Shaka Cook is not going to waste his shot.
“I live my life by one rule,” he told the National Indigenous Times.
“Take every opportunity that comes your way even if you don’t want to or you’re afraid to.”
The 30-year-old was recently announced in the key roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the Australian production of game-changing US musical Hamilton.
The Pulitzer-prize winning show tracks the history of the US and its Founding Fathers. Set to a hip-hop musical background, the original American version casts mostly African-American stars to portray the historic white figures.
That diversity will also be a feature of the local production.
Cook is a proud Innawonga and Yindjibarndi man who speaks a mixture of languages, including Banjima, Gurrama and Ngarluma.
“I grew up pretty traditionally,” Cook said.
“Fishing, camping, going out bush, learning from our Elders … I went through initiation when I was 18.”
Cook, who never imagined himself as an actor, found his creative streak through dance.
“Back in high school, my friend and I had a dance group,” he said.
“That boosted our confidence in performing and it gave us a different pathway I guess, a little taste of performing arts.”
During school holidays Cook would participate in workshops facilitated by the Black Swan Theatre Company and the National Institute of Dramatic Art.
“We’d go to Karratha, which was a four-hour drive . . . if you took the short cut through the dirt track,” he laughed.
“We’d spend a week or so workshopping. I still had no idea what acting actually was. It was just something to do during the holidays.”
From there, Cook graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ Aboriginal Performance course in 2009 and then continued his studies at NIDA in Sydney.
“(My career) has been slowly growing. I’m at the point in my career where I am getting lead roles which is amazing,” he said.
Cook said the diversity of the cast was a “beautiful” thing.
“It is incredible,” he said.
“A lot of us have spoken about the fact that growing up we didn’t see anything like this.
“We never got to see people like us, who look like us, have the same background as us, who have the same journey as us up on the big stage.”
“It is amazing just knowing all the people who are going to have a chance to see this and be part of it.”
Cook’s work so far has included roles in The Secret River and Storm Boy with the Sydney Theatre Company and Jasper Jones with the Queensland Theatre Company.
He also starred in recently released film The Flood — a western-style drama set in NSW’s Kangaroo Valley.
“I grew up watching a lot of western and action films … so doing The Flood was a bit of a dream come true,” he said.
“But doing Hamilton, it is something completely out of my comfort zone, which is challenging every day, which asks me to sing and dance and act.
“It’s incredible to get on stage and rehearse in this space with these characters.
“They fought for change, for revolution, to make their country a good one — or the best
they could at the time. This is what we’re fighting for still … that’s what is so important about this.”
By Rachael Knowles