Kirsty Marillier: How does it feel to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time?
Jessica Bellamy: It feels very strange to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time. It felt strange staging it the other two times, too, though. I’m still getting my head around the idea of autobiographical theatre and the fact that anyone wants to take a night off their Bachelor viewing schedule to see my family story. But then I try to channel the confidence of a universally reviled politician deciding to make a tilt at national leadership. I ask myself: “why not me?” I would like to continually build my professional confidence so it’s akin to that of a mediocre white guy.
To offer a more serious answer to this question, it is quite rare for an Australian playwright to get multiple productions of their play in a five year period. I’m glad this work resonates with people, and I’m also really lucky it was championed and incubated by the much-missed Tamarama Rock Surfers, who supported me becoming a playwright by giving me the opportunity to make shows.
If you could be one character from Broad City for the day, who would you be and why?
Ilana! Everyone wants to be Ilana, right? I’ve actually written an article for Feminartsy journal explaining why I love her so much. I love the way she traverses her city like it was meant for her. Her effervescence, her passion, and her incredible fashion sense. The way she is styled reminds me that it’s OK to have big, frizzy hair, to wear whatever you want, to feel safe (or that you deserve to feel safe) walking the streets of your city at night.
What is your favourite dish to eat at Shabbat?
Bloody borscht, mate! It’s heaven! Anyone with a womb should eat beetroot at least once a month. A traditional Shabbat dinner would involve chicken soup, and when I can be bothered I might whip up a vegan version using vegie stock and alphabet noodles. My own strange version of the real deal.
What advice would you give teenage Jessinka?
Don’t worry so much. No one cares as much as you think they do. There’s no certain thing you have to achieve by a certain time. Say what you think, get angry, demand your rights, and take up space.
What does your family think about the play?
My family have been very generous about this work, especially considering the fact that it is so personal. They have also supported me in my personal growth over its three seasons. I’ve learnt a lot about my own value system through making this show, and I’m making decisions now, in my thirties, that I wouldn’t have had the emotional intelligence to make any earlier. This involves weighing up a cost-benefit analysis of anything autobiographical I write. Asking myself: who benefits from this, and who is challenged, in a way they haven’t asked to be, by me deciding to write something? When a story belongs to more people than just me, these things need to be negotiated and carefully considered.
I will paraphrase another Russian writer, Maria Tumarkin, whose memoir workshop I went to a few years ago. She said that if her work is going to hurt people, she won’t do it. Caring for people is more important to her than whatever art might come out of being provocative.
Ultimately, I value my relationships over anything I’ll make in my career. And I know that I’m a strong enough writer to make excellent work that also prioritises care in every element of its creation. In my first few years of practice, I didn’t really understand the fact that art – this great amorphous thing – could be chopped and changed to abide to your moral code. I used to think the art was the art, and I had to get out of its way. I’m getting better at thinking a little wider now.
Jessica Bellamy: Did little Kirsty know she wanted to be an actor?
Kirsty Marillier: Yeah she did. It all started from around age 9. In year 3, I was cast in a tiny role as the indigo fairy. During the performance I fell over on stage in front of the entire school and I reckon I made a pact with myself that it would be the last time I would EVER let people laugh at me on stage unless I had told them to. I auditioned for the lead the next year and got it! I also had a wonderful performing arts program at Leeming Senior High School and some really inspired teachers. I think I owe a lot of my drive and confidence to them.
What’s a family recipe as significant to you as some of the food we serve in Shabbat Dinner?
My GiGi’s Magwinyas. Magwinyas are deep fried savoury doughnuts that you break apart and shove curry inside. They are not for the faint hearted; oily as and have zero nutritional value but are insanely good and give you that combined sweet/savoury dopamine hit. Yum. They are really hard get to right because you need to make sure you knead them with “gentle hands”. So they have enough air. It’s an art form and my Gig is going to give me lessons on them next time I’m in Perth.
How do you get those curls so stunning, girl?
Girl, it’s called Shea Moisture and Priceline have 20% off as we speak. I also started making my own aloe vera gel. You need fresh aloe vera and an entire Sunday to do it but it’s worth it. I also sleep with my hair in a pineapple and wrap it in a silk scarf, it’s a process.
What are the ways you connect to a play about Jewish ritual and Torah stories?
This play centres around tradition, women and food. How we inherit tradition from those who came before us, and the intergenerational effects of migration. I’m a coloured South African woman. I moved to Australia at age 10, have religious parents and 7 South African aunties scattered around Australia. It would be pretty hard for me not to connect with this play.
I said to someone a few of weeks ago that this show (in 2015) was my first encounter with intersectional feminism. It was the first time I’d said that out loud, but it’s totally true! I’ve learnt a lot about my own culture and feminist practice doing this show. How one can re-appropriate culturally specific beauty regimes to suit their own life, how perspective and clarity on your gender and identity can be found by unpacking your past, and how the women in our lives have influenced us more than we know. They hold power in their rituals and it’s something to celebrate! (I feel like I’ve gone on a tangent but I thought it would be an interesting thing to add.)
I connect with this show by thinking about the women in my life, past and present. How much they have made me who I am and how I carry their stories with me.
What do you want to be doing artistically in 5 years’ time?
I want to be writing. I’d love to have a play or two under my belt. I also want to more involved in the telling of culturally diverse stories. I want to see more people of colour on stages; I’d like to help push that process along in any way possible.
Jessica Bellamy and Kristy Marillier are appearing in Shabbat Dinner, by Jessica Bellamy.
Dates: 10 – 15 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre