A CHANGE OF FACE was created by Handspan Theatre at the instigation of Carmelina Di Guglielmo, inspired by her own experience of growing up in Melbourne in a migrant family in the 1960s and 70s.
The play was based on issues experienced by a new generation of adolescents in multicultural Australia, researched in 19851 by Carmelina and playwright Andrea Lemon.
Carmelina’s experience in touring to Italy with Secrets in 1983 had given her a new perspective on her own cultural roots. The means for her to express it was the outcome of both her Rusden College training and her previous collaboration with Handspan to create Prime Time (1980).
Andrea joined Handspan for The Haunted (1985), a production based on first-hand research in which she was a key contributor. The experience fired her ambition to apply similar precepts to her playwriting on other themes of social justice. A CHANGE OF FACE was her first professional play based on in-depth research, and many others have followed, including Banquet for Handspan in 1989.
Carmelina and Andrea visited Melbourne metropolitan high schools and inner-city English language centres catering for new immigrants, to observe student behaviour and attitudes and to discuss multi-cultural issues and cross-cultural communication with students. With other Handspan artists, Lizz Talbot and Avril McQueen, they extended the experience through puppetry and drama workshops in schools, exchanging skills and information around the topic and recording oral histories.
Before the work began, they had expected to find that tensions which had been evident for children of Australia’s post-war migrant influx of the 1950s and 60s would have dissipated by the enlightened 1980s. They were shocked in their research to find that little had changed since Carmelina’s schooldays when ‘wogs’ and ‘dagos’ were bullied and ostracised.
A CHANGE OF FACE followed the story of Linda (the ‘Skip’) who, after moving into inner city Melbourne with her mother after a family break-up, changes schools and encounters classmates from diverse cultural backgrounds. In this milieu, Linda is the odd one out, but not as odd as her friend Hoan, a recently arrived migrant from Vietnam.
The play moved between the school yard and home life for its protagonists: Linda, from several generations of British-Australian stock; Angelo, a second generation Italo-Australian and Angela, a second-generation Greek-Australian, both with families whose home life was firmly entrenched in pre-war European cultural traditions; and Hoan, recently escaped from war-torn Vietnam, and an orphan. The play dramatised the students’ conflicts and the differences in their backgrounds. The trauma of teenage racism and cross generational tension in their world was sharply drawn.
Actors, all from culturally specific backgrounds, played the teenage students. Puppets retold the stories of their parents and illustrated their various ethnic circumstances, perspectives and experience. Reviewer, Anna Epstein from Multicultural Arts Victoria recognised the play’s basis in reality: