Like most 17-year-olds, Liv Smith knew next to nothing about the plight of refugees, and then a placement at a Salvation Army support service changed all that. Initially overwhelmed, Liv became resolved to honour refugee stories in her new play, I’d Turn Back*, as she tells Jen Vuk.
Where did this desire to perform come from?
I didn’t know any other way to express myself and I also wanted to have an impact on people by simply doing what I loved.
At 16 you started looking for a church of your own. You were very particular in your search. Can you describe what you were looking for and why?
I was looking for a place where all of the decorations and prettiness was stripped away to reveal a very raw, authentic experience of people’s lives.
I also wanted to help people with bigger problems than simply figuring out what to sing for worship or what clothes to wear in the morning. I preferred to hear of real problems and experiences in need of aid, such as drug addiction and poverty.
Late last year you completed a work experience placement at The Salvation Army Asylum Seeker and Refugee service (TSAASRS). How has this shaped you today?
I have been concerned about asylum seeker and human rights issues for some time. My placement at TSAASRS was an opportunity to see the support offered and try to help in a meaningful way.
If I hadn’t gone in person to hear these stories I wouldn’t have believed them and I wouldn’t have written [the play] I’d Turn Back. The people and this play have made me into a different person and without their stories I would still be living in ignorance.
How did you decide which stories to include? And what was the response from those you worked alongside?
I tried to include all the stories in a sort of mash-up as a lot of the people I met with had similar experiences. I knew that I could portray these stories and themes through four characters—two males and two females. This gave enough variety to the play so that the audience could identify with them which would hopefully evoke a response of empathy from them.
The response that the actors received after their first performance at Moreland [in Melbourne’s north] was extremely positive. Clients of TSAASRS were very emotional in expressing their gratitude. Many people thanked me for what we had presented and I felt very humbled.
How would you describe the play?
The play is definitely not conventional and can be quite confronting and dark at times. However, I feel this is necessary in order to portray the stories accurately and respectfully.
All violence in the show is stylised but still creates a realistic overall effect. I really believe that these stories are important and need to be portrayed in this way in order to provide education and awareness.
You will be performing your play this month at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. How are the nerves?
I am probably more nervous about Year 12 to be honest with you! I have far more confidence in the show and the team than in my brain—which could be a contributing factor. I have very few nerves so far, as the reviews have not yet been written, but I think I’ll be a mess before they are scheduled to come out.
Where to next for you?
This may be the most frequent question that I have been asked this year, but the truth of the matter is I’m not quite sure yet. I know that there is a plan for me but I am yet to figure it out. What I do know is that I will continue with my passion for writing and performing in order to raise awareness of important issues with the public.
* I’d Turn Back on at Trades Hall, corner Victoria St and Lygon St, Carlton South (Vic.), 19–23 September, tickets $15, concession $13, cheap Tuesday $10. Click here to find out more.