posted by Kiriaki Zakinthinos
Last Sunday I went to the theatre. It was a show that had caught my attention earlier in the week in my Facebook feed. Urban Theatre Projects was posting about it. The Belvoir was posting about it. It had popped up in several status updates of friends, too.
The name didn’t give much away. But the promo shots spoke volumes. At least they did to me. Now, I’m a keen consumer of the arts and culture, from screens to stages and concert halls to the streets; and I’m a self-defined ‘cultural omnivore’, so my palette thrives on the alternative and diverse, but when a man clearly of ‘Middle-Eastern appearance’ (actor Hazem Shammas) hits my feed accompanied by words like theatre, Belvoir, Surry Hills and Muslim-Australian, it tweaks my interest in a special kind of way. Read on and you’ll understand why.
The Tribe, is a series of vignettes – snap shots in time told through the eyes of the main character, Bani, a young boy growing up in Lakemba, and second generation Australian. The stories are centred around his experience of family and major life events, and sit at that beautiful confluence – that point where the culture of his ancestors and his experience of growing up in Australia merge.
The Tribe tells Bani’s stories – stories that are familiar to many, me included. I know the streets and places described because I’ve been there. Arabic music and language lace the edges of the script, punctuating the stories. This is music and language familiar to me. I know the quirks of family and culture that Bani tells of, intimately. They’re all part of my lived experience growing up Greek-Australian in places like Lakemba, Wiley Park, Carlton and Canley Heights. So to see them all in this context – that is, placed on a stage in a suburb far from their origin for an audience perhaps not so acquainted with them — was a powerful thing.
Placing honest, personal stories not often heard on a new and bigger stage like this, adds a legitimacy and confers a new value both to the stories themselves, and to the writers, actors and producers behind them. It offers a doorway into a deeper sense of belonging and acceptance for the people represented by these stories – an embrace into this country’s bigger story.
In the words of the writer, Michael Mohammed Ahmad: ‘The Tribe is my attempt to counteract the limited and simplistic representation that the Arab-Australian Muslim community of Western Sydney has received to date, and to offer a broader, more intimate understanding. It is also an act of self-determination – a declaration of the right to reclaim and tell our own stories in our own way.’
So in this light, The Tribe, and other works like it, are also powerful anti-racism vehicles. Yes, they are theatre, pure and simple. Yes, they are art and culture.I’m not advocating for an instrumental approach to the arts – to theatre-making in this case. But works like The Tribe are instruments of social cohesion by their very nature. They are stories, faces, music and languages not seen often enough on our screens and stages, where what dominates does not reflect the whole lived reality of the diversity, plurality and inter-sectionality around us.
We need more theatre like this! The Tribe runs through til Feb 7th. Go see it – no matter where you grew up or if you identify with Bani or not. You’ll be entertained and moved, and you might even come out with a new understanding.
We caught up with our Ambassador Andy Trieu, co-host of PopAsia on SBS2, ahead of his run at the Blackmore’s Running Festival, 20th September, to speak about his passions, racism, and the changing dynamics in Australia’s television and film industry.
All Together Now: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and share your experience with all people who are not indifferent to racial problems in Australia.
What helps you to be an Australian actor and at the same time to maintain your historical roots? What difficulties do you face representing Kung Fu Martial Arts culture? Why did you start to master in Kung Fu? Can you tell what story lies behind this passion?
Andy: First of all, I would say that the thing which helps me to maintain my Kung Fu skills is staying in the industry and acting. Kung Fu is my personal drive, such as being inspired by others. Also I am quite competitive. And, so I like to stay competitive with other opponents in Martial arts. And I keep my drive there. And work keeps me routed to my cultural background. My parents are also keep me linked to my culture. I am Vietnamese, but I was born here. So, my parents want me to keep my cultural heritage somehow. It’s my parents really keep me grounded in some way. I love doing Martial Arts and spreading Asian culture in different ways, because Kung Fu and Martial Arts in general are related to Asian culture. Though, to continue doing that, performing Martial Arts in TV shows, in movies is a really cool way to spread Asian culture in some way or form.
ATN: Although Australia is a multicultural country, but there is still a huge problem with racism in schools. When you were a student how did you solve this problem for yourself?
Andy: To answer to the first part of the question about how did I deal with racism at school when I was a kid, I would like to say, that first of all, being from Asian background I hung out with more Asians. I think it was because I felt safer in with them as I had a feeling of belonging to them. And when I didn’t have people of similar cultural background, the way how I dealt with that was to keep it to myself until I was more confident to say something about it. And it was only later on. And I used to tell myself that if they said something racist, [then] they are, probably, not educated about that. They just don’t know. So, my way to deal with racism was having acceptance and knowing that things will get better.
ATN: Was it hard to make friends in this racially diverse atmosphere?
Andy: Some people thought that it was cool to have an Asian friend at that time, so I guess, it wasn’t too difficult. But, of course, when I made friends with people from other Asian cultures, it was fine, it was quite easy. I think, it comes down to your personality sometimes. And even if someone would say something racist, I guess, it is not about being hurt, it is more being positive about it, and all things would be better.
ATN: Now you are a popular media figure. You are the role-model for many teenagers and young adults from with South-East Asian heritage. How do you provide the mature attitude to multicultural diversity through your participation in TV shows? Is that a priority for you?
Andy: Yes, definitely, it is a priority for me. A lot of my Asian actor-friends and Asian people in media industry believe that the more [Asian actors in the industry] the more [the wider-Australian public will] say that “it’s Ok to have Asian faces on TV”. So, I think that the more we do work in TV, the more it becomes acceptable to have multiculturalism in TV shows and things like that.
ATN: You are so active and enthusiastic in your social and professional life. What is your secret?
Andy: I guess, what motivates me everyday is having my personal goals. For example, I really want to make a difference and achieve. When you once have achieved something, at the next stage you want to achieve more. I think that to work hard is a fun to me in its special form.
ATN: But when you get up in the morning, open your eyes and understand: I want to achieve this today,- what makes you motivated?
Andy: Oh, I am gonna say, that I am quite competitive, and I really like to win and to make a difference in some way or form. I believe that, probably, I am not the most talented, but I want to be the most hardworking in my field. I also think that it is important to get more Asian faces in TV. In order to be in this field, you need to work hard, really hard, and to be more dedicated. And as I’ve been doing Martial arts and working in TV industry for so long, around 6-7 years now, I feel that I am getting closer to where I want to be. Thus, I understand, that at this stage I need to work harder and don’t let it go. So, this is my motivation.
ATN: Why did you join ‘All Together Now’?
Andy: First of all, because I personally understand how it feels, as I [have] experienced racism before. I also feel, that there are not enough Asian faces represented as much. When something connected with racism happens, what do people do? Who is going to stand up for you? Who represents that? It was important for me to find an avenue to that. So, I found ‘All Together Now’ and I am ready to tell about this issue.
ATN: What opportunities did friendship with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds open to you? How does it enrich your life?
Andy: This enriches my life so much! All my friends from multicultural background, say like Russian, Asian… They teach me so many new things like food, culture, martial arts, different movies and just everything that enriches my life more and more. Now I feel that dipping your hands in different cultures makes your life worth while.