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TIG: tackling racism through satire

Imagine a world where being black gave you privilege. Where white people were stereotyped as criminals, delinquents, dropouts. This is the basis of Betiel Beyin’s first theatre show, TIG, premiering in Wyndham tonight. Charlotte Grieve reports.

TIG: tackling racism through satire
Words by Charlotte Grieve

Betiel Beyin hated high school. She was one of the few African-Australian girls at Thomas Carr College, a co-educational Catholic school in Wyndham. A year after graduating, she’s now written a play that flips racial inequality on its head.

“When I was writing this play, we thought maybe if we flip the script, then they’ll understand that racism still exists,” she says.

Like many Australian schools, Beyin says her school had a race problem.

“Everyone hates high school, but when you’re faced with stuff like that [racism], it really messes you up,” she says.

Beyin found solace in watching films. She describes cinema as “wonderful” and her face lights up as she talks about her favourite screenwriters. Beyin didn’t just enjoy watching films, she would study them. Using Google to download scripts, Beyin would read and re-read the scripts of her favourite films.

Inglourious basterds, I read the hell out of that.”

The high school student taught herself how to write for television, sitcoms, sketches, short and feature length films. Since starting to write scripts in grade 10, Betiel estimates she’s written over 25 scripts, some as long as 50 pages. “That’s when I go overboard,” she says with a smile.

“I always have ideas in my head. I’m consumed with cinema. I’m always writing, it’s what I spent my summers doing.”

Beyin describes herself as a hard worker, organised and determined to succeed. When she finished school last year, she enrolled in a bachelor of business marketing degree at ACU.

Betiel Beyin at the new Starbucks in Tarneit, up the road from her home. Photo: Charlotte Grieve.

Betiel Beyin at the new Starbucks in Tarneit, up the road from her home. Photo: Charlotte Grieve.

After one semester, she knew her passion lay elsewhere. She deferred the semester and began volunteering with Western Edge Youth – a theatre group for young people from diverse cultures.

Since starting in July, the 19-year-old has written her first theatre script and tonight, herself and nine actors will perform it on stage.

“I’ve been writing just for myself I guess. Nobody’s been interested in the new play, the new script. I force my sister to edit my scripts, but she doesn’t care,” she says with a laugh.

“When someone actually gave me the opportunity to write something that people are going to actually see it was like cool, I’ve been waiting for this.”

The play’s name, “TIG”, is a homage to the Greek tragedy, Antigone. The performance uses comedy, live theatre and original tracks to explore the experience of being a minority in an era of culture wars and populist politics. The play “flips the script” of racism, inviting the audience into an alternative reality where people of colour have privilege and white people become the victims of racism.

“TIG is the coolest and funniest script I‘ve had the pleasure to work on for a long time,” says Dave Kelman, artistic director at Western Edge Youth Arts.

Beyin wrote the script from a combination of personal experience and imagination. In one scene, the protagonist is targeted for being different.

“This black person is calling out this white person saying what are you doing here? How’d you even get in here?”

While she says the scene is “exaggerated”, it was inspired by her time as one of the few African-Australians in a largely white high school.

“It’s that feeling of being all alone where you’re surrounded by people who don’t know you, who aren’t familiar, who are different from you,” she says. “When you’re in a predominately white school, you kind of lose yourself a little bit.”

As well as exposing the many forms of racism, TIG touches on global issues of fake news, police brutality and the impact of using race as a political tool.

The play uses “dark, dry, satirical” comedy to expose harsh realities experienced by minorities. But Beyin says that in theatre, “you should never write for laughs”.

“I like subtle humour because it’s not telling people to laugh. You can laugh if you want to laugh, if you don’t want to laugh, that’s okay.”

She hopes that in the future, race will not be the central part of her stories. Her favourite shows involving people of colour are where “race isn’t even a thing.”

“It’s about people going through real problems that everyone goes through in life. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“There are not many black, female coming-of-age stories coming out. I write things that I would like to see.”

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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