Spearheaded by some of Perth’s brightest Asian-Australian creatives, Cephalopod is a migrant story like you’ve never seen.
In 1996 politician Pauline Hanson stoked the white voting public’s fear of migrants, saying “I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.” Cephalopod draws parallels between these same migrants, and the squid and octopi (our eponymous cephalopods!) taking over the world’s oceans. A quarter century on from Hanson’s remark, migrants to Australia are thriving in new places, just like the cephalopods finding new habitats as oceans warm.
Lead creative Jess Nyanda Moyle (Let me Finish, Two Canaries) came to Australia from the Philippines as a one-year-old baby in her mother’s arms. Now, she takes to the stage alongside performers Molly Earnshaw (The Wolves), Andrew Sutherland (Jiangshi, Poorly Drawn Shark, Unveiling), and Ramiah Alcantara (See You Next Tuesday) to tell her story.
Jess has grown from a child trying to whiten her skin and hide her Filipina grandmother from her friends, into a queer woman reconnecting with her heritage. Jess has found that sometimes, like a squid, you have to adapt to survive, or even camouflage yourself to get by.
When it’s not intimate autobiographical storytelling, Cephalopod is a wild, futuristic fever dream, a squid-themed performance lecture, and a full-hearted attempt to imagine strange and hopeful futures.
jess showed a section of the work at pvi collective’s KIss club in 2018, now it has been developed as a full production.
what is cephalopod about?
Cephalopod is centred around my Mum’s migration story, and my coming terms of being a queer second gen Filipina migrant. It’s about feeling like an alien in your own home. It’s a celebration self, recognition and reconciliation of past shame. A reconditioning from the colonial framework, by learning/relearning Pinoy culture. It’s about looking hopefully into a future that is queer and borderless.
But mostly it’s about Mum and I.
what has the journey been with this work?
It’s been pretty amazing to see something develop from a 10-minute showing to a full-length show, and it’s so so different to what it started out as. There were so many pathways from its core leading to what it could potentially be, and saying goodbye to those possibilities is oddly painful although very very necessary.
It’s been very fun, albeit quite tricky at times. Andrew and I agreed I should take the lead for the project and it’s something I hadn’t done before, I’ve felt quite out of my comfort zone for a lot of the process. Definitely learned a lot, and there would be things that I would do differently had I had the chance to do it again. But I’ve been able to just hang out with mates and my partner and we’ve been had the opportunity to try out silly-weird-dumb-yet-clever things in the rehearsal room, so it’s been a good time.
you showed a little section at kiss club 2018 – does this fragment remain in the completed work?
We held on to a couple of the performance lectures that were in that showing. Just expanded on them a little and layered it with Grimes and some fun squiddy visuals. We had often returned to the original kiss club script as a way to inform us of what we needed to do next, and some of the text still exists in parts but it’s evolved almost beyond recognition.
But Little Mermaid is also still in there, just done in a campy Disney style with pool noodles. All is not lost.
what did you learn about the work from taking part in kiss club 2018?
During our post-showing feedback session my Mum talked briefly about what she sacrificed to come here and what it felt like to see her only daughter being ashamed of her culture. It was slightly uncomfortable, but everyone was so open and warm and they really listened to her. Afterwards one of my mates who was also in our feedback circle had said “That discussion was one of the most exciting things I had seen Perth for a really long time.”
That really stuck with me. I learned that the work had a lot of potential to be quite impactful, but what it needed was specificity. We can hark on about Australian politics, Asian-ness, old mate Pauline Hanson forever (hopefully not forever because Pauline.. bleugh), but actually standing in front of a group of people and saying “Hey, mates, so this is my story..” is something else altogether.
if you could have some extra limbs – how many would you want?
An extra two pairs would be cool, that way I could smash out coffee and bagel orders at work. Or I’d go all out and get enough limbs to start the weirdest family band with myself, maybe with a string quartet in the background. But it’s a shame my extra limbs wouldn’t be able to sing, could’ve pulled off some sweet harmonies.
the tag line for this show is calamari, karaoke, and Filipina fury – what’s your got to karaoke song?
Dreams by Fleetwood Mac. Every time, without a doubt.
Catch cephalopod at the blue room, 29 October – 16 Nov, bookings and info: www.blueroom.org.au
Graeme Watson, image: duncan wright