David Soncin: In five words how would describe your character, Momma Bianchi?
Dina Panozzo: Heart, big-love, the-boss, fire and wit!
Do you find your character, or the play as a whole, has any similarities to your life personally?
I think we’re similar in her immediacy and, sometimes, her hot head! The play is a direct shot to my heart of the past as my family, with my 18 month old brother and 3 month old baby me, arrived in Melbourne in 1955, just at the time of this play’s setting! So these people are so like my people back then.
Have you found any challenges with approaching this particular text?
To fight my prejudice against the assumption of its clique-ness! In my first read of the play, the Italians, written with the ‘accent’ in the lines by an Anglo writer, read as an Australian fairytale to me… non-authentic. But, as I’ve gone deeper into the process of telling this story along with my fellow actors, I find it to be profound and moving — with Tony Poli who plays my husband, we go into the sound of our first language — and it is coming to life and so, so much more complex than I first thought. It is an important study on racism and tolerance I believe.
Do you have any inspirations for approaching Momma’s character, or even your work in general?
My mamma e papà, Maria Panozzo e Bruno Panozzo, who were and are still brave and true, and — I have to say even if too “woggy” sounding — all the immigrants who want to belong (like Gino, our son in the play, who is really the only one who stands up for his right to belong).
If you could pick out of Momma Bianchi’s two children, why is Gino your favourite?
Because he’s still young enough to kiss and hit if cheeky!
Dina Panozzo: What five words would you use to describe The Shifting Heart?
David Soncin: Immigrants, assimilation, family, racism, pride.
What’s the most difficult part of bringing this play/Gino to life?
Probably exploring and understanding that part of Gino that seeks acceptance – understanding the struggle with indifference, and his determination to assimilate, which he does with total optimism – and finding those similar things in myself. That, and singing 4 bars of “Americano”.
What do you think Gino dreams about for the future?
I think Gino deep down just wants to live a good life in his new country: get married, have kids, have a successful business with his brother-in-law and, most importantly, be accepted by his Anglo counterparts as a true Australian.
What do you love about the play?
Well firstly, I love the fact we have an Australian classic that explores Italian culture and, having a full Italian immigrant background on both sides of the family, it’s exciting that I get the chance to tell these types of stories. It deals with the psychology of racism, discrimination, racial and domestic violence, and the cultural struggle of an immigrant family. But I also love the fact it doesn’t shy away from the humour of a loud Italian family because that shit is funny!
How do you think this play relates to us in the here and now?
I could probably write a whole essay answering that question, but the school students seeing the show might plagiarise. The short answer is, I absolutely believe the play is still relevant, for many reasons. The Shifting Heart highlights the negative patterns of thinking and physical behaviour towards immigrants, different cultures and ethnicities, and that those patterns seem to keep seeping through the cracks each generation. I don’t think the play’s intention though is to put Italians specifically in a sort of victim pigeon hole, but I believe it’s an important period of reflection of Australian immigrant history.
The play also comments on the interesting notion of subtle/subconscious racism in everyday language, like jokes about one culture being okay, but not others; when is it innocent and when is it racist? I have my own experiences but not necessarily the answers. But, as opinions are often the lowest form of knowledge, I’d have to say come and see the show! I’m always curious to hear about audiences’ own experiences on the play’s subject matter.
Dina Panozzo and David Soncin can be seen in The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon.
Dates: 8 – 24 Mar, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre