Vivienne Teo

Vivienne Teo: On Hospo & Humanitarianism, Working With Refugees, & Furniture Design Apprenticeships.

I’ve always said I’m from New Zealand. Cos I grew up here. I grew up not identifying with my background. My mother is from Mainland China and she married a guy from Manchester. My Father is from Singapore. So it wasn’t just one Asian background I had to try and identify with, it was two. It was two different Chinese backgrounds at home, and then school during the day, and just wanting to be Kiwi. When I was six, I’m not gonna name his name, there was this one kid who was a total shit-head at school, and he came up to me and pulled his eyes back, and was like, “Ching Chong Waaa!” and that was the first moment that I actually realised what people saw wasn’t who I thought I was. It sort of created this thing – which I didn’t realise until recently – it destroyed my desire to want to understand my cultural background. Because Mum and Dad are from two different backgrounds, it’s not like they could work together to be like, this is who you are. It’s like, well this is who I am, and that’s who your Mum is.

There was this one kid who was a total shit-head at school, and he came up to me and pulled his eyes back, and was like, “Ching Chong Waaa!” and that was the first moment that I actually realised what people saw wasn’t who I thought I was. It sort of created this thing – which I didn’t realise until recently – it destroyed my desire to want to understand my cultural background.

They fought for me to be Chinese. The more they fought, the more I rebelled against it. Everything from language school to just talking at home in their mother tongue, and I just remember growing up going, “I don’t understand you, stop talking like that!” Which would have totally just broken their hearts. It’s only been seeing my four year old niece who has a very similar personality to me when I was a kid…when I realised that my niece could speak better Cantonese than me I suddenly thought, “Wow this is weird, this is making me feel really uncomfortable.” It’s opened up a whole lot of issues between me and my family in terms of my Mum and Dad, because there is so many things between English and the Chinese language, we don’t even realise the way that people express themselves with Chinese language is so different to English. Everything is in context and everything is a lot more emotional. It’s a huge reason why me and my Mum, we get along, and then we don’t get along. We end up in all these conversations about simple things really, but we just don’t understand…it’s like a cultural clash within your own family.

I worked in hospo for 16, 17 years and left six weeks ago. I worked in a bar in O’Connell Street, and at Rakinos, then I did three years on private yachts, then I moved to Melbourne and worked in a club, and then front of house. Restaurants, cafes and moving up to management. Then I moved back here and Orphan’s Kitchen had just opened, and I ended up managing that. It’s just been hospo, and I always wondered why I was still doing it, because it was killing me. But it was always the conversation. Always the people, you just get to meet heaps of different people all of the time. We’re all so different but we all go through the same stuff, but everyone is kind of scared to talk about it. Four years ago I watched a movie called I am Eleven it inspired me to go to Nepal, to work at an Orphanage. That offset this moment, where I realised I really liked doing humanitarian work. I don’t know why, it just felt perfect.

When I moved back to New Zealand I met a lady who is a teacher at a refugee integration school for adults. Once they come out of Mangere camp and are settled into a housing situation they go to her school, if they’re in Glen Innes. She was a customer at Orphan’s Kitchen, and I joked about having Christmas at their house, and her husband was like, well it wouldn’t make a difference, we have refugees here at all times anyway. He showed me all these pictures of these ladies in burqas in their kitchen. I asked if I could check the school out. I found myself sitting in the classroom thinking, “I’m meant to be here, but I don’t know why”.

One day the light-bulb shone, I realised [refugees] are not any different to my parents when they first arrived in New Zealand. They will go through the same stuff that my parents went through, and their kids will go through the same stuff that I have gone through, the stuff that took me 30 odd years to realise. I thought, what can I do to celebrate different cultures so that people can understand that it’s OK?

Week after week I kept going back, and would help people who were struggling, and help them catch up with the rest of the class. One day the light-bulb shone, I realised these guys in this room are not any different to my parents when they first arrived in New Zealand. They will go through the same stuff that my parents went through, and their kids will go through the same stuff that I have gone through, the stuff that took me 30 odd years to realise. I thought, what can I do to celebrate different cultures so that people can understand that it’s OK? What can I do that people younger can look at and see that it’s OK to be from a diverse culture? That’s where it all began.

Break Bread is the event I’ve been working on, the reason I left my job. I want everyone in these beautiful, intimate halls, and then, bam, to slap them with culture. Each event will be showcasing one refugee ethnicity. The first event is highlighting Mon culture, who have been displaced out of Burma. We’ve got a really small community of Mon in NZ, about 37 families. We’re such a multi-cultural city, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still heavily segregated. I thought if I do something fun, and it involves food, and it involves connecting people where everyone is going to learn, you can’t lose. I’ve been searching for about four years to come up with some kind of concept that isn’t a charity – because some people don’t want to give money for no reason.

There is a speaker element where they write letters to their eleven-year-old selves, so it’s self-reflection for them, and also self-reflection for the audience. It’s humanising. I curated the panel to make sure there was diversity, and different stories, and we also hear from the refugee’s culture we are highlighting. We got the chairperson of the Mon community, Naing Min, to collaborate with a local chef, to teach the chef how to make a dish from their culture. We’ve created a short film out of this, which includes Naing Min telling his own story of how he came to be a refugee, and how he came to be here, his goals for the future generation and how he’ll die happy if the culture is preserved through the next generation. Right at the end, we will serve a traditional Mon dish to the audience, so everyone can break bread together.

We act like we’ve got this rad multi-cultural society, but when it comes down to it, if I was born here, and I feel uncomfortable about being Chinese, I don’t even want to start to think about what other kids go through, like a girl that has to wear a burqa to school. I think the more that people understand different cultures, the more they’ll have respect for it.

I think that collaboration empowers people. Education about all our differences just makes us that little bit more comfortable. I’m just trying to create something that’s not debating the quota, or how we’re opening the flood-gates to 500 more refugees. Why don’t we just start celebrating the people that we’ve got and learn a little bit more about each other? We act like we’ve got this rad multi-cultural society, but when it comes down to it, if I was born here, and I feel uncomfortable about being Chinese, I don’t even want to start to think about what other kids go through, like a girl that has to wear a burqa to school. I think the more that people understand different cultures, the more they’ll have respect for it.

I’ve been talking for the last two years about making ‘Break Bread’ happen. Two months ago I said, if I don’t do this now, it’s never gonna happen and I’m gonna work for someone and not be able to put my own energy into what I want to see happen, and maybe what I was born to do. I took the leap of faith and quit.

Deep in the back of my mind though, I knew I had to pay rent somehow. When I was in high school I wanted to be a furniture designer. These chairs I’m sitting on were originally orange tweed, and had heaps of varnish. Over Christmas I did the couches up, whipped out the sewing machine, did the cushions, sanded everything back and oiled it up. Recently I bumped into a regular customer, we made small talk, I asked what he was up to and he pulled his instagram up – and I realized he was Ben Glass. I have driven past his workroom on the way to work, and would look and have this feeling, like, that was the high school dream. When I saw his name on his instagram, I ran out to the car, grabbed my phone and showed him pictures of my couches, and geeked out. I asked him if he needed someone to sand some stuff, I went in for a trial, and I channeled all my inner-workshop goddess and watched him like a hawk, and he showed me how to use the table saw, and that was it. I’m there three days a week. I’ve been calling it a furniture design apprenticeship. My dream might still come true. It’s like university, but being paid.

For tickets to the first Break Bread event, click here.

Frankie Adams

Frankie Adams : On learning about her Aboriginal roots, landing a Samoan role on a Hollywood sci-fi show, and having the balls to leave Shortland Street.

I always say I’m from Samoa first, because my Mum brought me up very traditional Samoan. We went to church, she only spoke Samoan at home. But then I just say that I grew up in New Zealand, because that’s where my Dad is from. I’m a bit of both but I really identify with that side because Mum made sure that it was a big part of our lives growing up, and I’m really proud to be from there, so I never shy away from it.

It was my choice to leave Shortland Street. That’s a privilege, because a lot of people don’t really get the choice. I was just about to turn 21 and I just felt like I was becoming less inspired in that work place. That’s only because for me it became a job rather than an artistic outlet, and I was really gutted about that. It was time for me to leave, I felt like I’d learnt everything that I needed to learn, I had a great family behind me there, all the support that I needed but it was time for me to end that chapter. I’m really glad that I was able to make that decision myself because sometimes it can be really shit if they cut your contract without you realising. I finished in December 2014.

There’s this weird thing that I didn’t know even existed – that when you play a well known character from a show like Shortland Street or Home and Away, there can be a type of ‘curse’ I suppose they call it, where it becomes harder to find work…I was like, “nah fuck that, I’m leaving so that I can do other work. Why would you say that sort of shit?”

There’s this weird thing that I didn’t know even existed – that when you play a well known character from a show like Shortland Street or Home and Away, there can be a type of ‘curse’ I suppose they call it, where it becomes harder to find work because in the audiences mind, you’re always going to be that character. But I was never afraid of that, because in my mind, I was like, “nah fuck that, I’m leaving so that I can do other work. Why would you say that sort of shit?” I feel like, if you think it, then it will become you. I never thought that I wouldn’t get work afterwards. I have come to realise that the reason why I’m here on this earth is because of what I am doing, and there’s got to be some positive thing to come out of it. This is totally what I want to do, I feel very at peace with it, I feel at home on set, so there was no fear of me ever not getting work. I guess some of it was a bit naive, but I just always had faith that it would work out.

I left and then I did soul searching, I suppose. I’d never been detached from a contract, I’d always been under a contract since I was in high school. So for me going to LA and getting an agent there, that was a part of me just lapping up freedom. Technically I was unemployed for months after that. I did some more travel and I was starting to panic, then I got Wentworth.

That was the first proper job I’d done after Shorty, which to me was insane because the show is so great. I was living a drama school kids dream being on this incredibly amazing show at such a young age. I got to work with such wonderful, smart, funny, talented women, I got to learn so much off them, and the director is a woman too. It was so dope.

The character I play on Wentworth was the most gritty content I’ve had to do, an 18 year old in the prison at the bottom of the food chain, which means all the bad shit that happens in a prison literally happens to this character I’m playing. I did a lot of research on certain things that the character has, she wasn’t very mentally healthy so I did some research on depression. When I was on set, it was so much easier to do it when I was in the presence of everyone else there. Everyone was really supportive and once you start doing scenes like that, everyone is really focused and serious. There wasn’t anything that made me feel really uncomfortable doing this content, because everyone was in it with me. Some of it was really stunt coordinated, so I just had to think about the choreography of the stunt rather than thinking, oh god, all this bad shit is happening to me right now. It wasn’t easy, and I still think it’s going to be really hard for my family and friends to watch it.

The character I play on Wentworth was the most gritty content I’ve had to do, an 18 year old in the prison at the bottom of the food chain…I play a young Aboriginal girl, I actually have Aboriginal in my line, in my Dads side. I got in touch with one of my cousins and he drove me north of Victoria where our first Aboriginal family started, and taught me about the history. It was a lot to take in…You know how they had the time of ‘breeding out the colour’? My Aboriginal family now are all white.

In Wentworth I play a young Aboriginal girl, I actually have Aboriginal in my line, in my Dads side. They later told me that was the cherry on top when they were casting the character, because they really liked me, but they were concerned that I wasn’t Aboriginal. After I sent the tape, I told my agent to let them know that I’m aboriginal on my Dad’s side, and that I can prove it if they want. The next day they called and said I got the role. I got in touch with one of my cousins that lives in Melbourne, and he drove me north of Victoria where our first Aboriginal family started, and taught me about the history. It was a lot to take in. I got to learn quite a bit about that side, which was really interesting. You know how they had the time of ‘breeding out the colour’? My Aboriginal family now are all white. You wouldn’t know, you have to go back years and years to see the culture in the line. Now all my family are white, my Dad, you would technically think he is a white man. It is very heavy, it’s a lot to take in. My Dad is the most proud, white Aboriginal man you’d ever meet.

