Australia has witnessed in the last two weeks Victoria putting in lockdown the Greater Melbourne Area following spike of cases in 10 postcodes.  Victoria has more than 2000 active COVID-19 cases, which makes up more than 160 active clusters across the state.  It comes after Victoria recorded 317 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours – marking Australia’s worst daily increase in cases yet – and two more deaths.

A posting about the COVID-19 situation on social media by Filipino creative in Melbourne, Roman Berry has caught The Australian Filipina's attention.  Roman finds himself in lockdown which is now entering its third week.  

Roman was happy to share his views and observations of the situation.  Below are his responses to questions we asked him.

* What is your knowledge of the COVID-19 situation in Melbourne?

It’s been a troubling several days, especially with cases on the rise in Melbourne. We are currently back in Stage 3, with cases in triple digits so far.

Stage 3 means ‘stay at home’ measure is back. With only leaving home for shopping - food and supplies; when caregiving relatives or medical care; going out for exercise and recreation; or if you have to study and work – if you can’t do it from home.

*What is it like in your immediate community?

There’s a definite change of mood around my neighbourhood and around my work. I work at 1961 CoffeeHead Café and we’re feeling the pinch right now. There is definitely, especially with low foot traffic and a sense of anxiety when chatting to patrons and colleagues.

I live around Burwood/ Camberwell area and the streets are definitely quieter.

*What is it like in suburbs where there is a high number of Fil-Aus residents?

I can only go on how a Filipino Australian friend of mine who live around the Melton area.

It’s been a little bit of a hassle having to move from one place to another, especially when restrictions are imposed. My  friend is definitely cautious when travelling from one suburb to another especially with check points introduced.

I don’t have a lot of direct communication with Fil-Aus community in Melbourne, having only really settled last year after having been away for ten years in the UK. I’m reacquainting with Filipino Australian friends but most of them have now moved to Sydney. From trawling through the media, it looks like some of the affected areas or hots spots are known to have a high number of Filipino  Australian population (Brimbank, Casey, Hume, Melton). My only hope is that they are all safe and keeping well at these challenging times.

*Do you personally know of Fil-Aus who are frontliners?  which areas do they work?

I know of someone who comes in to the Café to get her early morning coffee before going to work.

She’s a private home carer for an elderly gentleman and his wife. Last week, she mentioned to me that unfortunately she couldn't do the job anymore because of current restrictions. I haven’t seen her for awhile now.

*What had been the direct impact of the restrictions to you personally and your organisation/business?

I’m a creative and a theatre maker primarily. But when Covid 19 restrictions started in February/ March, a theatre project – a new musical I’m collaborating on as Director, was penned to go on this month (July). Rehearsals were supposed to happen last April. ‘Castro’s Children’ by Peter Fitzpatrick was supposed to be at Chapel Off Chapel and because if the current situation, we had to postpone it to 2021.

I have also missed teaching Children’s Drama at Drew Lane’s Federation Performing Arts School. Sadly, this is also the same with my own collaboration with a few theatre writers from UK and USA which was developing their new pieces last May. There is now, a possibility that we could work on the pieces as an online development. I’m crossing fingers. It just means that having to make a living in the Arts industry is tough right now. I have a lot of colleagues and friends who are finding it tough right now.

I feel lucky and really grateful that I still have a job. I work in 1961 CoffeeHead Café and haven’t really stopped since the lockdown from March 22. My workplace had to adapt and I’m so glad that I and a small team could help a small business keep going. It’s been such a challenge to keep the momentum going, especially when the restrictions we’re lifted to have 20 people dine in and then only to be told 5 weeks later that we’re back to Take Away only. It was a shock to the system.

However, we needed to face this current situation head on. It’s good to know that we are still here to be considered as ‘essential service’ to help out local businesses (who are still open nearby) and the local community for their take away food and needs. This is also my way of knowing how the community really feels out there, especially having to chat to them (social distancing and health/ safety in place) about their current state of wellbeing.

*What are the projects/initiatives do you have ready to go as soon as the restrictions allow them?

I have three Creative projects I’m really looking forward to working on (in tandem with my hospitality role) once we can see a slight ‘light from this tunnel’.   

As mentioned earlier, I have the new Australian musical, Castro’s Children by Peter Fitzpatrick to direct and look forward to.  We’re convening on September and have a more realistic idea of how we progress from there.

 I am also launching a new writing development program with Creatives, especially with Diversity and Representation as the emphasis. This is through my theatre company – Divergent Theatre Collective, which I started in London and now introducing in Australia, especially Melbourne. It’s all about creating a space for three writers to develop their craft and collaborating with an Actor, Dancer and Musician to expand their own piece. I’m very excited to really look into the process on this project.

There’s also a collaboration I’m ready to get my teeth into further, with Producer/ Theatre Maker, Gavin Roach on his wonderful and whimsical piece The Ballad of Tilly No Beard. This is another new Australian musical.

These projects are definitely something to look forward to.

*What is your view on how the Victorian and Australian governments are handling the situation?

I really believe that the Victorian Government, The Health Advisors and Premier Dan Andrews are working very hard to navigate and guide us through this pandemic. We, as individuals have a part to play. We all need to be part of the solution.

*What else do you think the governments can put in place to combat COVID-19 transmission?

Apart from the already stringent restrictions, I really think that we need to have more community involvement. Engage the community more when it comes to advice and education.

*What is your view regarding asking the incoming residents to pay for their quarantine costs?

I think there should be a means test on this. It depends on people’s previous history and financial circumstances rather than having a ‘one size fits all’.

*What personal advice would you give those who are finding difficulties in coping with the restrictions?

My view is for all of us to be adhering to the rules. Play our part and stop the blaming game. We really are, in this together. Look after yourself and each other. Having a simple daily ritual, such as a walk (exercise) and communicating with a family member or a friend on a regular basis. It might also be good to switch off from the news or social media every now and again, just to get some clarity and perspective on things.

I have a go to – Friday night activity – listening to a program at a local Radio Station, ‘Disco Infeno’. I have my headphones on and I just dance away; letting go and shaking off the week, that just passed. Go on, you might want to try it.

About 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 & Closing Ceremony (Australia) and created/ current facilitator for Body and Mind, Wellness Workshops (The Voice of Domestic Workers UK). 

He has also collaborated as Director, Choreographer & Movement with UK/ 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 & 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, Drama teacher (FEDPas Vic) and currently works, leading a floor team at 1961Coffeehead Café in Camberwell. He is currently the Artistic Director for Divergent Theatre Collective, which is now base in Melbourne. 

With such amazing credentials, we were interested to get a personal insight about Roman so asked him a few more questions, to which he gladly responded to. 

*What do you hold fondly in your heart as your achievements in life?

It's humbling to think back of beginnings, having come from Cebu City, with my late Nanay Grace taking the decision to immigrate to Australia, with my three siblings. I have fond memories of growing up as an immigrant in a regional coastal town, and how life has evolved so far.

Having been acknowledged by the community (Ceduna, South Australia) and awarded Young Citizen of The Year in my teenage years, has really set the tone for my being community and politically minded. The ability to persevere and keep growing as a Creative Professional and have a passion in The Arts, has also been an achievement. Also, grateful for the experience to see the world.

*What challenges have you faced and overcome?

It's challenging to move from your family and friends and start a new life with no one around, apart from your partner for 23 years. The European/ London adventure for me and my partner has been integral in finding a deeper understanding about myself. You adapt. You grow. You learn, especially when you start everything from nothing.

Living for a decade in a new environment was a challenge and it was also very exciting. The London/ European experience was definitely another achievement.

*What else do you wish to achieve in life?

Covid 19, well, this year has put things into perspective for me. It made me think about being spontaneous and living in the moment more and more. It made me value dear family and friends more and to appreciate the simple things in life.

To be able to keep going in the current state of things, keep the health in check and having family close is an achievement in itself. But – to physically see them again in the near future (siblings are based in Adelaide and Sydney) would be my wish.

*What is your definition of "success"?

Success, to me is about how we’ve impacted and inspired others; it’s about the legacy we leave behind.


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