Michaela Banas on her new teen drama and being an intimacy co-ordinator

When Michala Banas met the young cast of ABC ME drama Turn Up the Volume, she screamed. In fact, they all did. The blood-curdling sounds and quavering uvulas that open the 10-part series proved to be an excellent warm-up exercise.

“It was about releasing the negativity that we hold in our bodies,” the McLeod’s Daughters actress explains. “It was fun. I had no voice by the end of the day, but we all just screamed our heads off together. It broke the ice.”

The cast of Turn Up the Volume (from left) Riya Mandrawa, Erza James, Mira Russo, Michala Banas, Ayiana Ncube and Elaine King.

Filmed in Melbourne, the series is based on the 2019 documentary No Time for Quiet, and it follows female and gender-fluid teenage musicians learning to accept themselves, and each other, through a weekly urban band camp.

As zany band camp leader Mish, Banas helps form ensembles to compete at the fictional Footsgroovia Festival. Through the ups and downs of an outfit called The Volume, the experiences of five very different young people are explored. Outgoing keyboardist Vivi (Riya Mandrawa) clashes with slam poet Jam (Ayiana Ncube). Upbeat drummer Breeze (Mira Russo) wants to bust free of her protective gay dads. Guitarist Ginger (Elaine King), is grieving for her musician father. And non-binary sound technician, Hex (Erza James) is anxious about coming out to their grandparents, with whom they live.

“I hope young people see themselves on screen,” says Banas. “I hope they have conversations about inclusion … We’ve still got a way to go, but even just in the last five years, there’s been a big shift. I hope this trend continues. I think there’s room for everybody.”

A pianist herself, purely for leisure, Banas hopes the series encourages people of all ages to take up an instrument, regardless of ability. “You don’t have to become a musician to enjoy music or play an instrument. It’s not about getting it right. It’s about enjoying music.”

Michala Banas loved working with the teenage actors in Turn Up the Volume. “It can be noisy and chaotic, but it’s so nice to be around people who are enjoying what they’re doing.”

Banas is no stranger to working with this age group, having memorably played a witch on ABC ME’s Nowhere Boys.

“The older I get, the more I realise you don’t just learn from your elders,” she says. “You learn from your peers. You learn from people younger than you. You learn from people who are different from you. What I love about younger people is that they don’t overthink as much. That’s really interesting as an actor. I love feeding off that sense of being in the moment. It can be noisy and chaotic, but it’s so nice to be around people who are enjoying what they’re doing. That’s priceless.”

The series, along with ABC’s forthcoming period comedy Gold Diggers, marks Banas’ return to acting after a year working almost exclusively as an intimacy co-ordinator on such projects as Garth Davis’ upcoming science-fiction movie Foe, starring Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal. After training in London, Banas became one of the first Australians, after fight choreographer Nigel Poulton and actress Chloe Dallimore, to specialise in the field.

“It’s still a fairly new role in our industry. The more I do it, the more I see the benefits,” says Banas.

A common misconception is that intimacy co-ordinators are only required for sex scenes. “It can be helpful for parent-child relationships – if they’re in bed, cuddling and reading a book, or if someone’s in the bath,” says Banas. “Often, young kids are brought onto a set and told, ‘There’s your mum. Go and hop on her lap,’ and they haven’t even met. Childbirth is another one. Anything that’s intimate.”

The focus on performers’ wellbeing is part of the enormous change Banas has seen in the industry over her 37-year career. Although she says she was anything but shy as a child actor, she is struck by the confidence of young performers today.

“There’s a sense that young people feel like they can be and do anything, which is beautiful,” she says. “I think older generations think younger people are lazy or entitled, and some of them are, but from my experience, they’re motivated and open, and I feel like the world is in good hands.”

Turn up the Volume begins on Friday, March 24, at 6pm on ABC ME.

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