The varied accents of a rich theatre


By Lenore Tardif

SYDNEY — The Second Multicultural Theatre Festival, with performances by 18 theatre companies in nine languages, begins this week. It promises to be even more exciting and challenging than the first festival, held last October.

Lydia Miller (star of Deadly) and comedian Vince Sorrenti will host the festival opening, on Friday, August 21, at the Newtown High School of Performing Arts. This will be a spectacular performance integrating the skills of all the companies, plus a performance of Nallawilli by Kooris in Theatre.

A rich and diverse theatre with its roots in Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the southern Mediterranean continues on each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening until September 13 at the Newtown venue. The festival then moves to the Library Plaza in Liverpool from Friday to Sunday, September 18-20.

Theatregoers discovered at the first festival that multicultural theatre is not just dramatisation of folklore in traditional dress.

A uniquely Australian form of vibrant drama — referred to in the festival's title, "Australian Accents" — is emerging from a Multicultural Theatre Alliance of 24 companies. The dramatic expression of multiculturalism emerges in both new works and the reworking of traditional plays.

Meeting with the Past by Bill Kokkaris and Sunday's Breakfast (Vasilis Georgarakis) are new works in which family dynamics, women's roles, cultural rituals and racial intolerance are challenged within an Australian lifestyle filtered

through very different cultural experiences. The work of traditional playwrights such as Argentinean Roberto Cossa's play The Grandmother becomes more relevant when transposed to an Australian situational drama.

Almost 40% of Australia's population is of non-English speaking background, and despite the recession, multicultural companies frequently play to packed houses.

A wider audience is recognising that non-English background theatre has a lot to offer. The Hellenic Theatre Group, having performed for 42 years in Marrickville, is experiencing dramatic increases in English-speaking audiences; FILEF's Italian-

based theatre in Leichhardt has audiences close to 50% English-speaking.

Festival director Robert Gamba is excited by the evolution of what he calls "hybrid" drama, evolving when company members share their skills, resources, energies and performances. New forms of dance, movement, music and communication are being born from these amalgamations of ideas and alliances.

Gamba stresses that the consistent use of two languages in performances is fundamental to this new theatre's vision. Drama consultant Maria Shevtsova explains: "Bilingual community theatre is based on the premise that minorities, instead of being ghettoised, dismissed as alien or indulged as folklore, must reclaim their heritage and identity, and receive due credit for their cultural as well as economic contribution to national life".

Single performance tickets are $12/$6 concession, for three nights $25/$15. A season pass is $60/$40.