Sila, at nineteen, is someone who’s life experience has already given her a pretty big perspective on the world and its challenges. As a member of Western Edge Youth Art’s Geelong Edge, she is currently in rehearsals for Six Hours In Geelong, an original work created by the ensemble, which will be showing at GPAC in October.
“I guess I’m kind of an activist, in my own way”, Sila says. “I’ve seen a lot first hand, I’ve experienced it, but not as bad as some people. In the show, we’re trying to tackle misconceptions around Islam. I can’t stand injustice. I can’t stand people believing lies. But it’s very hard to change what people think. I hope our show can challenge minds and hopefully audiences can leave the theatre aware of some real issues…”
Sila was born in Australia soon after her parents emigrated from Turkey, with her older brother, but is strongly connected to her Turkish cultural roots. Sila was nine when her parents made the decision to move back to Istanbul. She went to school in Turkey and loved it.
“It was good. I adapted well,” she says. “I always felt more Turkish on the inside, although I’ve always been a bit conflicted. I’m not really Australian enough, but I’m not Turkish enough. I love the culture, so that’s why I adapted well. The people there, I really get along with, so I can fit in. I spoke English when I went there, and everyone was really amazed at this little girl from Australia who spoke English. I made friends really quick.”
But the family struggled financially in Turkey and ended up coming back to Australia.
Now, Sila is in the first year of a Bachelor of Criminology and Psychological Science at Deakin University. She also likes to make short-films, and works part-time in a fish and chip shop. She was in year nine at North Geelong Secondary College when Western Edge Youth Arts came and staged a performance at her school. “There was a girl wearing hijab and it was about racism”, she recalls about the performance, “and that really got me.” After finishing high school, Sila was part of a small group who’s passion for making socially engaged theatre lead them to form the Geelong Edge ensemble, with the support of WEYA.
Of Six Hours In Geelong, which follows Belonging, performed to a packed house at the Geelong Courthouse last year, she says: ‘I love what everyone is putting into it… we’re getting better and better with our shows’.
In creating Six Hours In Geelong, Sila explains that they ‘created scenarios first, and the characters came out of that’. The character that Sila is playing is called Zareen, who she relates to quite strongly: “Zareen is a conflicted character. She’s stuck between two worlds: culture and religion. We tried not to paint her as a stereotypical “Muslim girl”. She’s got lots of layers.”
Early in the play, Zareen has experiences that lead to a decision to start wearing hijab ‘almost as a political statement’. She’s a character that ‘blames herself and is stuck on what to do, how to act in this society. She feels guilty a lot’.
“We really want to put up the right message about Muslims in the community,” Sila says, emphasising that an important phrase in the play is ‘we shouldn’t get Islam and culture mixed up’.
“Hopefully through the play we can put some perspective on it. We can’t speak for Muslims around the world. But we can show that we are all just humans. We’re all lost. We’re all flawed, and believing in what you believe in doesn’t make you a bad person.”
There are three Muslim characters in the play. They are each very different, having been brought up in different contexts, and coming from different cultural backgrounds. “One’s lost,” she says, “one’s really religious, but they’re all true, they’re all representing real people. Religion is really how you interpret it. Everyone interprets it differently. It really depends on your environment and your upbringing.”
Sila has a fascination with discrimination, that she has had the opportunity to explore through her studies, as well as through theatre. She’s also seen and experienced some interesting, and frightening examples of it in different forms and contexts, even one quite recently in Geelong.
Having just finished a film shoot for some footage that will be used in Six Hours In Geelong, Sila had a scarf on, because she was in costume as her character, Zareen and was sitting at a fast food restaurant with her friend. “It was cold”, she explains, “I kept the hijab on to keep warm.”
When she got up to leave, she brushed past a man, who took the opportunity to lay into her with a tirade of unprovoked verbal abuse. “I’ve never experienced that in my real life, where I don’t wear hijab. And also, from the other people who were there. No one said anything. No one jumped in. I was a young woman, getting verbally abused and no one stepped in. I was just wearing it for a couple of hours and that happened to me. I realised how hard it must be for people wearing hijab every day.”
Fighting for her beliefs, Sila is finding a strong voice for countering misconceptions and increasing understanding. If she ever goes into politics, I know I’ll be voting for her, and not only to prove that women who work in fish and chip shops in Australian regional towns, can offer compassionate and broad-minded perspectives.
When & Where: Drama Theatre, GPAC – October 27, 1pm and 7pm
Tickets: $5.50 concession | $10 full fare
Bookings through www.gpac.org.au or call Box Office on 03 5225 1200
Written by Kendra Keller (Western Edge Youth Arts)