A Change of Face

Premiere 7 March, 1986
Venue Secondary schools

handspan Theatre A Change of Face 2 male and 2 female actors standing, one with his fists raised  in a threatening gesture

A Change of Face: A tense moment in the school-yard.
From left, Sally Minter as Linda, Mary Coustas as Angela, Roberto Micale as Angelo and Tony Le as Hoan
Photograph © Ken Evans, 1986

The most dramatically moving, vital, thought-provoking theatre I have seen lately in Melbourne comes to us in a current production for schools … dynamism and innovation … is here afresh amongst young ethnic artists.
Anna Epstein, 'Directions',
Multicultural Arts Victoria Vol 2, No 2

A CHANGE OF FACE was created by Handspan Theatre at the instigation of Carmelina Di Guglielmo, inspired by her own experience of growing up in Melbourne in a migrant family in the 1960s and 70s.

The play was based on issues experienced by a new generation of adolescents in multicultural Australia, researched in 19851 by Carmelina and playwright Andrea Lemon.

Carmelina’s experience in touring to Italy with Secrets in 1983 had given her a new perspective on her own cultural roots. The means for her to express it was the outcome of both her Rusden College training and her previous collaboration with Handspan to create Prime Time (1980).

Andrea joined Handspan for The Haunted (1985), a production based on first-hand research in which she was a key contributor. The experience fired her ambition to apply similar precepts to her playwriting on other themes of social justice. A CHANGE OF FACE was her first professional play based on in-depth research, and many others have followed, including Banquet for Handspan in 1989.

Carmelina and Andrea visited Melbourne metropolitan high schools and inner-city English language centres catering for new immigrants, to observe student behaviour and attitudes and to discuss multi-cultural issues and cross-cultural communication with students. With other Handspan artists, Lizz Talbot and Avril McQueen, they extended the experience through puppetry and drama workshops in schools, exchanging skills and information around the topic and recording oral histories.

Before the work began, they had expected to find that tensions which had been evident for children of Australia’s post-war migrant influx of the 1950s and 60s would have dissipated by the enlightened 1980s. They were shocked in their research to find that little had changed since Carmelina’s schooldays when ‘wogs’ and ‘dagos’ were bullied and ostracised.

They discovered that despite a 1980’s jargon and a ‘’change of face’’ from European to Asian, racism in all its vicious guises is still evident in our schools today

Cheryl Jones: Review Lowdown Magazine, May 1986

A Change of Face Handspan Theatre Body puppet with apron and broom sweeping
Angela's mother, housewife and factory worker (Roberto Micale)
Photograph © Ken Evans, 1986

Click photos to enlarge

The Play

A CHANGE OF FACE followed the story of Linda (the ‘Skip’) who, after moving into inner city Melbourne with her mother after a family break-up, changes schools and encounters classmates from diverse cultural backgrounds. In this milieu, Linda is the odd one out, but not as odd as her friend Hoan, a recently arrived migrant from Vietnam.

The play moved between the school yard and home life for its protagonists: Linda, from several generations of British-Australian stock; Angelo, a second generation Italo-Australian and Angela, a second-generation Greek-Australian, both with families whose home life was firmly entrenched in pre-war European cultural traditions; and Hoan, recently escaped from war-torn Vietnam, and an orphan. The play dramatised the students’ conflicts and the differences in their backgrounds. The trauma of teenage racism and cross generational tension in their world was sharply drawn.

Actors, all from culturally specific backgrounds, played the teenage students. Puppets retold the stories of their parents and illustrated their various ethnic circumstances, perspectives and experience. Reviewer, Anna Epstein from Multicultural Arts Victoria recognised the play’s basis in reality:

These adolescents are living out the prejudices of their elders. In this, and the portrayal of ordinary teenage preoccupations, the play strikes some uncannily accurate notes… Powerfully suggestive puppets took the role of what were really, national stereotypes: the parents with their sufferings ‘dead on the inside’ and a brutally racist Australian shopkeeper

Anna Epstein:Directions Multicultural Arts Victoria Vol 2. No 2

A Change of Face Handspan Theatre puppet head behind fruit stall  twined with grape vines

Angelo's father, gardener and labourer (Tony Le)

A Change of Face, Handspan Theatre angry puppet head behind shop counter

Fish 'n chip shop owner

figure wearing large cape appliqued as a world map

Hoan's mother, her cloak tracing the journey from Vietnam to Australia (Sally Minter)
Photographs: © Ken Evans, 1986

Design for A CHANGE OF FACE was simple and tourable. Puppet characters were worn as costumes and operated by an innovative manipulation technique that, with the puppet head secured in front of the actor’s own masked face, animated their different stories of migration and integration into Australian society. Moveable screens slid and revolved from scene to scene as the play portrayed arguments at home and brutal bullying and racist name calling in the classroom. Desperation finally provoked near violence, averted, in the schoolyard. Friendships were established as individual similarities became obvious, and tentative overtures towards mutual understanding were broached.

The play looks at relations between different ethnic groups and through a human drama, has a positive light at the end of the tunnel

Il Globo, Melbourne, 24 March 1986

Student audiences were moved and engaged by a work which mirrored their own situations and unmasked well-recognised behaviours.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing your production, 'A Change of Face', at the National Gallery. Over the last 4-5 years I have worked with students and young unemployed people and I don't believe I have ever seen a group of people capture the attention of that particular audience so powerfully and so consistently throughout a performance. ( Not even the most popular videos come close). I wanted to congratulate you on the ability to address such a difficult area with such sensitivity and perceptiveness.
I found the platy extremely moving. It seems that too often, 'educators' (I include myself) steer clear of racism amongst younger, and older, people, and throw it in the too hard basket to be dealt with by someone else. The performance has pricked my conscience to continue to make attempts to address issues related to racism amongst both students and educators, Thanks for the play.

Letter to Handspan: Sara Wexler, Special Projects Dept, Boradmeadows College, 21 May, 1986.

The creators of 'A Change of Face' have produced a thought-provoking look at the problems of racism in schools in the 1980s. Handspan must be congratulated for their understanding of the capacity for thoughtful reflection that so many young people are capable of.

Cheryl Jones review, Lowdown, May 1986

The play was a bold and exciting production for high school audiences and an affirmative step for young multi-cultural artists emerging in Australia at the time. Roberto Micale and Mary Coustas, in the play Angelo and Angela respectively, created its sequel Who Are You? in 1987 with Handspan. In the same year, Wogs Out of Work,2 which explored similar issues through comedy, involved some of these artists and led to a decade of stage and television success and theatrical representation of multicultural community realities in Australia.

A CHANGE OF FACE played over 100 performances in 1986 in Melbourne metropolitan high schools, appeared at the 1987 World ASSITEJ Conference3 in Adelaide, and toured for the Victorian and South Australian Arts Councils to regional areas in those states.

For Handspan, it was again a new work that grew from the vision of company artists to make sense of their own environment and circumstances and to portray their concerns and sensibilities in accessible and dynamic theatre for social change.


1 The research phase was supported by a Special Project development grant from the Theatre Board of the Australia Council, received by Carmelina Di Guglielmo.
2 Wogs Out of Work by Nick Giannopoulos, Simon Palomares, and Maria Portesi, premiered at the Melbourne Comedy Festival (1987).
3 ASSITEJ: Association Internationale du Theatre pour les Enfants et la Jeunesse

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The People & The Performances

A Change of Face Cast, from left, Roberto Micale, Mary Coustas, Sally Minter and Tony Le
Photograph © Ken Evans, 1986

Creative team
Writer Andrea Lemon
Director & Producer Carmelina Di Guglielmo
Designer Ken Evans
Puppetry director Frank Italiano (1987)
Research collaborators Andrea Lemon, Avril McQueen, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Lizz Talbot
Linda & Hoan’s mother Sally Minter (1986); Harriet Spalding (1987)
Hoan & Angelo’s father Tony Le
Angela & Linda’s mother Mary Coustas
Angelo & Angela’s mother Roberto Micale
Production team
Puppet Maker Sue Smith
Set Construction Ken Evans, Mark Razevski
Production Assistant Tessa Morgan
Photographs Ken Evans

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The Performances

7 March – August Melbourne metropolitan secondary schools
January - April Victorian Arts Council Schools Program
May International ASSITEJ Conference, Come Out Festival, Adelaide South Australia
June South Australian Arts Council
Total Performances 205
Total Audience 20,881

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The People

For Young People: