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 those 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.
‘Life and time are the worlds best teachers. Life teaches us to make good use of time. And time teaches us the value of life.’ So muses the talented and determined Alain Bakulikira, young leader and member of the Geelong Edge Ensemble.
I had the joy of chatting to Alain about his life and dreams, in the lead up to the ensemble’s new original work Six Hours In Geelong: a story of loss, loathing, love, and racism, showing at GPAC on 27 Oct.
Alain, now 22, was 14 when he came to Australia from Kenya with his Congolese parents and younger sisters.
He was in high school at North Geelong Secondary College when he first came into contact with Western Edge Youth Arts, the youth theatre organisation behind the Six Hours In Geelong project. Alain remembers that:
‘When Western Edge came to my school to perform, it caught my eye cos what they were doing was they were not just performing, they were educating as well. What Western Edge did was totally different to what I’d done before. They had a story behind them. I had something I wanted to show people and I didn’t know how, and Western Edge came with a way. It’s been an opportunity to share stories, and learn some other people’s stories. It’s been quite a journey for me. I’d done some acting before. It was something that I’d wanted to pursue, but I hadn’t found the right space to do it. When I found Western Edge, I found that it was the right space for me.’
One of the other acting jobs that Alain had was a role in Hairspray, the musical, which he enjoyed, but he juxtaposes this against his experience with WEYA:
‘That was fun, and also a paid acting job, but [Six Hours in Geelong] it’s not just about fun. It’s about the message you’re putting out to people. I wanted people to hear something deep from my heart, not just have fun.’
Unpacking some of the messages he’s been able to express through the work with WEYA he explains:
‘I never new the word racism back home. I learned that here. It was actually funny when I came here and people were calling people black, yellow…back home everyone is African, even the white people. It really tore my heart apart when I came here. It wasn’t what I expected. It made me want to go back home, but I couldn’t. There’s war, and I’m here with my family.’
I asked Alain about working with his younger sister Irene, who is also a member of the Geelong Edge ensemble, that was formed out of graduates of a successful partnership program between Western Edge Youth Arts and North Geelong Secondary College.
‘It’s been fun working with Irene for this’, he says and indulges in a cheeky big brother laugh before he goes on with a tone of deep affection:
‘She’s singing in the house right now. She loves singing everywhere. In the middle of the night when we’re sleeping. I realise that when she does that she’s improving. There was this time she was singing at a wedding and I started crying. It was so emotional. For me to see Irene performing, it gives me heart and strength, it motivates me as well.’
Apart from the work with Western Edge Youth Arts, Alain is also currently working in schools supporting students with special needs. As the eldest of seven, and the only son in his family, he feels a big responsibility to help out the family, and has done a lot of different jobs in the last few years. He goes through a bit of a list:
‘I did an apprenticeship in cabinet making. I did solar panels, fixing panels on roofs. Then I did building pagodas. I wanted to work and help my family out before I did my adult lifetime. I was still 18, 19 when I did all that. Everything’s just been a life experience for me.’
Alain also started an engineering degree, but deferred to continue working to supporting his family. He hopes to return to university:
‘I’m thinking that when I go back I want to do medicine. It’s something that I’ve come to see as a rewarding career. I’m thinking to go back home. Back home they don’t have treatments. I want to take my knowledge back home and be able to see what we can do. I want to go there with something that can help out the country. I want to go with everything. Everyone expects us to go and get educated. When you come they expect you to be a doctor or an engineer. They don’t know that when you get here you have to work, study. I want to go back with something. Not just empty handed or something like that.’
Alain’s highly developed sense of responsibility is reflected in the character he has created for the Six Hours In Geelong project. I asked him about the character and he explained:
‘The name of my character is Big. For me it’s about being big. I’m the oldest guy in the family and I’ve got a lot responsibility. I want to see everyone, their future, being big. I want it to be wide. That’s what I expect for everyone, to have wide dreams, something big.’
