STCWA) from July 6-14 ahead of a regional tour in August and a national tour next year.

By Hannah Cross