Hello Yellow

This piece is featured in the collaborative project between WhyNot and Project See and B for Propel Youth Arts WA 2024 KickstART Festival in Western Australia.

Words by Efa (she/her) 23 WA 

The intersection of jazz music improvisation and theatre-devising offered fertile ground for artistic exploration and innovation.

My interest was in interrogating jazz music, specifically investigating the improvisation process, and how this can be a means to devise theatre. In my project, I drew on the theories and concepts that explored the similarities between Jazz and Storytelling with practices and methods that adapted to contemporary theatre. I used jazz improvisation as a catalyst to devise theatre to understand the intricacies of interracial identity.

My project interrogated the parallels between jazz and theatre, aiming to merge the principles of jazz improvisation with the art of theatrical expression and offered a transformative platform to delve into the nuances, challenges, and richness that fostered individual expression and creativity of being part of an interracial community.

This approach opened new avenues for devising original theatrical works that departed from scripted conventions and embraced spontaneity, collaboration, and creativity in the rehearsal space. I created a theatrical showing at PICA, of a new work in progress, using jazz music improvisation as a tool for creation, to explore the complexities of interracial identity, facilitating a deeper understanding of myself as a Filipino-Australian woman.

In 2022, I was the Lead Creative of a short Cabaret work that I pitched to present at my Performing Arts (Performance-Making) undergraduate graduation showcase, TILT.

“RepresentAsian” was an empowering and thought-provoking cabaret that took the stage as an exploration of the representation and perception of Asian women in the performing arts industry, inviting the audience to critically examine societal expectations.

As someone who is not formally musically jazz trained, the most important first step was to collaborate with musicians who were familiar with the genre. Though my jazz vocabulary was not up to par with the jazz students at WAAPA, the musicians and I found other ways to communicate by using stimuli that triggered responses based on the five senses and exercises that use scenarios to connect our common human experiences.

This small experiment was only one example of the research methodology and led to the work-in-progress new and original performance of Hello Yellow (working title).

Ultimately, I found that while the work only somewhat explicitly delves into cultural identity and notions of hybridity, jazz is a dynamic musical genre to sits inside theatre conventions and produces a type of hybridisation that is useful and meaningful.

Moving forward I would like to develop this further in my artistic practice.

I began this research with the following question, how can jazz musical improvisation be an effective theatrical devising tool for creating work about cultural identity? This research allowed me to merge cultural influences within musical and theatrical experimentation. Through this fusion, I could delve into the complexities and intersections of diverse cultural heritage and integrate elements from different backgrounds that showed cultural hybridity which I would argue is inherent in jazz music.

I coordinated a safe space that allowed for dynamic and authentic explorations of the challenges, nuances, and richness that people face as part of an interracial community. The core of the project was heavily rooted in my personal lived experience of identifying culturally as both Filipino and Australian.

I am at a stage in my life where I have lived equally in both places for a long period, 10 years in the Philippines and 10 years in Australia.

The narrative of the performance following Efa’s (my stage name and persona) quest to find her long-lost friend was a melding of the desire to reconnect with a physical person and a metaphor for who she was, or who I was, in the past. Motivated by a desire to encapsulate what I understand as an ‘essence’ of the past, a nostalgia for childhood and thus also my Filipino past, with the present, and the future, and hence also my life as a migrant in Australia, I ultimately want this work to empower individuals to embrace their past, reconcile with their former selves, and appreciate the transformative journey they have undergone.

While the performance work is by no means a completed, performance-ready theatre work, the experimentations in jazz as devising for music-informed theatre have proved to be a valuable and interesting discovery.


Illustration by Jodie. You can find more of her work on Instagram @jodie_ellin

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