Theatre Review: Going Down written by Michele Lee

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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. 

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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.

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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 

Writers Actors Talk about diversity and change with Joy Hopwood, Alice Pung and Aileen Huynh

Joy Hopwood’s interview with Michael Wang.

Video link below

  Writers – Actors Talk (documentary) 8 mins


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The purpose was to create something engaging, creative and shareable that would explore themes which were important and timeless. To better inform young Australians growing up of who came before them and what lessons they can learn from those who came before them. Recognising how paths in life can be challenged and different ways pitfalls can be managed to become successful in the performance arts, publication and film/TV industry.

Michael Wang is an online digital marketer who is born and raised in Melbourne. Working at his own consultancy he creates engaging video and advertising campaigns helping businesses improve their growth. For all this work is geared towards fulfilling his greater life’s purpose of becoming a feature-length filmmaker. He is a budding filmmaker who creates unique engaging stories and pieces of content and regularly enjoys uploading them to his personal portfolio at

A Very Lovely thanks to the Guest Speakers: Aileen Huynh, Joy Hopwood & Alice Pung.

Produced by the Victorian Multicultural Commission in Association with Swinburne University.
Special thanks to the team: Director Of Photography Jake Evans. Advisors Vincent Giarrusso, Helen Kapalos for you guidance.

Working with Us:
Michael Wang –

Jake Evans (

Joy Hopwood –

Aileen Huynh –

Helen Kapalos –

Vincent Giarrusso –

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.

Interview with Australian actor Belinda Jombwe about her new role

Belinda Jombwe studied at NIDA and is known for her outstanding theatre work in Black Jesus (Bakehouse Theatre) as Eunice Ncube, Beth in Samson (Belvoir) and Winnie in My Wonderful Day (Ensemble Theatre Co) and many more. She’s working in an upcoming Australian feature film, The Casting Game (directed by Pearl Tan).


Qu.1. How did you start your acting career?

I have always had a love for the arts, particularly acting. From a young age I was heavily involved in drama classes inside and outside of school. When I graduated from year 12 I moved to Sydney on a whim to pursue acting as a career. I studied performance at Sydney Uni, and was involved in a lot of fringe theatre at the Australian Theatre for Young People and New theatre. What started my professional career was the opportunity I had at Ensemble theatre in ‘My Wonderful Day’ to play Winnie. The ball kind of got rolling from there. To this day it’s one of the most memorable ensembles and productions I have ever been in.

Qu.2. Who were your role models on TV/Film when you were growing up and why?

There are many actors who I found inspirational growing up and continue to find inspirational. Actors like Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington to name a few. I find their dedication to their craft and their ability to transform into other worlds while maintaining an uncompromising sense of self quite amazing.

My ‘role models’ have been influential more in my adult years. Women like Viola Davis and Kerry Washington I look up to. Through their career progression and outspokenness in the industry, they have profoundly shaped the perspective I have of myself as an actor. They are strong, black women, and they inspire me to challenge myself and stereotypes, and it’s refreshing to see them play roles that are complex and not dependant on the way they look.  I think naturally we find role models in people who we strongly identify with. In people who motivate us to be better people.


Qu.3. Do you think there are enough diverse roles for people of colour in Australian TV / Film?

Haha, No. I think there will be enough diverse roles for people of colour (and all other minority groups) in Australian TV/Film when diversity isn’t even a thing. When TV and film reflects our unique and multifaceted society and where diversity on TV/film becomes just a way of life. We have a long way to go, but I’m happy that we are going in the right direction. I think it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to continually improve this. Every person has a way in which they can make diversity more mainstream. Casting agents, writers, networks, producers, actors and audiences can all contribute to making diversity more mainstream by the choices they make and what they choose to accept.

Qu.4. What would your ideal role be and why?

I always have trouble answering this question. I don’t  have an ideal role in terms of the ‘type’ of person I would like to play. As ultimately, I believe all characters I play reveal a unique aspect of myself. Any role in which I get to explore, play and have a positive impact is ideal.


Qu.5. What’s your next exciting project?

The Casting Game. A film written by Joy Hopwood and directed by Pearl Tan. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s hilarious, and there is a great team behind it.

Qu.6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Passionate about life, family and friends. Ambitious to learn and grow.


The Casting Game (directed by Pearl Tan) will be premiering on Sunday, September 10th at Hoyts Mandarin Centre, closing the annual Joy House Film Festival, Level 3, 65 Albert Ave, Chatswood NSW 2067.


Interview with Australian martial artist & actor Maria Tran


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.

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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.


Diversity: Building a platform for change!


Julianne Schultz, former journalist, academic and editor of The Australian Financial Review was one of the first speakers of Diversity: Building a platform for change at AFTRS. She spoke how Australia has come a long way in the last 20 years. Having a welcome to country has come into place within the last 10 years as a gesture of respect for our Indigenous people-this is a big change. Julianne grew up in the 70’s where there was casual racism and sexism. She had always wanted to be a journalist and when she was going for jobs, people would always ask, “What’s wrong with teaching or nursing?” She recalls going for a job interview for the Australian Financial Review where the interviewer said, “OK, I guess we can hire girls who can work twice as hard as men for half the price!” The interview took place in a pub where she was then hired. She has since witnessed how things have changed and how we’ve come a long way since then – feminism in the media. She says today the bar has lifted higher and we have to raise the bar each year. Everyone is an outsider, everyone has a story and it’s important to recognise people’s uniqueness and their perspective on life and have that story shared and reach others who share similar stories as our differences give us strength.


Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia presented insights into Screen Australia’s recent study of on-screen diversity. Seeing ourselves: reflections of diversity in Australian TV drama. It’s important to have relevant data as it’s pivotal in how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. So how diverse is Australian Drama? He says, “We want Australians to identify with the onscreen characters.” The data focused on – Cultural Background, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Programmes like Please Like Me was life changing for young people in the study. Screen Australia also used the same categories as the Human Rights Commission. For cultural background they focused on Indigenous, Anglo-Celtic, European, Non-European. For disability it focused on physical, psychological, intellectual, sensory. They researched five years of drama and studied 199 programmes. They looked at programmes like Home and Away and Neighbours. They looked at the cultural background of actors, county of birth and parent’s birth place and 989 main actors were researched – thanks to surveys, interviews, biographies etc. They compared this to the actual Australian population where 67% are of Anglo background and in TV drama 82% of characters were Anglo and 76% were Anglo actors hired on screen. There was improvement in the representation of Indigenous on screen however those with a disability and minorities were well underrepresented.


What’s ideal? To have programmes that normalise diversity. There’s a need for authenticity. More opportunities for creatives with lived experience needs to be hired as consultants or writers. More ongoing bench-marking / research and colour blind casting.

The Good News Every channel and production company is up to the challenge and this creative issue. Reality TV such as The Voice, X-Factor, Masterchef & My Kitchen Rules and children’s online and TV shows prove popular due to diversity and use of colourblind casting and in business terms the profits are good.


Mounira Almenoar (Senior Researcher) mentioned that the best practice & approach to addressing equality and inclusion is research. She stresses the importance of data. Screen Australia has the Black List and Indigenous tracking, ICE in Western Sydney is a great initiative, First Nations and Indigenous Schemes – Best Practice, Industry attachment schemes.

For the panel discussion, Benjamin Law chaired. He started off the discussion with the question, “Why in 1992 was there 0 representation?”

Monica Davidson (journalist) answered, “Shouldn’t TV drama be a mirror of our lives?”

Courttia Newland (author) replied, “Australia is better than UK. There’s more to be done. You’re better than where we are now.”

Ade Djajamihardja (screen media professional) “It’s probably too hard, too difficult, that’s what happened to disability on screen. There needs to be 1) dedication, 2) Training for the screen sector, 3)training for people with disabilities 4) Accessibility for people with disabilities to screenings / conferences / workshops etc 5) inclusion.” One in five people in Australia have a disability. Time for a checklist.


Rosemary Blight (Producer) stated how Ryan Griffen (Cleverman) was an intern which Screen Australia helped and that it was a four year process for him to get his project up and running, thanks to that support. Also the Indigenous unit at ABC contacted her and said she should have an Indigenous consultant, which Ryan soon came on board.

Chrissie Tucker (ABC Diversity manager) said that the target for ABC diversity is 17% and they’re currently at 7%. This bench-marking scheme has only come to place in the last year.

A closing question from Bali Padda (MEAA Diversity) “We need a media action room. Let’s unite and take action together…NOW!”