Alain is one of the choir leaders, as well as a youth leader at his church, the Kadinia Swahilli Church where his Dad also preaches. ‘I’m pretty much everywhere’ he laughs, and goes on:
‘Church is a big part of my life. I was born into church; I grew up in church. As the only son in the family I have to take responsibility and I have to look up to my dad.’
I asked him what advice he would offer younger people, and it was on the tip of his tongue:
‘The only advise that I would give a young person is to be themselves and find what they are. Don’t try and be someone else. Just be you. If you try to be someone else, you end up loosing it all. You have to start from scratch. And that’s a pain. Find yourself and be you. Don’t try to live someone else’s life.’
‘Life is an interesting journey you never know where it ends up. Be who you needed when you were younger.’
And his concluding comments bring it back to the project:
‘For me being with Western Edge, it’s a privilege. Life and time are the worlds best teachers. Life teaches us to make good use of time. And time teaches us the value of life. I like that quote cos the time that I’m spending at Western Edge, that’s the time teaching me the value of life; the value of time. I have to spend it very carefully, ‘cause this is the only time that I have.’
Thanks for the reminder Alain. What an inspiration. I look forward to seeing how these ideas about the value of life and the value of time are woven into the narrative of Six Hours In Geelong, when I go to see it at GPAC on 27 Oct. Bookings via the GPAC website.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
‘Trust your path. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t be afraid of losing. It’s all in the effort. Anything can really be achieved’.
These are the words of Solomon Salew, otherwise known as TueSoule (Soul Objective Utilise Life Everything). Solomon is an actor, writer, musician and WEYA alumni who’s kicked a lot of goals creatively in the last few years.
As an actor, Solomon has worked in film, television and on stages across the state. Solomon played a lead role in Falling for Sahara, the first African feature film made in Australia, which was showcased at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2011. He appeared in television series Better Man in 2013 and short film Home in 2015.
Solomon is also an MC. ‘I love music that’s fun and healing’ he says, ‘I like creating love music and love making music, exploring different styles’. His soon to be released EP Tru is a mix of influences: Hip Hop, Trap, Pop, RnB, Dancehall, Afrobeat. Tru will follow his mix tape Pay Day, released in 2015.
As a writer he has just finished a collaborative project driven by another alumni of WEYA, Mazna (Geskeva) Komba. AMAK: Narratives from the African Diaspora explores narratives in and around an African-Australian cultural space that is gaining increased acknowledgement. AMAK, presented by cohealth Arts Generator and Arts Centre Melbourne, is showing at the the Arts Centre this Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September, and features Geskeva Komba, Yaw Faso, Ez Eldin Deng, who have all participated in WEYA’s emerging artist programs in the past.
Speaking about where he’s at now, Solomon says:
‘I think my positioning as an artist internally is that I’m at a point where I’m fearless in my approach to my work. As a writer, and as a musician as well, it’s a truthful place I write from.
‘My focus falls at a community level, cos that’s the level where I feel I can contribute to people. I will throw myself at anything with an African narrative. It’s only right for me to be of service to community, because of all the skills and support that I’ve received.
‘As a writer for my community, it’s almost a duty of mine for me to write and tell the stories of people who I feel have real stories that are untold. Many times the platform is just not there. On a community level it is. It may be miniscule, but it’s an opportunity.
Like so many talented young artists working hard to build a creative culture in Melbourne that serves communities, and tells diverse stories, it all started for Solomon with Western Edge Youth Arts. Solomon participated in a WEYA program at his high school, joined the after school program and went on to be a member of one of WEYA’s most successful emerging artist ensemble’s to date. The Flemington Theatre Group produced original works that packed out community and main stage theatre venues, and toured schools around the state.
He remembers the high school WEYA production where the idea of effort and commitment to a creative process clicked for him. The show was called Devil’s Mind. ‘I was such an energetic youth it was very hard for me to focus’, he laughs. And he recalls how one of the WEYA teaching artists was reading off the script and feeding him lines. ‘After that show’, he says, ‘I made the promise to myself that I was never going to be unprepared ever again’.
He has a favourite quote from Denzel Washington: ‘Dreams without goals remain dreams’.
Solomon’s dreams are living and breathing, and WEYA gives him a big high five!
