Real Life

Shakespeare loving Steph awaits her little star’s arrival

The stage is set for a grand entrance – but will it be in front of a full house?!
Robert Trathen

When William Shakespeare fan Steph Curtis treads the boards this month to act in one of The Bard’s most famous comedies, forgetting her lines or getting stage fright is the least of her worries.

Steph will be acting in the play Measure for Measure while she is more than eight months pregnant and is hoping her baby will not make a surprise debut during her performance.

“We have been preparing for every eventuality,” Steph says with a smile. “If it does happen, it will certainly be a memorable show!”

Steph, 39, says her current pregnancy is a blessing because more than a year ago, she suffered a miscarriage. In December 2022, she lost her baby at 15 weeks, a son they named William.

She had the support of her husband Stephen and her creative family at the Shoreside Theatre on Auckland’s North Shore. At the time, she and Stephen, also 39, were in the middle of rehearsals, as they were both cast in another Shakespeare comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

“We named him William after William Shakespeare and also the name William means a strong-willed fighter. He really put up a good fight and we wanted to honour that,” she tells.

Bard medicine: Shakespeare and acting helped Steph and Stephen heal.

It was a heartbreaking time for Steph and Stephen. They previously had a tough time getting pregnant and struggled to have their first son, Xander, in 2020. They opted to have William, and now their new expected baby, through IVF. When William was born, Steph says she and Stephen shared an emotional final moment with their son.

“We got to hold him in our arms and spend that special time with him,” she says, holding back the tears. “It was magical. We got to honour William as a person.”

The couple didn’t quit the play after losing William. Instead, they continued attending rehearsals and performed to enthusiastic audiences. Their love for theatre was therapeutic and part of their healing.

“We wanted to still act in the play because drama and Shakespeare are our happy places,” says Steph. “It’s like an escape for us. When we were going through our trauma, our cast and crew were the kindest and most supportive human beings. We are lucky to be around that community.”

Steph and Stephen have always wanted to have a little brother or sister for Xander, and made the tough decision last year to try IVF again. When they discovered they were having another baby, Steph gave a sigh of relief when she passed the 24-week mark.

“Stephen and I decided that if we can survive the worst thing that can ever happen to any parent, then we can survive it again. We felt that our family was not complete. It’s not about replacing William – it’s about this baby being an extra part of our family.”

The couple were determined to give son Xander a little playmate.

Steph, who was born in the UK and raised in New Zealand, has been an English teacher for 13 years and teaches at Long Bay College in Auckland. She also leads the school’s Shakespeare department. She’s always loved the words of The Bard because he deeply explores the human condition, with themes that tackle life, love, loss, grief and happiness.

“Shakespeare creates stories that were written 400 years ago,” she enthuses. “They shouldn’t be relevant – but they are. Being on stage and reciting his words make me feel alive!”

As soon as Steph discovered she was pregnant, she told her cast and crew, wanting to be transparent with them.

“When you have fertility issues or you experience a miscarriage, it can sometimes make you feel alone,” she shares. “Because I don’t have many family members in Auckland, I wanted to be honest with my theatre community.”

Everyone in the close-knit cast and crew was excited about having a new addition to their production, and have surrounded Steph with all the support and care she needs during her pregnancy at rehearsals.

Steph is also keeping mum about whether she’s having a boy or a girl, preferring it to be a big surprise.

“So this baby could end up being named Romeo… or Juliet!”

Auckland Shakespeare in the Park 2024 and the performance of Measure for Measure will be at Auckland’s The PumpHouse Theatre’s Outdoor Amphitheatre from January 20 to February 17.

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