Everyone in the room agreed. Diversity is a hot topic at the moment and in order for change we all need to unite, encourage and support each other. Actions speak louder than words.





Wesley Enoch from Sydney Festival in conversation with Simon Burke

A wonderful and insightful conversation with Wesley Enoch at the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s office on Monday 18th, April, 2016, interviewed by Simon Burke (A.O.).

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Wesley Enoch (born 1969) is an Australian playwright and was artistic director of Murri descent from Stradbroke Island (Minjeribah) and he’s a proud Noonuccal Nuugi man and is currently the Artistic Director of Sydney Festival. Wesley joked that he started in the arts “as a dancer 25 kilograms ago!” Simon Burke asked him about his travels and he replied, “I’ve been around the world four times. On my last trip I saw 30 shows!” He explained that he can see a current trend and a pattern at the moment; the use of sensory specificity, for example the blind folded sensory. He also says that he can sense that artists are feeling a sense of disconnection, as our government focuses on “economy” and the importance of it, rather than the arts. He goes on to explain that when he grew up he had a free education, there was a bridge for him to cross into the arts and there was a support system in place for artists. He said, “40 000 people call themselves artists. But is it now sustainable? Not paying artists enough is returning to the bad old days of it being a hobby.” He believes artists working full time should be looked after. If we keep demoting artists, the desperation to work will lead to an unsustainable system. The Brandis cuts were 27 million taken out of our arts ecology and it is going to have a half a billion dollars effect over the next few years due to a bad policy.

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Simon asked him how much freedom of a blank canvas does he have for the Sydney Festival? Wesley replied that as long as he can raise 800 thousand dollars needed each year! He expressed the importance of having the festival in January because at this time of the year everyone’s mindset is ready for change. People are ready to engage culturally and socially – projecting forward.

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Simon asked Wesley about his thoughts on diversity. “I don’t believe in colour blind casting.” He believes that one’s talent and skill should take precedent. No focus should be placed on how a person looks but how good and talented an artist is. When he was asked about the importance of “gender” Wesley said it all comes down to numbers. “Put women in the centre of decision making.” He stresses the importance of being “good artists” and being good communicators and to “win over people through persuasion and being articulate about it. Be robust artists.”

When Wesley was asked about his own process for self reflection he replied, “I’m built to serve!” And he benefits by talking to people and by communicating with people. He enjoys looking after people. He reflects on various times when he hosted dinner parties for cast and calls them his “ingredients” to make a great dinner party.

This was an inspiring event thanks to MEAA and the Equity Foundation.

For more information on the Sydney Festival 2017, click on

In Conversation with the actors & creators of “Here comes the Habibs”

A ratings success for Channel Nine with 1.249 million people tuning in for Here comes the Habibs – a drama comedy about a Lebanese-Australian family from Sydney’s western suburbs who win the Lotto and move to a mansion in the exclusive suburb of Vaucluse, angering the white neighbours next door. On Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, the Equity Foundation held a wonderful Q and A with the actors and creators of the show.


Rob Shehadie, the show’s creator and writer, said he wanted this to be a family show because there hasn’t been many shows since Acropolis Now (1992) where families sit down and watch a show together every week. He didn’t want the show to be Aussies versus the Lebanese. He said the kids particularly loved watching Here Comes the Habibs and once the kids loved the show, the parents then watched it. Rob did not want the show to be in any way controversial, he just wanted stereotypes set up with an unexpected twist. It was written so viewers would examine the stereotypes through comedy.


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Rob said he first started in comedy as a comedian and then worked with Tahir Bilgic  in Fat Pizza. Together they had a concept and wrote a 12 page document pitch which had photos of the characters. They used photos of friends and family and themselves. They then invited Phil Lloyd on board who they knew from Home and Away and who worked at The Jungle Boys production company. Phil knew Rob and Tahir’s work well. Together they fine tuned the pitch, added a catchy log line and synopsis.

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photo courtesy of

“Fou Fou Habib won $22 Million in the lottery, and bought a house (mansion) next door to the O’Neill family. A Comedy satire of both Lebanese and British background Aussies.” Together they approached Andy from Channel Nine who rarely leans forward after hearing many pitches, but after hearing their pitch, he did. Director Darren Ashton was then asked to join the production and the casting process began, to set the tone of the show. They had 5-6 actors in mind for each part to audition. After the audition process finished, the final actors were chosen. Darren Gilshenan was cast to play Jack O’Neal. Darren said what he particularly liked was that his character Jack, represented the voice in every day society. He enjoyed having a say in his character right from the start. Kat Hoyos was cast as the 16 year old, Layla Habib, because she represented the average, every day, social media obsessed teenager with great attitude. Tyler De Nawi played Elias Habib, who said after reading the script,”This will be big!” He said he was finally getting the opportunity to play someone positive in society. Michael Denkha played Fu Fu Habib (the father). “Playing anyone but a terrorist is cool!” he said.  Sam Alhaje played Toufic Habib, who said when he first read the script, it was instantly something he wanted to be part of. He finally wasn’t playing a gangster or a criminal. This was a great opportunity to not play a stereotype.

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Photo courtesy of Here Comes the Habibs

When the question of diversity came up, Andy (Channel nine) said, “Yes, commercial networks are always wanting to be part of something new.” New stories and characters reflecting our multicultural society in which we live in today? We all hope so, as new writers, creatives and actors were encouraged to make a stand to be heard in this conversation forum. The wheels are definitely in motion. So let’s keep the conversation going so changes are made across the board with diversity at the front of all network executives minds!


Q and A with Fiona Choi from The Family Law

The Family Law  is a six-part television adaptation of Benjamin Law’s 2010 collection of personal essays on SBS. (Thursdays 8.30pm) The show focuses on his parents’ marriage breakdown and how the young Benjamin Law copes through humour. It stars Fiona Choi who plays his mother, Jenny Law. I had the pleasure of interviewing Fiona for Equity magazine 2016.

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Qu.1. When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models in film and television?
Fiona Choi:
Growing up in Melbourne during the 80’s & 90’s, role models were scarce. There was the occasional Asian actress who made it in American shows/movies, like Joan Chen in The Last Emperor & Twin Peaks, and later Lucy Liu in Ally McBeal and Ming-Na in ER; otherwise it was the Chinese actresses starring in the Hong Kong soaps my parents rented from the video store.  There was certainly no one on Australian TV that looked & sounded like me, so the whole idea of even considering a career in entertainment seemed so unattainable.  When I first started out, seeing an Asian on TV was such a novelty –  the big joke among my friends was that people would often come up to congratulate me for my work in All Saints or Miss Saigon or Blue Heelers, when it hadn’t been me at all, but another Asian actress.
Qu.2. What made you want to be an actor?
Fiona Choi:
I grew up watching glamorous movie musicals and that’s what I wanted to do – dress-up, sing, dance, make people laugh and cry.  Then I discovered I loved to connect with people, to tell stories that make us realize we are all driven by the same needs, fears and desires.
Qu.3. How did you get started in your career?
Fiona Choi:
I started my career in theatre.  My first big show after graduating from WAAPA was the musical RENT starring Christine Anu & Rodger Corser.  The show is set in New York City, and the original Broadway company was 50 percent African American, so ironically when it came to filling those roles in Australia/NZ they had to turn to Asians & Indigenous performers to create their ‘rainbow’ cast.  I have also worked for Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth, Melbourne Theatre Company and was in the original Australian production of Mamma Mia!  All these shows were specifically looking for multicultural casts, so I guess being an Asian actor has helped me as much as it has at times been a hindrance.
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Qu.4. Do you think diversity is becoming more apparent in the film and TV industry here in Australia?
Fiona Choi:
Things are definitely moving in the right direction.  Early in my career I felt like I was truly going to fall through the cracks.  At first, I only got auditions for the stereotypical Asian roles – immigrant factory worker, prostitute, nerdy student – and when I did get the part I would always cringe hearing myself speak these preposterous lines in the exaggerated accent.  That wasn’t my voice at all.   But I never got the opportunity to audition for those roles I thought I was the right type for – the industry just couldn’t picture their main protagonists looking ethnic.  I was lucky to break out from those constraints occasionally – my breakthrough television role was a 6-week stint on Neighbours playing a character named Laura Wallace.  She wasn’t written as Asian at all, just an Aussie girl dating one of the main cast, and I was stoked that they didn’t feel the need to change her last name to ‘Wong’ or ‘Chan’ when they cast me.
Today the big difference is the increasing predominance of creatives (writers, directors, producers) that are ethnic or understand & respect the multicultural voice.  That want to tell that story. People like Benjamin Law, Lawrence Leung  & Tony Ayres. Their voice is authentic, so not only are more shows being produced that speak about the multicultural experience, but the characters are well-written.  Even though Jenny Law speaks with a heavy Chinese-Malay accent, she is actually the most fully realised, three-dimensional character I’ve ever had the privilege to play.   I am truly looking forward to the next step though, to see Aussie actors of all colors play the main cast Detective or Wife or Love Interest without the need to even mention that they might come from a multicultural background.
Q.5. What do you do when you’re not acting?
Fiona Choi:
When I’m not acting (or trying to find my next acting gig) I’m raising 2 sons so that keeps me pretty busy.  I am also a freelance casting director and director.   I do the occasional singing gig, and look forward to recording and touring with my music one day.
Q.6. What advice would you give to up and coming actors?
Fiona Choi:
I would encourage up & coming actors to just be themselves, to find what is unique about you and be true to that in your marketing and auditioning.  Particularly for those from different multicultural backgrounds. I believe it’s our time on Australian TV & film – audiences are looking for unusual and authentic, so don’t try and mold yourself into an existing ‘type’ – create your own type.
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Qu.7. What would you like viewers to take away after watching The Family Law?
Fiona Choi:
I hope that viewers from all backgrounds and cultures will laugh, cry and recognize their own crazy & love-able family in the characters of The Family Law.  Yes, the story is told through the adventures of a Chinese immigrant family, but at the end of the day their struggles and triumphs are universal and I hope this show points out just how ‘the same’ we all are.


