Is he who he says he is?
George Catsi asks the question: ‘Am I who I say I am?’ His one man show by this title takes the form of a comedic memoir that digs down on who he is. AWGIE winning writer, academic, and long-time performer, George is a natural born storyteller.
So why tell your story to other people? What is the benefit of a spoken word memoir?
‘I felt that my father was a Hemingway character who trounced and pounced and moved through our lives. There was a sense of trying to make myself fit in with that somehow.
‘It fits a memoir. It could have been a book.
‘But I am inherently a performance person. That’s where I come from. I come from spoken word and I was writing as if I was saying it, so I thought… I should just say it.
‘There is something about standing in front of people and going “Here I am!”. Watching people lean in and listen really appeals to me,’ says George.
George found through the performance that people don’t need to share your exact story to have a sense of resonance or connection.
‘What I found, after performing this in Sydney, you know, when people come up afterwards and say “Wow that is like my dad!” It taps into more than just my experience with my dad. Or being Greek. It taps into a bigger story; What it is like to be the son of a man who really represents what I would like to think is a passing type of masculinity (although it’s not really passing at all – there are lots of men still in power and wrecking havoc around the world). This is the story of men like them, who had the power in the family – and everyone else just had to fit in around them, whether their wife or kids or workplace. They operated in this world really with not too many people challenging them in a way that was significant – except perhaps other men.
‘So here I am born into this family. It’s a single Mum – because my dad didn’t hang around. He was presence in his absence. He kept showing up. So I experienced my father. From a distance mostly. Through story, through my mother so many of her perceptions come through as she told me so many of the stories. Its about how to grow up in that – how do I be a man when you are the son of a man like that? You can follow that or you can try and find another path.’
The title infers a search for truth. Or is it that most of us, by nature of the way we configure self – are, in fact, liars?
‘I think most people are liars. I think most people are grappling. This isn’t a show about lies, but a show about grappling with some sort of truth and how I am a composite of my multiple experiences; me as the son of my father; me as the son of my mother; and me as an individual out there in the world buffered and influenced by peers.
‘When you have quite dominant presences in your life you need to scrape back on your own sense of self. You have to ask “Is this me speaking, or is this view of masculinity or religion… flawed? Is it actually me?” I had to pull it apart to work it out.’
George also explores what it is to be Greek and how he navigated his own cultural identity in a country that wasn’t always embracing of diversity.
‘I am [a] first generation son of migrants, and you ask… am I that?
I think in the ‘60s the sense of the migrant was deemed “the Other”. There wasn’t a huge mainstream acceptance, I don’t even think they had the word multicultural until Whitlam.
We were bringing people in; they were different, their food smelt different, they spoke differently – evidently we smelt, we were slimy and greasy. There were a whole lot of slurs going on about it, so you found, in the suburbs of the cities, they tended to hang with themselves. When I was born, my Mum says I refused to speak Greek. I said “No way. I am speaking English.” I think I inherently knew – if you want to survive in this town, you speak the language. You blend in. You fit in.
So part of my identity – am I Greek – well, I don’t speak Greek, so that’s a part of me that is missing.
Things have changed culturally here, now we accept it and we embrace it and we love it and we belong.
‘It is a story about being Greek. Or not being Greek. Or the influences of the culture permeating you as you try to grow up. Also about a certain type of masculinity as it affects you – I have this epic character called my father, and trying to find a relationship with him was about working out who I was.
It’s a total imagining of what my life is and where it has come from. I am making meaning of events.’
George Catsi performs his one man comedic memoir Am I Who I say I am? at Federal Hall on 17 June (with a Greek feast included in the ticket price), at The Citadel in Murwillumbah on 18 June, and 19 June at the Bangalow Bowlo. Tickets available from mandynolan.com.au