You can get along to AMAK this Friday, 22 Sept (7pm), then head over to Chaser’s Night Club, The Monarq to see TruSoule, the MC, in action (10pm).
You can also catch TruSoule at an event called the Get Down on 21 October.
This month Passionate Pathways features Sila Toprak.
Sila, at nineteen, is someone who’s life experience has already given her a pretty big perspective on the world and its challenges. As a member of Western Edge Youth Art’s Geelong Edge, she is currently in rehearsals for, Six Hours In Geelong, an original work, created by the ensemble, which will be showing at GPAC on 27 October.
‘I guess I’m kind of an activist, in my own way’, says Sila:
‘I’ve seen a lot first hand, I’ve experienced it, but not as bad as some people. In the show, we’re trying to tackle misconceptions around Islam. I can’t stand injustice. I can’t stand people believing lies. But it’s very hard to change what people think. I hope our show can challenge minds and hopefully audiences can leave the theatre aware of some real issues…’
Sila is in the first year of a Bachelor of Criminology and Psychological Science at Deakin University. She also likes to make short films, and works part-time in a fish and chip shop. She was in year nine at North Geelong Secondary College when Western Edge Youth Arts came and staged a performance at her school. ‘There was a girl wearing hijab and it was about racism’, she recalls about the performance, ‘and that really got me’.
She was involved in WEYA’s school based program at NGSC, and after finishing high school was part of a small group who’s passion for making socially engaged theatre lead them to form the Geelong Edge ensemble, with the support of WEYA.
Of Six Hours In Geelong, which follows Belonging, performed to a packed house at the Geelong Courthouse last year, she says: ‘I love what everyone is putting into it…we’re getting better and better with our shows’.
Sila was born in Australia soon after her parents emigrated from Turkey, with her older brother, but is strongly connected to her Turkish cultural roots. She says:
‘Our household is quite Turkish. We speak a lot of Turkish and we are quite cultured in how we eat. There’s a Turkish community in Geelong and we spend time with them’.
Sila was nine when her parents made the decision to move back to Istanbul. She went to school in Turkey and loved it:
‘It was good. I adapted well. I always felt more Turkish on the inside, although I’ve always been a bit conflicted. I’m not really Australian enough, but I’m not Turkish enough. I love the culture, so that’s why I adapted well. The people there, I really get along with, so I can fit in. I spoke English when I went there, and everyone was really amazed at this little girl from Australia who spoke English. I made friends really quick.’
But the family struggled financially in Turkey and ended up coming back to Australia. She goes on:
‘We go back to Turkey every few years. I haven’t been since I was 16, and now there is so much going on with terrorist attacks and I’m scared to go back. Family have visited us here, like my grandma and my aunty. But it’s a hard process to get them here. We don’t have “New Year’s” or anything like that spent with family. My Dad passed away five years ago, so my Mum’s been very strong. She’s been Super Mum’.
We came back to talking about the show, and the process the ensemble has gone through to create the work. She explains that they ‘created scenarios first, and the characters came out of that’.
The character that Sila is playing is called Zareen, who she relates to quite strongly:
‘Zareen is a conflicted character. She’s stuck between two worlds: culture and religion. We tried not to paint her as a stereotypical “Muslim girl”. She’s got lots of layers.
Sila explained to me that early in the play Zareen has experiences that lead to a decision to start wearing hijab ‘almost as a political statement’. She’s a character that ‘blames herself and is stuck on what to do, how to act in this society. She feels guilty a lot’.
‘We really want to put up the right message about Muslims in the community’, says Sila and she emphasises that an important phrase in the play is ‘we shouldn’t get Islam and culture mixed up’. She talks about what she sees as ‘…the growing hate on Islam and the misconceptions surrounding it’.
‘Hopefully through the play’, she says, ‘we can put some perspective on it’. She continues:
‘We can’t speak for Muslims around the world. But we can show that we are all just humans. We’re all lost. We’re all flawed, and believing in what you believe in doesn’t make you a bad person’.
