New Voices for the West: Interview with Playwright Delsa Tuitea
Earlier in the year, we announced Delsa Tuitea as the 2023 recipient of New Voices for the West, Western Edge’s first-ever writing commission. Since July, Delsa has been working tirelessly on the development of her original play, E lelei mea uma – All is Well. We spoke to her to find out it’s all coming along in the lead-up to her staged reading.
First, tell us about your play: what is it about?
E lelei mea uma – All is well explores the events that transpire within a tight-knit church family when the church minister’s daughter Tepora mysteriously falls pregnant out of wedlock. The story follows the challenges faced when the status quo is disrupted and how differing values, perspectives and duties can often be questioned. When your family is the whole village, the stakes of this ‘predicament’ means everyone is in on this through the good and the bad. Often in such situations we see the values of the older and younger generation on opposite ends of spectrum, things are miscommunicated, and everyone wants to be in on the know. All in all, it encompasses the love of a family that come low or high tide, they’re there throughout the entire journey.
How did its journey begin? Tell us about its inception, and how it has progressed over the years up until New Voices? What value (if any) has New Voices provided to its growth and journey?
The premise of this story has sat with me for a few years, I wish I could share an anecdote about the inspiration of this story sparked on a train ride to work but in all honesty the concept is a culmination of my observations as a child of the Samoan diaspora.
I’m blessed to have witnessed my parents, multiple aunties, uncles, and elders who migrated to Australia establishing their ‘village’, families, careers and church communities. There’s a Samoan proverb “O Samoa o le maota tauave’ which translates to “Samoa is a house that is carried”, a strong affirmation of Samoan people carrying their cultural values, customs, and identity with them wherever they go. As such case, as a child of the diaspora I’ve seen this as a first generation born where our parents had migrated in the late 1980s and fast forward the strength and pride of our Samoan people stands strong and continues to grow in numbers.
That being said, ‘living the best of both worlds’ often sees questions of identity, values and morals collide when placed side by side with the ‘secular’ world and the ‘cultural’ or ‘church’ communities. That’s kind of the crux of this story (well kind of a short long-winded version), exploring the dynamics of the older and younger generation navigating their way in the diaspora, in this instance in the familial and church context.
It’s also a HUGE testament and cudos to our elders/parents who have migrated and established our Samoan village amidst the multiculturalism celebrated here in Australia!
If I’m being entirely honest, the above is also the reason I never felt brave enough to write it, but the play’s aim is not to condemn rather it’s to hopefully serve as a generative piece of art that I hope resonates.
New Voices really instilled in me the bravery to write again, it’s been nearly 8 years since my last staged play and when you sit and mull over concepts so personal to not just yourself but to a WHOLE community you tend to talk yourself out of writing it in fear of what it could evoke. The team at Western Edge as well as my incredible mentor/dramaturg Bernadette Fam have been instrumental in creating a safe space for me to write, learn and grow with this narrative.
How do you hope audiences will “read” your work? Do you anticipate any elements or parts that will prove particularly resonating?
The inspiration of this work is to generate conversations to create sustainable changes that will bridge the identity and generational gaps. I hope audiences are encouraged todelve into the issues of identity in the diaspora in the cultural and religious context as we bring forth topics’ immigrant parents of the diaspora offspring classify as ‘taboo ‘and work together to navigate through them together as a community/village.
Whilst the characters are predominantly Samoan, the story speaks to the many conflicts immigrant parents and children may face; parents adamant to continue to burn the flame of their grassroots culture and customs, whilst the younger generation live in a face paced changing world that may not adhere to customs. In a world where young people are encouraged to use their voices and serve to make a difference, they can often be misunderstood and left directionless when they are not heard or misjudged. On the other hand, elders are held in contempt for practices deemed ‘old school’ but their positionality solely revolves around their successful journeys in creating new lives, families and establishing firm communities/villages in countries abroad from their motherlands.
We can only thrive together if no one is left behind or left unheard.
As a writer and playwright, what are you inspired/influenced by? What motifs and themes are you interested in exploring?
I’ve always classified myself as a Samoan playwright, in the manner that I have only ever wanted to write stories about our people. Themes centralising around cultural identity, gender equality and decolonisation and its different nuances is something I find myself gravitating towards a LOT.
I’m certainly influenced by some of the Pasefika greats in theatre from Aotearoa such as Anapela Polataivao, Maiava Nathaniel Lees and playwright Tuisata Avia. More recently, I’ve become a fangirl of Michelle Law’s plays. To me if we’re to celebrate multiculturalism and diversity, we should tell our stories how they are and after watching Law’s Miss Peony I was an absolute fan of the play being unapologetically bilingual! Something I always hope to apply to my own writing.
What advice to you have to other young writers out there?
Be unapologetically brave.
Art that resonates is effective if we’re generating conversations that matter.
And one last thing….don’t ever write yourself off, God and the universe have a way of guiding you exactly to where you need to be if you invest in yourself, work hard and are passionate.
Believe me, a few years ago I’d given up my ‘playwright’ hat and yet here we are with a playwright commission.
About Delsa Tuitea
Delsa Evotia Tuitea is an Australian born Samoan playwright and producer. She is an alumna of La Trobe University graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English, Film and Theatre studies.
Having worked predominately in the community arts space for eight years as Secretary/Creative Associate with Pacific Island Creative Arts Australia Inc. (PICAA Inc.) Delsa has worked in various Pasefika arts projects. These vary from theatre productions, including her debut play Amataga o le alofa (D.E Tuitea, 2016), ReHavaiki (A.Tofete, 2017) and Acting 4 Youth (2018), as well as coordinating and promoting Pasefika music, film and arts programs including Spirit of Pasefika, Pasefika Vitoria Choir, Island Chronicles and PASIFIX Festival alongside Gaba Musik.
She is currently working as Program Manager/Creative Producer at Arts Centre Melbourne delivering projects to primary school students, youth and up and coming artists through programs such as Stories in the Wall and New Writers Collective. As well as her work with PICAA Inc and Arts Centre Melbourne, Delsa is also the secretary of Trans-Tasman siva Samoa academy, Le Masiofo Siva Academy Australia.