Jacob Rajan, New Zealand Artist Laureate and Co-founder of Indian Ink Theatre Company, will be visiting WEYA’s Wyndham Edge program next week. Participants will work with Jacob to develop skills in stage presence through mask. Jacob is internationally renowned for his innovative work blending western theatrical traditions with eastern flavours and is currently Artist in Residence with Wyndham City Council. He will be performing his show The Guru of Chai at the Wyndahm Cultural Centre on 15 and 16 March. Booking details here.
These programs welcome young people of all cultural backgrounds, genders and abilities who are interested in working with other young people to create their own original theatre. No experience necessary – just the desire to come and give it a go!
Check out this awesome show that the Wyndham Edge crew from Hopper’s Crossing created last year.
Look at our new house! Well actually this is part of the set from Quarter Acre Block, which had it’s first work in development showing a couple of weeks ago.
But we do have a new house! WEYA has moved.
We are now living happily in Kindred Studios, 3 Harris St, Yarraville, VIC, 3013.
Our new phone number: 03 8658 4052. Save it to your phones! : )
Quarter Acre Block is supported be Australia Council for the Arts and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Set pictured here designed by Katherine Branch.
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
We are so pleased to be able to announce the May 2018 tour of Caliban! This topical work, which premiered with a packed season, and five star reviews, at the Coopers Malthouse in 2016, will now reach audiences across Victoria.
Caliban has been accepted onto the 2018 VCE Theatre Studies Playlist, which is the list of recommended shows for Victorian high school drama students. So lots of young people will be seeing the show and getting inspired by the work of our amazing emerging artists!
Thanks to Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and the Besen Family Foundation for believing in our work and making this tour possible.
Tour itinerary as of 12 December
May 14 : Potato Shed, Drysdale 11am
May 16: Riverlinks Arts Centre, Shepparton 10.30am
May 17: Wyndham Cultural Centre, 8pm
May 18: Bowery Theatre, St Albans, 11.00am
May 22: Bunji Place, 6pm
May 23: Bunji Place, 10 am and 12 noon
May 25: Wellington Entertainment Centre, 1.30pm
May 31: Mildura Arts Centre 7.30pm
Times and dates may change, so check website for updates!
We are super excited to announce that we are moving! After nine years based out of the Phoenix Youth Centre, WEYA will be taking up residence at Kindred Studios form 1 December. We are looking forward to being part of this vibrant creative space along with many other artists and creative entrepreneurs, as well as excellent rehearsal spaces and facilities, not to mention an on site coffee baristar! Give us a couple of weeks to settle in, then come say hi, coffee is on us!
Congratulations to WEYA Artistic Director, Dr Dave Kelman, on the publication of this article in the International Journal of Inclusive Education, August 2017.
Stealing meanings – does measuring quality in the arts mean imposing cultural values?
An examination of the community youth theatre practice of two groups of culturally and linguistically diverse emerging artists from refugee backgrounds reveals the importance of ‘messages’ in their work and the strong connection to social context. This connection is illustrated by comparing the emerging artists’ perception of the meaning of their art-making (in terms of cultural representation and identity politics) to community audiences’ response to performances. This complex social dynamic is contrasted with the growing practice of using of standardised categories and metrics in an attempt to quantify the value of such arts practice. This approach is problematic because it imposes cultural values on communities and can distort the meaning of community arts performances reducing their social value. The concept of intrinsic value is analysed in relation to the current theoretical discourse on this subject and the criteria used for measuring it are scrutinised and critiqued. The article argues for the importance of allowing community audiences to respond to performances in their own terms because this is integral to the process of how meaning is generated through performance.
We have a limited number of free downloads of the full article from the publisher. If you would like to access the article, please contact us to request the free download link. Alternatively, it is available for purchase here.
‘Kia stands up for herself and “doesn’t take (beep) 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
Western Edge Youth Arts is pleased to express support for equal marriage rights. Inclusivity, and celebration of diversity, in all forms, is core to our values as an organisation. We are committed to actively creating an environment of safety for all our participants, staff and audiences, that is respectful of differences in culture, religion, gender and sexual preference. And particularly we wish to express our support for all who face intersection vulnerabilities to discrimination. We stand with you. Yes to a world with more love and respect.
My personal highlight of the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year was queer physical theatre ensemble, Po Po Mo Co’s Recreation and Leisure. The show was made up of a series of sketches, and the one that had me giggling for three days straight was a sketch featuring WEYA teaching artist Lily Fish.
I wasn’t alone in thinking this show was the cream of what Melbourne performance artists are creating in 2017. Recreation and Leisure was nominated for best comedy in the Melbourne Fringe and received the Circus Oz industry award. Po Po Mo Co are gearing up to present shows at Mid Summer Festival, Adelaide Fringe and the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
Lily joined the WEYA teaching team earlier this year and worked on programs at North Geelong Secondary College, Whittington Primary School and our after school program in Werribee. We are extremely fortunate to have Lily working with some of the states most disadvantaged young people in these WEYA programs. I had the pleaser of interviewing her last week about her experience of this challenging and rewarding work.
Like many independent artists, Lily has done her share of teaching. She has taught adults, with recent teaching gigs at Women’s Circus and Trash Puppets, and has taught young people in fancy private schools. But working with the kind of cohort that are in WEYA’s programs was a new experience for her. She reflected:
‘It’s been great. It’s really hard work. It consumes a lot of energy. But you also see these instant results in terms of performance ability and use of spoken language. Their confidence, their desire to be involved in the project seems to grow throughout, so it’s quite rewarding even though it’s exhausting.’
