The wild shores of Albany are the dramatic backdrop to Itch, Australia’s latest screen offering for tweens.
Itch follows the adventures of science-mad teenager, Itchingham Lofte, who sets out to ‘hunt elements’ of the periodic table – a surprisingly dangerous pursuit.
And cast in the coveted lead role is Curtin theatre arts student, Sam Ireland.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Ireland says. “Australia has a history of making great television for young people. I’ve grown up with so many fabulous shows like Blue Water High and Parallax, which I still talk about with friends to this day.
“Kids’ dramas are what Aussies do best.”
Ireland hopes to take on the same iconic status for the nation’s next generation of TV-watching tweens.
“Itch is a special character I really connect with,” he says. “He’s fifteen and has lots of hobbies but not many friends. I never felt like I didn’t have friends, but I was very socially awkward. Acting really helped me with finding confidence – and finding myself.”
The talented actor describes long days of filming on location to create the ten-part miniseries.
“It was exhausting, but amazing. I went down to Albany about ten days before we started shooting to organise costume fittings, do initial rehearsals and figure out what they were doing with my hair. They dyed it three times until they found the perfect shade of auburn!
“As the lead, the first five episodes were manic. There were often days when I was shooting for a full ten hours.”
Despite his busy days as the series’ main actor, Ireland is quick to point out he was “only a cog in the machine”.
“I quickly realised that a [production] set is a huge working machine and you have to learn to just play your part,” he explains. “You need to respect everyone’s roles and expertise and let the machine work around you. There is so much amazing work that goes unseen.
“In one scene, there was a crazy rig set up to shoot in a cave, another day the art department was improvising with Nesquik to create a dirty truck!”
A budding playwright himself, Ireland was impressed with the quality of the scripts.
“Even though the show is aimed at eight to 12 year olds, there’s a wonderful amount of depth,” he says. “I constantly felt like I was stretching my acting ‘muscles’ and doing serious work.”
Ireland’s love for drama stemmed from a high school performance of Shakespeare.
“In year 11, I secured the lead romantic role in Twelfth Night,” he shares. “It took a while for the audience to warm up, but by the end they were laughing at everything, and we were improvising, going off the rails, it was incredible fun.
“When we walked out for our bows, we received an insane cheer and the rush that went through my body was indescribable. I’d never felt anything like it.
“I realised, ‘Wow, this is special. This is something I need to pursue’.”
Ireland enrolled in Curtin’s theatre arts course, the longest running in Western Australia, on the recommendation of his school careers counsellor.
“It was great advice. Studying at Curtin has offered me the most incredible opportunities,” Ireland says.
“The amazing thing about the course is its practical nature and the chance to be in shows. In my first year I was ushering when I was snapped up by a third year to audition and perform. It gave me a great early introduction to the key culture of the course which spurred me on to further auditions and eventually to direct my own show, Ajar.”
In 2018, the gifted actor won the sought-after student vote for Best Performer in a Lunchtime Show for his harrowing performance in Seawall.
“It was so great to get that recognition from my peers,” he says. “In Seawall, I played a father who has lost his daughter in a tragic accident. I remember walking off stage after the second performance and I totally broke down. It’s a hard thing to perform as an actor, especially when you’re twenty, trying to create this life within yourself and imagine your daughter, and what losing her would be like. In the end, I think the key is that the loss is impossible to fathom, and that’s where the pain comes from.”
While he loves connecting with audiences on stage, Ireland has also developed a passion for production.
“A huge positive with the Curtin course is that you’re educated in the technical elements of theatre too,” he explains. “I did Technical Theatre Fundamentals in my first year and became passionate about lighting and design.”
The actor assisted with lighting design for S-27 at the Fremantle Arts Centre, a show directed by Curtin lecturer Dr Teresa Izzard. His aptitude was quickly recognised and he has been promoted to lighting designer for the show’s run at Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2020.
“I’m definitely keeping busy!” he laughs. “I’m also working hard on a script called Destination that I’d like to direct in my final semester and next month I have a general audition for the Black Swan Theatre company. They’re our State theatre company and I’ve been watching them for years so it’s very exciting!”
Despite his hectic schedule, Ireland has his fingers crossed for a second season of Itch.
“We’ll have to see what the reaction is,” he says. “But I can’t wait to watch it.”
“I’m sure I’ll occasionally cringe at my acting but you’re always your own harshest critic!”
Itch airs on ABC ME in early 2020.