Diversity Spotlight – Interview with Monica Sayers

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Monica Sayers, is an Australian-Chinese actress and yoga teacher who has worked extensively in different performance mediums over the past 15 years in Australia, the UK and Ireland. She has worked on a number of television series including Love My Way, All Saints, Home and Away, The Clinic (Ireland) and The Royal (UK) and Sydney Theatre Company’s Australian Graffiti and Chimerica and is currently starring in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hay Fever. 

JOY: What is your cultural background?

MONICA: Chinese with dash of Incan blood! My great grandfather was part Chinese and South American.

JOY: When and where did you graduate?

MONICA: I studied The Journey at Actors Centre Australia in 1998, before graduating from the NIDA acting course in 2004.

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

MONICA: My mother Barbara was a very big role model in my life, as were my 2 grandmothers, May See and Lily.

Barbara sang in talent quests, was a model for fashion house, Mr Simons, and met my father whilst singing in the band called Parker. They fell in love and became a duo, playing in RSL clubs, cabaret venues and cruise ships. I grew up watching my mum perform regularly whilst holding down a full time job and run a household – I thought she was Superwoman! She was creative, witty, charismatic, yet she was down-to-earth and pragmatic.

My grandmother May See was an extraordinary woman of strength and dedication to her family’s survival during challenging times in China and Hong Kong. She had learnt to speak English at a young age – an invaluable tool utilized time and time again throughout her life. She fought tooth and nail to protect her kids and mother from the Communist party and was courageous and daring in her efforts. Her memoirs have been published by my aunt – Phoebe Sayers, a book called ‘Tomorrow is Another Trial’ a truly unbelievable recount of May See’s journey and her mother’s (my great grandmother’s) life.

My grandmother Lily was the happiest person I ever met! She would smile and laugh mid sentence and just light up a room with her little cackle. She was an animated storyteller and very expressive and emotional. She could cry at the drop of a hat and was soooo in the moment – she could never hold a grudge for very long. She was always the first to laugh at herself and not take things too seriously.

I cherish all that I learnt from these three women and miss them all everyday.

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

MONICA: Seeing my parents doing their cabaret act over my childhood and into my young adult life, it made me think having a career in the entertainment industry was possible and not out of the ordinary. Sure they had other day jobs and needed to juggle parenting, but they just made it work. When my sister was born, they stopped doing the tours and settled down in Sydney, but continued to perform.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MONICA: I studied music, art and drama in high school; I was in the choir and I used to learn piano, ballet and jazz dancing. I took singing lessons – opera as well as contemporary. I did TV commercials and catalogue modelling. There was no way I was ever going down a different path really – but I made sure to get a few back up jobs to keep the bank balance (and my father!) happy. In my late teens, I joined an extras agency and did some time on Heartbreak High. It grew from there.

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JOY: Do you think there have been positive changes in the industry in regards to stereotype casting or do you think we still have a long way to go?

MONICA: I think in some areas we are making great steps forward to balancing out stereotypes but I also feel, because we do have those characters that are based on real people, it’s hard to break the mould. I think what’s important here is there’s nothing wrong with using stereotypes, so long as they don’t stay confined in that box. Let there be more information about the character come through – something that you might not expect from them. What I find interesting is the thing you’d least expect from something that looks a certain way. Not only do the audience recognise those stereotypes, but I think the wider community can learn from them too. There’s still a way to go yet but certainly heading in the right direction.

JOY: How do you think diversity can be improved in the industry?

MONICA: Seeing people for their talent and skill and not for the colour of their skin, the sound of their accent, or the frizz of their hair.

JOY: What is your breakthrough role?

MONICA: I played Calpurnia in the satirical spoof Dead Caesar at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007’s second season; directed by the amazing and passionate Tamara Cook, written by the Chaser team, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen. It was a hilarious piece and I got to sing on top of a baby grand piano!

JOY: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?

MONICA: I would love to try a hand in directing and possibly producing. Definitely still acting, perhaps in something of my own.

JOY: What advice do you have for future up and coming actors?

