Not Just My Story was presented by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre at St Martins Youth Arts Centre, as part of HRAFF, on Saturday 14 May at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm. A third performance was shown on Sunday 15 May at 8:00 pm. This is a review of the second Saturday performance.
The curtain rises on an empty chair lit by a single spotlight on a barren stage. There is a voice, but the audience is unsure who it belongs to and what their face may look like. Over the course of the next two hours, a cast of over twenty claim the identity of the mystery persona and share some of their history. Not Just My Story is a collaborative work combining personal narratives of asylum seekers with movement, music and theatre. As a piece mixing both artistic professionalism and the heartfelt pathos of personal experience, this must be community theatre at its strongest.
Not Just My Story is a collaborative work combining personal narratives of asylum seekers with movement, music and theatre.
Director Catherine Simmonds, along with writer and collaborator Arnold Zable, have meshed individual stories into a larger narrative that ponders questions of home, identity, memory and often trauma. The influence of associate artists such as Japanese movement artist Yumi Umiumare and MC/Rapper Philip Michael Pandongan is potent.
The ensemble work throughout the piece is particularly rich, with the ensemble actively involved in the shaping of the onstage world. Staging is stripped bare, allowing the colour and vibrancy of the performers to inhabit the space and transform the stage into the many worlds the performers are from.
The core of the project is undoubtedly the storytelling of the performers. The cast is largely composed of one-time clients of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and the ensemble is supported on stage by a number of collaborators. The professional artists guiding the project should be commended. The heavy subject matter is handled delicately and the stories are often explored collectively.
… heavy subject matter is handled delicately and the stories are often explored collectively.
The stories are told by individuals offering their own personal reflections, but also through collecting narratives of asylum seekers into themes, some of which include torture and violence, women reflecting on meeting their children after years of absence and the immigration bureaucracy.
Particularly moving is a tableau scene in which performers act as puppets lodging forms. Another introduces three educators from three different countries. Their stories all reveal the complexities and immense danger their teaching involved and how each ultimately left their profession to seek security. Interestingly, one scene provides a sobering reminder of the origins of Irish migration to Australia, highlighting a shared history of boat travel from both recent and more historicised migration.
The performance is definitely long, running at over two hours. Ensuring everyone “has a go” over and above ensuring dramatic merit is one of the pitfalls this form of theatre is open to. However, the show moves with pace and pathos, transitions are snappy and it seems near impossible to suggest what to cut.
The story is not over. It, as its characters have personally experienced, will continue to twist and turn. The performance ends with an outreached hand and the simple question: “Are you okay?”
The performance ends with an outreached hand and the simple question: “Are you okay?”
Not Just My Story celebrates how recent asylum seekers have and will continue to endure, implores us to absorb and illustrates the positive outcome we bring about if we recognise that, no matter our origins, we are inextricably bound to one another. The face of the person in the chair could belong to any one of the storytellers, and more so, it could be any of ours.