Melbourne Fringe Festivals G’Day Habibi

Entering the pub style restaurant, the notable bright green poster welcomes you.

 

‘This is a Fringe venue’.

 

Soon the sound of a delicate bell rings, 15 minutes late.

 

“Those for G’Day Habibi, please make your way up the stairway”.

 

The narrow staircase allows only one person at a time and you have to watch your feet as you go so you don’t trip over. It leads to a small room where a simple stage has been set.  A black backdrop with a guy sitting at a red key board. Towards the back of the room sits a man, working the lights and sound. Flashes of green and purple swirl across the room with the spot light fixated on the stage. More people file in. IMG_2124

 

The music playing has a notable Middle Eastern tone. It gives the atmosphere a sense of liveliness and creates energetic tones. There is a key change and the tempo increases, or did the song change altogether? It’s hard to tell as it’s not sung in English.  Lights of different hues begin to dance around everyone’s head, making it feel like a nineties disco. A young woman walks out from behind the black curtain. Wearing a pink sequenced dress and a scarf covering her head she starts to sing.

 

Fighting for attention, G’Day Habibi was one among a hundred or so performances featured at last years, 2016, Melbourne Fringe Festival. For over thirty years The Fringe Festival has helped emerging artists and performers showcase their talents to the wider public.

 

This particular cabaret explores the diversities and differences that come from being half Lebanese and half Australian. Written and performed by Danielle Faour, the cabaret breaks down the stereotypes of this Middle Eastern culture through the use of comedy and song. Developed from a 30-minute show she performed at Fab Nobs Theatre, Faour tells of how she received a grant to develop the idea further but only recently took action.

“Two years’ kind of went past and I didn’t do anything with it and then I saw the ads for Fringe and thought that’s it. I’m going to do it. So then I expanded the show and then here we are.”

 

The title of the performance denotes the fusion of cultures. ‘G’Day’, common Australian slag for hello and ‘habibi’, a Lebanese term to describe love and affection towards another. Thus the title means ‘hello friend’, this is all explained in the first few minutes of the show. When Faour would exclaim, “G’Day Habibi’s” the audience is expected to shout or respond back with just as much vigour. Looking around the small room you could see the over-arching Australian presence. But like a true performer Faour adapts and engages with her audience to the point where you would see yourself doing the Lebanese clap and singing along to the so called wedding playlist, where Aussie hour is Chris Brown on repeat. Such moments helped keep the spirit of the room upbeat and alive, though the rave style lighting choices sometimes took away such feelings.

 

“I feel like it keeps people engaged”, says Faour when asked about audience participation.

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“Because sometimes when you are just talking at them or whatever people don’t really pay as much attention. Whereas they feel they have to pay attention if they know you might like ask them to do something.”

 

And she did, multiple times. Asking the audience questions and at one point having a Lebanese style Family Feud.

Though the nakedness of the stage and room sometimes felt bare and dull, Faour makes up in her energetic spirit and witty charm. She forces you to use your imagination as she describes her cousins wedding and how all the men were on the lookout for a wife.  She sings about her dad’s obsession with buying and collecting life size boats and adoring himself over a particular vessel with a large shark sticker plastered on the side. After it all you realise that if there were any props it would have been too distracting.

 

Apart from her pink sequined dress the only other colour on stage is the cherry red keyboard played by her accompaniment, Angus Gray. He was not Danielle’s first choice. After asking other close friends and being turned down she turned to social media.

 

“It’s called like Melbourne Musical Theatre musicians or something and I just posted on there and said you know hey I’m doing a comedy cabaret you know these are the details who’s interested”.

 

Angus was one of many who responded.

 

“I saw the post for a pianist and thought yeah, that would be fun.”

 

After consideration the pair were matched and have enjoyed working with each other.

 

“Oh she is nice, fun and full of energy.”

 

“She put it all together and just told me what to play,” he said.

 

Danielle laughs at his response.

 

“He’s been really great”.

 

What was visibly absence Faour makes up with her music abilities. Not only can she sing songs from the likes of Lady Gaga, the Cure and even ACDC but her ingenious way of re writing the lyrics gave her stories edge and comedic value.

 

“In my family every time its someone birthday or a wedding or something we don’t do speeches we do songs. So we’ll choose a song and then we’ll like change the words to suit that person.”

 

With nine shows across the course of the festival, and a number of them sold out, Faour shares how each performance was different and how it evolved over the course of the week.

 

“Naturally over time you might ad lib a bit and you kind of see what works and what doesn’t so from the first night it is a different show to what you saw tonight”.

 

The quirky nature of the performance and the remixes of popular songs brought a sense of realism. Listening and laughing along with the rest of the audience common themes begin to emerge from her experiences to your own. A simple way of bridging together cultural differences. Strangely enough you will find yourself laughing at the seemingly relatable challenges this girl has faced. From the unfortunate circumstance of being born a girl and having her carnivorous family shake their heads as she tries to explain what a vegan is, the boundaries of both cultures begin to fade. Well written and brilliantly performed well deserved the festivals nomination for best cabaret. Though it did not take out the top honours it did not disappoint.

Accent on Asia’s Kaili Blues, a cinematic masterpiece

Kaili Blues, premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2016 (MIFF), is an award winning feature by China’s emerging young director (Bi Gen). Set in the director’s hometown of Kaili, located in Southwest China, the film explores the challenges of the past and the conflicts that present themselves through daily life.

The film is underscored by elements of memory and time, with the use of a visual narrative to present these themes Gen enables the audience to experience and reflect upon their own memories of love and loss through Chen’s own progression without being overbearing. Gen effectively does this through the use of poetry, written and published by the director himself, complimented by panoramic views of Kaili in Southwest China.

The film focuses on Chen Sheng (Chen Yongzhong) a doctor in the city of Kaili. Chen is more than meets the eye and as he journeys to find his nephew Weiwei (Luo Feiyang), he is faced with the unknown territories of one’s memory. While the film’s plot has no linear progression the narrative presents itself through stunning imagery. Drained colours that wash away the traditionally romanticized views of China create a sombre and undoctored aesthetic, giving each scene a sense of realism presented with unfiltered charm. Chen often pulls into view and later leaves the shot, only to reappear from some obscure angle, such as from the side mirror of his motorbike, or through a silhouette on a shower curtain. Gen brings to our attention an element of Asian cinema, nigh unknown in Western culture, that of ‘Daily Life’. In typical western film the camera always follows the action, deviating every now and then to ground the audience in the environment or deepen their understanding of the characters. The unapologetically action-lacking 41-minute take which follows Yangyang (Guo Yue), as she travels across a river located in the town of Dangmai is one such example of fluid and uneventful movement.

The use of unknown actors both hindered and enabled the films fluidity. The lack of emotion and expression used by the main protagonist made it tiresome to watch at times. Although Chen didn’t say much with body language, the audience becomes drawn into the conversations and pay attention to what is being said, or what is left unsaid.

Even through the eyes of a Western viewer, Kaili Blues is a beautiful portrayal of the director’s hometown through cinematography. It is not an unconventional film, but it is not for conventional tastes. Kaili Blues will surprise you in more ways than one. An additional viewing is being held on August 4, tickets on sale through the MIFF website.

 

Paying it rough as a childcare worker.

It’s said that one of the best things about other people’s kids is you can give them back when things turn sour. But not for Heather, she has to grin and bear the nappies, the screaming and the terrible two’s. Why? Because she is a childcare worker.

 

Heather is the type of person, upon first meeting, you know you can’t get away with anything. No matter who you are and regardless if someone has the toy you want, nothing seems to faze her. When it comes to her kids that is. But working in an industry that demands so much, is highly regulated and pays very little, Heather who has been a childcare worker for nearly a decade sometimes second guesses herself.

 

“it’s not worth the money. It’s not. I’ve had days where I’ve gone, I could go and work for a supermarket and make more money.”

 

But why do you stay? Why does anyone stay?

 

“You don’t stay in the industry for the money. Many stay because they love the children.”

 

In an industry that is predominantly female, its little wonder many here battle the wages war. When speaking to the Guardian about the issue regarding pay in the industry, United Voice’s national secretary, Jo-anne Schofield called it a “national disgrace”.

 

“Educators are among the lowest paid professionals in Australia for one simple reason. This workforce is 95% female and their profession is shamefully underpaid,” Schofield said.

 

It has a ripple effect, low wages that is. When speaking on Lateline earlier this month co-convenor of the Work and Family Policy Roundtable Elizabeth Hill said no matter how much an individual may enjoy working with children the struggle is helping workers make a career out of the industry.

 

“Centres are finding it really difficult not being able to support individual workers who are fabulous at their job in a career path. So the churn factor that low wages has is a really significant issue in the industry,” Hill said.

 

Even after a bachelor degree your still only looking at taking home a thousand dollars a fortnight. Even after finishing a diploma and receiving any and all qualifications you’ll be lucky to peak above two thousand. The industry definitely is not for the faint hearted and money driven millennials.

 

“Most places can’t put you on as an unqualified trainee anymore because you can’t work unqualified. And they won’t put you onto a traineeship until you’ve been working for them for three months,” Heather explains.

Even trying to get a traineeship is still hard as most centres look for those already qualified. Their reasoning, National Quality Framework.

 

Established in 2012, the aim of the National Quality Framework was to implement a standard across the country when it comes to caring and educating young children. Through the use of what are deemed seven key areas, centres and families can understand and make affect decisions surrounding childcare.

 

One aspect of the framework that was remodelled was ratios, that being the number of workers to children. In Victoria, and much of the country, the ratio for newborns to 24 months is one to four. Then, according to the website, it jumps to 36 months to pre-school age, with the ratio one to eleven. When looking at the numbers it doesn’t seem all that bad but when putting it into reality Heather explains it’s a lot harder than it looks. And she doesn’t mince words.

 

“I think the ratios crap,” she says.

 

“The ratio for a baby should be different to a two to three-year-old.”

 

Why?

 

“When you’re trying to feed four babies at once because they’re all hungry and you’re by yourself because technically that’s ratio, its physically impossible. Trust me I’ve tried. You literally have to give a five-month old baby their bottle and hope they learn to hold it themselves.”

 

When you put this into context with a remark Schofield said to the Guardian that educators “literally shape the future, one child at a time” the pressure to do the best you can, seems all the more important. But this isn’t the opinion of many.

 

“Some teachers who’ve never worked in a day care think we’re babysitters.” She has a look of contempt in her eyes.

 

Looking back, you can’t really see or remember what it is you learned while in childcare, if you can that is. Apart from the achievement of being able to colour between the lines it’s difficult to understand what it is that workers do, or teach, to young children.

 

“They’re learning how to negotiate, they’re learning how to share, they’re learning how to be friends. They’re learning how to interact with one another,” explains Heather.

 

When speaking on the issue to the Guardian, Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman once said, “Like it or not, the most important mental and behavioural patterns, once established, are difficult to change once children enter school.” A comment Heather agrees with strongly but has found it harder to accomplish because parents aren’t always on the same page.

 

It’s another pressure on top of low wages and strict regulations, the ability to help children develop the fundamental emotional and social aspects of their lives.

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We are talking in the only quiet room at her parent’s house. With all the red tape and notifications to parents it was easier this way than at the centre she works for. Even with advanced notice it still would have taken weeks for approval to be made. Outside the closed door you can hear her nieces and nephews running back and forth, screaming and carrying on. Blocks are pulled out and it keeps them entertained for a while longer until the fights start. It’s a slight distraction but it doesn’t seem to faze her, she keeps on talking.

 

“There’s an odd generation with how parents are parenting. So more children now just get whatever they want, whenever they want. Get to rule the roost, essentially. Rather than being parented.”

 

Retired physician and contributing editor to the City Journal Theodore Dalrymple who asked the question in an article printed in the publication as to why some parents find it hard to say no. Especially when it comes to their screaming two-year-old.

 

“There is also the belief that to say no is to be cruel, heartless and unloving, while to say yes is kind, caring and affectionate. The evidence for this proposition is obvious: If you say no to an infant, he cries and screams with distress. If you say yes, he smiles and laughs with pleasure.”

 

Heather has seen this all too often and explains many occasions where, after telling a parent their child hit another in the face, the parent proceeds to defend their little one.

 

Your child hit another child today.

What did you do?

Took the toy off them.

Alright. Why did you take the toy off my child?

Well, because they hit them to try and get it.

Well they clearly wanted it so you should have just let them have it in the first place.

Well no that’s not how it works.

 

It’s hard to imagine, looking from the outside in, the extent one goes through on a daily basis in the industry. From low wages, strict regulations that have you asking questions, and parents that believe the whole world does, and should, evolve around their little ray of sunshine. This is of course generally speaking, though when compared to when she started Heather does say there has been a huge change.

 

Her comments, “We are the most over regulated and under paid industry. Full stop. Full stop.”

 

So why, why would anyone want to work in this industry.

 

“You don’t stay in the industry for the money. Many stay because they love the children.”

It’s purely about greed and maximum return

Her kitchen is bright and spacious with streams of light bouncing off the granite counter top. Shadows are seen playing across the polished wooden floors. There is a click and she pours the jug of water. Snake like wisps of stem float up and disappear. She cradles her cup in her hands but doesn’t take a sip.

Bridget sits herself down on one of the neighbouring stools. At a glance you can see how the years have worn at her face, yet her pale blue eyes show how she has lived each day and the wisdom it has bought. She points to what she calls the ugly tree. It’s bare and looks gaunt against the vibrant red wall of her neighbour’s house. Various ornaments hang from its branches. Her neighbour hacks at it because the leaves blow in the wrong direction. It’s nearly dead.

“They’ve taken away every bit of garden. And yet this ugly tree that’s nearly dead the counsel said no you can’t remove it because the place would be devoid of trees.”

As the popularity of subdivision increases and the demand for land becomes a race for the highest bid, many voices like Bridget are being drowned out by big bucks and instant cash flow.

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“This kind of development is short sighted,” she says, “they want to be they want to be in prime real estate so they can buy a well-positioned place in a good suburb and build rubbish.”

“In 20 years’ time the next generation of people moving into the street will just bulldoze everything because nothing has been built with any kind of consideration for the future. It’s just about making money right now.”

Bridget has been living in Surry Hills for over 25 years. But as time has progressed she has seen the popularity of her area and those around her fall to property developers who scramble for any available plot of land and then try to squeeze a two story apartment which seems to kiss the fence on all three sides.

“It’s purely about greed and maximum return,” she says.

She describes how many of the developers and properties going up within meters of her house are inconsiderate of their neighbours and community around them.

“Every time we are in the back garden we have people looking in and that’s an invasion of privacy,” She explains.

“They just stand out and destroy what’s all about them. That’s what I object too.”

But developers aren’t the only ones cashing in on these short sighted projects.

“They [the council] just re-zoned this to high density living,” She exclaims, “Which pretty much means that developers can come and do what they like and build three stories’ high and a bit further down they can build seven stories’ high.”

“They’re terrible, they’re cheap, they’re nasty, they’re not well planned and they’re tiny,” she says, “not one of those units I would put even my own child in.”

 

She Paints a Black Canvas

With each question she stumbles. There is always the momentary pause before a response. She is quietly spoken so you have to be attentive otherwise you’ll miss what she says. Silence. She is trying to wrap her tongue around her emotions. It’s hard to put feelings into words.

 

She starts in year 11, second last year of High School. The critical moments of life. She had hit the ground running but slipped and fell, never seeming to get back up.

 

Every lesson is a blur. Nothing stays in. She is losing control. She is falling apart.

 

These kinds of struggles don’t leave visible scars. They’re hidden and disguised in memories, images and even new moments waiting to catch you unaware. Sometimes the greatest people carry the biggest burdens.

 

“I had seen a social worker only a couple years before and they just said I was lonely.”

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Those years spent as young adults are said to be the defining moments of one’s life. You figure out who you are and what you want to be. It’s the time where the most of the pressure is put. If you don’t step up, you’ll fail. Fail school. Fail at life.

 

 

You’re supposed to start growing up. Get a job. Go to university. The normal things she says.

 

“Art was what kept me grounded.”

 

For years Alyce had been fighting a hidden battle. Deep within the realms of the mind and guarded by the scariest of feelings. People say it’s just a faze. All girls go through it. She’ll just grow out of it. But this has nothing on puberty. This is real. This is depression. This is anxiety.

 

“Over time it stripped me of the capacity to do any of the required classes that would allow me into university to study the course that I needed to.”

 

“I knew what was required and I wasn’t making the cut.”

 

“It was hard being left behind.”

 

She tells of mental health lessons. She would be sitting there, listening. Listening to words like depression and anxiety. Ticking all the boxes. It would be something to look into at some point but not now.

 

“Bit of a regret,” she laments.

 

“Spent the time learning the hard way.”

 

Looking at her now you would be amazed. Since 2011 she has been a dominant player in the Tasmanian art sphere. Three solo galleries. All sold out before the opening night.

 

“I remember sitting in the car getting all these phone calls from the gallery on the day they were hanging my first show, whenever a piece was sold.”

 

“I had put my whole soul onto those canvases and people were just snapping them up. I didn’t cope with it very well at all. I still don’t.”

 

She is gaining momentum now. Making up for lost time. The world is big and full of opportunities again. Reachable. Visible. Now that the fight has been won.

Working as an artist isn’t a stable career. It’s not easy. Not many people make it.

 

“Being an artist is one of the hardest jobs out there,” she says.

 

Her dad is an accountant. He asked the hard hitting questions. How can you financially support yourself? Your husband? Your family? He fought. Fought with the idea of his daughter dreaming away her future.

 

Her mother. Her mother understood. She knew art wasn’t some young adolescent dream of running away with the circus. This was an escape of another kind. An avenue to express the detailed workings of the mind. The pain. The hopelessness.

 

“Another artist once gave the advice that not every piece has to be a masterpiece, sometimes we get caught up in the pursuit of perfection, but really the important thing is to finish works, learn from the mistakes and to progress.”

 

Much can be paralleled to her experience with anxiety and depression. Always being told to be a certain way. Feel a certain feeling. Now she is learning from her mistakes. The mistake of keeping silent for so long.

 

“You get to the point where you have two options. You ask for help or…”

 

She doesn’t finish her sentence.

 

Mental health is a lot better than it was four years ago. People are being educated more. Non for profits like Beyond Blue and Helpline are widely known. The long prevailed taboo has disappeared but left behind is still a heavy stigma.

 

“People just don’t understand how serious it could get.”

 

Unless you have gone through it, it’s hard to understand. But awareness is better than silence. Mental illness is a hard thing, harder still to admit to it.

 

“For me asking for help was the hardest thing. For years of my life I’d tried to push through on my own.”

 

Everything looks different in hindsight. For one thing, Alyce is using her art as a way to help others understand their own feelings and emotions.

 

“For me are those quiet moments when you can see someone truly connect with a work on an emotional level. It reminds me that my job is a privilege.”

 

Being an artist doesn’t mean you’re careless with your time. The need for discipline is greater than most people would think. You don’t get out any more than you put in. She details the long hours of planning, pondering, sketching a piece before it even makes it to the canvas.

 

“I would normally be frantically working on 7 pieces at once for an upcoming solo show, but I have taken a year off to re-evaluate what I want to do and to explore new ideas and techniques.”

 

Life isn’t so daunting anymore. She shares her most pivotal moment. Her description?

 

“I was in a big hole getting sucked into it.”

 

Silence.

Team Building. Concrete Style.

Sport has been a major part of the Australian culture for many years. However, in the past some sports have seen the lack of female participation. Due to Woman’s AFL and crickets Big Bash, there has been a growth in female participation. With this in mind, councils are coordinating with local clubs and venues to better accommodate for this increase. I spoke to Sam Taylor and David Nankervis from the Boroondara Council to discuss their points of view.

 

 

Originally aired on The Rotary and Community Service Show 3WBC 94.1FM, on Friday May 5 2017.