Until the pandemic wreaked havoc last year, Lisa Fa’alafi spent six glorious years touring Australia and the world with hit live show Hot Brown Honey.
In her role as co-creator, writer, director, designer, choreographer and performer, Fa’alafi (known as the ‘Game Changer’) joined five other Global First Nations women taking to the stage in a sensational update of the cabaret format, confronting political issues of the day and entertaining in the most spectacularly decadent ways possible.
Fa’alafi is understandably proud of the production, which has received accolades at events such as Helpmann Awards, Sydney Theatre Awards, Green Room Awards, Adelaide and Perth Fringe Awards, and others in the UK and Canada.
“Prior to COVID we toured the globe on what we like to call our World Pollination Tour but now we’ve found our livelihood gone, our team scattered across the country, and lockdowns are always threatening, so even creating locally is not financially doable for us,” Fa’alafi says.
“‘The toughest experience has been having to put Hot Brown Honey on an indefinite hold cycle. It was important we put our team’s health and well-being first and as Black, Brown and Indigenous women we’re already in the most vulnerable group affected by this.”
Many theatre and musical shows transferred their productions online when the pandemic kicked into high gear with varying degrees of success, but that wasn’t a move the Hot Brown Honey team considered.
“The global move towards digitising live performance didn’t feel right for us because we spent years crafting work that, through the live experience, provokes and moves people to create social change. We haven’t been able to reimagine a new way forward,” Fa’alafi explains.
“So we keep keeping on, selling our cultural awareness merch, trying to create uplifting content on our social media that amplifies melanated voices and hope we can be resilient enough to return one day.”
People of colour especially understand resilience is built from survival. During the pandemic, Fa’alafi has retreated from an external focus to something more introspective.
“I realised how much I had been neglecting my own well being. Being an independent artist and running small companies it’s just always nonstop, you see the injustice daily and re-triggered trauma and you feel you must keep the fight going no matter what. Planning, working, sweating, creating new opportunities, fighting the power!” she says.
“COVID forced me to stop and rebalance. I was able to find joy reconnecting with culture, weaving, and even having the chance to learn Siva Afi, a traditional Samoan fire dance I always wanted to learn.
Fa’alafi continues, “I think I better understand that in order to continue to advocate and make this type of work I must allow rest time, inspiration time, family time, connecting with the earth time. Our industry has definitely been a part of this overworked, capitalist earth-harming journey and now I’m trying to find a better way to navigate it.”
Since bouncing back into action, the Queensland-based artist has had to make some alterations for new ways of being productive. Like most theatre folk, Fa’alafi’s experiences with moving things from the tangible to the virtual have had their difficulties.
“The whole Zoom life wow, wasn’t ready for that!” she says. “Creating online takes next-level energy, then add people on the other side of the screen wearing masks so you can no longer read their body language. Navigating that new world has been very challenging but also I’m really lucky to live in Queensland where we’ve been able to return to live performances before most.”
Fa’alafi has kept busy creating local works with her other company, Polytoxic, which she describes as “an Australian collective known for creating hyper-visual, pop-inspired performance work built upon foundations of diversity, collaboration and intersectionality.” Polytoxic recently presented Demolition, which made its world premiere at Brisbane Festival.
“With everything going on in the world and even in our very own political chambers, enough is enough,” Fa’alafi says.
“Demolition deconstructs the experience of female-identifying and marginalised people in public spaces. This is a political activation, an agitation around the issues of agency and voice, around holding space, around the imaginings of others as to where we belong.”