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Fond memories of life in Fiji

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, June 18, 2017

FOR years people told her she wouldn't make it as an actress or even make her way into the world of theatre in Canada, where her family migrated to from Fiji.

Veenesh Dubois, a successful playwriter and actress whose work Under the Mango Tree was shown at theatres around Canada and the US to soldout shows for eight years, knows what it's like to overcome the criticism and sometimes snide comments.

"Starting out as a young Indian/Canadian actor was very difficult as my parents never saw that as an opportunity in life," she described.

"They wanted me to be a nurse or get into a professional field that was more secure. I didn't get into acting until I was almost 30 and had three kids.

"It was really my husband who encouraged me to go to theatre school and pursue my dreams of becoming an actor. Once I completed theatre school, I was on a roll with acting gigs all over Canada and the US."

Born in Ba, west of Suva, Veenesh grew up mostly in a quiet sugar mill town with government-assisted quarters for the workers to bring up their families' in.

"My grandfather worked at the Fiji Sugar Corporation sugar mill and my father worked as a welder in town at a local engineering firm," she said.

"My life in my village was a happy one, full of laughter and lots of chatter from the neighbours because we lived so close in proximity.

"That meant that we often shared meals and stories together, which is basically material for most of my shows. My fondest memories is waking up early in the morning and going to the mango orchard and collecting mangoes to bring home.

"We would use those mangos for eating and making achaar (pickles) to save for months when mangos would not be in season."

Veenesh was in Fiji last month for a holiday. It was her chance to reconnect with loved ones and introduce her husband of 23 years, Ray Dubois to her birthplace.

"I keep in touch with a few folks in Fiji. My childhood friend who lives in Ba still lives in the same house, and my uncle who lives in Rakiraki. I love Rakiraki, it's so quaint and the village people are wonderful.

"Just recently, my husband lost his wallet near Wailevu and he went back to look for it and the guys from the nearby koro (village) all came out to help him find it. That's the Fiji I know and love and hope to return there one day soon."

Describing her play Under the Mango Tree, which is based on her early childhood days in Ba, Veenesh says the show has been an inspiration.

"Fiji is full of stories. I wrote two plays based on my experience. Under the Mango Tree was about my father's and my life and the struggle we both had with our relationship and about growing up in Fiji.

"That was a story that people in Canada related to even though they were from different countries but they felt aspects of that in their life.

"The inspiration behind Under The Mango Tree is my father because I now understand the risk he took to travel to Canada where he didn't know anybody and try to build a new life for his family."

The second play, Bull's Heart, is a story about greed and finding oneself and what matters most in life. The central character is so driven to power that she ignores the things that matter most to her — husband, children and love.

"People relate to this story because in life we often forget what's important and get lost in the day to day of reaching new heights in business careers.

"The inspiration behind Bull's Heart is myself because a few years ago I was lost in depression and found solace in my work and in there I lost connection with my family and paid the price for it.

"My husband was also travelling a lot for business and our relationship suffered a great deal. We have fixed all those problems now but they needed to be addressed in order for us to have a healthy relationship today with each other and our children.

"I toured Under the Mango Tree for eight years with lots of success and then I wrote Bull's Heart and toured that too. I think it's a story that is very personal but many people in Canada haven't lived it so it's foreign to them. The core of the story is universal but the day to day life in another country such as Fiji is something very intriguing and a refreshing change from North American lives … and it's a real story!"

For now Veenesh and her husband are based in Nagoya, Japan. They've been living there for the past two years as Ray is completing an amusement park there called Lego Land.

"I have been loosely working on two projects for the last two years but none of them are ready for presentation. I suppose if I buckle down, it'll only take a few months to complete. One play is about my experiences in Japan as an expat and my funny/sad moments that I experience every day.

"Next is the baby boomers who have to look after their parents and having to look at their own life in the process," she said with much enthusiasm.

At the moment she is pondering the possibility of holding a three-day workshop on acting and creating stories in Fiji.

She said it was sad that while her play won rave reviews in other countries, it had not been staged in Fiji for her people to see.

The workshop, she added, would enable interested actors in Fiji to improve their theatre skills in voice, movement and story writing and presentation.

"After the workshop's completion, I'm hoping to present Under the Mango Tree as a theatre event here but I'm just wondering whether the local community would be open to it.

"It would be fun and I'm sure I'm not the only Fijian who's dreamt of becoming an actor and travelling to other countries to perform on stage. I can teach all that and more!" she said with a smile.

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