“The title means nothing to the majority of people – unless you’re Greek,” said Maria Mercedes with a laugh. “It’s Taxithi, which means journey.”
Taxithi is the story of Greek migrants to Australia through the 1940’s to 1970’s. It’s written by Helen Yotis Patterson and is based on her own background and the experiences of her family. Taxithi focuses on the true stories of Greek women in a series of monologues and songs.
Mercedes was attracted to this particular work because of her own parents journey to Australia in the 1950’s.
“It spoke to me, this piece, because of my own parents journey to Australia,” Mercedes said, explaining how most Greeks arrived in Australia to escape the Civil War. “Greece was gutted and there was no option, but to leave … people don’t want to leave everything behind for no reason, but are forced to find a better quality life. They thought they would work for a few years and go home, but they didn’t.”
Maria Mercedes is a first generation Australian and she often wonders what would have happened if she’d been born in Greece and if she would have had the same opportunities in life. She grew up in Brunswick, surrounded by other Greek families and couldn’t speak a word of English when she started school. Mercedes admits this was a traumatic experience for her and she made sure her younger sister could speak some English before she started school. While Mercedes spoke English at school, she was forbidden to speak this in her family home until she was a teenager, as her father didn’t want her to lose her Greek language skills. While it was tough at the time, it has ensured Maria Mercedes has remained sufficiently fluent in Greek.
While the stories in Taxithi are told in English, the songs are sung in Greek and it will be the first time in her career Mercedes will have the opportunity to sing in her parent’s native language.
“In the industry sometimes we just take jobs as they come along … this is more than a job for me,” said Mercedes. “It’s a gift.”
Mercedes is doing Taxithi as a gift to her mum. Her dad has passed away but Mercedes knows that wherever he is, he’s happy she’s doing this role.
“My mum will come along and will get to hear the stories and will be able to relate to this,” explained Mercedes. “When my mother left Greece, her mother gave her a scarf and said, ‘When you return, wave the scarf and I’ll recognise it’. It never happened, but I will wear this scarf at some point in the show.”
Mercedes says audiences will gain an understanding of just how rich different cultures can be and how much richer Australia is from the influx of these cultures. She recalls stories of when her mum first arrived in Australia and couldn’t get olive oil anywhere so had to use lard for her cooking, which completely goes against the Mediterranean diet.
Ultimately, Mercedes hopes audiences will realise that at the end of the day, we’re not all that different, family is what is most important and we all do whatever it takes to give our families the best start.
Mercedes admits Taxithi has awakened so much within in her and she is really embracing her Greek heritage. She had to change her surname to “fit in” to the Australian culture and it’s something Mercedes now regrets doing. Taxithi concludes with each of the three performers stating their birth names, along with the names of their parents and the ships on which they travelled to Australia. Maria Mercedes did share with me her original Greek name, but if you want to find out what it is, you’ll need to come to the show and Maria can tell your for herself.
Taxithi features Helen Yotis Patterson (Rockwiz), Artemis Ionnides (A Beautiful Lie) and Maria Mercedes (Sunset Boulevard, Love Never Dies, Master Class).
The world premiere season of Taxithi runs from March 2nd to 20th at fortyfivedownstairs.
Venue fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Bookings 03 9662 9966 or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com