MONICA: Keep at it, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, find a way to make it work if this is why you live and breathe. Also, stay healthy, keep fit and sane (because it’s an insane business and world!) and have a laugh on a regular basis. Oh, and be super nice to stage management and crew – they are our rocks!! No one wants to work with a diva or an ass and word gets around quick so play nice people! 🙂 Also keep a healthy portion of reality on your plate – it’s easy to get swept away when things are flying high or to spiral into a black hole and not know how to climb out. Remember you are not defined by your job or a single review or lack of auditions or the number of awards you win! For me, acting is part of my life – a big part – but I know I need a balanced perspective to be able to have longevity in the industry and there are natural ups and downs. Be prepared. Take action and find other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

 

Photos by Joe Chan & Susan Le Strange.

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Chimerica review – Sydney Theatre Company’s best production

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Forget New Year’s Resolutions!

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!

So you’ve gone out on New Year’s Eve and everyone’s asking, “What’s your New Year’s Resolution or Resolutions?” The answer to tell them is, “To not make any resolutions!” Reason being, I never stick to them!

For the last three years, I’ve told myself, the number one resolution for me is to lose weight!” The first year I wanted to lose two kilograms, the next year three and so on…in the last five years instead of losing weight, I’ve gained five kilograms! So no, this year I’ve decided – no resolutions and maybe next year I may have lost the five kilograms I had wished for in the first place!

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Research has shown that “making massive goals are deflating rather than motivating” and that most New Year’s resolutions are broken by March that year. Also 42 percent of New Year’s Resolutions involve trying to be healthier. Yes I tried this however if pureeing kale in juices makes you gag, just don’t do it – I did and it was the start of bulimia! I soon put an end to that. Also with past resolutions I wanted to be healthy. I told myself that I would cook more. Again – I was wrong! Cooking and cleaning up afterwards became more of a chore and a workout in itself. I spent the whole time cleaning the eggs whites that I tried to soufflé off the floor, and the pureed fruit and vegetables became a Pro-Hart art piece splattered on my walls. Suddenly I told myself – STOP! It’s OK not to cook every night, give yourself a break. I now cook two or three times a week and use the left over roast lamb or chicken in wraps, sushi or fried rice. The other nights I eat out at takeout joints that have healthy options, loaded with veggies, lean meats and proteins and grains. I also love takeaway sushi at places that make it fresh right in front of you, not those places where the sushi is going round and round on a sushi train for an hour or so, or sitting at counter all day for you to get food poisoning!

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So if anyone asks, “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?” Say, “to not have one!” And maybe 2017 will be a ripper year for all with no expectations! Just a year to live and be happy!

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Interview with Jeremy Fernandez about Diversity in Australian Media

Jeremy Fernandez grew up in Malaysia before his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He is an Australian journalist and a television news presenter with ABC News 24. Fernandez joined theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000 working as a producer for ABC Local Radio. He has worked as a voice-over artist for Seven Network and has worked with CNN International in London, UK as a writer and a producer before joining ABC again in 2010. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy on behalf of The Equity Diversity Committee about Diversity in Australian Media.

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Who were your role models on TV / film when growing up here in Australia? 

Some of my earliest role models were actually teachers. I often wished to be as knowledgeable, articulate, patient, and generous as many of them were. Some of these early role models had grown-up poor, or disabled. Many were women. Some were gay, young, elderly, religious, atheist. And they had different skin colours. The diversity didn’t strike me as remarkable. It was only in my mid-teens that I noticed my reality was barely reflected on screen.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your job each day?

I’m surrounded at the ABC, by some of the cleverest, most hardworking people in the industry. So I’m regularly star-struck.

I love the varied nature of my work: One day I’m writing & researching; And the next, I’m on air with rolling news for 3 hours.

I get the biggest buzz out of breaking news, particularly on location as a presenter and reporter. Interacting with viewers in real life, or on social media, is great. For all that’s changing in this industry nothing beats face-to-face time.

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Did you experience any barriers trying to break into Australian journalism & broadcasting?

