Dubs Yunipingu has the starring role in a new Australian adaptation of Alice In Wonderland.
It’s the first time Alice has been played by an Indigenous woman in a fresh take on Lewis Caroll’s classic tale about the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.
“This is a contemporary take on Alice In Wonderland and it’s about the brave act of being yourself, despite what others think,” director Cristabel Sved said.
Yunupingu, 20, has performing in her blood.
Her mother, Peta Strachan, danced with Bangarra and her second cousin is the late Australian musician Dr G Yunipingu, who died last year.
“My mum is just amazing. She’s my idol. It’s really, really awesome to be a part of such an amazing family,” Yunupingu said.
“Just seeing how passionate they were about their music or their art, and just seeing that you can really go for what you believe in and your goals.”
Traditionally a dancer, Yunupingu was nominated as best newcomer at the 2015 Sydney Theatre Awards for her lead role in the Australian Theatre For Young People’s production of Sugarland. It was her big break in the acting world.
“I’ve been dancing since I could walk. I’ve always been dancing,” she said.
“I never actually thought I would do acting. I was always really scared of public speaking growing up.
“With acting you have a voice and can talk about things, you know? Touch on subjects that you’re passionate about or can build other people’s confidence.”
‘She wants to be her own person’
In this new incarnation of Alice In Wonderland, Alice is an aspiring AFL player with many obstacles standing in the way of her dream.
Sved said the show’s creators tried to find an activity that a girl of today might want to play.
“We landed on AFL. It was something that Alice really wanted to play. Alice was really good at doing it but she had a strict upbringing, so the sort of parental and authority voices didn’t allow her, and neither did the culture of turning up to football and not feeling welcome, getting teased,” Sved said.
“By the end of play, Alice feels like in spite of what anybody says, ‘I’m gonna do this’.”
Yunupingu loved the contemporary twist.
“She is someone who wants to be her own person and she kind of wants to break the typical girly-girl look and be more of a tomboy, be who she wants to be,” Yunupingu said.
As well as being sporty — Yunupingu played a lot of basketball growing up and likes to kick the footy occasionally — she can relate to her character’s journey.
“I’ve struggled a lot to find my own voice in the sense where I would not speak up on things that I’m passionate about. Or if I maybe saw something that I thought was wrong I would sort of keep to myself because I was too scared to,” she said.
“My full name’s Dharpaloco — last name Yunipingu — so a lot of people would make fun of that. Call me names and stuff like that. It’s just very ignorant.”
Yunupingu attended many different schools growing up due to the travel associated with her mother’s performance work.
“I grew up mainly in Sydney, also in the Northern Territory. I was back and forth because my dad lives up there, my mum’s from here,” she said.
“I felt there were some schools that I really didn’t mix well in or I didn’t really fit in too much.
“When I went to PLC, my sister and I were literally the only two Indigenous kids there. I found it was really hard to fit in there.”
Yunupingu said those early experiences made her stronger.
“You kind of learn from those situations and you grow as a person,” she said.
‘A proud Indigenous woman’
Hailing from the Gumatj Clan of North East Arnhem Land and the Darug people of Western Sydney, Yunupingu is proud of her Indigenous heritage.
“I’m such a proud Indigenous woman,” she said.
“It is really important because it grounds you and I feel like when you know your culture and know when you’re from, you get a better understanding of who you are and where you sit in the world.”
Playwright Mary Anne Butler believes the show is relevant because everyone struggles to be themselves.
“One of the first things people ask kids is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ From my perspective, let’s take that pressure off, and the question from me to young people should be, ‘What do you want to be in your heart and in your soul?'” she said.
Beyond theatre and dance, Yunupingu has big dreams.
“I’d love to do some kind of action movie, something like that, with explosions and fast cars and stuff like that. I think that would be really cool,” she said.
Alice In Wonderland is currently playing at the Sydney Festival and will soon tour the east coast of Australia.