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'Ate Lovia': Staying loyal to family no matter how brutal life can be

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Ate Lovia

For the love of family. Ate Lovia's main cast: Marcus Rivera (in blue shirt), Anna Lee, Joseph Raboy, Chaya Ocampo at Dindi Huckle-Moran (back, L-R)

Published 1 June 2022 at 4:24am
By Annalyn Violata
Source: SBS

In a once-in-a-lifetime performance, Filipino-Australian actors come together to give life to 'Ate Lovia'. The new drama tells the story of a Filipino family that experienced what it was like living in Australia in the ’90s where racism was prevalent.

Published 1 June 2022 at 4:24am
By Annalyn Violata
Source: SBS

  • Racism was prevalent in Australia in particular between 1960-1990.
  • Non-white people and new migrants often experience discrimination.
  • ‘Ate Lovia’ is a new Filipino-Australian drama that explores what it means to stay loyal to family no matter how brutal life can get.
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'Ate Lovia': Staying loyal to family no matter how brutal life can be  image

Bukod sa pagsasama ng mga baguhan at batikang aktor na Pilipino-Australian, tampok sa 'Ate Lovia' ang kwento ng paninirahan sa Australia noong dekada '90 , ang rasismo na patuloy na nararanasan ng mga taong hindi puti ang kulay ng balat, mga hamon sa mga bagong migrante at pagiging tapat sa pamilya.

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Ate Lovia
Emerging Filipino Australian actors Chaya Ocampo and Joseph Raboy give life to Ate Lovia's main characters 'Ate Lovia' and 'Vergel' respectively. Source: Kwento/Lucy Le Masurier


'White supremacy' in Australia

"The play touches on what was happening in terms of politically in that era in the '90s, with John Howard and Pauline Hanson being in power," says Ate Lovia's assistant director Nicole Pingon.

'Ate Lovia' is a new Filipino-Australian drama centred on the lives of the Ejercitos - Jovy, Lovia and Vergel, when they migrated to Australia, set during the rise of John Howard and Pauline Hanson and the start of populist politics in Australia.

"I was very young then, but I still remember the standards and what it was like to go to school as a little kid," recalls Indigenous Australian actor Dindi Huckle-Moran.

"During that time, we went to high school with Liberal and Labor governments both on the rise."

"It has always been prevalent to me that Filipino and Indigenous cultures are these unspoken allies to each other who have these very diverse experiences that somehow have each other often to support each other throughout dismantling Australia’s racism," shares Dindi of her close ties then to some Filipinos.

The origins of the 'White Australia' policy can be traced back to the 1850s when hardworking Chinese diggers were resented by white miners. Although efforts to end the 'White Australia' policy had slowly been made since the 1960s, Australia continued to favoured white people to live in the country until the year 2000s.

Ate Lovia
Indigenous Australian actor Dindi Violet in a scene with Filipino-Australian actor Chaya Ocampo during rehearsals for 'Ate Lovia', while assistant director Nico Source: Kwento

Everyone needs an 'Ate' [Lovia]

Filipino-Australian actors Chaya Ocampo and Joseph Raboy together with veteran actor Marcus Rivera are leading the play.

“The play itself was always going to be about ‘Ate’ [the Filipino word for 'Big Sister”]. But we realised that people will learn that ‘Ate’ is a very important part of the Filipino culture. That’s why we change the title to 'Ate Lovia,' reveals director Kenneth Moraleda.

New actors Chaya and Joseph have prepared well for their roles.

Chaya is unfamiliar with the 1996 setting since she has been born yet. According to her, listening to the era's popular songs made a difference.

“Music really helps. Dindi made a banging playlist, it’s a mix of Tagalog songs by contemporary Filipino artists now covering songs from the 90s," shares Chaya.

She even asked her parents' help as both arrived from the Philippines to Australia together in the '90s.

"Having long conversations with them and even borrowing something that they wore before. They made me more familiar with things rather than thinking that I wasn’t born yet at that time."
Ate Lovia
Actor Joseph Raboy (left) plays Ate Lovia's little brother Vergel in a scene with Australian actor Anna Lee during their rehearsals. Source: Kwento

For acting school graduate, Joseph Raboy, one of the things he noticed when he first read the script was the similarity of ages between him and Vergel.

“We both migrated to Australia at similar ages. I migrated to Australia on Friday the 13th of May 2005, 10 days after I turned six and Vergel migrated to Australia when he was five."

While the time was different, Joseph knew "what it was like to migrate into a different country and to adjust culturally, to learn the language, to be in constant survival mode just to learn to assimilate into the culture and how that differs between your parents who have grown up in the Philippines for most of their lives and how their transition through migration differs from yours and finding yours through that," explains Joseph.

Forces combine for 'kwento'

The Ate Lovia production is immensely proud of the work they did from the ground up and bringing together seasoned and new Australian creatives - from the actors, writer, directors and the whole production.

“It started from the need for Kenneth, Jana and I  to create our own work. There was I guess a real urgency to put the story out there that we feel is really important,” shares writer Jordan Shea.

The theatre production "Kwento" was established in December 2020, and aimed at creating new Australian projects that would challenge the norms of the Australian society.

“As a non-Filipino person coming in this production, it's really interesting to look at those things that were happening in this country [Australia] through the eyes of Filipino people," notes Australian actor Anna Lee.
Ate Lovia
'Ate Lovia' brings together veteran and emerging Filipino and Australian actors and creatives to produce a story that could impact wider Australian audience. Source: Kwento

Indigenous Australian actor Dindi Huckle-Moran's connection with Filipinos goes back to her grade school years.

“It’s such an incredible experience specifically because I grew up with a very influential Filipino teacher in Year 3 and also one of my best friends in high school was Filipino."

"As someone who is a First Nations person, it’s such a privilege to be immersed into the Filipino culture and have an idea of their history and how it has affected Australian-Filipino people living in Australia throughout the years,"  says Dindi.

Other Filipino-Australian creatives involved in the production include Felino Dolloso, Happy Feraren, Shy Magsalin, Michael Moraleda, Andrea Magpulong & Euno Orate.

Assistant director Nicole Pingon adds that although Ate Lovia is focussed on one particular Filipino family, in some way there is a connection or similarity in particular for migrants.

"People who come to Australia have different reasons and for our community, a lot of Asian communities in Australia at that time ['90s] and now continuing, there is still so much hangover from that sentiment that came through in the '90s that continues to pop up every day."

"Regardless of if you’re Filipino or Chinese or whatever community that you’re from that isn’t the majority, isn’t white Australia, there’s always going to be challenges with that and those connections and there’s so much to explore in terms of what the challenges are from one community and there’s so much to learn from each other," shares Nicole.

For this reason, that writer Jordan Shea hopes that their play could impact people in some way.
Ate Lovia
Creatives Kenneth Moraleda (director), Jana Vass (co-producer) and Jordan Shea (writer) co-founded Kwento Productions all seeking to create new Australian works Source: Kwento

"I'm passionate about sharing stories from the past and looking at what it was like before, our treatment of the Indigenous people, the elderly and the migrants, you’ll be able to see where we’re going."

"You’ll be able to see what we can improve on and how we can make it a better country for the people that are here."

Jordan believes that "there is an enormous potential for Australia to be a better country for all."

"It’s important to look at where we are going as a culture we need to know where we’ve been and that is why I chose to focus on migration in that regard."

"Through our show, if we can affect one person who can see a similarity in their own life on stage, then I truly believe that we’ve done our job because I’m sure it helps them in some way," Jordan shares.

Ate Lovia is Kwento's first project and it will be shown on stage at Old Fitz Theatre, in Woolloomooloo, NSW from 12 May to 4 June. 

"We are fortunate to be supported in our first year by NSW State government funding, City of Sydney and Western Sydney Arts. Also the National Theatre of Parramatta and Shopfront," says Jordan Shea.