I consider myself very lucky to do the work I do. Of course, there were those who told me not to go barking up the wrong career tree. Most of them weren’t being mean-spirited. They wanted me to know that this was not an industry known for its diversity. I came into it with both eyes open, and tried my luck anyway. I will however, admit to being dogged about proving wrong, the guy who told me, “Don’t worry. There’s always SBS”. I love SBS, of course. But it shouldn’t be the only source of media employment for the large fraction of Australians who were born overseas.

Do you think there’s enough diverse representation in Australian media / TV / film? (If not, what changes would you like to see?)

I’ve had a great run with the ABC. But even ol’ Aunty will admit there’s work to do, as there is in much of corporate Australia. I think we need more indigenous voices & faces in the mainstream media. I’d also like to see diversity understood more broadly. Intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality, disability, wealth, and age is more than we can necessarily see with the naked eye. But it harbours a tremendous amount of valuable lived experience.

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What advice would you like to give to up and coming journalists and for those breaking into television?

Don’t do it if you’re just looking to get your mug on screen. It gets old very quickly. Learn to write well. Develop an eye for detail. Be OK with shift work. Be inquisitive- ask the ‘dumb questions’ everyone else is afraid to ask. Be respectful of your subjects & audience, even if you disagree with them. Dream big, but also be honest with yourself. Define success your own way. And don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Fernandez (ABC TV)

Logies 2016 a big win for diversity

Last night was a big win for diversity at the 2016 Logie Awards (equivalent to the Emmy’s in USA). For over forty years we’ve witnessed the Logies being so white, however this year we saw more diversity with Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly being nominated for gold. The results surprised us all with the Gold Logie being won by a Muslim Australian panel host of The Project Waleed Aly!

Waleed’s victory speech was filled with emotion, considering the backlash he and other contender of colour Lee Lin Chin received before this awards night. His victory speech was a great opportunity to highlight the need for diversity in Australian TV, and his win is a step closer towards this cause.“Do not adjust your sets … there’s nothing wrong with the picture,” he told the audience at the Palladium Ballroom, Crown Towers, in Melbourne. “I’m sure there’s an Instagram filter you can use to return things to normal.”

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He said the award mattered because people with names like Mustafa and Dimitri had struggled to find jobs in an industry dominated by white faces like himself. Mustafa went up to him and confessed that he had to change his name in order to be accepted in the industry.

“To Dimitri and Mustafa and all the other people with unpronounceable names like Waleed, I want to say one thing: that is that I am incredibly humbled you would even think to invest in me that way.

“But I’m also incredibly saddened by it, because the truth is you deserve more numerous and more worthy avatars than that.

“I don’t know if and when that’s going to happen but if tonight means anything … that is the Australian public, our audience, as far as they’re concerned there is absolutely no reason that can’t change.”

It was finally a great realisation for many, that Australia is no longer a white nation (on screen), but it’s a nation of diversity and social cohesion. Congratulations to Waleed Aly for breaking the so called ‘white’ stereotype and may this be the critical step forward for change and diversity on screen which is so needed in this country, in order to feel that we all belong, together.

 

Youtube / pictures courtesy of Channel 9

Carnival of the Bold (upcoming Vivid Ideas Sydney event)

Carnival of the Bold, an arts for social change event, highlights international political cartoonist Zunar and Sydney Peace Prize 2015 Winner, George Gittoes (Filmmaker & Visual Artist) as part of Vivid Sydney 2016.

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Carnival of the Bold is back once again for Vivid Ideas, part of Vivid Sydney 2016, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas. It aims to be an enabling force for social change – calling on artists to take leadership and for everyone to participate and live with greater humanity. It celebrates artists who have used their art to enrich our cultural diverse identity, explore shared values, spark imagination and empower communities. Through Carnival of the Bold, it aspires to find new ways, new ideas and new narratives that will shape our world and future.


MC Trey: Hip Hop Artist & Social Activist

George Gittoes: Visual Artist & Filmmaker                                                                                   Zunar: Malaysian Cartoonist
Bindi Cole Chocka: Artist, Writer & Curator
Abdul Abdullah: Visual Artist & Radio Host
Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa: Spoken Word Artist

In 2011 and 2015, Human Rights Watch honored Zunar with its Hellman/Hammett Award. Zunar is the first full-time cartoonist to receive CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. To Zunar, cartooning is not a gift but a responsibility. Zunar is now facing 9 charges under the Sedition Act which carries a maximum penalty of 43 years jail term.

