Growing up in Bendigo, actress Stephanie Jack often felt like the "token Asian kid".
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After studying all over the world and graduating from Harvard University in 2015, the Singaporean-Chinese/Australian has returned to her home state of Victoria to star in Michelle Law's Miss Peony.
According to Jack, the play is about connection to family and heritage, something that would resonate with Bendigo's own Chinese community.
Jack was a student at Quarry Hill Primary School in the 1990s, the only Asian child in her class.
"I definitely feel though that at that particular time, Bendigo didn't have a very large Asian population," she said.
"I think obviously there's always been a strong Chinese community in Bendigo going as far back as the gold rush, but during the nineties it definitely didn't feel like Bendigo was maybe as diverse as it probably is now."
Jack said she has memories of her mum bringing dumplings to school, sharing Chinese New Year customs and singing in Mandarin for the other children.
"I feel like through my mum, we were quite actively sharing our culture with everyone else in the community, which was really nice," she said.
She said while she may not have been directly connected to her culture, there were ways of celebrating it in Bendigo.
"I think the fact that Bendigo does have a strong Chinese community and that there are things like the Easter Parade where there are aspects of Chinese culture being highlighted... I think that those things also do really help," she said.
"It allowed me, as a child living in regional Victoria to have these moments of really celebrating Chinese culture, which I think is quite unique about Bendigo."
Jack studies saw her living in the United Kingdom and the United States, culminating in an "incredibly western" education, she said.
She eventually moved to Singapore to be with her grandmother in her final years, and then to Shanghai to study Mandarin and kung fu.
"I definitely felt like I had to go on a bit of a journey of reconnection just to kind of find a little bit more balance," she said.
The play Miss Peony is all about finding that balance between cultures, she said.
It follows Chinese-Australian woman Lily, played by Jack, who must fulfil a promise to her grandmother to enter a beauty pageant.
Jack said there are themes of friendship, family and being comfortable in your own skin and with the culture you're from.
Growing up, Jack never saw a play with an all-Asian cast performed in a mainstream Australian space.
She said representation was important, especially for kids like Jack when she was younger, to see themselves on stages.
No matter where Jack's career takes her, she said she'll always have memories of her first time on stage, as a fairy in Quarry Hill Primary School's production of Cinderella.
Miss Peony has toured Melbourne and will head to Canberra, Wollongong and Geelong.
Jack can also be seen in Prime Video's comedy series Deadloch, and has television credits including the ABC's Bay of Fires and Rosehaven.
In 2022, she was one of five Arts and Culture recipients at the 40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian Australian Awards.
For more information on Miss Peony, visit belvoir.com.au/productions/miss-peony-2023.
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