Discover the unexpected stories of Western Sydney in an intimate multi-lingual, multi-generational storytelling show, Who Speaks For Me?
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.
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.
National Theatre of Parramatta and Performance 4a will present the world-premiere of Who Speaks For Me? from 12th to 15th October at Riverside Theatres.
Dates & Times:
Wednesday 12 October 7:30pm – PREVIEW
Thursday 13 October 7:30pm – OPENING NIGHT
Friday 14 October 7:30pm
Saturday 15 October 2pm & 7:30pm
Adult $37, Concession $32, 30 & Under $27, Child Under 16 $27
Who Speaks For Me? Artist Talk
Join the cast and co-directors William Yang and Annette Shun Wah, as they discuss the process of making Who Speaks For Me?
Dates & Times:
Saturday 15 October 4pm
Free, bookings essential
Co-Directors: William Yang and Annette Shun Wah
Ly Heang Seang
Bà Quôc Viêt
William Uy Vu Le
Puspa Lal Acharya
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 story telling workshops.
Annette Shun Wah
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.
Ly Heang and Vanna Seang
Ly Heang Seang was born in Cambodia and grew up during the tumultuous times of the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese invasion. She and her family fled Cambodia, walking to the Thai border, carrying her young son Vanna the whole way. He was her third child and she was pregnant with her fourth. After a succession of refugee camps the family finally made it to Australia when Vanna was 5. Shortly after their arrival, Ly’s husband suffered a debilitating accident at work. With little English and no formal education or training Ly became sole breadwinner for the family of 7.
Vanna Seang is Ly’s third youngest child. He is a television producer, director and cinematographer.
The Le Family
Ba Quoc Viet (Thi Hy Dang) was born in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (formerly Saigon) and established a cooking school that became famous throughout Southeast Asia. But after the arrival of the VietCong, which sparked an all-out Vietnam War and lingering tensions between the north and south divide, she and her daughters joined others fleeing the country. She arrived in Sydney in 1983 to a celebrity welcome, and before long was running cooking classes in Western Sydney and her cooking stalls became a regular fixture at community events in Cabramatta. To date, she has released an 84-DVD and 99 cassette collection of her recipes and spectacular food sculptural art plus numerous cookbooks—all written in Vietnamese. She remains well known in the Bankstown community and even younger generations have heard of her.
Sophie To (Thi My Hoang) is Ba’s fourth daughter, who made the journey with her by boat from Vietnam, to a refugee camp in Singapore. In Australia she married and had three children. She successfully learnt English at TAFE, which at once makes her bilingual at the table of both English-speaking friends and Vietnamese family. Formerly a beauty therapist who ran a beauty spa in Westfield Burwood for five years, she currently works as a skin technician in her ex-husband’s surgery.
William Le (Uy Vu) is a writer, filmmaker and co-director of interCulture casting & management (iCCAM), an agency that represents artists from culturally diverse backgrounds, those living with disability and those who identify as LGBTIQ. An advocate for the deaf and hearing impaired and their issues of access and social equality, he has been a Don’t DIS My ABILITY Ambassador in NSW since 2014. Born profoundly deaf he learnt only to speak English, which presents certain challenges in communicating with his Vietnamese-speaking grandmother, particularly when she is his number one, spotlight-loving client at the agency! He lives with his fiancé who is also the director of the casting agency, and who is Croatian and hearing.
Chandra and Puspa Lal Acharya
Chandra and Puspa Lal Acharya are of Nepalese background from Bhutan. After protesting the Bhutanese clampdown on the teaching of Nepali language and culture, Puspa found himself on a list of police targets and just managed to flee the country in time. His wife Chandra moved from house to house with their three children, to avoid also being arrested. Eventually the family were reunited in a refugee camp in Nepal. They lived there for 17 years before finally being accepted in Australia in 2010. Here they are active in Sydney’s small Bhutanese community.
Puspa Lal Acharya is a caseworker for SydWest Multicultural Services and Nepean Migrant Access. He also serves as Treasurer of the Association of the Bhutanese in Australia.