I asked her about the North Geelong Secondary College program in particular. This residency was a twenty-week program that involved participants in the school’s EAL VCAL program. Many of these students are recently arrived migrants and refugees. And it was clearly an experience that Lily valued. Her comment was:
‘The challenge and the joy of teaching the North Geelong group is that there’s this language barrier, and it’s so important not to treat that as anything to do with intellect and understanding. It was exciting to give them time to articulate what they thought should happen in the show, and it was so satisfying for all of us when they managed to do that.’
She gave an example:
‘One student had an idea for what the end of the show should be. He had really thought about it outside of class. He struggled to articulate his idea, but others helped him, and when he managed to articulate it we were all like yeah “that’s fantastic!”.’
Over the twenty weeks of the program the students were led through an intensive development process, out of which they created a show, Macbeth of Norlane, which they performed last month as the culmination of the program. The basic concept of the show was that Macbeth was a recent migrant to Geelong, Duncan a restaurant owner he’d known from the old country. Lily explains:
‘We proposed this idea to them, with the idea that their might be some themes that were familiar, at least in the migrant experience. I don’t have that experience, so it was genuinely about asking them what would happen.’
She went on to talk about the ‘important exchange of stories’ that take place in and around the class, that is much more than what ends up in the show. ‘It’s important for me to learn about that stuff,’ she reflects, ‘and for them to have the opportunity to articulate it.’ And she recalled a story one young woman had told her that had made an impression, about a mother and daughter who were separated, and their bitter sweet reunion after twelve years, with the mother having had a new family in the meanwhile, and initially not recognising the daughter who she hadn’t seen since she was three.
We chatted about what was unique about creating theatre in this context. And she said this:
‘There’s just this vast wild energy, that is such a wonderful thing to have in a performance space. And it’s very hard to shape it, but it’s much harder to generate that with board adults than it is to shape it with kids.’
‘They were just so keen to do the show that it was not as difficult as it could have been. The effort they put into learning their lines, and helping each other to learn their lines. The North Geelong kids were really professional. And the quality of acting…some of the speeches were really moving. I was tearing up even in rehearsals.’
‘It was really amazing for language acquisition. We pushed them to do a lot of actual Shakespeare which I think was what made some of the speeches that actually really popped.’
‘What have you learned?’, I asked. She said:
‘I’ve learned classroom management skills. You’ve got to be very switched on and present the whole time, and very positive, which I think is a good thing to take into any work place, to focus on positives.’
I asked her to talk specifically about the other programs. Of Whittington Primary school she said:
‘I guess I was really struck by the very fast and profound change in the prep classes, in terms of their spoken communication. At the start I couldn’t understand any of them, but by the end of the first term, even the ones with a speech impediment could make themselves understood.’
And she adds as an aside:
‘There’s this beautiful thing with primary school aged kids, where they can behave really badly, and then at the end of the class be like ‘I love you. Will I see you next week?’ It’s like, it’s not personal. They’re just having a bad day, which is really refreshing.’
And of the Wyndham Edge after school program that Lily worked on for seven weeks, she said:
‘Wild energy! It was a case of getting them excited about a narrative, and endowing them with the responsibility of creating it and the promise of choreographed fight scenes. Finding a way to integrate physical theatre with narrative. They’re not there to talk, they’re there to do stuff, which is great cos that’s what I’m into as well.’
We chatted a bit about what other stuff Lily is doing at the moment. The list is long.
There’s #romeoandjuliet, a duo queer clown version of Romeo and Juliet, to be presented at La Mama as part of Mid Summer Festival, that is currently in creative development, and that Italian physical theatre master Giovanni Fusetti is coming from Italy to direct. There’s teaching at Women’s Circus, as well as a residency coming up there. There’s ongoing independent teaching gigs, there’s a ‘Chinese-pole’ development that was in residency at Circus Oz, funded by the British Arts Council. There’s Born In A Taxi, a highly acclaimed physical theatre company, for which Lily is both a performer and a dramaturge. There’s Trash Puppets, with whom Lily also teaches, and of course Po Po Mo Co, that Lily was a founding member of and which has it’s regular monthly gigs as well as shows like Recreation and Leisure.
Lily also mentions casually that she has a three-year-old child, like that’s just one more piece of theatre to fit into the juggling act that is the life of a successful independent artist.
I asked her what she thought about the notion of pathways. It’s something we bang on about at Western Edge Youth Arts and I was interested in her perspective, as someone with broad experience in the live performance industry. She mused:
‘It’s an interesting thing cos it’s a career that I love, but it’s very hard. This is the first year that I’ve worked full time in the industry and I graduated theatre school seven years ago. There were a couple of kids who were asking how do I become an actor? One who expressed it quite strongly, I gave a list of drama schools. The kids who I saw as particularly talented, I acknowledged that to them, but I didn’t say, “you should go and become an actor”, cos it’s very unlikely…
We talked about the industry and I wanted to know what her perception was of a shift toward diversity or otherwise. Her thoughts were that:
‘Certainly there’s a movement towards diversity. And I think a good thing that WEYA does, is it gives that opportunity to kids who might become actors. To choose a career in the arts is very middle class. WEYA is offering a level of training that would otherwise be inaccessible. Programming on sbs is trying to be more diverse, and there are a few agencies that put forward actors from diverse backgrounds, even if it’s not in the brief, and it’s great that there is a new generation of diverse actors to be put forward for these roles.’
And she comments that participants in the programs she’s worked on with WEYA this year, have included some ‘talented, interesting artist; young performers who I think I’d like to work with again, professionally.’
And I hope that she gets to, and that I get to see it. Keep your eyes peeled for that, and for #romeoandjuliet and Po Po Mo Co’s show at Mid Summer Festival which will be called Po Po Mo Co’s Second Birthday Show.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts.