Who Speaks For Me?

ntp-who-speaks-for-meDiscover the unexpected stories of Western Sydney in an intimate multi-lingual, multi-generational storytelling show, as National Theatre of Parramatta and Performance 4a presents the world-premiere of Who Speaks For Me? at the Riverside Theatres for a limited season from 12 October 2016.

Through personal narratives and photographs, Who Speaks For Me? explores the vagaries of language – the powerlessness of those who do not have it, the nuances lost in translation, and the sometimes hilarious consequences of misunderstanding it.

Who Speaks For Me? includes the story of Cambodian mother, Ly Heang Seang, who was so desperate to get her driver’s license that she sat for the written test a total of 31 times before succeeding. Throughout her story, Ly Heang Seang comes to rely on her son, Vanna, for communicating in English including facilitating meetings with his school principal and at a later stage, providing the words to assist Ly Heang Seang to triumph over workplace bullying.

The production also includes the story of Vietnamese refugee, Bà Quôc Viêt, who fled her homeland by boat with her daughter Sophie To. Famous in Vietnam and parts of south-east Asia for her cooking expertise, Bà Quôc Viêt never let a lack of English get in her way, especially when it came to communicating with her ‘favourite’ grandson William who was born profoundly deaf and learnt to speak only English.

And from western Sydney’s Bhutanese community, we hear the story of husband and wife Puspa Lal and Chandra Acharya who were forced to flee persecution in Bhutan for protesting a clampdown on the Nepali language and culture.  After two decades in a refugee camp in Nepal, they arrived in Sydney as part of a major humanitarian program to settle 5000 Bhutanese refugees in Australia.  Here, Puspa helps new migrants adjust to life in his new country and Chandra is learning English but relies on Puspa to speak for her.

These and other irresistible stories will be accompanied by rare photographs from private collections and will take the audience to the heart of the migrant’s journey. Co-directed by master storyteller and photographer William Yang, and writer and producer Annette Shun Wah, Who Speaks For Me follows their critically acclaimed collaborations Stories Then & Now, Stories East & West and In Between Two. 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, Australia. He moved to Sydney in 1969 and worked as a freelance photographer documenting Sydney’s social life which included the glamorous, celebrity set and the hedonistic, sub-cultural, gay community. In 1989, he integrated his skills as a writer and a visual artist. He began to perform monologues with slide projection in the theatre which told personal stories and explored issues of identity.

He has completed 11 full-length works and most of them have toured the world. William’s current work is photo based, doing performances in theatres and exhibitions in galleries. He has just converted three of his live performance pieces into films at the University of NSW. He also completes storytelling workshops.

Annette Shun Wah is a producer, writer, actor and broadcaster, best known for ABC-TV and SBS-TV shows such as The Noise, Eat Carpet, Studio 22 and Imagine. As an actor she was nominated for an AFI Award for her supporting role in Australia’s first foreign language feature film, Floating Life, directed by Clara Law, and subsequently appeared in guest roles in a number of television series.

As a non-fiction writer she co-wrote the award-winning book Banquet – Ten Courses to Harmony, and has contributed to many anthologies including Growing Up Asian in Australia edited by Alice Pung and Grandma Magic edited by Janet Hutchinson. Annette also wrote and directed the smartphone app China Heart exploring marriage and family in Sydney’s Chinatown since the earliest days of settlement.

Annette now relishes creative roles in two theatre companies: on the artistic directorate of the National Theatre of Parramatta and as Executive Producer of Performance 4a.

Performance 4a is the only professional arts company dedicated to making exceptional contemporary Asian Australian work for all audiences. It strives to engender greater cultural diversity in Australian performing arts by producing cross-artform theatrical works of the highest quality.

Who Speaks for Me? is the first collaboration between Performance 4a and the National Theatre of Parramatta, bringing to light the stories of Western Sydney often hidden because of language and culture, yet integral to the vibrancy of the region. 

Who Speaks For Me?
Lennox Theatre – Riverside Theatres, Corner Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Season: 12 – 15 October 2016
Information and Bookings: www.riversideparramatta.com.au

Image: Vanna Seang and Ly Heang (supplied)