Interviewing the oldest woman in a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia was scary at first for young performer Rex Semsi Pelman. He was far from home, and she was unsmiling.
‘Because I don’t come from their culture I wanted to tread lightly,’ says Rex, who was in Beagle Bay with other high school students to collect stories for a performance of Chronicles with Western Edge Youth Arts in 2012.
‘I interviewed her about how respect has been lost as generations go on,’ says Rex, who hails from Deer Park. ‘After the performance she was smiling and really happy. I took a picture of her and me, I’ve got it on my wall really blown up.’
Rex joined the three-year Chronicles project in 2010, after his drama teacher suggested he check out an after-school theatre project that involved interviewing older local migrants from the western suburbs about culture and identity.
It’s here that Rex first heard stories of his mum’s early life in Western Samoa.
‘It really helped me to understand where my mum came from. The project captured me because of culture. I’m really distant from my own culture. I’d like to explore where my roots came from,’ says Rex.
Through his next role as a beat boxer in Random in 2011, Rex discovered he had a knack for getting through to rowdy kids. He soon took up work as a facilitator in Western Edge’s primary school community theatre programs.
‘As soon as I hit Western Edge in Year 9, I was non-stop busy. My holidays were packed. Still today [five years on], I’m busy with everything. It’s a good habit. You get a lot done and it’s good to look back and be proud of what you did,’ says Rex.
In his down time, Rex produces his own music, is part of the Massive hip-hop choir, a sound designer and member of the Edge Ensemble, which is preparing for a return season of Iago, a retelling of Othello.
‘The work makes us go deeper. Right now we’re talking about violence against women all the time. It really hits home for me, because of my family history. The conversations are endless and we respect each other in our arguments.’