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.