Gittoes’ work has consistently expressed his social, political and humanitarian concern over injustice and conflict. George has captured conflicts around the world for the past 45 years and has mentored kids in Afghanistan since 2007. Among many prizes, Gittoes has twice been awarded the Blake Prize for Religious Art and in 2014, awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

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Other artists presenting and performing on the night include MC Trey, an Australian Fijian hip hop artist, Bindi Cole Chocka, an Indigenous visual artist and curator, Abdul Abdullah, an up and coming visual artist, and Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, a Spoken Word artist who was recently featured in Australia’s Got Talent. A huge success at the Museum of Contemporary Art during VIVID 2015 last year, Carnival of the Bold promises yet another highly engaging and provoking night, this time at the Seymour Center, one of the arts most loved venues.

Social entrepreneurs, Kevin Bathman and Zara Choy have long felt that the arts holds an untapped power to strongly influence the world. Carnival of the Bold aims to inspire and awaken greater public consciousness to create deeper engagement with social causes, in alternative and more easily accessible ways – via the arts. Carnival for the Bold is interdisciplinary and inclusive of all artists such as theatre, music, film, dance, street performance and visual arts.

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“Carnival of the Bold is first and foremost a spirit or philosophy that the arts can be a powerful enabling force for social change. It calls on artists to take leadership. And it calls on the world to participate”, says Kevin Bathman, who also co-founded Coalition of Mischief, a social enterprise providing community engagement campaigns for social, humanitarian, cultural and environmental causes.

Zara Choy explained that, “Artists bring interesting and unique perspectives to the mix, and engage audiences in new and different ways. Through Carnival of the Bold, together — whether an individual, not-for-profit, government or conscious business — we can find new ideas and new narratives that will shape our world and future.”

Celebrating Innovation and Imagination

Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas – the largest of its kind in the world. From May 27 to June 18, 2016, the event will transform the Harbour City into a colourful creative canvas. Now in its eighth year, Vivid Sydney is owned, managed and produced by Destination NSW, the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency, and features large-scale light installations and projections (Vivid Light); music performances and collaborations (Vivid Music including Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House); and creative ideas, discussion and debate (Vivid Ideas); all celebrating Sydney as the creative hub of the Asia-Pacific region. For more information visit vividsydney.com

Tickets are on sale for $25 at http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/carnival-of-the-bold/

VIEW THE PROMO VIDEO

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For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Kevin Bathman or Zara Choy

0404 962 992 (Kevin), 0402 883 929 (Zara)

http://www.carnivalofthebold.com

kevin@carnivalofthebold.com

zara@carnivalofthebold.com

International Women’s Day event & march 2016

On Saturday 12th March 2016, I was asked to emcee the International Women’s Day event and march where over 800 people turned up to show their support for equality and no violence against women, which was arranged by the NSW workers union.

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To begin the event we had a fabulous flash mob dancing which everyone enjoyed, as it set the positive tone for the event.

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Yvonne Weldon then opened the event with a welcome to country, followed by Jenna Price, a renowned journalist and academic who with many other hard working women, works on Destroy the Joint, which is an online feminist action group. Destroy the joint started counting dead women as a way to honour women killed; and in a way to concentrate our minds on this national tragedy.

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Liza Maza was the next speaker who is a prominent figure in the international community for her support and contribution to the struggles and plights of women all over the world. Liza visited us from the Philippines where she is a member of the Gabriella Women’s Party who also represented the House of Representatives. From Parliament to the streets, Liza has advanced the Fillipino women’s fight for economy, political and social rights.

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Lastly we had Sharon McKinnon, a refuge worker in the Western suburbs of Sydney for the last 30 years, who was most recently the manager of Jessie Street Women’s refuge. Sharon is an active member of the NSW Coalition for Women’s Refuges.

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After hearing these courageous women speak about the challenges we face as women, we marched together, united as women, down Macquarie Street finishing at Parpeian Way where we all gathered together and celebrated International Women’s Day together.

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