THOUGH frequently misunderstood, “So, Where Are You From?” is a theatre production that aims to shed light on the woes of international students. Elizabeth Yick spoke to the show’s creative director Catherine Simmonds to learn more about it.
“So, where are you from?” – it’s a question heard often by those who possess a non-Caucasian appearance.
For some international students, however, this innocent-enough question can become loaded both by the weight of a complicated backstory in their home country, and the concerns and worries outside of their student life in Australia.
What is life like in the eyes of an international student? Is it about the freedom away from family, or the experience of a different culture? Or is it about studying hard to attain a better life, or a temporary asylum away from the political complications at home?
These questions and more are the subject of So, Where Are You From?, a production devised, compiled and directed by Catherine Simmonds in collaboration with international students from La Trobe University. In conjunction with La Trobe International and La Trobe Student Theatre, the play is written and performed by 12 international students who bring down the walls of stigmatism and stereotypes to look into the mirror of each other’s stories.
These are the stories experienced by people personally, and in a way, the journey is this process of ownership by the students of their experiences.”
Interestingly, many of these students have never before performed in theatre, and they will not be performing to a pre-written script.
Instead, they are acting out a semi-autobiographical illustration of their experiences from the past.
Ms Catherine Simmonds, writer-director of the production and an experienced community cultural development facilitator, spoke to Meld about how the production has developed from a series of workshops for international students at La Trobe.
“I do a lot of workshops with these students, and from the first session, one of the things we got was a strong sense of cultural diversity. In these workshops, I ask lots and lots of questions, and I develop and foster a sense of openness and trust, and you can see people beginning to open up,” Ms Simmonds explained.
“I don’t tell people what to do, and I don’t force anyone to do anything. In a way, what this production has become is a sum of the people involved… the script is still developing – it is the last thing to come. These are the stories experienced by people personally, and in a way the journey is this process of ownership by the students of their experiences.”
So, Where Are You From? is more than just a play – it explores what it means to be an international student. There is more than one answer to the question, which is precisely what the production considers.
“This is socially important work – it has people from many parts of the world interacting, and mostly we are ignorant of each other’s worlds.”
“This production is about cultural assumptions, national identification, racism and the stereotyping of international students… the performance becomes socially relevant to a wider audience, because international students are more than just a transient community – they are not just a community that brings funds into the university.”
This is socially important work – it has people from many parts of the world interacting, and mostly we are ignorant of each other’s worlds.”
She also touched on the needs of international students whilst studying abroad.
“Many of these students are here for four years or more, and they become part of the social fabric; they are people with the need for social interaction and for cultural development.”
Ms Simmonds hopes that the production will be an avenue for empowerment for international students, as well as a space for them in advocacy of issues.
“Life is made of the sad and the happy. There are some sad stories, but that is because they are sad; there are some tragic moments, because they have occurred. Perhaps one of the mistakes we make socially is that we feel the need to present only our ‘happy strong face’… and in a way this work can be therapeutic for the stigma and the silence around certain issues.”
Friday, August 23 – 8pm
Saturday, August 24 – 8pm
Sunday, August 25 – 6pm
Tuesday, August 27 – 8pm
Wednesday, August 28 – 8pm
Where: Studio 2, Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St, Northcote
Cost: $10, $7 concession, $5 La Trobe Student Union members
Tickets may be booked by calling the La Trobe Student Theatre and Film Office on (03) 9479 1198.