Q and A interview with writer Benjamin Law about Diversity

Benjamin Law and Joy

Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter, and has completed a PhD in television writing and cultural studies. He’s also member of M.E.A.A. as a freelance writer.

Benjamin is the author of two books—The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012)—and the co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say (2014) with his sister Michelle and illustrator Oslo Davis. Both of his books have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards.

Benjamin is also a frequent contributor to Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age).


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What made you want to write your story – The Family Law?
I’d been writing personal columns for frankie for a while, and I noticed the ones that made reference to my family – especially my mum – got a great response. Which isn’t surprising, really – my mum is pretty hilarious, unique and baffling, in the way that only mothers can be. And after I wrote longer pieces for an anthology called Growing Up Asian in Australia, my now-editor approached me, asking if I had a book up my sleeve. Part of what motivated me to write The Family Law was this idea of writing a book I wish I’d read as a teenager. One with a hilariously dysfunctional Chinese-Australian family.




After writing your story, what steps did you take in order to get your story / screenplay seen by a network or producer?

I didn’t actually seek out screen options myself. I think my publisher would’ve had chats with production companies, and the book was also on people’s radars after a certain point. But when I heard Matchbox Pictures and Tony Ayres – whose work I’d admired for years before we even met  – were interested, I knew they were the ones for me. 

Your screenplay will obviously open doors for diversity…however will your screenplay also be open for “colourblind casting?” 

I’m only on the show as a writer, so I don’t get to call those shots.
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Can you reveal how many roles will be Asian? 
What I can say is that roughly 90% of the cast is explicitly written as Chinese-Australian, so we’ll need the majority of actors to have Asian faces. There are a handful of other roles which are specifically for Eurasian actors, and some roles are definitely white. As for the other roles, I reckon that can and should go to as many different actors as possible!



When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models on television and / or film and why? 

There weren’t a huge number of Asian faces on telly when I was growing up. My family and I used to point at the TV and scream in excitement if there was an Asian on TV: “THERE’S AN ASIAN ON THE TEEEE-VEEEEEEEE!” But there was definitely celebrity chef Elizabeth Chong, on Good Morning Australia, and Dr Cindy Pan on sex/life, and I remember seeing Clara Law’s beautiful feature Floating Life, which affected me a lot. But I’d usually look overseas for Asian representation on screen. I mean, I watched The Joy Luck Club A LOT. But it’s getting better nowadays, and reality TV has done heaps to reflect how diverse Australia actually is. You see a lot more Asian-Australians in local comedies and dramas, but not nearly enough.
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What are you looking forward to in the future on Australian television?
I’m really looking forward to Lawrence Leung’s kung-fu comedy Maximum Choppage on ABC2 next year.
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