An artistic endeavour is a long journey.
Ask any creative person and they would always ask themselves, should they have taken the road less travelled by or the other one instead.
It is a never ending road and you start the journey with only a dream and along the way you find courage, humility, heartaches, and eventually if you survive the trek you find maturity.
I would like to introduce Roman Berry.
Born in Cebu City, Philippines, Roman Berry is a Theatre Maker, Director and Movement Director, who has returned to Melbourne after a decade in London.
He trained in Australia: Centre for Performing Arts (Dance); Flinders University Drama Centre (Theatre). Career Highlights include Cameron Mackintosh’s Australian Sydney Premiere of Miss Saigon; Harry Miller’s Pageant: The Musical.
He was the Artistic Director II Commonwealth Youth Games Opening and Closing Ceremony (Australia) and created and is current facilitator for Body and Mind, Wellness Workshops (The Voice of Domestic Workers UK).
He has also collaborated as a Director, Choreographer and Movement with UK and Australian theatre companies such as Get Over It Productions, Pregnant Fish Theatre, The Bread & Roses Theatre, The Hope Theatre, Goldsmiths University, The Jack Studio Theatre, Broken Silence Theatre, Scene Gym, Arcola Theatre, Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, The Write Network, Stella Entertainment, KL Events, Music Theatre Melbourne, and many more.
He directed Lorna Wells’ much lauded, sold out London season of It Tastes Like Home, The Musical, Jamila Main’s Butterfly Kicks for 2019 Queer Quickies Festival at Theatreworks (Melbourne) and recently the Staged Premiere at Gasworks Arts Park of Electric Dreams The Musical by Drew Lane, through Music Theatre Melbourne.
He freelances as a Latin and Ballroom Dance Instructor, and Drama teacher (FEDPas Vic).
He is currently the Artistic Director for Divergent Theatre Collective, which is now base in Melbourne.
From what age did you know of your great interest in Acting/Performing Arts? What was your first project?
Our love for the ARTS has really started back home, in the Philippines. Our parents were both educators (Tatay was a University Law Lecturer that dabbled in Fine Arts and Nanay was an elementary school teacher, who always encouraged us kids towards Drama, Choir and Declamation). From memory, I fell in love with theatre making, in Cebu City during High School years. I Ddirected, wrote and acted on my first One Act Play, that won in our yearly intra school competition. I kept going from there I believe.
What are some of the projects that you have been involved in here and overseas?
I started as an actor and performer since training from Flinders Drama Centre in Adelaide Australia. My first professional theatre gig was a political play written by Pat Cranney titled The Exposurist, which I performed in Adelaide with my dear sister Valerie Berry, a great memory collaborating with Valerie. I then performed as a dancer in several corporate functions, travelled to Japan and Thailand, and moved to Sydney, and landed a full-time job in Australia’s Wonderland as a dancer and performer. Then I got full time work in major Musicals during the 90’s (Sydney), highlights for me: a cast member of the original Australian production of Miss Saigon and an the original cast member of Harry Miller’s Off Broadway production of Pageant. I then moved to Melbourne early 2000’s and have pursued directing and collaborating in community theatre. I was Humbled to be the Artistic Director for the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 2nd Commonwealth Youth Games in Bendigo.
Life then takes us on a different path and moved to London in 2008 as my partner got a job transfer. We also embarked on our European adventure. Whilst there, I initiated my own theatre company Divergent Theatre Collective and produced a theatre piece I co wrote with British Filipina playwright Eleanor Sy Templeman, Illegals: The Game Show. We had two successful seasons of the production, performed at Waterloo East Theatre, London. I also directed and collaborated with different theatre companies in the UK with a focus in new musicals and plays. Highlights were ‘The State of Things’ and ‘Little Did I Know’, amongst many others especially living in London for ten years.
Of the work you listed above, which one would you consider your favourite or the best one you have undertaken so far?
