“We find with this style of storytelling the audience is very touched by the authenticity of it because these are people telling stories about their own experiences and revealing their own journey’s through life and I think that’s a fairly rare privilege.” Says Co-director Annette Shun Wah on ‘Who Speaks For Me? In addition to the style of seriously personal storytelling is a compelling mix of photography that shapes and moves the story of each of the storytellers and instils the real life impact that only family photo can.
When asked the fundamental reason why this exposé of storytelling is so important, there is no doubt in the reply. “We feel these important stories need to be heard; firstly for the wider community so we get a fuller picture on stage of who we are as a community. I think it’s important to hear the full diversity of who we are as Australians and the other reason is for the people from those communities themselves. It’s incredibly empowering to hear your story, or one similar to yours told on a stage.”
Of course, all the will in the world to bring stories to life are for nothing if you don’t have those people – real people with real stories – prepared to share those stories on stage … not an easy task by any means. “This was very difficult because there were very particular requirements because of the theme; they had to be people from Western Sydney, they had to be of Asian background but the most difficult thing was we were looking for someone who could not speak English on arrival and the person who speaks for them. It was very difficult to find those who did not and still do not speak fluent English who were prepared to get up on stage and talk about it.”
Of course, the process was lengthy and whilst many stories were unearthed, not all of the holders of those stories were able to contribute to Who Speaks For Me? “Particularly with Refugees, the memories are so painful they simply did not want to re-live them so there are a lot of stories out there but the timing is not right for those stories to be told just yet … the time is right for them to be heard, it’s just not the right time for them to be telling it.”
One of the fundamental reasons for this work for Annette Shun Wha is literally the reach to the audience, traditional or otherwise. “For one thing it will bring more members of those communities in to the theatre, which might be a space they’ve never really engaged with before and I want them to feel that yes, we have a right to be on this kind of stage. Our stories deserve to be on this stage as well as everybody else’s, that’s what I want people to feel.”
Of course, it’s easy to think the non-fluent English speaker is the main cast member but Annette is quick to point out, the person speaking for them is an integral part of the performance and story-telling. “The people that ‘speak for them’ are storytellers as well and they tell their own stories. Within each family group we start with the native language so that person begins to tell their story and the person who ‘speaks for them’ translates in to English, a couple of sentences at a time. As the story goes on, the translator’s story comes in to it and as it goes on it becomes more and more English until at the end it becomes almost entirely English, or at least that’s the intension.”
Not being bilingual myself, I was fascinated by the title of ‘Who Speaks For Me?’ and whether that had a double meaning? To me, it seems the person speaking for the non-English speaking relative could be trapped in a world where they themselves never get to engage fully because they’re ‘the translator’ … Annette shed some insight on this.
“One of our storytellers, Vanna, is a young Cambodian man who appears with his mother. He and his sister did all of the translation for their parents and even though he was still trying to learn English himself, he found himself at a young age being the translator for his family and it was quite a big responsibility. As a teenager he rejected the culture but now he finds as an adult he’s trying to reclaim that culture but he’s forgotten so much of his Cambodian language that even though he wants to get back to it, his vocabulary is limited.”
The stories these families will share with you are real, very real. “There are so many people who live amongst us; our next door neighbours, our workmates and people on the train who have these incredible life experiences that we’re not aware of. I think it’s important for us to understand that a bit better.”
Thursday 13, Friday 14, Saturday 15 October 7:30pm
*Saturday 15 October 2pm
*Artist talk with cast and directors 4pm (free, bookings essential)