International Women’s Day event and 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.

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.

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.

 

Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert at Seymour Centre (Sydney Writers Festival)

One of my favourite Sydney Writers Festival events so far is Unearthing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her honesty, wisdom and humbleness when speaking to an audience of hundreds at the Seymour Centre. I must admit I tune out and am no longer a fan of those who are arrogant and think they’re better than the average person because in reality, we’re all part of the human race and experience the same emotions, fears and even life’s ailments! But with Elizabeth Gilbert, she never fails to inspire.

 

I particularly enjoyed hearing her thoughts on creativity, embracing it and facing the world with courage and not fear. At sixteen she made a vow to herself, it was the day she got married to writing and committed herself to a life of writing. She said, “I will support you and you will support me. I will take care of us.” Elizabeth feels that everyone starts off being creative. “Everyone is curious. If you put Lego in front of a child, no child is going to say, I’m not into this today.” The result of someone not being creative is partly due to the fact that someone earlier on in their lives put them down, perhaps a teacher or a parent, or friend. And usually when the person re-enters their creativity again, they start where they’ve left off as a child. They start writing or painting or drawing where they’ve left off. Elizabeth says, “There’s no good reason to not do it. Nothing else makes you feel connected to people. Choosing a life of creativity is a path of curiosity not fear.”

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She then went on to explain that there are two levels of creativity, one that is driven by ego, who is competitive and is never satisfied and the other that is unfolding something that is soulful and content in one’s own path of curiosity, no one else’s. To be creative, you’re in “the zone” – being engaged in the flow or stream. Also it is “a break from the anxiety of who you are. That is Big magic!”

Elizabeth encourages people to do something creative for thirty minutes a day, and eventually, “maybe not the first day but maybe on the 10th day, big magic will happen!” When writing, Elizabeth writes as if she is talking to one person. She feels that if you are talking to everyone, no one will hear you, but when you are writing as if you are talking to one person, everyone will hear you. With her first book, Eat Pray Love she is writing as if she is talking to her friend – Darcy.

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When a person in the audience asked her, “I’m worried about my friend making a the wrong creative decision in her life…” Elizabeth answered, “You should be only worrying and focusing on your own path, not your friend’s. She has her own path to learn and make mistakes from.”

Another audience member asked, “I want to start writing a book but I’m worried about what a family member will think.” Elizabeth replied, “You should ask yourself if that’s an excuse playing in your mind to not want to start writing and do the work, because most of the time, the thing you think someone will be upset about will not be the thing the person is upset about.” Elizabeth gave an example of how someone was upset about a reference that they had size 11 feet, nothing else but just that! The crowd laughed.

“Do you still meditate?” one audience member asked. Elizabeth replied, “I take silent baths which replaces my meditation.” Everyone laughed again. “Some people may call it napping but I call it my ‘silence bath’ and afterwards I feel much better and ready to be creative.”

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Who better than to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak – the creative guru herself! They always say, life’s about learning. That was one good creative life lesson jam packed into an hour session. Thank you Elizabeth.

Big Magic is out now at all good book stores.

Q and A with The family Law’s Trystan Go

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Introducing The Family Law‘s Trystan Go, the actor whose credits also include The King And I and plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s, Queensland.
Joy: Congratulations on a wonderful performance and season of The Family Law on SBS. How did your acting career start?

Trystan: It all started when I was in a play called ‘The Quiet Brother’ which I did in the quaint little country town of Harrietville. The play was a dark, period drama about the Chinese gold field riots so it was quite the opposite of this cringe-worthy comedy, ‘The Family Law’. I guess I caught the acting bug so I took various classes at NIDA and Brent St to broaden my knowledge on performing. Since then, I’ve done several other plays and was recently cast as The King of Siam’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn in Opera Australia’s ‘The King and I’. Performing classics like ‘Getting To Know You’ with Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes at The Sydney Opera House every night was one of the most sumptuous experiences of my life! ‘The Family Law’ was my first breakthrough role on screen and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work in Theatre, Musical Theatre and Television!

Joy: Who were your role models in film and television growing up in Australia?

Trystan: In primary school, I watched Play School. Even my Grandma would marvel at the fact that there was someone with Asian heritage on television. This is why I’m loving that channels like SBS and ABC are introducing and promoting multiculturalism in the media. I also admire Jay Laga’aia from Wicked The Musical for his versatility in performance as he has done films, television, theatre and music.

Joy: What would your dream acting role be?
Trystan: I think any role that is wacky and unique is the role I’d enjoy playing, which is partly the reason why I loved playing Benjamin Law so much. I mean, how often do you get to dress up in a watermelon costume, with a stark red face and dance around in front of hundreds while playing the clarinet?! Then again, I’d also love to play a really dark, serious and scary character…maybe a Chinese ​Phantom from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ as there has already been ​an African-American one.​ Or I could move up the hierarchy and play The King of Siam in ‘The King and I’. So I guess you could say that I would be happy with any challenging role that is thrown my way.
Joy: Do you think there’s enough diversity in Australian Film and TV?
Trystan: Growing up in the 21st Century, I haven’t seen too much diversity on our Australian Screens. Of course there would be the odd Asian typecast here and there but apart from that, I think our screens are lacking a bit of ‘colour’.
Australia is an incredibly multicultural society, however I don’t think that this is reflected enough in Australian productions. It would be wonderful to see an ethnic lead in an Australian feature film or sitcom​.​ This is why I am so pleased that Matchbox Pictures has produced ‘The Family Law’ and that I’ve been a part of this ground-breaking production.  It’s a sitcom about an Australian family which just so happens to be Asian.
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Joy: Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years time and why?
Trystan: I definitely would want to be in more productions, however I’d also really love to run a major hotel chain​ as I’d practically bathe in warm dessert buffets and international canapés. I might even make use of the 50metre heated pool​ before hand!

 

Fabulously Creative with Walter Mason

Walter Mason did a wonderful Fabulously Creative workshop for writers this week at Ashfield library.

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Walter’s first book, Destination Saigon was published at the age of 40 and says, “Anything fabulous can happen at any age in your life!”

He started the workshop with us closing our eyes and we had to think about our intentions for the workshop, “What I want to do is…” and then after a minute or so Walter rang a beautiful sounding bell, reminiscent to the bells you hear at temples. The beautiful sound echoed through the room, I felt like I was being transported into a Buddhist monk retreat.

 

He shared with us “fabulous people” who inspired him as a writer. They include:

  • Rabelais (1483-1553) who came to Walter in a dream and was a writer, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, master of crude jokes and songs. He was a monk who often wrote about getting drunk and many other salacious stories. The lesson he learned from him – “Write warmly and take delight in everyday life.” A wonderful Rabelais quote was, “Wisdom can’t enter an unkind heart.” I really love this quote.
  • Ouida (1839-1908) was the pseudonym of the English novelist Maria Louise Ramé. She lived at Langham hotel in London and ran up huge hotel and florist’s bills, and commanded soirees that included soldiers, politicians, literary lights (including Oscar Wilde, Algernon Swinburne, Robert Browning and Wilkie Collins), and artists (including John Millais), “A little scandal is an excellent thing; nobody is ever brighter or happier of tongue than when he is making mischief.” The lesson learned – “Go to the places that inspire you.”
  • Baron Corvo (Frederick Rolfe) (1860-1913) was an English writer, artist, photographer and eccentric. He often carried eccentric and peculiar notebooks and pens and often had a story to tell for everything he had. Lesson: Write extravagantly and with style, and always keep eccentric notebooks.
  • E.F. Benson (1867-1940) An English novelist, biographer, memoirist and represented England at figure skating. He was a precocious and prolific writer, publishing his first book while still a student. Principally known for the Mapp and Lucia series about Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp. Lesson: “Observe the world minutely and always look for stories in people and the places you encounter each day.
  • Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a British poet and critic and the eldest of the three literary Sitwells. She often spent one day of the week in bed! She had an ostentatious style due to her costumes and was an outrageous person, born with a twisted spine. Lesson: “Be noteworthy.”
  • Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) was an English poet, novelist and garden designer. Lesson: “Cherish every moment in life and write about it. There is never a perfect time-all stages of life are worth celebrating.”
  • Elinor Glyn (1864-1945) was a British novelist and scriptwriter who specialised in romantic fiction which was considered scandalous during her time. Lesson: “Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.”

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We then did some fabulous writing activities. They include the following:

  • 50 words – CREATIVE BLURB ABOUT YOU

Walter asked us to write a 50 words blurb about ourselves within 5 minutes. There was however one other small restriction placed onto us, and that was that we had to include one special word – one that was pulled out from his blue bag filled with typed words. My special word was, DROP!

So I wrote – Joy Hopwood’s a creative who works in the arts and entertainment industry. She founded the Joy House Film Festival and does creative kids workshops in schools as part of her “Kindness is for Free” workshops, an anti-bullying and racism initiative, with her DROP dead gorgeous Wong Side of Life puppets.

We all read out our blurbs and some other people had to include words such as “damage,” “bang,” “bake,” “pumpkin,” “chase” and so on.

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  • RECALLING YOUR WRITER MOMENT

We then had to write down a time in our lives that made us think we were writers.

I recalled a time in year 7, at school, when our class had to write down procedures of looking after our pets. I wrote about my pet goldfish and at the end of my story I wrote, “This is how I look after my goldfish, even though he died last week!” After reading it out loud, the classroom erupted into laughter and my teacher said, “I always enjoy reading your work Joy, because of the honesty and humour you put in your stories. Your stories often put a smile on my face.” This was the first moment in my life that I thought I could be a writer.

  • WRITE DOWN YOUR FEARS

Walter made us all address our fears and told us of an incident when one writing teacher told her class to get their names printed on business cards with one word job description underneath – “WRITER.” This affirmation made the class think differently about themselves. One of my favourite activities was when we all had to draw a vertical line in the centre of our pages and write down our fears on the left side and then a positive counteraction on the other side. For example on one side of the page I wrote, “My writing is untidy,” and on the right side of the column I wrote, “My writing is neat,” and so on. After everyone wrote down their lists of fears we were then instructed to tear off and throw away our fears and have our positive affirmations displayed near our computers or writing place. Walter stressed that it does matter how we talk to ourselves and that he once completed a 12-step programme of, “Fake it until you make it!”

  • FLASH FICTION

Writing and telling a story in 300 words is called flash fiction. By starting the story off with the action makes the story immediate and dynamic. Many flash fiction stories omit the set up of the story, and just went straight to the action.

For example, “My bird flew out of hands and dived into a world of the unknown…” or “He walked out on me after I confessed…” and so on.

  • PROMPT BOX

Walter told us about Twyla Tharp’s prompt box. Tharp is a dancer and choreographer who’s produced over 130 dances and ballets over the last 40 years. She believes that creativity can be learned and implemented for the world to savour and enjoy and often uses the “prompt box” technique. Twyla Tharp explains her filing organisation/ creativity project started system: “I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me. he box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.”

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  • CREATIVE SHOPPING BAGS

Walter also told us about his creative teacher, Jan Cornwall who has “creative shopping bags.” Each bag holds items that inspire the writing process. Walter said that his teacher has one bag titled – My memoir, another – My creativity and so on. This is another wonderful creative idea for story and writing stimulation.

Like myself, Walter has journals. He says journal writing stimulates a part of our brain into action. By writing one page a day, in bullet points is a great start; you can use it for articles or for writing a book. To conclude the workshop we wrote down our future dazzling successes, in five years time.

I asked Walter what gives him joy in his life and he replied, “It gives me joy doing the thing I want to do. It gives me joy helping other people, realising and reaching their dreams. I get really excited when I see other people doing something they want to do and if I can help them in any way it really thrills me. It gives me joy being with people I love and it gives me joy to be loved in return. It gives me joy that I have done something that makes someone happy.”

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Walter has two books published, Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia, I strongly recommend them. He writes with great passion and humour. He has a few talks and workshops coming up. Here’s the link http://www.waltermason.com

Enjoy!

Q and A with Indira Naidoo about her latest book “The Edible City”

Indira Naidoo is a renowned journalist, best known as SBS News host. In 2006 she became media manager and spokeswoman for Choice magazine and then in 2009 was one of 261 candidates selected to be trained in Melbourne by former US Vice President Al Gore to conduct regular presentations about the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Her first book, The Edible Balcony, was an instant best seller. Yesterday, Indira launched her second book, The Edible City at the Sydney School of Mechanics. I had the pleasure of interviewing her today for my blog.

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The transition from media into environmental activism was an easy one for Indira, because she often reported on issues such as the environment, sustainability and climate change-issues she was passionate about. When working at Choice, rain water tanks were illegal at the time, but today, they’re all part of ‘every day living’ and ‘sustainability.’ It all started when a market farmer gave Indira a tomato to taste, and when she bit into it, she was in heaven. “It was the best tomato I’ve ever tasted,” Indira said. This inspired her to transform her 20 metres balcony to an edible garden consisting of fruit, vegetables and herbs. David Wenham approached her after buying her first book The Edible Balcony to become the Wayside Chapel Ambassador, because her book inspired him to transform his small balcony to an edible garden.

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Indira helped transform The Wayside Chapel‘s rooftop to an edible garden. And in July 2015 they installed a bee hive in the corner of the garden, so they now have delicious honey. There are horticulture / garden volunteers who help daily and homeless people too. Jon, a gardener there says, “Our garden is a constant reminder that we live in a community, not an economy.” The Wayside chapel’s garden help feed the homeless and gives a constant supply of nutritious and tasty food to their wonderful cafe too. Even Kylie Kwong’s restaurant Billy Kwong even uses the Wayside Chapel’s honey in their pork buns.  The Wayside Chapel cafe is open to the public weekdays. At Christmas (2015), 600 homeless people came to the Wayside Chapel’s Christmas lunch and most of the food was produced by their own edible garden!

Today, Indira spreads her message of sustainability to schools, corporate businesses, councils and governments, not only in Australia but overseas too, (e.g. New York) “making urban spaces liveable” is a passionate mission of hers. I had the pleasure of interviewing Indira for my blog.

What gives you joy now in your life these days?

“Probably things to do with growing, gardens and food I guess and friends and family to share it with. Food is about as intimate as our connection with nature gets, putting it our mouths. The intimacy that comes from gardens and food.”

Who were your role models growing up?

“I’ve got lots of areas of interest – political leaders, presidents and prime ministers and political activists. From Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, JFK, David Attenborough, Gough Whitlam.”

What are your views on diversity now in Australian film, television and in the media? Do you think it’s getting better?

“I think in the last fifteen years we gained a lot of ground in the 70’s and early eighties and late nineties and in the new century it’s been wound back. A lot about how we value diversity and multiculturalism, generally in our community and in the arts I’d say it’s not looking as rosy as the path we were on about 15 years ago and a lot of that has to do with the political leadership of the country which hasn’t sold the value of diversity. And so a lot of it comes connected to that, whether it’s arts bodies, theatre groups and television shows, it all flows on from the prime ministers of our time and how much they value diversity, so I think we’ve gone back a little bit in the last fifteen years.”

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In your latest book, Jon said, “Our garden is a constant reminder that we live in a community, not an economy,” do you think our society is slowly becoming to value the importance of community or our economy these days?

“We just have to look at the news each night, how it covers stories like finances, houses and properties and how it talks about the economy and not much about this poor old lady across the road. There isn’t a lot of regard paid to the value of community, there’s a lot of emphasis on the economy and growing wealth, money and finances, so I think we’ve lost the balance, we’re out of balance at the moment and we need to go back to value the community.”

What would you like people to take away after reading The Edible City? And what would your legacy be?

“If I can just open people up to look at their living spaces in a different way and then they can bring more nature into the city and their lives and engage them to grow their own food, like lettuces, as there’s a real joy attached to that. It’s a lot of fun. Once you grow that seed and watch that seed germinate and then see the fruit and being able to eat what you grow, is just such a wonderful, joyous connection to nature and our environment. It’s just so tasty and delicious. Once you start that journey, you’ll never look back, bringing more nature and green into our cities it can only be better for our quality of life and overall happiness.”

What an inspiring woman Indira Naidoo is! The Edible City is now available at all good bookstores and The Wayside Chapel (The Wayside Chapel 29 Hughes Street, Potts Point, 2011. Phone: 02 9581 9100) has a tour coming up at the end of February 2016. The Wayside Café is open Mon – Fri 9am-7.30pm Sat 9am – 4:30pm Sun 12pm – 4:30pm. I’ll see you there!

 

Alex and Eve the movie (review)

On Thursday, the 15th of October 2015, I attended MEAA’s (Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance) preview screening of Alex and Eve the movie.

Alex and Eve the movie is based on the stage play by Alex Lykos, which over 35k people attended since 2006 when it was first performed. The film is directed by Peter Andrikidis.

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When Richard Brancatisano (Alex) appeared on the big screen, female audience members swooned over his charismatic screen presence accompanied by his good performance delivery. Richard plays Alex, a school teacher in his thirties whose parents want him to marry a good Greek girl. Alex falls helplessly in love with Eve. Eve, (Andrea Demetriades who also gave a good natural performance), plays a lawyer whose parents are Lebanese Muslin. They desperately try to arrange her marriage with another Muslim which causes great conflict in the film. The story is set in Sydney with great cinematography highlighting the best of Sydney Harbour.

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What struck me the most was the impressive young ensemble cast who played Alex’s students. They were outstanding with their comic deliveries and timing, making the audience laugh throughout the film. They include: Nathan Melki (Chris), Emma-Jane MacKinnon-Lee (Mandy), Katerine-Ann MacKinnon-Lee (Sarah), Chloe Condylis (Rima) and not forgetting Rahel Romahn (Shadi, Eve’s brother).

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Strong performances were also noted by Tony Nikolakopoulos who played the obnoxious George (Alex’s Dad) and Simon Elrahi (Bassam – Eve’s Dad). Alex Lykos also made a wonderful appearance as Stavros.

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A trademark of Alex’s work is that it reflects the modern multicultural Australia in which we currently live in today. His writing is precise, straight to the point with no waffling and always has great, unexpected comedic moments. I feel that he’s an underrated writer who deserves much more. I hope Alex and Eve the movie will be embraced by the general public and his peers, giving him global opportunities to make more diverse comedic films internationally. He has definitely set the benchmark for more diverse Australian films of this calibre to be made.

Alex and Eve the movie opens in cinemas on 22nd October 2015.

8.5 / 10

Other audience members’ comments.

“Alex and Eve” is about multicultural Australia at its best. There have been many films of late about cross-cultural relationships – the beauty of this one is that it doesn’t shy away from the problems, and is deeply embedded in the local.” Sukhmani Khorana

“It was the first I felt I was the target demographic for a film being a first generation Aussie middle Easterner! And it had some great laughs.” Mansoor Noor

Photos courtesy of Alex and Eve the movie.

INTERVIEW WITH ALEX LYKOS HTTP://WP.ME/P28EWC-KZ

 

Interview with Alex Lykos (Alex and Eve the movie)

Alex Lykos grew up in Australia. In the early 1990s he won a tennis scholarship at the Western Kentucky University. Lykos continued playing tennis at a professional level until returning to Australia in 1999. He then began writing film and play scripts, and in 2006 formed the Bulldog Theatre Company. Alex wrote several successful stage plays including Alex and Eve, Better man, A Long Night and It’s War. Last week I interviewed this successful, multitalented, yet humble actor / writer whose work is to be commended because his stories and selection of cast always reflect diversity in modern Australia.

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1) When you were growing up in Australia who were your role models?

Actually, when I was growing up I was as far removed from the arts as possible. I used to play tennis and my idols were Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Michael Chang…Once I got into the arts, I admired the work of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe.

2) What made you want to break into Australian Theatre / TV / Film?

When I finished playing tennis, I was at a crossroads. I was a bit cheeky in school so I thought, at the ripe old age of 28, why not do an acting course. I found I enjoyed it. In the meantime, all the photos I took while I was in America, I placed in an album and wrote little bits about each photo. I found I enjoyed that and then proceeded to write a story about my time in America…which by the way I read again, about 6 months ago and is by the worst screenplay in history!!!

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3) What motivated and inspired you to write Alex and Eve the play and then the movie?

I had watched several romantic comedies and they all came from a the female’s perspective. SO I wanted to write a story which explored the angst a mid 30s male has in trying to find somebody. Then I had met someone from a different religious background and thought, mm, that might be interesting to explore. Put the two ideas together and Alex & Eve was born.

4) Do you see a positive change to colourblind casting in Australian film/ TV / Stage & do you incorporate this in your writing & casting?
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I actually am starting to see that there is a bit more of an effort to cast CALD actors. Its a process and hopefully films like Alex & Eve, UnIndian and televisions shows The Principal will continue to aid in the changing of the guard so to speak.
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5) What changes do you want to see happen in the entertainment industry?
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There are all kinds of changes that I would like to see happen. More of  a focus on Australian content across theatre, TV and film would be great.
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6) Alex and Eve the movie is coming out in October, what do you want audiences to take away from this movie?

If the audience goes away smiling having had a good time and perhaps have a bit of a think about their own views about people not from their ethnic background, then I would be pleased.

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Alex and Eve is in cinemas on October 22, 2015.

                                         ABOUT ALEX AND EVE

ALEX AND EVE is based on the hit stage play by Alex Lykos, who also wrote the screenplay and was produced by Murray Fahey. The original stage play was first performed in Sydney in 2006, since then over 35,000 people have seen productions of the play in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Alex and Eve is directed by Peter Andrikidis and stars Richard Brancatisano and Andrea Demetriades as star crossed lovers whose parents forbid them to marry. Alex is a handsome school teacher in his mid thirties and his parents want him to marry a good Greek girl. Alex falls hopelessly in love with the gorgeous Eve, a lawyer, whose parents are Lebanese Muslim. Like oil and water, the two should never mix, only how can they stop themselves from falling in love?

Executive Producers Martin Cooper, Bill Kritharas and Producer Murray Fahey secured finance for the production in 2014. Filming commenced June 2014 and took place over five weeks in Canterbury, Lakemba, Glebe, Haberfield, Homebush, the Rocks, Croydon, Belmore, Auburn, and Leichhardt.

ALEX AND EVE is a family comedy about dating in modern day multicultural Australia.

Photos and Alex and Eve synopsis courtesy of Alex and Eve the movie.

http://alexandeve.com.au/

“Colourblind Casting Prevails” (Joy’s interview with Tony Ayres in this month’s MEAA magazine)

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Interview with Remy Hii (Marco Polo, Better Man, Neighbours)

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Remy Hii is an Australian actor. He attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art for three years and appeared in various theatre productions before being cast in television. Hii starred as Van Tuong Nguyen in the miniseries Better Man and was cast as Hudson Walsh in the soap opera Neighbours in 2013 and currently starring in Marco Polo. Hii was born to a Chinese-Malaysian father and an English mother. His early theatre work was with The Emerge Project an arm of Switchboard Arts. There he performed in a number of original productions in Brisbane by local playwrights between 2005 and 2007. From 2009 to 2011 he attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney where he graduated in 2011. I was lucky to interview Remy who’s currently filming for Marco Polo.

1) When you were growing up who were your role models on Australian TV &    Film?

I actually grew up as a young kid in Papua New Guinea; we didn’t have television reception out there so my grandparents in Sydney would send out the TV guides from back home, and I’d highlight the shows I wanted to be taped, and they would mail back VHS tapes for us to watch. Gary Sweet in Police Rescue was a pretty big part of my life back then. Sadly looking back to my younger years, I don’t recall there being many faces of colour on our screens to look up to.

2) What made you want to break into Australian TV / Film?

I’ve always been motivated to succeed in this industry, as an artist, to be able to tell stories that excite me and in turn excite others. To get people passionate about Australian stories again. My friends and I always bemoan the often heard line “It was good… for an Australian film”. Somewhere along the line our storytelling stopped connecting with the audience: it stopped reflecting the country that many of us are living in; and yet there is a strong push now for new voices to be heard and that is something I want to be a part of.

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3) How did you get started in your career?

A fantastic co-op theatre company in Brisbane run by Dr. Errol Bray allowed me to hone my craft as a young actor and recognise the importance of new writing in Australia. It was through performing there that I was asked to audition for a new play at the Queensland Theatre Company – The Estimatorwritten by David Brown. It won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award in 2006 and I was playing the title role to sold out shows for an extended season. It was a wonderful induction into the industry, and cemented for me the idea that perhaps there was a place for me as an actor in Australia.

Coming from theatre in Brisbane, Film and Television seemed like this unattainable and mysterious thing. I found myself being sent for roles like Asian Gambler in East West 101, Asian Nerd in The Strip, and Asian Ladyboy in SeaPatrol. It wasn’t until I graduated from NIDA that other options started opening up for me, and chances to play interesting characters who were more than their skin colour or racial stereotype started to present themselves. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I never got the part(s).

4) Do you see a positive change to colour blind casting in Australian TV / Film and Theatre?

This is a really tough question to answer, as I can only speak from personal experience and sometimes it seems like we’ve really made it and sometimes it feels like we’re back living in the 50’s. I think we are making baby steps towards a place that  reflects the wonderful variety that is our nation. It’s slow, and there’s a long way to go but television is no longer the same as when I was young and diversity on our screens meant the other variations of white like Greek and Italian.

princejingim_marco_polo_remy_hii

5) What changes would you like to see in the TV & Film industry?

More risks. Some of our countries greatest runaway hits have come from projects that the commercial networks would recoil from. Shows like The Slap, Please Like Me and Redfern Now have all found success and audiences here and overseas, and they refused to be safe – from casting to themes and subject matter. Rather than being afraid of what makes us different, we should be embracing it.

6) What more do you want to achieve in the future?

I feel like I’ve barely even begun! I’ve been working for the last few months on the second season of Netflix’s Marco Polo. It’s a very big budget, action heavy production requiring hundreds of actors and extras, hours and hours of physical training, fight choreography and punishing hours on set. It’s an incredibly rewarding process, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it, but I’m looking forward to coming back home and getting back to the theatre. Just a stage and that magic connection between the actor and the audience.

Photos courtesy of Remy Hii and Australians in Film 

Q & A with Australian screenwriter / producer / director Tony Ayres

Tony Ayres (born 16 July 1961) is a Chinese-born Australian screenwriter, director in television and feature film. He is most notable for his films Walking on Water and The Home Song Stories, as well his work in television –The Slap and teen adventure series Nowhere Boys. He’s Executive producer on Maximum Choppage (a six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and The Family Law (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).

Tony Ayres

Q. When you were growing up who were your role models on Australian TV & Film?

Tony: When I was a kid, I actually avoided Australian film and TV.  There was nothing that I watched, except for getting the occasional guilty glimpse of “Number 96” or “The Box”.  Perhaps it was because I felt a typical Australian cultural cringe?  Or perhaps because there was no one on the screen who represented “me”?  Or some weird amalgam of both.  The shows I loved were mainly American TV shows.

Q. What made you want to break into Australian TV / Film?

Tony: I had always loved words and wanted to be a writer, but half way through my university degree, I realised that academia was killing my passion for literature.  I ended up changing to a visual arts degree at the Canberra School of Art.  If I had found a creative writing course, I probably would have done that.  Film and TV for me was never a driving  passion, more a logical deduction.  Words + plus pictures = screen.  It was only when I started getting into the area that I grew to love it.

Q. How did you get started in your career? 

Tony: After film schools (both VCA and AFTRS), I started work as a TV writer, and was fortunate enough to get work from the start.  Lucky, because I entered the industry relatively late (my late twenties).  Those were the days when SBS was starting to produce scripted drama, and there was a greater appetite for multicultural stories.  I wrote a number of TV plays for a number of anthology series- “Under the Skin”, “Six Pack” and “Naked-  Stories of Men”- which gave me a grounding in writing drama.  As well, I started directing documentaries and short dramas which gave me a taste for directing.  I feel like I was at the right time at the right  place because I was able to make an early career out of the marginal identity politics which I was personally grappling with-  being Chinese, being gay, being Chinese and gay.  I think that’s harder to do these days.

Q. Do you see a positive change to colour blind casting in Australian TV / Film and Theatre and do you incorporate this method of casting in your own productions? 

Tony: Honestly, whilst I think the rhetoric has evolved, in the scripted area  I don’t think that there has been a substantial change in terms of colour blind casting.  Every few years a non-Anglo actor will do a significant film or TV role and in the press junket raise the question of diversity as a public issue.  There will be a flurry of associated articles, and these days a bunch of “likes” on Facebook, but soon after the status quo will settle again.  The network mental “default” will still to be to white.  Non-white cultures will still be massively under-represented.  It will be just as hard for non-Anglo actors who attract attention through a breakout role to sustain their careers.  Diversity for the Australian entertainment industry is like “gay marriage” for Australian politics.  A lot of people believe in it, but few people are prepared to cross the floor to vote for it.

For there to be substantial change, I think that it’s about the people who are genuinely invested in the issue of diversity (ie people from diverse backgrounds themselves) becoming the decision makers, the commissioners, the network executives, the makers.   I guess I’d look at my own work as an example.  Diversity is important to me because I have personally felt the effect/damage of growing up Chinese in a white culture.   So, it’s one of the determinants of what I do.  My kids show, “Nowhere Boys” has a recurring role for a Chinese Australian actor (and the actors playing his family).  I’m currently executive producing “Maximum Choppage” (six part kung fu comedy series for the ABC starring Lawrence Leung) and  “The Family Law” (six part comedy series for SBS based upon the memoirs of Chinese Australian journalist, Benjamin Law).  And I’m also EP’ing a feature film, “Ali’s Wedding”, a Muslim romantic comedy.

Q. What changes do you want to see happen in the entertainment industry?

Tony: In terms of diversity, I’d like the Australian government funding bodies to take this issue seriously enough to create some kind of quota system in terms of representation.  The US and UK industries have both found relatively benign ways to legislate for diversity, and I don’t think it’s harmed their products or their share of the world market.

Finally what projects are you currently working on? 

Tony: Aside from the shows listed above, I’m also executive producing a new show for ABC Drama called “Glitch” which is the ABC’s first supernatural TV series, and EP’ing and co-writing the feature film version of “Nowhere Boys”.   There are some exciting new projects in early days as well, yet to be announced.  But a recurring theme of diversity can be traced through them all.

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