The show all racists should see

I am a racist. I don't mean to be but I am and I know this, in part because I didn't want to go and see La Boite's 2020 season opener - The Neighbourhood.

How could the work of seven migrant and refugee actors, writers, rappers, poets, activists and musicians have any relevance - or interest - for me.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: Nima Doostkhah, born in Iran, tells his story through acting, dance and photography.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: Nima Doostkhah, born in Iran, tells his story through acting, dance and photography.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I am exactly the person who should be in the audience.

The Neighbourhood cleverly weaves together the very personal stories of seven individuals who reside in the suburbs of Brisbane - not only how they came to arrive on Australian shores, but the racism and challenges they faced once they got here.

I am embarrassed to say some of the offensive comments - no matter how innocently and sweetly delivered - that these strong storytellers recounted were familiar.

But this isn't a stage-led rebuke about racism.

It's a revealing and well-told insight into the people in our neighbourhood.

POLITICIAN PRISONER: Cievash Arean shares his story with his “weapons of mass distraction.”
POLITICIAN PRISONER: Cievash Arean shares his story with his “weapons of mass distraction.”

What wasn't were the stories I heard.

Indian-born LGBTIQ+ activist and spoken word and body-movement artist, Naavi Karan (who would love to be next Ellen DeGeneres "but brown") explains what it was like hiding his true self through school and university in India; poet Anisa Nandaula who left Uganda when she was just eight-years-old broke my heart when she recalls how a young school friend told her she would be pretty if only she was white; and Nima Doostkhah, born in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, uses dance and acting to explain what is was like to arrive here as a young boy speaking no English, watching Rage as a teenager and getting into trouble in Townsville, His rapping is moving and powerful.

And then there is Iranian refugee and former political prisoner Cieavash Arean whose "weapons of mass distraction" are the traditional instruments of his home country. He quietly talks of being imprisoned for two years for hiding a Freedom Fighter friend and then getting raided by the Federal Police as a suspected terrorist.

Amer Joseph Thabet's stories of crossing the street made me laugh; but then his close encounters with death in Syria moved me to tears.

THESE ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD: Nima Doostkhah and Aurora Liddle-Christie
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD: Nima Doostkhah and Aurora Liddle-Christie

Multi-instrumentalist Dr Matt Hsu (who apologies to his parents for not following the expected doctor/lawyer/account path) explains through music his story as one of the "spiritual Asians" and Aurora Liddle-Christie, a Jamaican and Australian First Nations multidisciplinary artist, using spoken word, performance and singing reveals it was more acceptable to outsiders to be thought of as Jamaican rather than a First Australian.

And if all that sounds too preachy, it's not.

The Neighbourhood is full of laughs, drama and music.

Amer says there are signs in our lives we should take heed of. The Neighbourhood is one such sign.


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