Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Stories from the South Asian community worldwide
Five South Asian performers. Stories pieced together from interviews with over 100 South Asian people of varying backgrounds and life experiences. Poetry, commentary and anecdotes in a unique event that was thought-provoking and filled with potential.
The Melanin Monologues, produced by Charlotte Sareņo Raymond and Rue Tunga, performed by them along with Malith Jay, Dilpreet Kaur Taggar and Anushki De Cruze was a one night only event at the Fringe Hub (Trades Hall, Carlton) as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2019. The event's stated goal was to "pass the mic to those who have not been given a chance to speak" - and as such, held a lot of promise because the South Asian community certainly is unevenly represented, especially in the west. There are also a multitude of stories from the subcontinent that are suppressed within the region, and have not really been heard in other parts of the world.
This show drew attention to several such stories, predominantly from the perspectives of young South Asians who live and work outside of the region, mainly in America and Australia. The experiences of "third culture kids" in particular were movingly presented: feelings of not belonging either in one's place of origin or the place where one lives, struggling with imposter syndrome, living in a state of perpetual identity crisis, and so forth. There were also first-hand accounts of experienced racism, sexism, queerphobia, colourism, toxic parenting, societal/community pressure, and more. Terrible incidents like the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka and the murder of Preethi Reddy were also spoken of, and it was discussed why these stories received less media attention than other stories with similar facts but involving a different racial demographic.
The Melanin Monologues did several things well, especially in the variety of relevant and engaging content they presented, and they demonstrated commitment to accessibility (a wheelchair-accessible venue, Auslan interpretion, a relaxed performance guide, mental health assistance and a chill space, among other things). They also had a good mix of content directed at South Asian and non-South Asian audiences, so that there would be something in the show for everyone. Charlotte Sareņo Raymond's poetry was a performance highlight, and provided artistic punctuation between segments.
However, the show also certainly had several aspects that could use work. There were a number of tech issues, especially with mics not working/making unpleasant noises, and parts of the performance seemed under-rehearsed. The content, which mostly consisted of personal stories, seemed to lack balance in diversity of representation. The stories were also presented by the same four performers in turns, without distinct characterization, which sometimes made it hard to differentiate betweeen the different voices. There were also instances where some of the objective content/claims were problematic: the show claimed, for example, that India legalized same-sex marriage in 2018, before Taiwan in 2019. However, this is not factually correct. India decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, but has made no new laws or positive provisions regarding same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriages currently do not have legal recognition in India.
All that said, the idea behind this show is certainly commendable, and with a bit of work The Melanin Monologues could grow into a powerful show that tells (or at least makes space for) a lot more stories, shared in the authentic voice of people who live these realities.
There are many stories from South Asia that are in desperate need of telling, voices that are routinely silenced because of factors surrounding things like caste, nature of work, disability/lack of access, sexuality, gender (especially the transgender community), age, mental health, poverty, geographical location or ethnic identity, and so forth. Kashmir, as a recent example, is an entire region where millions of people have been cut off from internet and mobile services for well over a month now, and Kashmiri voices are not currently being widely heard, despite the urgency of their present political situation. While it is not practical for one show to be able to touch upon every kind of untold story within an hour, these are all examples of more unheard South Asian voices, and are conversations I'd be keen to see initiated by shows of this nature.