Actor, singer and writer Lisa Maza will be officially presented with an Australia Council Fellowship at the 10th National Indigenous Arts Awards at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday, 27 May.
Lisa’s father, the late Robert (Bob) Maza was born in 1939 on Palm Island to a Meriam father from Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait and Yidindji mother from North Queensland near Cairns. Lisa’s mother, Vera Blankman was born in 1943 in Alkmaar in The Netherlands, moved to Australia when she was seven and met Bob Maza when she was 20.
Born in Brisbane on January 26th, 1967, Lisa and her family, including older sister Rachael, moved to Sydney in 1975 when her father was asked to be part of the national Black Theatre.
Bob Maza was a powerful influence in encouraging both his daughters onto the stage from an early age. One of the forefathers of Black Theatre in Australia, as well as an actor, writer, director, activist, the First Indigenous Australian Film Commissioner and a Red Ochre Award recipient for his outstanding contribution to the Arts, Bob Maza’s political and theatrical life impacted the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre and dance for over sixty years and his legacy continues today.
Lisa recalls: “I was born into Black Theatre. My first singing performance was on the Adelaide Festival Stage when I was about seven and Dad called me and my sister up on stage to sing a song with him. My first acting role was playing a little boy named ‘Pumpkinhead’ in Robert Merritt’s ‘The Cakeman’ when I was eight. It was the first all Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander-run production performed at the newly formed National Black Theatre, and my father directed it.”
“I am interested in telling the stories, human stories, indigenous stories, truthful stories, stories that educate, entertain, make people laugh, but most of all make people think. I personally want to see work that is authentic, inspirational, surprising, that educates, moves, delights and challenges me. I want to find progressive ways for us to move forward as an industry and as a nation.”
Like many Sydney teenagers during the 80s, Lisa regularly went to inner city gigs to see bands including The Hoodoo Gurus, Triffids, Sunnyboys, Lighthouse Keepers, Beasts of Bourbon, Hoi Polloi, Mental as Anything, The Herd, Lime Spiders, Allnighters, Saints, Do Re Mi and Scientists. When she was 19, Lisa sang in her first band, ‘Good Groove’, at Sydney’s iconic Trade Union Club, the Hopetoun and other Sydney inner city venues. Her sister Rachael played bass and sang with the band.
In 1988, Lisa moved to Lismore where she lived for a few years. She continued to sing, with her sister in the duo Two Women and a Piano at the local pub; in a trio called Three Blind Mice and busking at markets, before returning to Sydney. In 1998, Lisa moved to Melbourne and when the opportunity to study Improvisation at the Victorian College of the Arts came up, she took it.
Lisa has worked as a professional singer and actor for more than two decades. She has travelled with shows that have taken her all over Australia as well as to Asia and Europe. She has performed anywhere from small cafés in Sydney’s Newtown to football stadiums in Melbourne; from great halls in China to the Box Hill TAFE, and has been part of creating small grassroots works as well as performing with Opera Australia.”
Keen to see more First Nations people tell their stories, Lisa began co-writing the semi-autobiographical ‘Sisters of Gelam’ with her sister Rachael in 2007, and the production premiered at Malthouse Theatre in 2009. She then co-wrote and performed in the Black Sheep Comedy Show production ‘Glorious Baastards’ in conjunction with Australia’s longest running Indigenous theatre company, Ilbijerri, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2010.
Lisa describes ‘Sisters of Gelam’ as a turning point in her career.
“I applied for a grant in 2007 so I could write Sisters of Gelam, and it was my first go at writing. It helped me break through some personal barriers, and then allowed me to co-create this very personal work. This encouraged me to continue writing for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and beyond,” said Lisa.
In 2009, Lisa did a Certificate III in Media at Open Channel, co-directing and co-editing the half-hour documentary ‘Living in Two Worlds’ which premiered at St Kilda Film Festival in May 2009. She directed and edited the short documentaries ‘Pomonal’ and ‘Better than Money’ at Open Channel, and her last documentary ‘Maza’s Got Talent’ premiered on NITV in 2014. Lisa completed a Certificate IV in Business (Governance) in 2011 and is now working on a documentary to be completed in 2018.
In 2016, Lisa performed in Kate Miller-Heidke’s award-winning ‘Rabbits’, a collaboration between Opera Australia and Perth-based Barking Gecko Theatre Company, adapted from the picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan by librettist Lally Katz.
In addition to her eclectic performance career and her theatre writing and documentary-making, Lisa expanded her skill set along the way in a range of other areas that include theatre administration, tour managing, project management, MC work, and associate producing.
Whilst working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music theatre organisation Black Arm Band in 2014, Lisa was responsible for their Extended School Residency Primary School Project, which involved planning and scheduling four weeks of workshops with 80-100 Koroit Primary School children and managing travel and accommodation, contracts, wages & per diems, invitations, media releases, filming, hall set up with sound and lights, costumes, projections and budgets. It was her first experience of producing but Lisa realised it held the key to empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to tell their stories authentically.
Lisa has strong opinions about Indigenous people still being discriminated against in arts and entertainment; about colourblind casting and about Indigenous people being used as consultants on non-Indigenous controlled productions with Indigenous content and characters and not being paid or credited.
She will use her Australia Council Fellowship to develop her skills as a Producer.
“There is a genuine hunger for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content and it’s a good time for people like me to step up and take on bigger roles. If we don’t, we risk non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continuing to speak for us. We must grab every opportunity to have our voices heard and to be the tellers of our own stories so they are told right,” said Lisa.
As part of her Fellowship, Lisa has already spent around six months participating in The Blakstream Program at Footscray Community Arts, an exciting new two-year producers’ program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples looking to up-skill and develop new pathways into the arts, culture and entertainment industry with a focus on the Indigenous sector.
Lisa is one of four Blakstream Producers who will participate in a range of skills development, mentoring and training experiences and gain hands-on experience within some of Melbourne’s most innovative and respected arts organisations.
Lisa’s Fellowship also involves her working on Ilbijerri Theatre Company’s 25th anniversary celebrations, which will require her to produce a documentary.
In May 2017, Lisa was involved in producing the Creation Lab for Yirramboi First Nations Festival in Melbourne where artists gathered from around the world to create at Testing Grounds for five days.
Lisa is also pursuing a film company producer placement.
“I want to gain experience and skills in all these areas and then decide which I’d like to focus on more in the future,” said Lisa.
Lisa Maza is on the Board of Australia’s longest running Indigenous Theatre Co, Ilbijerri and a member of the Victorian Indigenous Performing Arts Awards Panel. She is also a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Performing Arts Advisory Group at Malthouse Theatre, a member of St Albans Community Centre and Performing Arts Consultative Committee, and Convenor of the Brimbank Greens.
Learn more about the 2020 First Nations Arts Awards.