MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES
EPISODE SIX – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #4
By Lucy Schmidt
Let me begin by saying I am in awe of Diana Nguyen. Her hit web series Phi and Me absolutely blew me away. It is brilliantly structured, full of heart, and, like many successful comedies, manages to go deep through a cast of characters that give us a unique perspective into a world. Do yourself a favour and view it here
Diana is also the busiest person I know.
She is tireless in her creative juggling, whether it’s stand up, writing, clown doctoring, dancing on LinkedIn, flying to meet producers in various countries (pre-Covid19) or performing in a playback show, Diana is on the move.
I love rehearsing and performing with her. She is so open, generous and often arrives into the scene with an offer of exactly what is needed. She is a very intuitive performer and truly, truly funny. She is a fellow seeker and it is because of her encouragement and tales of her own pilgrimage that I ended up walking the Camino Portugues. Thank you, lovely Diana!!
1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?
It was in 1996, at the wee age of 11 years old. My primary school friends and I were fascinated by Sister Act 1 and 2, so at lunch time we practised the “I Will Follow Him” with all the moves. The principal took an interest in us, so we did a regional classroom tour of all the 3/4 and 5/6 classes, and then they asked us to perform at the school morning assembly. Five girls dressed in choir outfits, singing to the song. Unfortunately, there was only one microphone, and the principal placed it in front of me the whole time… and I knew that I wanted to perform. It was magic.
2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?
Improv does not allow me to be on flight mode or be running around busy.
It reshapes my brain to be present. To listen. To feel, and then to share. That is why I have been with Melbourne Playback for 10 years. The act of listening is an intimate gift, and to play back someone’s story is an intimate gift.
3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?
I have been consolidating Phi and Me video content, and sharing it to the world. We’ve had 1.3 million views on TikTok, and we are starting the process to develop Season 2.
Phi and Me is the first ever Australian Vietnamese family comedy series in the world. It celebrates the trials and love of a Vietnamese Refugee mother’s love for her daughter Phi Nguyen. www.phiandme.tv
4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?
When I got heckled in Adelaide Fringe in 2017.
The audience member was drunk, and I replied the door is open for you to leave, unlike my mum who had to flee here by boat. It is a free country you may leave.
They sat back down, and 2 minutes in, they stood up and left while I was mid-sentence. I decided in that moment of raw comedy to cry…and I couldn’t stop. The audience breathed in with me, and it has become one of my most memorable moments too because the audience created a village around me, and got me drinks after the show!
5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?
When 1000 people crammed into Bourke Street Mall, and watched 250 people sing karaoke. I hosted the event from 5pm-10, and ended up finishing at 11pm because people wanted to see more. They wanted to see the joy it brought to people’s faces. They wanted to sing.
I love karaoke, because it doesn’t matter what voice you have. It is the commitment, and that is when you are truly present.
6 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?
I lost a lot of work due to Covid 19 with the Comedy festival cancelled. I decided that 2020 was my year so I was producing and performing in 2 shows Chasing Keanu Reeves and Deadly and Diverse, and also managed a venue for comedy festival with 10 acts. So when Covid crashed…I crashed.
Taking a moment to reflect, for 4 weeks, the work I have received has been quite magical. People are in writing rooms, people are supporting each other with grants and there is a human collaboration of “We will get through this.”
7 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?
Because my mum wasn’t supportive of my love for the arts, I have had many guardian angels that have supported me.
Grade 4 – Mrs Scalise – Classroom and singing teacher. I sing because of her. I found my voice and was able to articulate how I feel with music.
Yr 12 – Mr Steve McPhail – Yr 12 Coordinator, Drama teacher, Actor from Phi and Me show, and friend. I still remember sitting with him eating Pho in Springvale, and asking him, “Steve should I do my DipEd and become a teacher like you did for me?”
He said, “You haven’t given it a shot yet. Give the acting a go, and if that fails become a teacher.”
15 years I am living my dream.
8 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?
I miss feeling the energy. I miss that moment when you look out to the audience and they laugh, smile, cry and acknowledge each other in that moment – “Oh yes!”
I miss the craft of playback which is to be ALIVE in the moment with my team mates.
9 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life.
With the limited roles for Asian Vietnamese women, I would be selfish and like to play myself! lol