I did a film after Wentworth. I did ‘1000 ropes’ in Wellington. I did motion capture for a Luc Besson film. Then I did this art festival feature film where I played an extremely beaten up pregnant teenager who’d just run away from her boyfriend. I did that in Wellington for six weeks. Then I did the theatre show, ‘Puzzy’. It was great, it was my first theatre show and I was absolutely shitting myself, because I don’t know anything about that world. I know I’ve been acting for awhile now, but I’ve never done it to this kind of audience, and the actual play itself had some really out there content. It was definitely R-18. It was the first time they’d done a play that was young Pacific Islanders playing lesbians. So it was already controversial, and then Victor Rodger’s style of writing pushes the boundaries a lot. I’m so glad I did that because it taught me so much about being comfortable in your body, because you can’t hide at all, just being confident in taking risks with choices, and how to react to an audience. It was so much fun, I want to do it again.

I’m currently in Canada filming for a show called The Expanse, a sci-fi show based 200 years in the future. My character, Bobbie Draper is from Mars, and Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere around it. She dreams of beautiful oceans and green grass and forests and all that sort of stuff, but because Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere around it, it’s just a dust planet. Earth is just a really poverty stricken place, there’s the rich, rich, rich and then there’s the total poor. There’s no in-between.

I started reading the second book and googling the name of the character and everyone is like, ‘Oh my god, who are they going to cast for Bobbie Draper? I’m already in love with her.’ It’s really cool, I was really lucky to get this role because the brief was so specific. She had to be Polynesian. In the book she is actually from Samoa. I shit you not, they wrote her from Samoa. I was like, “OK, this is my role.” In the book she is like 2 meters tall, but they knew they couldn’t get an actress 2 meters tall, so she had to be around 6 foot, so she can look like the size of the character. Plus she had to have the emotional capacity to play the role. I got the brief and was like, “Where do I sign up? This is my biggest chance to get into Hollywood”, and because it was so specific, I knew that I had a chance, I just had to nail the audition.

My character, Bobbie Draper…I was really lucky to get this role because the brief was so specific. She had to be Polynesian. In the book she is actually from Samoa. I shit you not, they wrote her from Samoa…I got the brief and was like, “Where do I sign up? This is my biggest chance to get into Hollywood”, and because it was so specific, I knew that I had a chance, I just had to nail the audition…but the first audition I nearly cried.

I was so stoked when they shortlisted me. But the first audition I nearly cried. I had this breakdown to my boyfriend before I went, because the third scene I couldn’t get down. There were so many words, it was a really emotional scene. I was like, “This is my one chance and I’m going to fucking ruin it.” Luckily the casting director had my back, and let me learn it for another 20 minutes. I ended up skyping the producers of the show and having a meeting with them, and found out I got the role a week later.

They’re getting me to keep my kiwi accent because it’s a really diverse show, they love all the different cultures, and because it’s 200 years in the future and she’s from Mars, the dialect on that planet is really strange, so me keeping my kiwi accent is kind of perfect for it. I’m fully representing everywhere that I’m from. Kudos to the writers and producers, because they were adamant, and really wanted it to be someone who was of Polynesian descent. All the characters on the show are the culture that the books have written them as, or close to.

I’m not a trained actor, I like to keep it as natural as possible. Personally, if I put too much research into it, then I start to overthink it which makes the performance less authentic. You can put in so much work, but you can never predict what happens on set, ever. It always surprises you, it always takes you by surprise. The best thing to do is to just be ready for whatever they’re gonna throw at you, really.

You have to have the naiveté in order to learn things. I think the best way to learn is the hard way. A year ago, I would have totally shat myself if I got this job, but I actually don’t think a year ago I would have been ready. I think that all the work that I did in the past year was essential for me to be ready to do a role like this.

When I first left Shorty, the only thing I wanted to do was get out of Auckland. I wanted to go see the world, like, get me the fuck out of this place. I did everything just so that my heart was content to the fact that I wasn’t going to be here. Then, when I came back from America I couldn’t get a visa quick enough. I had to be in Auckland, and I was not happy with that, at all. I did more travel, went to Bali, Australia, all that. The more I saw of the rest of the world, the more I realised how lucky I was to actually have Auckland as home. I just didn’t realise how beautiful the country was. Now that I’ve traveled a little bit with work, I would happily base myself in Auckland and go whenever I need to do the work, which I’ve been really lucky to be able to do thus far. Auckland is totally my home, I want to buy a house as soon as possible, and just go away when I need to.

*All images by Damien Nikora

 

 

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Eliza Trubuhovich

Eliza Trubuhovich : travel enthusiast, long haul flight attendant and co-owner of the men’s heritage streetwear store and art gallery ‘Parlour’.

My Dad is Croatian, my Mum is Filipino. I’m Kiwi, but a lot of the time, I’ve been finding myself just saying I’m Filipino a lot recently. And I think that’s because of my trip to the Philippines recently. I feel really Filipino. When I’m back home, I’m like, yeah, I’m a kiwi, because I love New Zealand so much. Definitely when I’m overseas and I’m meeting other foreigners, I will say I’m Filipino, just without even thinking. I identify with Filipinos so much more I think, the way they live is quite inspiring. I’m just really proud of being Filipino, [my pride] has grown heaps. I think because this recent trip to the Philippines was a lot longer, and I was a lot older. I think the last time I went was when I was 16, so I didn’t have a lot of appreciation for workmanship or any of that kind of stuff. 

I identify with Filipinos so much more I think, the way they live is quite inspiring. I’m just really proud of being Filipino, [my pride] has grown heaps.

I don’t know much about my Croatian side, because that’s old blood. My Dad calls himself a kiwi, and the only reason I say Croatian is because of my last name. People are always like, ‘that’s not a New Zealand last name’. I haven’t been there. I want to, because I’ve heard it’s really amazing. It’s on the to do list. Travel and fashion is always going to be a part of me.

I promote travelling so much, I honestly want everyone to travel. I find that in America, young kids in America don’t really travel outside of America, because they’re only taught about America. I reckon if more people travelled when they’re young, there probably wouldn’t be so many problems in the world, not so much ignorance, [more] open-mindedness, understanding of everyone.

Everyone tends to leave Auckland, because of something we’re missing. But it’s because all the amazing people keep leaving! Why don’t we just try and set something up here, so people can start showcasing their work? Parlour is not just a streetwear store, we’re utilising the space as a gallery, a listening party – people can use this freely, just to create a vibe, a movement, and opportunity for people. Fashion pays the bills, but we want it to be a destination store. Every main city around the world has a destination store, where people can hang out, and you say, ‘Oh my god, have you been to this store?’ Where people are friendly, they’re not just trying to sell you something.

Everyone tends to leave Auckland, because of something we’re missing. But it’s because all the amazing people keep leaving! Why don’t we just try and set something up here, so people can start showcasing their work?

When you’re younger you tend to, not hate, but you criticise everyone. But now, I don’t criticise anyone. I think that’s really important, the more you let go of that, the happier you are too. I’m happier with myself, as well I think. That’s probably a big part too. Once you’re happier with yourself, you don’t really have a reason to diss anyone. I really appreciate life, and I fully preach to everyone to do what they want to do. I feel like Aucklanders hold themselves back from a lot. Or they feel like they can’t do it. I don’t really understand why people think like that, but they shouldn’t.

Sometimes I wish I studied as a backup, and I think people should do it. But I don’t think it’s a necessity anymore. The world is so social, that it’s about who you know now, anyway. If someone can see that you’re good at something, they’re gonna pick up on it. The other thing I’ve learned is that the world is really, really small. So be good to people, be kind.

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