Melbourne Fringe 2016

You Haven’t Changed a Bit, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 11 August 2016

Words by Tom Taylor

First time Fringe performer Santino Merino was born in Cuba, grew up in Chicago and is now living in Melbourne. His show, You Haven’t Changed a Bit, which he wrote and is performing, gets into what it means to go home.

Do you want to tell me what you’d made for Fringe?

Sure, the name of the show is You Haven’t Changed a Bit. Two years after I moved, after living in Indonesia, I came back to Chicago to my family, and I realised they were all a bit bananas. I have a feisty, Latina, Cuban American mother and a father who is detailing plots on how to commit bank fraud through a VPN. My brother is in the thralls of puberty and having one existential crisis after another and he’s really into talking about how he’s an atheist and no one cares, my sister is seven years old and she’s becoming a Christian evangelist, and that mother who is very feisty, the day after I get home, she got into a fight on the salsa dance floor. So the show is about me, reconnecting with my family, talking about Cuban Americans, our immigrant journey from Cuba to the United States.

So it’s a theatre piece?

It’s a one-man comedy show.

Like a standup piece?

More like a storytelling piece, think Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend or like Spalding Gray or something like that.

So, if we think of your piece as being conceived by you, who would you say are the parents, artistically?

Mike Birbiglia and then probably John Leguizamo’s Freak, if you’ve ever seen that one? He tells the story about him growing up in New York, so it’s kind of this autobiographical one man show.

Thinking about you, you are the protagonist in the piece, but it’s also your creation, up until the piece was conceived, what’s your story?

So I was born in Cuba. When I was two, my parents moved to the United States and I grew up in Chicago. I went to a small liberal arts college, the same one that—you know Lena Dunham? I went to that one. It was a sea of Lena Dunhams. 

Oberlin, right?

Yeah. I moved to Indonesia straight after college on a fellowship, lived there for two years and then I came here to Australia.

What was the fellowship and then why did you come to Australia?

The fellowship was Oberlin Shansi, and I came to Australia because my partner is Australian. We met over there and we fell in love.

There are more than 400 pieces at Fringe this year. What feels like your selling point? What feels like something that maybe is particular in your show that you do well, that maybe people won’t find somewhere else?

I think my show, in terms of content, is probably one of the few shows that is going to deal with the cultural identity of the modern Latino man, and what that means and if you wanna come to see kooky characters, because I do a lot of characters, a lot of accents, a lot of things like that. It’s going to be a dynamic performance.

From the point you got back to Chicago I guess, from the point to it being staged now, are there any particularly important moments along that way, at which you changed the trajectory of the piece, or the piece really took shape?

This is my debut show, at the Fringe; it’s my debut show anywhere in the world. I’ve always imagined it as a one-man storytelling show because that’s kind of the stuff that I’m really drawn to in terms of comedy. I also do standup comedy in the Melbourne area and storytelling’s what I do in my stand up.

But have there been any moments along the way that it’s changed in terms of the content or in terms of what’s happening or even just moments that have affirmed the story that you’re telling?

I guess, when I look back on all the things that happened during those first three, four days that happened when I got home—because there were so many things that happened—the thing is… I guess just the perspective of being here in Australia now and being a bit homesick and nostalgic for home has made me think about those first couple of days coming back and just why it’s important to tell that story.

So, I don’t assume that your parents or your family will come and see this show?

No way, but they really want to.

In absence of that, who do you imagine will be interested in your show? What sort of audience members do you expect to look out and see?

I expect to see cool, twenty-somethings, because I am also a cool twenty-something, but also I guess people who are interested in Cuba or the immigrant experience. One of the great things that I love so much about Australia is that it seems like everybody that is under eighteen has gone and lived somewhere else in the world and come back, so people who have done travelling and kind of recognise that disconnect between what it means to come home after a long trip. That’s something that I think people will be able to connect to.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I am part of the Compass program and they’ve been really great and I love Fringe!

And how many shows are you doing?

I’m doing five shows, from 28 September until 2 October, 9:30pm to 10.00pm at Club Voltaire!

Yes, you’ve got the pitch down pat! Nice! Have you got your poster and everything organised?

Poster is organised, yeah, so it’s all coming together now.

And is it an image of you?

That’s right, of this face.

Just you wait, there will be so many celeb spottings in the street, you’ll be stopped on every corner.

Yes, if you see me, stop me, especially if I’m with other people so I can be very impressive.

Is your training as a theatre maker?

My training is as a writer. Nonfiction travel writing and also humour writing, so like David Sedaris, that kind of stuff, memoir, humour pieces… And now it’s coming to stage!

David would be so happy to see this.

That would mean so much. David if you’re out there, I’m a huge fan, if you wanna come see my show you’ll get free tickets, we just have to hashtag David Sedaris, he is very giving to his fans.

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