‘Kia stands up for herself and “doesn’t take shit from no one”. She’s very confident. I’m not as confident, and playing Kia is benefiting me and helping me develop as a person’.
These are the words of Shinaya Tuari, talking about her character Kia in Six Hours In Geelong. Her performance in the original work which premiered at Geelong Performing Arts Centre in late October was truly moody and marvellous. The duet that she sang, in her ancestral Maori language, with fellow ensemble member Michael Logo, was a moment of poignant revelry, in the midst of a physical and action packed production. I interviewed her in the lead up to the show.
Shinaya joined the Geelong Edge ensemble two years ago, at the prompting of her close friend Sila, who was already a member. And it was a good fit for Shinaya, who’d taken an interest in the arts since she was a kid. She explains:
‘I’ve always loved acting. As a kid even in primary school I always did the subjects that involved arts. This is different to other things that I’ve done. It’s more about the real world and things that happen in it, like racism. It’s good to learn new things, and also educate people.’
Shinaya’s first big show with the Geelong Edge ensemble was Belonging, performed at the Geelong Courthouse Theatre in 2016. I asked her about that experience and she said:
‘It was a different experience. The most I’d ever done before that was perform in front of my school. I’ve never been confident to perform on stage. I’d get really nervous. I’d have the biggest stage fright. I’ve become more confident to perform in front of people and it makes me feel older, weirdly. I’m not nervous any more.’
Comparing Six Hours In Geelong to Belonging Shinaya says:
‘Obviously it’s got different characters, but still the focus is on racism. I’m excited for the show. We have more singing and dancing compared to the other performances we did. Because it’s bigger, and we’re performing at GPAC, it’s also more nerve racking, but we will get to show it to more people and educate more people.’
She goes on to talk about some of the real life experiences of racial discrimination that fed into the play, even at late stages in the devising process:
‘We had an incident last week with someone shouting at one of the cast members when they were shooting one of the film clips. And one of the other cast members, he also experienced an incident since we’ve been rehearsing, so it’s good that we can actually tell people what happened and hopefully they understand and care.
She is at pains to stress that the play, Six Hours In Geelong, is not just about big broad issues like racism or feminism, in some theoretical or abstract way. ‘It’s also about the personal issues that people go through in their every day life’, she says. And continues:
‘It’s racism, but also problems at home, mental issues, depression. All of that.’
Like many of the young people that WEYA works with, Shinaya is a migrant. She was born in New Zealand and came to Australia with her family when she was six. She understands a lot about the complexities and challenges of living between two worlds.
It was after Shinaya’s grandfather passed away that her father decided to move the family to Australia. ‘I don’t regret moving’ she says, but also concedes that:
‘It’s been difficult for me living here too. I only just got my licence and it’s taken a while to have ID. I’m just applying for Australian citizenship now, after having been here for eleven years.’
Shinaya has part time jobs at a bakery and at Safeway, as well as the work with WEYA. We all know, from the statistics, if not from personal experience, that finding work as a young person in a regional area is rarely a piece of cake, but having an extra barrier, like not being a citizen, can make it even more of a challenge. Shinaya described an experience she had of being offered her dream job at her favourite gym, and then being rejected, on account of the company’s policy of only employing Australian citizens. ‘I was really excited for that job’, she says wistfully ‘and my friends were excited for me too.’ She’s found that it’s big companies that are more likely to hire her as an Australian resident.
Shinaya is also very aware of the impact that being raised in Australia has had on her connection to her Maori heritage. She reflects:
‘I sing songs, but am probably the less cultured one in my whole family. They [my parents and siblings] love talking to my family [in New Zealand] and contacting them. But I’ve distanced myself. I guess if I had more time to invest and be around people from my culture I’d be more engaged. All of the others in the play, they know their culture. I don’t consider myself Australian, but it’s what I know. My [extended] family is not here. They’re only three hours away [by plane], but they’re not here.’
Shinaya is proud of having received good grades in high school but says she’s never really considered going to Uni. She’s done a bit of freelancing as a make up artist, and she loves going to the gym. ‘I’ve been going for five years’, she says, ‘it’s a good way to get my anger out, you know, doing weights’, adding, ‘I also like to sit back and chill.’ And apart from being super keen to continue with acting, she also wouldn’t mind being a fitness model.
We’re super proud of you Shinaya and wish you all the best for your future, which I hope will include a few more Western Edge shows, that I get to see.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts