5 Questions with Hoa Pham
by Linh Nguyen
We talk to Hoa Pham about her upcoming play, VIVID, which explores the life of Khanh, a Vietnamese-Australian woman with schizophrenia who sees the ghost of her grandmother. The play features Buddhist themes. Described by Pham, ‘It’s about staying sane in an insane world.’
VIVID is playing at the Footscray Community Arts Centre from Tuesday 21 November to Saturday 25 November. You can buy tickets here.
What was the impetus behind the play’s inception? How did you first begin to write it?
I was inspired by the experiences of my grandmother who had schizophrenia and saw the ghost of my grandfather. At first, my brother and I thought that her seeing my grandfather (Ông) was all right, but her seeing things such as choruses of cats meowing in an empty backyard was not.
In the play Khanh, a young girl, has hallucinations and delusions – this is like real life for refugees where the government is trying to persecute them.
My play is about exploring how madness and sanity can become blurred.
VIVID draws upon some autobiographical elements, in particular your grandmother’s experience of schizophrenia and your own work as a psychologist. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing about this subject matter?
Making the subject matter accessible and not too hard for the audience to digest was challenging. I found it difficult to stay true to the essence of what I wanted to write about without alienating the audience too much.
You’ve said before: 'ironically, the way Australia treats refugees is like that of a paranoid delusion—the government is persecutory and is out to get them.' Can you speak about the themes of this play?
An overarching theme of this play is the blurry line between madness and sanity and how it is perceived by others. How refugees are treated in detention does drive people mad for instance. And it is madness the way they are treated.
What has the process behind the development and production of the play been like?
I have had the good fortune of having Vivid undergo an intensive dramaturgical process with Jane Bodie through the Lotus Program for Asian Australian playwrights, sponsored by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (formerly Performance 4A) and Playwriting Australia, and also being part of the Cybec Electric readings with the Melbourne Theatre Company.
It has been challenging and worthwhile to explore the cultural issues of the play with non-Vietnamese dramaturgy, and I’ve been fortunate that Jane Bodie has a brother with schizophrenia which gives her some insight in what I was trying to portray.
What has been the most difficult (or rewarding) aspect of putting together this work?
Seeing it read live at Cybec Electric was the most rewarding aspect so far. I anticipate seeing the work in full production will be the most rewarding. The hardest part has been casting for the play and finding suitable Vietnamese or Asian actors.