Theatre Review: Going Down written by Michele Lee

Going Down Syd theatre co

Michele Lee is to be congratulated for writing a brilliant play, Going Down which cleverly deals with topical issues in a comical way. The main one being whether writers from migrant backgrounds should be forced into writing migrant stories that don’t belong to them. That is something which Natalie Yang, (played by Catherine Davies) a Hmong-Australian writer, is faced with.

Natalie goes on a book tour all the way to rural Victoria to promote her memoir, Banana Girl which receives a lukewarm reception by her audience of three, who is horrified by the amount of sex involved. They point out how much they admire Lu Lu Jayadi (played by Jenny Wu), whose memoir about her experiences as a refugee has made her a literary icon and why doesn’t she do the same? Natalie rejects the migrant narrative and decides, while on a wild night out with her friends Tilda (Naomi Rukavina) and Matt (Paul Blenheim), to write about her sex life and makes the brash decision to write 100 cocks in 100 nights. 

Syd theatre co.jpg

Catherine Davies is outstanding, playing super energised Natalie, which is like watching her run a marathon throughout the play, due to her highly physical performance. It’s not until the end when Natalie reunites with her mother that we see a softer, gentler, empathetic side to her character. Jenny Wu is also to be commended for her versatility in playing multiple roles that are distinctive – I loved watching her play Lu Lu Jayadi (Natalie’s arch-nemesis) to a poor homeless woman to Natalie’s mother. Naomi Rukavina gives a powerful performance as Natalie’s friend. A wonderful touching moment is when she mops up Natalie’s face after she’s just barfed up a donut – here the tone of the play changes to a more peaceful one. Josh Price is hilarious and adds additional comedic undertones to the play. Paul Blenheim gives a convincing performance as Tilda’s on again, off again boyfriend.

Going Down

I loved the clever set design by The Sister Hayes, with the pull out bed under the stairs of the stage and the projection of tweets and texts. Congratulations to Leticia Caceres for directing such a entertaining play – the performances of the actors and the staging were outstanding.

8 / 10

Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Co

Sydney Theatre Company’s Going Down is at Wharf 2 Theatre until May 5 

Advertisements

Theatre Review: Black is the New White

4

Black is the New White returns for 2018, after a successful season last year at Sydney Theatre Company, with all the characters we love. The only main cast change is Miranda Tapsell as the quirky fashion designer, Rose. Tapsell adds a youthful, vibrance to this season. The play is cleverly written by Nakkiah Lui who uses comedy to address serious issues affecting the Indigenous.

A comical love story about a hotshot lawyer, Charlotte Gibson, and her broke cellist, Francis Smith, who fall in love defying their parents. She is the daughter of Australia’s most prominent Aboriginal politician and he is the son of a conservative rival. The two are engaged and invite their families to meet, not knowing that their fathers are having a argument on Twitter. When they unite at a Christmas dinner, all hell breaks loose as the fathers’ long standing feud comes to a head. Secrets come pouring out and hypocrisies regarding race, gender, social class status and religion is exposed in a sharp-witted, humorous way.

1

I particularly enjoyed and was entertained by Stokes’ stage entrance, Tapsell’s quirkiness and youthful energy she brought to Rose’s character and Vanessa’s final revelations, all thanks to Paige Rattray’s direction and Lui’s clever writing.

The play’s message is about class expectations, race and most of all – being true to yourself, not living according to society or family expectations.

Starring Shari Sebbens (Charlotte Gibson), Tom Stokes (Francis Smith), Tony Briggs and Melodie Reynolds-Diarra (Ray and Joan) Geoff Morrell and Vanessa Downing (Marie and Dennison Smith), Miranda Tapsell (Rose) and Anthony Taufa (Rose’s husband).

4

Black is the new White is at Roslyn Packer Theatre from March 2nd, 2018.

http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

Single Asian Female & interview with Courtney Stewart

Screen shot 2018-02-14 at 4.33.00 PM

Single Asian Female opened at Belvoir St Theatre on the weekend to an excited (sold out) audience and it’s the first Australian mainstage play to feature three Asian leads! This play is stylish and entertaining. It’s about an Asian-Australian family that owns a Chinese restaurant (The Golden Phoenix) in Nambour. The head of the family is Pearl, the quintessential matriarch – balancing family, business, and her love of karaoke, who runs the restaurant. She has two daughters, Zoe, the eldest, a classical musician, who’s in the throes of online dating, making big life decisions and Mei, the youngest, a teenager, struggling with her identity in modern Australia.  Pearl is constantly questioning her Westernised daughters, as they see the world differently to their mother. In the first act she reveals a secret that threatens to tear their family apart.

courtney 3.jpg

Playwright, Michelle Law’s frustration with the current theatre scene motivated her to write her debut play.