There are three Muslim characters in the play. They are each very different, having been brought up in different contexts, and coming from different cultural backgrounds. ‘One’s lost’ she says, ‘one’s really religious, but they’re all true, they’re all representing real people’. She goes on to muse:
‘Religion is really how you interpret it. Everyone interprets it differently. It really depends on your environment and your upbringing’.
Sila has a fascination with discrimination, that she has had the opportunity to explore through her studies, as well as through theatre. She’s also seen and experienced some interesting, and frightening examples of it in different forms and contexts.
Last time Sila was in Turkey, things were pretty volatile, politically. She paints a picture:
‘We were at my Aunties place in Turkey and there were random violent marches where people were creating fires and burning what ever was in their path. And there were gun shots and stuff like that. You watch from the balcony but try not to poke your head out when they’re going on. You can hear it from a mile away and it’s quite scary’.
She goes on to explain more about some of the tensions:
‘Turkey is the biggest protector of refugees and I met a lot of them when I was there. In my Grandma’s apartment I met a little Syrian girl who had her face burned. A lot of people don’t like the refugees being there and say that they take our jobs and stuff, but others are also supportive’.
‘In Turkey, also it’s the fear, that some of them are terrorists. If people meet a Syrian refugee they seem really sad and they love them, but when they’re talking about them, it’s like they’re another person’.
She reflects that ‘It’s not just white people that can be racist. You can have a lot of people hating each other’. But she cautions, that ‘it’s white supremacy that’s institutionalised’ in the Australian context, and globally, and this institutional racism can be particularly problematic:
‘I see how people can be marginalised for their race, in the criminal justice system, in healthcare. Yeah it all goes hand in hand. It’s the inbuilt stuff that’s so deep in the system. I guess it’s worse in America, but, Aboriginal people, for example, are something like three percent of the population, but one third of the incarcerated population. Yeah, there’s a big issue here too.’
Referring back to the play, she says, ‘everything we’re doing in the play it’s so real’. And she goes on to talk about a real life incident that happened to her just a couple of weeks ago in Geelong.
She was out in the evening, having just finished a film shoot for some footage that will be used in Six Hours In Geelong. Sila had a scarf on, because she was in costume as her character, Zareen. She was sitting at a fast food restaurant with her friend. ‘It was cold’, she said. ‘I kept the hijab on to keep warm’.
When she got up to leave, she brushed past a man, who took the opportunity to lay into her with a tirade of unprovoked verbal abuse. She says:
‘I’ve never experienced that in my real life, where I don’t wear hijab. And also, from the other people who were there. No one said anything. No one jumped in. I was a young woman, getting verbally abused and no one stepped in. I was just wearing it for a couple of hours and that happened to me. I realised how hard it must be for people wearing hijab every day.’
Her closing comments are about the role of the news and the media in feeding a culture of discrimination:
‘Headlines say “Muslim terrorist”. Why don’t they just say “terrorist”. If a Christian does it, they have a troubled childhood. By having those two words, “Muslim” and “Terrorist” associated together for years and years, people have been wired to fear Muslims, and to think that they’re all evil. The Turkish community are just so frustrated with it. And there’s so many keyboard warriors. I can’t even watch stuff any more because of the comments. It’s really frustrating. The news is also controlled by the government’s agenda. It’s like pills for sheep’.
But Sila is no blind follower. She is finding a strong voice for countering misconceptions and increasing understanding. If she ever goes into politics, I know I’ll be voting for her, and not only to prove that women who work in fish and chip shops in Australian regional towns, can offer compassionate and broadminded perspectives. Six Hours In Geelong, will show on 27 October at Geelong Performing Arts Centre. Bookings via GPAC website.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Our Passionate Pathways feature for this month is Craig Gunguta.
Dancer, actor, musician, and art’s in education facilitator, Craig is a creative powerhouse who believes he is here for a reason.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Craig moved to Geelong by himself in 2014 when he was 17 years old. In Zimbabwe he was involved in making Zimdancehall music. And since moving to Australia, he has continued to develop his creative practice, working across a range of disciplines.
