NIDA Mum – Elaine Hamel

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we decided to sit down with a few students whose mothers played a huge role in them choosing a performing arts career and/or training here at NIDA.

Our first chat was with second year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Properties and Objects) student and Maine (USA) native, Luke D’Alessandro, and his mother, Elaine Hamel.

Photo (L–R): Luke D’Alessandro, Rita Hamel (Elaine’s mother), Dominic D’Alessandro and Elaine Hamel the day Luke left for Australia in 2016

Describe your mother.

LUKE: My mother is a short, hilarious, French Canadian woman who always wears a Boston Celtics jersey or Universal Studios t-shirt, white cardigan, exercise pants and Shape-ups on her feet, but she doesn’t work out. She usually has a Diet Pepsi in her hand as well. Quite a hoot!

A lot of my childhood memories involve her rocking up to a school meeting after just finishing yard work because she loves being in the garden. She’d have on her sweatpants (covered in lawn trimmings), her socks over the sweatpants, a t-shirt with an iguana on, and a bandana. She’s always so relaxed and comfortable with herself. I admire that.

She was never the traditional soccer mum. My twin brother Dominic and I played baseball as kids, and she had a habit of kicking out the umpire during games and doing a better job than he did.

She raised us on her own from when we were 10 years old and was our support system. As you can probably imagine, she had to deal with double trouble around the house.

What do you like to do together?

LUKE: I’ve been away from home since I was 15, so we haven’t done a lot of things together recently. But when we do get together, we love to sit by the pool and drink margaritas.

We also love travelling around the US together: sightseeing, hiking and swimming. We share a passion for food, too, and love trying all kinds of dishes.

Even though I’ve been away from home since I was 15, it’s much harder being in Australia because initially, I was only a short flight or car ride away from my family. Now… I’m on the other side of the world. But thank God for technology because I haven’t seen her in the flesh for a year and a half, but we do Skype and text a lot.

She always tells me to message her anything – even if it’s just ‘I went grocery shopping today’. She asks me to take photos of where I am so she can envision what I’m doing. She has never travelled outside North America, so her perception of Australia is much different.

When did you first realise Luke had a talent for performance?

ELAINE: At the age of five or so, I could see how artistic and creative Luke was. He would take any object and make a character out of it. Once, Luke and Dominic took planks of wood, drew characters on them and used pieces of cloth or old clothes as jackets and shirts. They used hay or yarn for the hair and hats. Luke was also very animated, and could sing and play out songs.

My fondest memory is the two of them singing and acting out ‘You’ve got a friend in me’ from Toy Story.

Then, when Luke was eight, I knew for sure. He tried out for a part in a local production of Honk! The audition age group was 10 to 15, but he insisted on going and said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? They tell me no.’ He was not afraid of rejection. He got the part of a duckling with one line: ‘Dad was obviously shell-shocked’.

From that point on, he met with local kids’ theatre group, Academy of Developing Artists of Maine (ADAM). Being on stage wasn’t enough, he started working with the director/owner and it wasn’t long before he had his hands in every aspect of theatre. Lighting, costumes, make-up, sewing and tailoring… whatever needed to be done. He continued learning and took all aspects of theatre in like a little sponge.

When Luke reached high school, there was not much theatre in the area, so he had a conversation with a cousin’s friend who told him about Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. He told me about it and did all the leg work and paper work to apply. There was no way I could afford to pay for a private school, but this did not stop him. Luke told me that they had financial aid, and even if the money didn’t work out, he still wanted to see if he got accepted. A month later, a letter from the school came –­ not only accepting him, but also giving him almost a full scholarship. There was no way I could say no!

After Interlochen, when he told me that he had applied to NIDA, the first thing that I thought was Luke was going to go to school in Australia. In my heart, I knew he was going to be accepted because no was not an option.

How did Elaine react when you told her you were coming to NIDA?

LUKE: Even though we couldn’t afford it, she didn’t stop me. With her support, I worked really hard and figured out a way to pay for the course. She always lets me find my own way while rooting for me.

I know there might be more than one, but name one specific moment during your artistic journey where you felt Elaine really had your back.

LUKE: I hadn’t seen my mum in almost a year while I was studying costume and lighting design at the Interlochen, and she couldn’t afford to come visit me at the time. But my dad came to see my show. We were sitting in the audience and during the first act, I heard this familiar laugh. My mum is very loud. I shrugged it off and thought it couldn’t be her because she said she couldn’t afford to make the trip.

During the intermission, however, I turned around and there she was, just standing there in the auditorium. I broke down and started crying. She had come all this way to surprise me. So in the second act, she sat next to me and in typical Elaine style, she reached into her purse and pulled out a Diet Pepsi. I laughed so hard. She’s such a free spirit.

In what ways are you like your mother? What habits or quirks have you adopted from her?

LUKE: Both her and I get along with everyone. We’re very chatty and make friends quite easily. When I was younger, I used to feel embarrassed when she’d talk to random people, say, if we were on vacation or something. I always thought that was weird, but now I’m very thankful she passed on that quality of being open-minded.

We both drink our red wine on ice, something she would do even at restaurants (if she’s paying for it, she’s drinking it the way she wants to).

We both exaggerate stories sometimes. For example, if she tells a story about how she went fishing and caught three fish, the next time she’d catch five. That number would keep going up every time she told the story. I occasionally do the exact same thing.

What part of yourself do you see in Luke?

ELAINE: His selfless personality and his ability to fit in wherever he goes. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’

I know that Luke made everything he wanted to happen, happen – because of his determination and hard work. Compared to me, he is much stronger and more intent on reaching his goals, which for me were dreams that I never even tried to achieve.  I guess that’s what all parents want for their kids… to reach for the stars.

What would you like to tell Elaine this Mother’s Day?

LUKE: Thank you for always being there, and for talking to Dominic and me about anything. When we were growing up as young adults, in those crucial years where we were inquisitive about things, you were never afraid to talk to us. Sometimes I wish I could see you, even for just five minutes, and give you a hug.