Q&A’s integral to Sam’s plays

Navid Ghasemi, Hanh Nguyen, Isabella Forte, Talin Agon, appearing in Shades of Light a play by Sam Cosentino
Navid Ghasemi, Hanh Nguyen, Isabella Forte, Talin Agon appearing in Shades of Light
Photo credit: Walk Now Productions

If you happen to attend one of Sam Cosentino’s plays, make sure that you stay for the Q&A sessions afterwards.

The Q&A’s give you an opportunity to get to know the cast and hear their perspective on the process of acting and it will colour and enhance your memories of the play.

It’s also an opportunity for the actors to get some feedback on their own performances. We attended on the Saturday night. Navid Ghasemi plays the dying soldier Omid Fazilat who relates his childhood experience of visiting his father, a political prisoner in jail, in Farsi.

He said that he was tweaking his piece seconds before he went on stage because feedback he received told him that the English speaking audience needed more English in his act to explain to the audience what was going on.

Certainly, Navid’s performance was understandable to an English speaking audience on the night – so the feedback was certainly constructive.

The play delivered in English, Vietnamese, Farsi, Armenian and Italian brings together the actors’ own experiences.

Sam’s Theatre Company, Walk Now Productions is a cooperative and a collaborative effort, with the actors in this instance contributing their own experiences to enhance the play.

Sam Cosetino and Hanh Nguyen at work. 
Photo credit: Walk Now Productions.
Sam Cosentino and Hanh Nguyen at work
Photo credit: Walk Now Productions

During the audition process the actors had to perform a monologue based on themselves and talk about someone that they missed. That information was then added into the four page short story that Sam had as his starting point.

Sam emphasises that just because someone did not get a part in his play does not mean that they are not good actors, rather what it says is that at this point in time someone else might fit the part better. He tends to keep in touch with the people who audition, and many stay and contribute in other ways to his production company.

Hanh who plays the Vietnamese photographer had auditioned for the party of Mai in his previous play ‘The Carer’ and had missed out, but Sam kept her in mind and developed ‘Shades of Light’ around the character of May who he envisioned being played by Hanh.

Set in the no-man’s land of a warzone, Mitra Arax an Armenian medic, Adira Decaria a translator of Italian descent, May Ho a photographer from Vietnam and Omid Fazilat a soldier of Persian descent somehow meet in the same space and interact.

The intimate space of the  Hellenic Art Theatre in the Addison Road community complex in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west is a fitting place to hold Sam’s plays… the noise of the planes flying overhead added to the effect of being in a war zone and fit well into the spaces of sound within the play.

For me the most touching moments were between May and Omid – as May shared memories of her life in Vietnam and her family. And her three claps to Omid, which she had told us earlier were her way of saying “I love you” to her own family, made me heartsore.

Navid said that for him listening to May as his character lies dying is like listening to a lullaby. He said this during the Q&A session – something that he probably not said before and an example of how the Q&A can also give the actors insights into their fellow thespians’ thoughts and feelings.

When Talin Agon said that speaking in Armenian brought her private self to the theatre space. A self known only to her immediate family, for Navid it was a light bulb moment, he was immediately taken with that statement because he pointed out that Armenian is her second language and yet she felt like that, and he had that self-same feeling, yet Farsi is his first language and it was again his private self that was reflected on the stage.

For Navid and Hanh it was the first time that they had spoken English on a stage in Australia.

Sam believes in a multicultural Australia and in the talents present in that diversity. He goes out of his way to find people of diverse backgrounds and ensures that they have some skin in the game through their collaboration with him.

When Hanh decided that she would like to be an actor on stage in Australia she said that she had found it difficult to get an English speaking part and yet here she was integral to the show’s story.

An audience member asked Sam how he managed to share what was a God like space – that of the writer with other people – and yet from Sam’s response it was quite obvious that he does not see the writer as God, moving characters around on a chess board. He very much sees the writer as a collaborator, and his fellow actors as creative people who are part of that creative process.

The character of the medic annoyed me – I think she was meant to, and the translator was just full of joy – audience members and cast remembered her need for gelato!

It will be interesting to see how this play evolves. Scripts tend to just be blueprints and certainly while Sam has a very strong sense of what he wants to see he is also very happy to have the actors work with his blueprint and change it as they see fit. If for instance in a different iteration one of the characters happens to be Indian, or Samoan or another ethnicity that is not in this current version, the play will morph to include that character’s story – which makes for a very exciting space, a continually evolving process and one assumes a very satisfying experience for playwright, actors and audience.

Shades of Light, 10, 11, 12 January 2020, a play by Sam Cosentino, Hellenic Art Theatre, Marrickville.

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