‘It shines a spotlight on labels; those we assign ourselves and others, and how we struggle against the limitations imposed by those labels in order to lead authentic lives…’

Last year, Single Asian Female was staged as a 60-minute reading of an untested playwright with support from La Boite and its partners, (Contemporary Asian Australian Performance & Playwriting Australia). Law has been given room to grow the story, and workshop it extensively. She has successfully helped change the landscape of Australian theatre which, over the years has been quintessentially white, by portraying this modern play representing multicultural Australia.

michelle law 1

This production is exceptionally cast, with underlying tones of racial discrimination presented in a comedic way through its characters. In the first act we see Pearl in a cheongsam belting out I Will Survive, on top of a table in her family restaurant. We then learn about her hardships, how she survived through her marriage breakup and her resilience in bringing up her two daughters. Zoe being the peacemaker, and Mei who constantly wishing she was white like her school friends, Lana and Katie.

courtney 1

I had the honour of interviewing Courtney Stewart who plays Mei. Her performance was strong and truthful in playing a teenager growing up Asian in Australia.

*

Joy: What made you want to do Single Asian Female?

*
Courtney: After being involved in a reading of Single Asian Female, I ruthlessly pursued the development of this work. The dialogue is hilarious, the characters are unique and I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of this story. As a result of our season in Brisbane, there was a horde of new audience members finally seeing their faces and hearing their voices on stage. The power of representation is immense ~ and I really wanted to be a part of that.
*
Joy: What did the audition process involve?
*
Courtney: The audition process involved me reading a couple of scenes with Claire Christian (the director) and Michelle Law (the writer). We ended up in hysterics over the larger than life characters, but also dove into the heart wrenching reality of their personal dilemmas. Right from the start it was a collaborative process, which is by far my favourite way of making work.
*

Joy: What is your view on diversity in the arts (theatre, film. T.V)?

Do you see changes since the Diversity committee was formed?
*
Courtney: I say this to as many people who will listen: I believe it is the most exciting time to be an artist from a diverse background. There are opportunities that exist now that weren’t around when I started out in this industry and I can see how the Diversity Committee has been a valuable player in changing our monocultural Theatrical landscape. The Committee opens up channels of communication with major players in theatre, film and television so conversations around how to engage new artists can be had.
*
Joy: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
*
Courtney: In 10 Years time I hope to be an artistic director of a major theatre company so I can be at the helm of making decisions that push towards a more cohesive and evenly represented industry.
*
belvoir
*

I enjoyed watching this play because I feel it’s important to reflect diversity of our modern society on stage, so as a result -people feel that they belong.

Single Asian Female is currently showing at Belvoir St Theatre until March 25th, 2018.

18 & 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
NSW 2010 Australia

Cast: Emily Burton
Lucy Heffernan

Patrick Jhanur
Alex Lee
Courtney Stewart
Hsiao-Ling Tang

By Michelle Law
Director Claire Christian
Set & Costume Designer Moe Assaad
Composer & Sound Designer Wil Hughes
Lighting Designer Keith Clark
Stage Manager Peter Sutherland
Assistant Stage Managers Katie Hurst & Keiren Smith

Photos courtesy of Belvoir & Michelle Law.