Apart from my passion project ‘Illegals: The Game Show’, which I want to still pursue, especially now that I’m back home in Melbourne, I have one project that really stands out which pushes the boundaries of theatre representation and reflects my values when it comes to sharing our own stories. It’s a new musical written by Lorna Wells, titled ‘It Tastes Like Home’, a Romantic Musical Comedy. I was involved in the professional development of the musical. It speaks volumes when it comes to its themes of multiculturalism (a deeper look at two cultures, Chinese and Jamaican in a British setting). It fused different styles of music and celebrates the differences between two cultures. It was such a collaborative process and also emphasised the importance of sharing unheard voices, especially in the realms of mainstream musical theatre. You never know, it might still get an Australian premiere.
Who would you accredit as having the greatest influence on you and in what you do?
It’s all about being empowered in the early stages of theatre life. My dear Nanay Grace played a big part of my passion with the ARTS. She supported all my choices in helping out community art activities. We moved to a country town named Ceduna in South Australia after migrating from Cebu City. This was early 80’s and she encouraged me to get out in the community and celebrate being in a new country through playing guitar and singing at the church and community venues (together with my siblings, Rosel, Valerie and Paschal). We were even dubbed the ‘Von Berry’ children. I also started my own dance company when I was 18, called The Murat Bay Dancers (and yes the siblings were recruited). I did get acknowledged by the Ceduna community, receiving The Young Australian of the Year in 1986 which was an honour to have. My community activism really began there, thanks to Nanay Grace. She really was my inspiration and of course, my siblings’ encouragement has been integral to this as well. It’s amazing how empowerment and having someone encouraging you to FLY has an impact on your life’s journey and achievements.
Who would you select as the most enjoyable person/s you have worked with and why?
I worked with so many people and theatre makers, that I enjoy working & learning from all of them. Yet, I really love collaborating with actors and writers, especially with new writing. The joys of deciphering and creating new works are exciting and challenging. And I do LOVE collaborating. So any Filipino Australian theatre makers out there, let’s collaborate.
What project are you currently working on?
I am currently working remotely with Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK. I facilitate and mentor members and the team through a program I initiated through my theatre company Divergent Theatre Collective. The Body, Mind & Wellness workshops was launched early 2016 in London, helping the team with their physical and mental wellbeing. These are a series of Art, Drama, Dance and movement activities and a sense of reflection of themselves. We also use some of our activities as advocacy through the arts, especially in campaigning and fundraising. This program is even more vital now, especially going through this pandemic and lockdown measures.
What are planned in the next five years?
Now that we are slowly recovering and living through Covid Normal, I will be focusing on establishing Divergent Theatre Collective in Melbourne and Australia. I want to focus on new writing and new writers, especially with engaging the Filipino Australian Community. I’m passionate about theatre making and representation in theatre. Of course, maybe collaborate with my busy siblings once again. You never know what’s around the corner.
What was the most enjoyable/best part of your career so far?
Being involved with Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon worldwide ‘theatre family’ has definitely been one of the best opportunities for me. And being able to continue and keep swimming within the ARTS and keep the passion alive, is definitely a blessing.
Do you have any projects coming up?
Well, as an exclusive to you Felino and The Philippine Times pamilya, there’s a tentative plan to relaunch Divergent Theatre Collective in Australia in the middle of this year. This will highlight ‘Illegals: The Game Show’ an immersive theatre piece I co-wrote with Eleanor Sy Templeman, reflecting on the plight of refugees living in limbo while waiting for a decision, set in an imaginary kingdom. We are also engaging emerging Local and International writers, sharing and developing their stories. Watch this space.
What else would you want to accomplish? What advice would you give to other aspiring Fil-Aussie Actor/Director/Performance Artist who are still trying to establish themselves in the industry?
There are a lot of ‘wish list’ projects I would love to do and accomplish, yet It’s all about being open, enjoying the process and letting the journey take its course. It’s a tough industry to be in and even more so, when some people don’t even see THE ARTS as feasible for a long term career. But I urge emerging or even established Filipino Australian Theatre Makers out there, to persevere. think big and keep the dream alive. Never fear in telling your truth, educate yourselves, read, create, be proud of your stories, be open minded, ENJOY and learn from the process AND collaborate, collaborate & collaborate. I’d like to share with you a saying which I reflect on often: ‘Trusting in a higher plan that is unfolding before me’! Well, it works for me.
Roman Berry is an Artist.
He is an actor, dancer, performer, director and theatre maker.
And that my friends have made all the difference.