Monday, July 24, 2017

July 24. Day 205. Keep it in the family

Jimi with Mum Agnes and Grandmother Petharie (Photo David Kelly)
Photo David Kelly
Who would you want to play you should your story ever be turned into a movie or a play? It's the sort of question that might arise at a dinner party or in one of those annoying Facebook quizzes but is rarely a real life problem. Except when you are the Bani family of the remote Torres Strait Island of Mabuiag. The family decided that if you want a job done properly do it yourself. It's a brave move. Jimi Bani is an accomplished actor having played Eddie Mabo in Mabo as well as starring in Redfern Now and The Straits. His grandmother Petharie, mother Agnes, brothers Richard and Conwell and son Dmitri lack either professional training or experience and yet the whole family perform together in Queensland Theatre's My Name is Jimi which officially opens at the Bille Brown studio this week. 
Jimi says his family feels a responsibility to perform their own story.
"The amazing thing about them playing themselves and me playing myself on stage is that you as an audience member you relate to us not as a character but as real people.. It becomes more real."
Director and co-creator of My Name is Jimi Jason Klarwein agrees. "It does have an immediacy and an authenticity that you can't get otherwise. When you watch this family interact, it's like watching your family so you sit there saying 'oh it's exactly like my grandma'. I think the story is so personal to the Bani family, the only way to do it was to have as many Bani members on stage as possible."
But convincing the four generations to take part in the ambitious project wasn't easy and may not have happened without the prodding of Jimi's late father Ahdi Dimple Banu the 8th Chief of Wagadagam who died during the play's creation process. Jimi admits he was too scared to ask his family himself "I said 'Dad, you ask them'."
Working with the family hasn't been totally smooth sailing.
"It's tough," Jimi admits. "You need self-discipline. You have to be really careful about not offending. It taught me how to communicate properly with respect. It takes so much energy."
Jason, however, jokes that having performers who are not trained actors has its advantages. "Actors can be pretty difficult," he laughs.  While programming a show with a cast almost exclusively made up of amateurs may have been a huge risk for the State's major theatre company, early indications are really positive. The run was sold out in the play's world premiere in Cairns earlier this month. And previews in the past week suggest Brisbane audiences are also warming to the Bani family.

The whole clan: Jimi, Agnes, Conwell, Dmitri Ahwang-Bani,
  Richard and Petharie (Photo David Kelly) 
Jason says that's not surprising.
"The show is a real positive, hopeful, hilarious piece of theatre."
What may surprise audiences more is the unique, modern approach to telling the story of one of the oldest cultures on earth.
 "We use a lot of different mediums to tell the story. We are using lots of different technology. We are using AV, we are using cameras, we are using miniature models that get filmed, we use a special pop-up book, here's dancing, there's cultural  dancing, there's modern dancing, there's all sorts of different things that are happening in the show."
We'll see Jimi joke in three languages with his grandmother and torture his son with his spontaneous break-dancing.
"There's nothing dry about the piece," Jason says. 
Jimi agrees. "It’s funny and challenging, it’s inclusive and it’s honest, most of all, it’s hopeful."
My Name is Jimi plays at the Bille Brown Theatre until August 13.
You can hear our full interview with Jason Klarwein and Jimi Bani here
Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein. (Photo David Kelly)

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