Alphonse Mulashe is a musician and actor, committed to community and family. He gets up at five AM most mornings to work as an apprentice plumber, and rehearses in the evenings. Now nineteen, he was twelve in 2010 when he came to Australia with his family. And he was in year ten at North Geelong Secondary College when he first became involved with Western Edge Youth Arts, attracted by the opportunity to learn about other peoples’ experiences.
In 2016 Alphonse co-created and performed in the Geelong Edge Ensemble’s first major work, Belonging, and he gave a truly stunning performance as Marley in this year’s Six Hours In Geelong, which premiered at Geelong Performing Arts Centre in October. I chatted to him a couple of months ago in the lead up to this latest production.
Reflecting on his first contact with WEYA, Alphonse remembers:
‘Dave and a few people – Nat, Rex – came to the school and they were looking for people to join in the workshops, and I was the first one to join in. That was the first time I’d been involved in acting. We did a few shows, and after we finished high school Dave asked anyone who was over eighteen to stay. Geelong Edge got its name, and everyone started taking it seriously. We’ve been doing shows since then, and here we are.’
Alphonse went on to muse on what’s kept him engaged with WEYA’s programs over the last four years:
‘I liked, not only acting, but also learning about the other people, learning about their culture, and how they feel and what messages they want to bring out. That’s why I keep doing it, why I’m still working with Dave, because every time we improvise we are learning about someone, where they came from, what they see, who they used to be before they came here, what they’ve experienced here and what changes they want to make in the community.’
Alphonse worked closely with his fellow ensemble members on the creation of Six Hours In Geelong, which he said was a play about ‘culture, love, laws, and racial tension’. I asked him about his character Marley – a troubled figure that he played powerfully and with total commitment. He said:
‘Marley comes from my country, the Congo. He came here to Australia and he’s trying to become what society wants him to become. His brother is trying to remind him of where he comes from, but Marley does not want to listen. He wants to fit in and stuff. With Marley, I’m trying to show what really happens in real life, because I know that. I’ve seen it; that people come from their county and they get here and they want to fit into the community. They want people to see them as equal, even if what they believe in is different to other people. They just want to fit in with the people they hang out with, ‘cause if they don’t then people won’t accept them. Marley’s brother want’s him to be a lawyer, and he doesn’t know what he wants to be, so that’s why there’s a problem.’
As a first year apprentice plumber, Alphonse sees a lot of life on the job, and he is philosophical about even the more challenging experiences, and how these feed into his practice as an actor and story teller:
‘From work I’ve learned many things that come into the acting. I’ve learned things from outside my circle. Whenever I go out there I’m always seeing new stuff, experiencing new stuff. The more you learn, the more you put in. People do stuff, and people say stuff that you didn’t think might happen, or you didn’t think someone might say. So the next time, if it happens to you, you know how to avoid it. If you put it in the show, then if someone gets in that situation, then they know how to avoid it.’
Alphonse lives with his mum and four siblings, who’ve been to all his WEYA shows. He’s actively involved in his Church community, singing and playing keyboard for the choir, which involves two rehearsals as well as the Swahili language service every week. He says:
‘Music has been an interest for me since I was still at school. At church they needed someone to play keyboard, so I learned. When I’m a bit free, I make music and just keep learning, experiment with what I play. Anything I have in mind I just put it there and see what comes out. Sometimes they call our choir to go and perform places. We have Congolese Independence Day, and multicultural events. We go there and represent our country.’
I asked Alphonse about his plans for the future and he shared:
‘I see myself working, setting up myself for the future, helping my family in any way I can. Soon, when I’m all set for myself, I’ll get married, get a kid, and start my own life for myself, but keep my family in line as well. What my mum has done for me is something that I’ll always remember and try to give back, even when I’m living by myself. When I get married I’ll go back to my country and see my brothers and my family that I’ve never seen before.’
To finish off our chat Alphonse let us into a little of his philosophy of life:
‘Life is a journey that one needs to find himself through. There are always obstacles everywhere, every corner you turn. So it’s all about you trying to avoid them and trying to pass through them. Many people will try to stop you, but you’ve got to pass through it. Life has many surprises. You’ve got to get through everything that comes to you today to see tomorrow. Also your family: make sure they’re at the gate to get through with you. It’s all about survival. You don’t want to lose anyone along the way. You just have to move forward, and keep your mind forward, and see what tomorrow brings you.’
We hope all the best for what tomorrow will bring this multitalented and sincere young man who has contributed so much to the WEYA family.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts