PREVIEW: Where We Once Belonged in Brisbane

(L-R) Litea Aholelei (Moa), Joanna (Lili) and Suivai Autagavaia (Alofa)

PIPA crosses the ditch [by Sharu Delilkan]

(L-R) Litea Aholelei (Moa), Joanna Toloa (Lili) and Suivai Autagavaia (Alofa)

Although Joanna Mika-Toloa may be on her way to perform Where We Once Belonged in Brisbane for the first time, she will have her home team batting for her.

The recent graduate of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) is beside herself about their impending Aussie performance.

The Where We Once Belonged overseas debut also marks the first time the Australian side of her family, some of whom live in Brisbane, will finally see her treading the boards.

“It’s going to be great, since they finally get to see me in action. Especially after hearing so much about my acting and seeing me online.”

Written by Dave Armstrong and based on the award winning book by Sia Figiel and featuring a cast of 14 young Pasifika performers, Where We Once Belonged is an unforgettable singing, dancing, laughing, crying-out-loud celebration of Pacific life.

The lively, spirited and inventive play that is unflinchingly honest, sometimes brutal, and wildly funny coming-of-age story set in 1970s Samoa. The no-holes-barred content of the show has posed its own set of issues when Toala’s family came to the Auckland show.

“I basically had to warn my rellies that there would be some uncomfortable bits because the show is quite raw, edge and honest. Especially the part where I use the word ‘vagina’ when I’m reading a porn magazine. That’s extremely taboo in Samoan culture so I had to let them know what to expect,” says the 24-year-old mother-of-two.

Toloa admits that the raw flavour of the play is one of the reasons she was initially drawn to act in the show in the first place.

“I think it’s important for us Pacific Islanders to acknowledge these issues that often get swept under the carpet. The play is a good way to bring these stories to our people so we can try to make a change.”

Working with the director Goretti Chadwick has been another reason why Toloa was keen to play her character Lili in the show, who is the best friend of the lead character Alofa.

“I love Goretti’s on the spot, almost improv like, direction style. But I also like the way she gives us food for thought before we leave rehearsal everyday.

It gives us the chance to bring our own ideas to the table, making a more collaborative process,” she says.

Despite being her acting debut in Brisbane, travelling overseas and touring is definitely nothing new for Toloa.

She has been performing since the tender age of four as part of the popular Samoan singing trio The Mika Sisters, travelling extensively around the globe, including Israel, Africa, Finland and the US.

Her musical distinction includes reaching Grade 8 through the Royal School of Music exams and singing at various gigs including The Auckland Pacific Gospel Choir, Parachute Festival, and the Teuila Festival.

Her singing ability has also recently landed her roles in the successful Pacific Musical The Factory with the Kila Kokonut Krew, Polly Hood in Mumuland with PIPA and Auckland Theatre Company and of course her role in Where We Once Belonged.

Brisbane Powerhouse and Armstrong Creative present Where We Once Belonged (Armstrong Creative & PIPA), part of the World Theatre Festival 12 and plays at Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse from 15 February to 18 February. Details World Theatre Festival.

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