Theatre Review: According to Otto

4
*
World premiere of new Australian play – According to Otto
It’s Otto Brooks’ 16th birthday and he’s about to reveal his big secret to his family – he’s gay! 
*
Otto has the usual family – parents who love and embarrass him, a Uni student sister, a loving Nana who’s disabled and loves to blurt out hilarious pop culture statements, and a best friend, Max, who he’s secretly in love with. Plus there’s a school bully out to get him, Otto has a lot to go through before he’s out and truly happy. Hence, “time to delve into the world according to Otto!” 
*
2
*
This play is directed by Wayne Tunks and is well cast, particularly the lead role, Otto, played by Jasper Musgrave. Musgrave gives a strong, truthful performance as sixteen year old Otto coming out. He is supported by a wonderful ensemble cast. Tunks plays his father who is very caring and understanding towards him coming out and gives a powerful performance particularly in the scene when he’s confronting the principal.
*
1
*
Another favourite scene of mine is where Otto’s mother is at work with a gay colleague, Simon who’s very camp, played by Andrew Wang. Together they have hilarious conversations about life and his cat. I love the staging and choreography of this play as it’s often stylised to give emphasis to the dialogue. Also diversity plays an important role in the storyline, which is a positive, as this reflects our modern society as it stands today.
*
According to Otto is playing at Depot Theatre, 142 Addison Rd, Marrickville.
14th – 24th February 2018.
*
*
3
*
Wayne Tunks is one the leading lights in the independent theatre world. His plays have been performed worldwide. His most popular plays include, “The Subtle Art of Flirting, The Bridesmaid Must Die, We’ll Always Have Wagga, The Girlie Show, Fag Boy & the Married Guy, Silvertop Ash, Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna and this year’s hit plays, Bitch and Diva Wars. Wayne is a former storyliner on TV’s Neighbours, and in 2018 releases his web series, After Nightfall.
*
Running time: 105 minutes including interval
*
Producer: Wayne Tunks
Director: Wayne Tunks
Assistant Director: Daniel Pollock
Lighting Designer: Louise Mason
*
Cast: Felicity Burke, Alice Furze, Cooper Mortlock, Jacinta Moses, Jasper Musgrave, Tasha O’Brien, Brendan Paul, Wayne Tunks and Andrew Wang

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with actor Max Brown

MaxBrown02

Max Brown is an Asian Australian actor (half Chinese-Singaporean / Anglo-Australian) known for his television roles as Robin Dawal in Neighbours, David Goldman in Glitch Series 2 and Kevin Dang in Secret City and the feature film We’re Not Here To Fuck Spiders (2017).

JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

MAX: Story telling. Everyone in the industry has personal goals, but I reckon one thing we share is that we all watched a film or TV show at some point in our lives that had an impact on us and we’re all looking to recapture the moment that moved us and give it back to audiences through story.

JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MAX: I was a bit starved for Asian representation so I grew up identifying with the majority white characters and actors on my screen, but thanks to my Aunty bringing over Hong Kong DVDS when she visited, I got to grow up watching Brigette Linn and Adam Cheng. That recent scandal where the Hollywood Casting Director said Asian actors were expressionless? They obviously never got to see Adam’s charm or Brigette’s depth and presence on screen. I watched their movies again and again as a kid and I still have them on high rotation today. I’ll also add Dante Brasco from Hook as a childhood role model! Such a bad ass. Ru-fi-ooo!

MaxBrown04

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MAX: I actually wanted to be a director and someone told me the best directors knew how actors worked, so I took a part time NIDA course which was being taught by Sam Worthington; he ended up convincing me to ditch directing and give acting a go. My first professional gig was a small part on Home and Away, which involved some complex blocking with cars and guns on my first day…it was a steep learning curve!

JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?

MAX: A lot of actor friends from diverse backgrounds who were struggling for ages are now getting auditions and booking roles and that’s not because they all coincidentally became better actors overnight, it’s because diverse roles are finally starting to be written. The key word there is “starting”. It’s not just about upping the numbers but specifically writing characters that challenge preconceptions across all minorities. I’ve still had to say no to racially stereotypical roles as recently as this year…so we still have a long way to go until we achieve true parity in the industry. But we’re on the right path.

Max Brown01

JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?

MAX: All my friends in this industry inspire me, because I see their constant struggle to be recognised and contribute. Watching them hold down multiple day jobs, deal with the constant rejection and disappointment while still pushing themselves to improve…that always amazes and inspires me.

JOY: What are you working on now?

MAX: Wrapped a small role on the second season of the ABC Netflix series Glitch earlier this year and just got back from LA where I was in the final rounds for a lead character in a TV new series.That was an opportunity that came about partly due to the push for diversity we’ve seen recently, they’re definitely looking for more Asian faces on screen internationally. Coming up, I have a role in a queer short film starring Ra Chapman from new director Chloe Wong. It’s a great script that pokes at society’s views on queer behaviour.

JOY: What is your dream role & why?

MAX: I’d like to remake one of those old Hong Kong movies like “Lover Beware” or “Swordsman II” which also starred Brigette- I think there’s nothing like them in the west and I’d love to bring the ideas and themes from the Chinese fantasy genre to a new viewership. Hero and Crouching Tiger opened that door but they both portray a very stoic interpretation of Asian heroic fiction, and I think the “smiling wanderer” trope would be fresh. It would be interesting to see how the role of a gender fluid character like the Dongfang Bubai would be cast today.

JOY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What do you think you’ll be doing?

MAX: Hopefully I’ll be a lot healthier than I am now haha. But I’m the worst with plans…I have no idea what next year looks like let alone 10! Helping to redefine the depiction of Asians in Western media and diversity in general, would be great.

JOY: What’s your advice for graduates / up and coming actors trying to get in the industry?

MAX: I’ve heard people call acting a marathon, and I reckon that’s good advice. Beyond talent and skill, succeeding in this business is about not giving up and outlasting those who do. Its hard and you’re going to hate it and have no money a lot of the time, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll eventually get a chance. Never give up and be ready for it when it comes.

 

Chimerica review – Sydney Theatre Company’s best production

chimericanew_716x403

Last night I was honoured to attend a special preview performance of Sydney Theatre Company’s Chimerica. I have to say that this is Sydney Theatre Company’s best production yet. I was blown away by not only the script but also by the performance of the whole cast, stage direction and especially the set transitions that looked more like a well choreographed dance. There were also a few wonderful elements of theatre magic incorporated into the show.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-7-04-53-am

Chimerica is a play by the British dramatist Lucy Kirkwood directed by Kip Williams. It draws its title from the term Chimerica, referring to the predominance of China and America in modern geopolitics. It tracks two decades of complex US-China relations alongside the personal stories that exist beyond the margins of history. It’s a gripping drama, has a touch of romance, and has great comedy – all in one. One of my favourite lines is, “be careful of your tooth” …”you can’t handle the truth!” The whole audience erupted into laughter at this scene and Gabrielle Chan’s money exchange scene and many more.

a.jpg  b.jpg

Award-winning Artistic Director Kip Williams (All My Sons) directs a visually enthralling Australian premiere of this captivating epic which takes the audience on an emotional journey that leaves you in awe by his directorial vision and strong performance of the cast. After winning Helpmann Awards in 2016 for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, Mark Leonard Winter (King Lear) features as the photojournalist at the centre of the action, together with Jason Chong (Netflix’s Marco Polo), and a magnificent ensemble cast who are joined by 20 young artists from the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

Mesmerising performances by the cast – Matthew Backer, Gabrielle Chan, Jason Chong, Tony Cogin, Geraldine Hakewill, Brent Hill, Rebecca Massey, Monica Sayers, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Brandon Wong, Charles Wu & Jenny Wu.

This is theatre at its best. It’s visually stimulating and leaves the audience in awe by the cast’s performance and a well written script. Congratulations to Kip Williams and the cast & ensemble cast. This is a 10/10 production.

 

 

Interview with Australian martial artist & actor Maria Tran

maria-tran-1

Maria Tran is an Australian-Vietnamese. Her work includes short films such as “Enter The Dojo”, “Gaffa”, “Hit Girls” as well as Hollywood legend, Roger Corman’s upcoming mix martial arts movie playing killer assassin Zhen. Tran also starred as Yoshiko in the Chinese action film “Death Mist” in 2014 starring Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle). In 2008 she acted in “Downtown Rumble” Kung Fu action micro-series on JTV-ABC TV and her short film “Gaffa”; another action comedy, won Hoyts People’s Choice Award for the Joy House Film Festival in 2013.

Maria Tran won a “Breakout Action Actress” award at the 2013 Action on Film International Festival for her portrayal of the character Charlie Vu in the female assassin comedy, “Hit Girls”. She also played supporting character “Mai Le” in Logie award-winning children’s ABC TV series “My Place”, stunt double for the character “Petal” in ABC’s TV series Maximum Choppage – Australia’s first Kung Fu comedy and acted in her first theatre production called “It’s War!” directed by Alex Lykos.

What made you want to do martial arts & acting as a career?

I recall growing up and being bullied quite often in school. I was called “Ching Chong” or “Gook” at times and the bullying became physical in an incident where I got slapped in the face, my hair pulled and I was shoved around a group of girls. The moment left me shocked, frustrated and confused why I was subjected to such treatment and it left me angry. My parents must of picked it up and suggested that I try martial arts to learn self defence to protect myself from those cases.

In 1998 I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do in a local school based in Cabramatta and become quite invested in it. Martial arts allowed me to let go of my external inhibitions, become stronger, with more focus and discipline. I performed my craft during school show and tells, spoke extensively about it, and I noticed that I carried myself differently; with a strong air of confidence and since that moment, no one ever confronted me again.

Acting came around in 2007 during a local project I produced called “Maximum Choppage”. It was an independent movie made by predominately Asian-Australians from Western Sydney. It was during this time that my acting bug was ignited and only several years later did I publicly embrace my passion in this, as prior I was unsure about my abilities and being Asian sometime means you have to make choices that also make your parents proud.

What were the challenges you found when you started?

I love martial arts but loathe begin boxed into this. After a string of martial arts short films and movies made in China and Vietnam, I was beginning to be labelled as the “kung fu girl” and nothing else. I was pigeon holed as a “stuntie” which I had no accreditation for, which in turned infuriated the stunt community as well. I wanted to be seen as an actor but didn’t have enough dramatic credits to show for as well as not formally trained. The challenges can be felt immensely when you are doing things the less conventional sense and going against the grain. I found that I had to gear myself psychological for the fight; the fight and rebuttal against all the subtle forms of racism that people often questioned if it was real or imagined.

Who were your role models growing and why?

My roles models stemmed from the martial arts action cinema of the 80s and 90s in Hong Kong. I grew up huddling around the TV during family gatherings to watch VHS tape of Jackie Chan’s latest flick or get excited seeing female fatale onscreen action queens such as Cynthia Khan, Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Film and television at that time was super white; a Country Practice, Neigbours and Home and Away with storytelling that just doesn’t gel with who I am. But Hong Kong cinema allowed me to think of the possibilities and the relief that Asian faces were heroes and heroines in their lives and adventure in other places in the world despite the dire lack in Australia.

Maria Tran and Jackie Chan.jpg

What has been your career highlight/ highlights?

My career highlight would have to be being invited to work with my long-term idol; Jackie Chan on the movie “Bleeding Steel” as it was shot in Sydney in mid 2016. Screen NSW gave me the call to take part as a stunt attachment and be around on set and learn the ropes. It was an insightful experience to see the difference between the Chinese way of filmmaking; which is fast pace and intuitive in comparison to the Australian way; which was much more structured and formal. Both had its pros and cons and seeing how cultural differences also affect how people relate to each other. Regardless, Jackie Chan is perhaps one of the most humbling person I’ve ever met. He takes on multi roles, works very hard, pushes himself and people and makes it a duty to look after everyone. It’s a reminder to me that if everyone took the time to implement what the value in human beings, the world would be a better place and things like “racism” just won’t exist.

What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia? Are we getting better?

I think the Australian film industry have always been veered towards their Anglo-saxon audiences for decades, hence there’s always been an inequality between white and diverse actors. In addition, there are moments in the casting system that allows for ethnic roles to be taken away in favour for those who are privileged enough to enter prestige acting schools and can afford to focus on this craft for several years. From my experience, I’ve had several instances where I would see roles made for a particular culture casted to those from another ethnicity, quite possibly because “All Asians looks the same” mentality and if the majority of the Australian audiences can’t pick out the differences, then that’s fine. The truth stand that it is not, and I think there is a movement happening in Australia from the Asian demographics that with time, will lead to change.

What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian television / Film / Theatre?

It’s still an issue that affects all Asian actors as well as stories from this demographic. The issue is multifacet as well as still unexplored. I feel like sometimes when us Asians mention the word “diversity” we are perceived as attention seekers in the media eye. But this is what we want, and why is it such an issue when we raise our voices? Is it possibly because mainstream prefer to stereotype Asians as submissive, nerdy, quiet types? If this is so, I think we still need to continue the movement for change, inspire and activate more people in understanding the issues and find our own ways of representation.

Where do you see yourself in five years time? (What more do you want to achieve in your career?)

In the next 5 years I see myself internationally in China and Vietnam in both acting and filmmaking roles in their movie system. In 2015 I worked on Vietnamese blockbuster “Tracer” and this movie got released all over Vietnam as well as across Australian cinemas and it just shows that maybe to bring more diversity on Australian screens is to think laterally and work internationally. I still see Sydney, Australia as an anchor for my career and possibly delving in more TV series and movies roles as well. Of course there’s also the big smoke of Hollywood that I will venture off to; with broad imaginations that one-day I can also play a super hero of some sort.

the-tracer