I asked him what he was up to creatively at the moment:
‘I just made a song on Sunday, just finished recording that track and I’m working on two plays: Six Hours in Geelong and At First Glance. And I just finished shooting a video with an artist called Sticker1 that’s gonna be released on MTV soon. I was dancing in that.’
Theatre was a new thing that he got into pretty soon after coming to Australia. He was in year 10 at North Geelong Secondary Collage when a group from Western Edge Youth Arts came and did an interactive performance at the school, and some of his friends were doing WEYA’s after-school workshop program, and suggested he come along. He recalls:
‘Everyone was like Craig, gotta join in, gotta join in! My friend Chang was really keen and I wasn’t, but then I started to be the one to say “are you coming?”. I got really interested in acting’.
Three years later, Craig is working for Western Edge Youth Arts as a facilitator, supporting younger participants in a similar open access theatre program in Wyndham, as they find their voice and their confidence in front of an audience. He is also working on WEYA’s big gig for the year, as a member of emerging artist ensemble Geelong Edge. Six Hours in Geelong is a work that the ensemble have devised from scratch, out of an intensive development process that involved each of the ensemble members bringing elements of their own diverse stories and personal experience into the rehearsal space.
I asked Craig about the development process for Six Hours in Geelong, and how it has been for him. He reflected that it has been great working with the ensemble on this project:
‘I get to see how other people see things in this multicultural community. I get to see how everyone thinks, you know, and I appreciate that. Most of the stuff in this story is something that really happened to somebody and something that really happened in the world. When we were writing this we were channelling energies of things we’d experienced and trying to express that. Trying to express how the world is and ways to make it better.’
In Six Hours In Geelong, Craig plays a character called Zondo. He explains that:
‘My character’s name is actually taken from one of my best friends who is in Zimbabwe at the moment. He went to the same school as me in Zimbabwe. There was always an alpha male at the school and he was it. Then he past on the tradition to me. People liked you as that person, but at the same time they feared you. He was sort of a mentor for me. That’s why I named the character that, cos the character really reminds me of him.
Craig is one of a kind. At 21 he is already carving out a unique path for himself. I asked him about his philosophy of life and he said:
‘I like to – how can I put it – I try to be not the same as everyone. I believe in individualism. Society tries to tell us do this, do this. I try to be different in what I do. We are all equal, I know that, but there are certain ideologies put up by society that are not good for people. The only way we can overcome the stuff that’s happening in the world, the racism and stuff, is to all realise that we are different and we are unique in our own ways. And like, if you’re tall and I’m short, and if I’m trying to reach something, you can give me a hand. Our differences shouldn’t separate us. They should be able to unite us. You know?
‘From where I’m from I didn’t think that I could ever amount to anything. Personally I feel I’m here for a reason. I’ve seen people suffer. I’ve been in environments where I didn’t think that I would make it. And so I feel like there’s a reason why I’m here. All of the people who didn’t make it. I just remember them and think “why am I here?”. I don’t know why they didn’t make it here and I did. That just gives me an extra edge in whatever I do, and so much passion, cos you never know where you’re going to end up in life’.
Western Edge Youth Arts is proud to have Craig as one of our emerging artists and wish him all the best for the upcoming show and all of his creative endeavours.
Six Hours In Geelong will be showing at Geelong Performing Arts Centre on 27 October, 1pm and 7pm. Bookings via the GPAC website.
Watch Zondo’s Story on Youtube.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
Dane Noble is a teacher at Whittington Primary School. His year 3-4 class has participated in WEYA’s residency program at the school. He kindly took a break from his school holiday bathroom renovation project to talk to me about his experience of the program.
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington has run over two ten week terms, both last year and this year. Dane explained how the first term of each program is a series of theatre workshops, and the second term is about putting together a play that students then perform for their school community. This year’s production, Arabian Nights, will take place at the school on 18 August.
Talking about his first term working with the WEYA teaching team, Dane said:
‘I didn’t realize at the time that we were going through the whole story that we then created as a play. The way that process works is really effective for the kids.’
