Having been a staple of independent Perth theatre for some time now – starring in Let me finish. and Two Canaries in 2019 alone – Jess Nyanda Moyle is set to finish the year on a high with her first production as a lead creative – the Blue Room Theatre’s Cephalopod. Arts Editor Stirling Kain sat down with Jess to discuss everything from squids and global warming, to the intersection of her Filipina and queer identities.
Stirling Kain: Your role in Cephalopod has been described as your “…first time around as a lead creative.” What were your expectations coming into your role as a lead creative, and have you encountered any associated, unexpected experiences?
Jess Nyanda Moyle: It’s scary, it’s very, very scary, but I guess you have to do things that scare you sometimes. And it was a bit dumb, but I kind of expected that I’d manage everything perfectly without having to ask anyone for help, and with boundless energy haha.
It’s definitely been a huge wake-up call as a theatre maker, seeing the amount of work that goes into putting a show up. And asking for help is sort of fundamental to making it all happen, and I’ve been learning how to do it more through this process.
SK: Cephalopod feels very personal – it explores your own experiences as a queer, Filipina woman. Have you found creating an autobiographical production very daunting, or was it something that came naturally to you?
JNM: It’s a bit of both. I have these daily panic cycles thinking about how much I’ll be sharing to an audience. I wonder, “Is it any good?”… “Is what I have to say interesting enough?”… What should I do with my hands?”… But as daunting as it is, autobiographical work is something I’ve been gravitating towards. And it’s work that feels so vital now. The story of a queer-second-gen-Filipina migrant might sound super specific and niche but it still has the potential for an audience to see their own experience in that specificity.
SK: You draw clear parallels between cephalopods, the animals, and migrant experiences – “migrants to Australia are thriving in new places, just like the cephalopods finding new habitats as oceans warm.” Apart from this mutual environmental adaptability, what is it to you about squid and octopi specifically that make them such an apt metaphor for migrants?
JNM: I guess cephalopods are sort of Earth aliens. They’re pretty much the closest living thing we have to extra-terrestrial life, and they call our planet home. I saw a sad meme last week (can memes be sad? I don’t know) but it said, “So here you are, too foreign for here and too foreign for home, never enough for both”. I wanted the show to talk about that strangeness/alien-ness/foreign-ness.
But sad memes aside, the future for cephalopods is looking super bright – the warmer water temperatures are making their numbers proliferate. Terrible for humans, but pretty great for them.
SK: Cephalopod feels so contemporary, both explicitly (Pauline Hanson’s quotes on migrants are cited as a point of departure) and implicitly (cephalopods’ requirements to adapt or die in new and destructive climate conditions). The show is also referred to as a “…battle against the insidious tentacles of racism and colonialism.” How do you seamlessly tie all of these postmodern concerns together? Do you think the leftist political climate easily facilitates this intertwining of complex discourses?
JNM: I don’t think we do tie these concepts seamlessly. A few of rehearsals ago I spent two hours translating “You’re the Voice” into Tagalog with one of the other performers (Ramiah, who is also a queer Filipina herself – we lovingly call her mother-squid). But instead of its original lyrics, we’ve made a nonsensical anthem that starts with, “We can be big squids… We can be gay… We can be big gay squids…” Same, same but different, not exactly seamless.
Cephalopod is an inundation of We’ve compiled it into a messy collage that has interesting associations of ideas and a fun flow. We’re trying to celebrate self in all its complexity and strangeness while pushing back against conservative views. Because the future is queer and borderless (don’t fight it, baby).
SK: Cephalopod has the very distinct aim of creating nuanced and meaningful conversations. Why do you think it’s important to use the medium of theatre to do this?
JNM: We’re not aiming to create these sorts of conversations, like it would be very cool if they came about but really, I just want to talk about my Mum and I for a bit and have some fun unpacking our experience. Because although it was funny at times, it was not always fun. I’ll be talking about some sad times, some awkward teenage times, but it will all lead to a gentle and hopeful look into the future. I’ll also be performing alongside my partner and my best mate who have both been intrinsic to me finding myself as a person and as an artist.
I guess with theatre you have someone standing in front of you saying “Hey, this is my story”, and you can’t deny them of that and you can’t scroll down, or watch a vine compilation instead or shut your laptop. It has the potential to be so impactful if both audience and performer are open to one another. So, if you come along you’ll be sharing the space with me and some of the most important people in my life. And odds are it I’ll be uncomfortable, but I think it’s important for us to sit in it for a bit. Then maybe afterwards we can get beers and go to karaoke. That would be fun. x
You can catch Jess in Cephalopod between October 29 and November 16, and you can buy tickets at blueroom.org.au.
Interview by Stirling Kain