“One minute you can yell at them with all your might. The next, you can wrap your arm around them, protecting them from anything else in the world that would do the same. “

Photos: Ankita Singh

Photos: Ankita Singh

After living in New Zealand for 9 years, a South Auckland Filipino family’s small-scale food business is offered its biggest opportunity yet – a spot at The Auckland International Food Expo at ASB Showgrounds. But the chance of progressing their family’s success reveals hidden secrets and fears that bring both their business, and relations to each other and themselves, to trial. 

John Rata’s first play Sweet, Sour and Salty hits at the heart of a universal diaspora experience. Multilayered and for a multi generational perspective, Rata’s ambitious first work will debut in its first reading, as part of the Fresh off the Page series for 2019. After photographing play readings, to assistant producing and now taking the leap to writing a full length work , we chat to John about the challenges and discoveries so far.

What inspired you to write this play?

I was inspired by the real-life Filipino and Asian immigrant stories I'd observed through my lifetime - the sacrifice of the parents, the balance between upholding culture and assimilation and the impact of uprooting. I admired the strength of immigrant parents and wanted to write something that could honor their hardship and paint them as people - something more than just ‘oppressors’ to their children. Along with this, I had strong feelings to write a play about family coming together and forming closer bonds through trial, which was another big inspiration. 

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What were the challenges you faced during the process?

I had started the play knowing the types of feelings I was wanting to convey. The next and most challenging step for me was to find a plot and context to structure the story around. This took some time, and I'd actually written portion of a draft that I ultimately scrapped. As more time passed, I began to slowly piece together the 'world' I was creating. Once I had this 'map' better inked in my head, it gave me more confidence to let the characters occupy the page.

What do you think makes a good story?

I think a good story should remind people of their own humanity and all the emotion, beauty, ugliness, hardship and happiness that accompanies it. I think a good story allows someone to identify their own existence within the characters, where they can have their own human experience reflected, validated or affirmed by the story, and can learn something new about themselves at it's end. 

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How do you want people to feel at the end of your play?

With the context of the story, I'd like to leave people inspired – feeling that they can achieve with belief and hard work, that they can overcome their fears and insecurities, and anything else they think may be holding them ‘back’. I'd also like people to be reminded of the love they have for their families and friends (which can sometimes be easily forgotten), and that they can hopefully spread that positivity in their personal lives. 

‘Who’ did you write your play for?

The emotions behind the play were inspired by immigrant families and my wish to honor their experiences, however there’s no specific person this play is for. I hope that it can be a story for everyone and that no matter what race or gender they are, that person can see a portion of themselves mirrored. 

What character was the easiest to write? Why?

All the characters had both their own challenges and other qualities that make them easier to write than others. I would say that all the main characters are branches of my own self, so certain characters being 'easier' could even depend on the day – the time I spent writing them during scenes, memories from my own life that would inspire me for a certain character at a certain point of time and even things happening day to day that might remind me about a character. To get a more proper answer, Riza, the mother of the family, was the first character arc I had internalized, so she was the easiest to further sketch. 

Can you explain any ‘theatrical’ ideas/concepts utilized in the play?

There is a sort of ‘nightmare’ sequence in the play that reflects a personal pressure a certain character is dealing with. This sequence allows for some experimentation by the actors and director regarding the space, use of voice and flow of dialogue. There is also a memory sequence that occurs in present time, and conventional flashbacks that return us to the childhood of some characters. 

Catch the live reading of Sweet, Sour and Salty!

Wednesday, 8:30 PM
October 09, 2019

Basement Theatre (Lower Greys Ave).

This event only requires you to register for a FREE entry and is open to all.

1. Fresh Off the Page seats get snatched up very quickly...
2. Post-show, there will be a Koha bucket available for the chance to assist Proudly Asian Theatre to fulfil our writers' development and FOTP initiative. Our new writers love a big cast! We thank you for your generosity in advance.

Grab your seat/s here: bit.ly/FOTP_Oct