What he is particularly excited about, as a teacher, is the impact of the program, that permeates well beyond the bounds of the theatre workshops, into other areas of learning, the discussions that are sparked in the class room, and the ‘stories they write’.
The production they are currently working, is set in the Middle East and ‘that’s really interesting to have those conversations’, he says, pointing out that Wittington Primary is a relatively disadvantaged regional school, with many students who don’t have many opportunities to gain an expansive visions of the world.
He focuses in on the impact on students’ general sense of confidence and capacity. ‘It’s great for kids with different sorts of abilities’ he says, ‘some kids who might struggle with reading have an opportunity to come to the fore.’
And the inclusivity of the programs is also a plus for him: ‘last year we had 3 or 4 kids who had really low attendance, but they still had a role.’
I asked him what the WEYA residency had taught him about his students:
‘That element of those kids having an opportunity to be successful, even though they’re not reading at anything like the standard of their year level. If a kid is in year four and he can’t read well, then he isn’t in a good position to be feeling confident about his capacity to achieve… [what’s great about the WEYA program] …is the opportunities for success…’
And he gave this example:
‘This particular kid, he’s been asked a couple of times to read some lines. You can see he’s been told the line. He’s hanging around the back and repeating and repeating the line so he knows he’ll get it right. In this process he’ll sit there and he’ll work on it till he knows he can get it right. Kids who would, in other circumstances, just say ‘no I can’t do that’ can reach that success, and learn about the process of learning, having multiple opportunities to get it right. He was practicing and practicing. You find out about [the students’] resilience, that comes out in a different way.’
Dane also talked about the cumulative value of the program over the two-year period that it’s been running:
‘Kids that are repeating, you can see their confidence, in the way they’re acting. Learning how to actually talk to the crowd, you can see how they’ve retained that learning. One of the stars from last year, you can see how he’s showing the others how to do it.’
I asked about where they are at in the process. ‘We’re at the point now of running through the play and figuring out who’s going to take what role’, he explained. This is not a simple process, he explains, because each of the kids is given a role, and some lead roles are shared around. Last year there were ‘three different Hades’, for example.
Dane is anticipating that Arabian Nights will be a bit of a big deal for the school community. Talking about the production last year he said:
‘They [the WEYA teaching artists] don’t just chuck them up on stage and say “have a go”. They go the whole hog. Big performance, great set, great lighting… Six classes performed on the same day. There was a massive parent turn out. That showed something about how it was valued both by the kids and by the families.’
So I asked him to say more about the parents, and the Whittington community, and what he’d learned about them through the process:
‘It was interesting for me to see the parents that did turn up’, Dane reflected, explaining that he’s only been living in the area for the two years that he’s been teaching at Whittington Primary, so he’s still getting to know the neighbourhood:
‘There was that element of not being part of the community and not knowing who they were’ he said, but he really appreciated the opportunity to connect with parents ‘outside of the formal teacher interview’, which was the main forum in which he’d met them previously.
His impression is of a community that is significantly less economically and educationally advantaged, compared to the inner city school where he previously taught. He remembers when he started this job, being surprised about the expectation that he wear a suit and tie to meet with parents, and how the principle explained that “when the parents come to see us, we’re probably one of the most formal people they see in their lives”. Dane goes on to explain that:
‘For many of these parents, their other experiences with authority are often not very good. So seeing that many people engaged with the drama program…it’s amazing to see that kind of engagement with parents and a sense of building an understanding of the shared process of learning, and building respect and trust in these communities. The school is gradually building that respect in the community, and the Western Edge project has helped to build that.’
Dane sums up our chat, saying that:
‘The key message that I want to get across is that element of – its not just going in for a little drama class. There are great education benefits. The facilitators obviously know what they are doing. I love going in there and knowing that it’s going to be organized and knowing that the kids are going to have fun. It’s not just a fun play where someone dresses as a tree. There’s actually great educational depth to it. I know I enjoy it and I think most of the other teachers do to.’
Visit our shows page for details of the upcoming production of Arabian Nights.
Article by Kendra Keller, Western Edge Youth Arts
WEYA’s residency program at Whittington Primary School is supported by the Kimberly Foundation.