Play mirrors actor’s immigrant experiences

July 13, 2015

By Terrence McEachern, Leader Post |

Ljiljana Jovanovic played a central role in a theatre production on Saturday about the challenges of a young immigrant coming to Canada.

And, in many ways, the play mirrors Jovanovic’s own experiences when she arrived in Regina from Yugoslavia 17 years ago while that country was immersed in conflict and ethnic tensions.

“I’ve seen people who wanted to get to know me having so many difficulties to understand. And then, my perspective of – I can’t understand them either. So, there were two sides involved as the play presents,” said Jovanovic.

“Working harder to understand and (wanting) to accept others who are different is the beauty of actually living in a country where that is encouraged and cherished.”

Jovanovic, 43, and three other University of Regina students performed before an audience of parents and children in the 1981 play New Canadian Kid. The play was part of Kids Fringe at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Written by Dennis Foon, the play tells the story of Nick (played by Natasha Urkow) who arrives from a country called Homeland and the challenges she faces adapting to life in Canada. In particular, Nick needs to learn to speak English, which is communicated to the main character and the audience in “gibberish.”

Nick meets two people – Mench (played by Carson Walliser) and Mog (played by Aja Tom). At first, both are taken aback by differences in Nick’s culture, language and, in particular, food.

When Mench comes around and befriends Nick, Mog is offended and bullies the newcomer, at times hurling racial slurs.

Nick’s mother (played by Jovanovic) also experiences challenges as a newcomer. In one scene, the mother tells Nick about fleeing from a grocery store without purchasing anything because she can’t read the labels on products.

Interestingly, Jovanovic had a similar experience early on when she lived in Regina and had to go to a store and buy milk. Jovanovic noticed that the milk containers were different, and, unable to read the labels, didn’t know what to buy.

Jovanovic then went to the cashier, but was unable to explain what she needed.

“I felt very awkward …

I just walked back to my apartment,” she said.

“You go through a lot of different emotions while you’re learning.”

Although the play was written decades ago, it is still timely given Regina’s growing immigrant population, according to director Landon Walliser.

“It still clearly resonates … I don’t think there is anything we had to adapt that way,” he said.

“I really want people to walk away with that new experience and new understanding of what it means to be different for the first time.”

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