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Laurinda Takes the Stage: 'Private School Culture Needs to Change – Closeness, Entitlement' | | Australian Theater

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aLice Pung’s young adult novel Laurinda opens with the simple epitaph, “Life is just high school.” This quote from American author Kurt Vonnegut distills a confronting truth.

The Melbourne Theater Company’s Laurinda adaptation, co-written by comedians Diana Nguyen and Petra Kalib (who also directed it), explores this story by splitting Pung’s beloved book between the past and the present. Magnifying the phenomenon. Her main character, Lucy Lam, is both 15 and 35 in this version. In the 1990s, she is a teenage girl who runs a private school where her group of elites, The Her Cabinet, reigns. She always has Lucy’s friend, Lynn, who is the only person who can really understand her.

But Lucy looks back and explores how being part of Australia’s Asian diaspora and experiencing casual and blatant racism shaped and changed her irrevocably. There’s both the light and the dark of the 90s music’s douggy delights, an energetic cast. With a bit of a mean girl and a bit of fight club, it definitely has an Asian and Australian vibe.

Nguyen remembers being a child in 1996 when Pauline Hanson delivered her infamous maiden speech, claiming that Australia was “overwhelmed by Asians.” When Nguyen launched her 2020 adaptation of Laurinda, a wave of anti-Asian sentiment was once again sweeping the world after China was identified as the source of her Covid-19.

“I experienced racism in the comedy room just before the 2020 Comedy Festival with #StopAsianHate in the media,” she recalls. “It lived in me. Even though I was writing this play set in the 1990s, I still know in 2020 that it continues its journey across generations. , how is that possible?”

The idea of ​​adaptation sat on the shelf for years when Kalive launched at the MTC in 2020, when the first lockdowns occurred. She read through her novel in her 24 hours. As a Greek-Australian, she could relate to some of the sentiments it describes, something Kalive was keen to embrace, and Nguyen immediately came to mind when it came to her co-writing. rice field. “There’s a great sense of humor in this piece, and I thought it would give Diana a speaking and intrinsically comprehensible experience,” she says.

The intersection of class and race is a recurring topic in Pung’s work, which the authors feel is intrinsically understood by Kalive and Nguyen. “They have an insight that some people don’t have if they don’t have parents or families who don’t live or come from a very working class background and have been pushed into this world of privilege,” Pung said. say. .

Nguyen had read Laurinda many years ago. “I was pretty inspired by it,” she says. “It wasn’t overt racism, it was subtle racism, and I felt that Alice did a great job of pointing out what Lucy went through. Courage of a young man who has faced racism That’s what we created when we think about .It’s an enduring play about a woman who travels with her throughout her life, even as she lives it through school.”

The comedian who created Fai and Me, a web series about Vietnamese teenage teenagers and intimidating mothers, brings the same understanding of generational dynamics to Laurinda. The scenes with Lucy’s refugee parents are spoken in untranslated Vietnamese. This is an authentic depiction of immigrant home life.

“One of the great things about this show, the underlying part, is the conversation Lucy has with her mother,” says Nguyen. “For me, hearing Vietnamese on stage is shocking. The gift I give myself is hearing my native language spoken on stage.”

“Diana has always been very serious about bringing the house to life as three-dimensionally as possible in order to truly establish Lucy as a perfectly well-rounded person, rather than just a caricature,” Karib adds. .

Neither writer had the language to describe or understand their experiences of racism and xenophobia as teenagers. Words and concepts such as “microaggression” did not exist in everyday dictionaries. “As a young person, you’re just trying to exist in the world, and all your energy is spent dealing with it,” says Karib. I never thought I was capable of anything.”

It features seven Asian characters, including Fiona Choi (Family Law), Gemma Chua Tran (Heartbreak High), and Ngoc Hwang (Boy Swallows Universe). Between them, they play 20 characters, not all of whom are Asian. In an industry that still struggles with meaningful representation, this is a bold and important casting choice.The actors’ personal experiences also inform what unfolds on stage. “The script continues to respond and adapt to include their point of view, which is incredibly powerful,” he says Kalive.

Another Australian YA novel set in the 1990s was also recently adapted for the stage. This tells a similar story of her teenage girl with an immigrant background struggling to find her place in a world of whiteness and privilege. These stories are more relevant than ever and contribute to the ongoing debate about the location of private schools in Australia.

“We need to change some aspects of the private school culture: closedness, entitlement,” says Pung. “It’s an unacknowledged, unconscious sense of entitlement, and I wanted to bring that out in Laurinda’s writing.”