A PNG ac­tor in Syd­ney

Kevin McQuillan speaks to the first Pa­pua New Guinean to grad­u­ate from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art (NIDA), in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia.

Paradise - - Contents -

“When I was eight years old, I said to my fa­ther: ‘Dad, when I grow up, I want to be an artist’. My fa­ther looked at me per­plexed and said: ‘So you want to be poor all your life’?”

Like many PNG par­ents, he equated suc­cess with a law or busi­ness de­gree, which would grant you fi­nan­cial free­dom, says Wendy P Mocke.

“My fa­ther how­ever, be­ing care­ful not to crush his eight-year- old daugh­ter’s dream, fol­lowed that re­sponse with a smile. I think he al­ways knew I would end up in the arts.”

Mocke’s act­ing ca­reer started at Madang In­ter­na­tional School at the age of six, and she was in­volved in ev­ery school stage pro­duc­tion ev­ery year un­til she left at 12.

From there it was to Mount Saint Bernard’s Col­lege in Her­ber­ton, far north Queens­land. “My par­ents worked ex­tremely hard to pro­vide me with the op­por­tu­nity of be­ing ed­u­cated in Aus­tralia but the Sis­ters of Mercy were in­stru­men­tal in also

sup­port­ing me and open­ing doors that I would not have had ac­cess to oth­er­wise,” Mocke says.

Born in Port Moresby, Mocke and the fam­ily moved to Madang when she was three. They still run the fam­ily owned trade store, Yogo Trad­ing.

“I grew up with eight sib­lings who were all ex­tremely out­go­ing and tal­ented in sports,” Mocke says. “I was not as ath­let­i­cally in­clined and had a very small cir­cle of friends, as I did not feel as con­fi­dent in large so­cial set­tings. I found act­ing was a way I could ex­press my­self and be my own per­son.”

Two things con­firmed her de­ter­mi­na­tion to act.

Firstly, she found out about the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art (NIDA) and she watched Ra­di­ance, an Aus­tralian in­de­pen­dent film, about three Abo­rig­i­nal sis­ters who re­unite for their mother’s funeral.

“As a 12-year-old, I could not re­ally ar­tic­u­late the im­pact it had on me, watch­ing a young vi­brant Deb­o­rah Mail­man light up the screen along­side Rachael Maza and Tr­isha Mor­ton-Thomas who gave out­stand­ing per­for­mances in this beau­ti­ful, heart-tug­ging art­work.”

Eigh­teen years later she used one of the mono­logues from the orig­i­nal stage play as an au­di­tion piece for NIDA.

“It ended up be­ing my strong­est piece, which led to my ac­cep­tance into NIDA,” Mocke says.

“I love the raw­ness of the­atre, the elec­tric­ity in the at­mos­phere and the de­mand the­atre ex­pects of per­form­ers to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion with the au­di­ence.

“I love the sub­tle nu­ances of screen act­ing, and the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties the film world has to of­fer. Hu­man be­ings and their sto­ries in­trigue me; the idea of wear­ing some­one else’s skin and to ex­ist within the com­plex­i­ties of their flesh fas­ci­nates me.”

She de­scribes the three years at NIDA as gru­elling.

“NIDA lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion of hard work. You’re do­ing long hours, from 8am un­til about 11pm, Mon­day to Satur­day. You vir­tu­ally have no other life. It de­mands ex­cel­lence, it de­mands dis­ci­pline and that’s why it has the rep­u­ta­tion it has.”

Mocke’s favourite ac­tors are those who are also in­volved with writ­ing, di­rect­ing or pro­duc­ing, par­tic­u­larly ac­tors, she says, whose work re­sists neg­a­tive stereo­types of­ten associated with peo­ple of colour.

The list in­cludes Amer­i­cans Vi­ola Davis and Den­zel Wash­ing­ton,

I did not feel con­fi­dent in large so­cial set­tings. I found act­ing was a way I could ex­press my­self and be my own per­son.

Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tors Deb­o­rah Mail­man and Leah Pur­cell, and New Zealan­der, Taika Waititi.

It’s been a busy year so far, since grad­u­at­ing in 2017. Ear­lier this year, Mocke per­formed in an in­de­pen­dent the­atre show called

Home In­va­sion at the Old 505 The­atre in Syd­ney.

She is com­plet­ing a writ­ing res­i­dency with Jute The­atre Com­pany in Cairns and has writ­ten a PNG stage play called

I Am Kegu. Set in a Simbu vil­lage, in the high­lands of PNG, it ex­plores cul­tural iden­tity and ex­pec­ta­tions.

Mocke has just been awarded a grant from the Syd­ney-based Se­aborn, Broughton & Wal­ford Foun­da­tion to cover the costs of the play’s cre­ative de­vel­op­ment, and she is hop­ing its open­ing per­for­mance will be in Port Moresby next year.

While Port Moresby has its own the­atre group, the per­form­ing arts (in PNG) are re­garded as a Western con­cept, Mocke says, even though story-telling is a crit­i­cal part of PNG’s oral cul­ture.

“Port Moresby the­atre is alive but not any­where near as where it could po­ten­tially be.”

I Am Kegu will have an all-PNG cast, she says.

Mocke has also launched a com­pany called Me­lanin Haus, which she hopes will be a cul­tural hub for PNG, Pa­cific artists and other in­dige­nous artists, do­ing stage pro­duc­tions, screen pro­duc­tions, web se­ries, per­for­mance art and work­shops.

In Au­gust, she was an artist in res­i­dency at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, work­ing on a the­atre piece called Voices of West

Pa­pua. And she has just fin­ished per­form­ing in Moby Dick at Syd­ney’s Sey­mour Cen­tre.

“But my most im­por­tant job of all is be­ing mum to my won­der­ful eight-year-old daugh­ter who is al­ways keep­ing me in check and is a con­stant source of in­spi­ra­tion for me,” Mocke says.

Wendy Mocke ... the Pa­pua New Guinean ac­tress is mak­ing an im­pact on stage.

Theatrics ... Wendy Mocke at work. The ac­tress has writ­ten a PNG stage play, which she hopes will open in Port Moresby next year.

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