Very excited to have started rehearsals for Mei Ling in Melbourne, the sequel to Our Man in Beijing!
Tegan Jones, our actor and singer in the ACT showcase is starring in a leading role as part of Boutique Theatre’s Australian premiere of The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow. A three week season as part of the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Tegan has just returned from New York after studying at a six week Summer intensive focusing on the Meisner technique and is excited to return to Melbourne to play Jennifer Marcus.
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow centres around Jennifer Marcus; a modern-day genius, who designs rockets for the US government from her bedroom in Calabasas California. And, as it happens, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic. Stuck in her bedroom, she builds a robot replica of herself to do the one thing she can’t: travel across the world in search of her biological parents.
Come and support the Independent Arts Industry and see this funny and heart-breaking story.
THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF JENNY CHOW
by Rolin Jones
Presented by BOUTIQUE THEATRE
17th September – 3rd October 2015
Tuesday – Saturday, 8pm
Full $28 | Concession $25 | Preview $19 | Cheap Tuesday $19
Brunswick Arts Space
Little Breese Street (off Hope Street)
Brunswick VIC 3056
Purchase tickets by visiting here
As a novice tour leader experienced in most things, but certainly not leading a tour to Malaysia, I, in a moment of blissed-out love for all humanity, I, Moni Lai Storz, got carried away in a cloud of suicidal euphoria; crazily, impetuously and enthusiastically agreed to take a group of Australians to go on a tour with Our Man In Bei-Jing, an intercultural play. Our Man In Bei-Jing premiered in the Australasian Chinese Theatre in 2011, at LaMama in 2012 and was off to Malaysia in 2013!
After much sweat in more places than one, especially in the purse, all of us flew off from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on the eve of my 70th birthday! Admist laughter, both from happiness and trepidation, me, Moni Lai Storz, an old lady leading a tour with cast and crew of varying ethnicities, genders and ages. There was the director, Wolf Heidecker and his wife Gisela, both German in ethnicity and culture, born and made in Germany but living in Australia. Ashley Macklin, dinkum die Aussie lad, born and made in Australia, his girlfriend, Tegan Jones, self proclaimed member of the “half luck club”, born of an Australian father and Chinese mother who was born in Malaysia and sort of grew up in Australia. Phil, our musician and composer, born in the UK of a Romanian Gypsy father, and white anglo mother; David Lih born in East Timor of Chinese (Hakka) parents but brought up in Australia, and Aparna Bhattacharjee, born in India and now an Australian by domicile but still more Indian than most Indians I know. Finally Richard, our light and sound wizard, born in Uraguay, definitely and unequivocally Latino in ethnicity and personality, culture and affiliations, with his body in Australia but his spirit in outer Latino space. Amongst this motley crew of delightful, delicious and divine beings, I found myself, a Malaysian Chinese (with a Hakka father and Peranakan mother), superficially a “banana” who has lived in Australia for over 40 years, suddenly and unambiguously a tour leader.
Whose idea was it in the first place to take OMIB on tour? With much humility, I must confess it was mine! For me, the primary motivation with taking Our Man In Bei-Jing on tour to Malaysia was financially insane but psychologically exhilarating. As a bonus, I also learnt a few things about myself and a lot about the cast and crew members. Call it a life changing event and an even bigger hands-on lesson about human beings!
In the Mount Everest of interesting challenges, the most frustrating was finding a suitable leading lady. The reason for this was because I could not find a Chinese/Australian actress/singer in Melbourne who could both speak Mandarin and travel with us to Malaysia for three weeks. A leading lady with those talents was almost a spine chilling impossibility in Melbourne! Having failed to find one in Melbourne, we threw our nets in Malaysian waters and up came Siew Yong! Siew Yong, both talented and willing, came to our rescue. Imagine rehearsals with our female lead in Malaysia and the rest of us in Melbourne. For once I was glad for technology, imagine again the rest of the Aussie cast in Melbourne rehearsing with our leading lady on Skype!
What I learnt was this: when you are navigating a group of people with diverse wants and needs, communicating styles, moods and temperaments, and all of them have different jobs to do, under extreme stressors such as deadlines, heat, lack of sleep, fatigue, jetlag, adventure, excitement, new and foreign foods and people, you are either heading straight for a disaster of tsunami proportion or an out-of-body experience of cosmic magnitude. Both were novel experiences for me.
As a success driven individual, of course I was going for a successful outcome but then what defines and measures success in the theatre? Certainly not money. Fame perhaps? This tour was going to be one of those ‘fame and no fortune’ ventures perhaps. The word ‘perhaps’ was linked with hope when the idea was first conceived. Nevertheless, I was realistic enough to know that fame was not going to happen either. To be truthful, none of us, especially not me, the author/producer and self appointed tour leader, ever consciously sat down and discussed what would be a successful outcome for us in view of our tour. Instead quite implicitly, success was based on the philosophy which proclaims that it is not the destination but the journey that counts. The decision to board the plane for Malaysia was in itself a success given all the hurdles that had to be overcome before take off. Let me apprise the reader with some of these challenges.
It began with the communications with me and our Malaysian partners, Sugar Restaurant in Langkawi, Penang Performing Arts Centre (better known as PenangPac) and the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLpac). Working with people through emails in two different countries is a challenge for anyone but with someone like me, it is worst. Psst…I am a very impatient person and hate waiting for emails that take more than one day to come. To circumvent the slow flow of email communication, I took two trips to Malaysia before the tour to get things moving. That was nice. Really nice. It took the stress out of waiting to hear from our Malaysian partners but the budget blew up by a thousand dollars plus more. Upon arrival in Langkawi, Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and meeting the theatre managers, all the angst of our email communication disappeared literally in seconds and the contract was signed and delivered with the speed of a young superman.
First lesson when working with Malaysians: they prefer face-to-face meetings. Then what you will encounter is the famed Malaysian hospitality, generosity, co-operative spirit and their offers of food to die for. In excess of two kilos (not in my luggage but my body) I flew back to Melbourne thinking some things do not change: the Malaysian love of food and Manglish…ok lah, let’s go makan char koay teoy, and won ton mee at KLIA, near the junction there lah. (For those of you who do not know Manglish, in this one sentence there are two languages i.e. English and Malay or Bahasa as the locals call the Malay language, and two Chinese dialeccts which then really equal three languages and two dialects!)
The universe works in mysterious ways especially when it comes to Father Time. As I was booking flights for our aussie crew and cast, from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi, to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and back to Melbourne, certain cast members could not go all at the same time. Different people wanted different times of departure. The computations and permutations of times, budget, individual preferences for seats and meals during flight times – well suffice to say it was a great lesson for me about the intricacies of how to be a tour agent. I was no longer just a tour leader.
The director, Ashley the male lead, the musician Phil and light and sound man, Richard and I were the first to go. This was to be followed by Gisela, Aparna, David and Tegan. For a whole lot of reasons, none of which was to do with the show in Malaysia, these four would come later. This made for a separate plan in terms of accommodation. More to fill my already full headspace.
Now let me divulge the culinary preferences of our little gang of gourmands from Melbourne. Wolf could not eat anything with legs except pigs and cows! He could not eat anything that swims or flies. Phil could not eat anything Chinese which is gooey and slippery. That cut out oodles of noodles and he definitely hated the noise so beloved of Chinese coffee shop owners and patrons in Malaysia. Richard preferred hot spicy food and was allergic to prawns. Siew Yong had no appetite being so excited and thrilled to be meeting us! Ashley was about the only person who would and could eat anything. He had to pay a price for this later on in the tour. I would not eat anything which was badly cooked. Or so I thought.
On opening night in Penang, at PenangPac, Ashley started to have a tummy bug that reduced his buoyancy by 50 percent. Spotting a tinge of dull green on his handsome face, his usual optimistic cheeriness gone from his bright green eyes, he came to me, hiding his discomfort and asked to see a doctor. It happened that there was a doctor in the house and Dr Ragu, our sponsor and host promptly prescribed some medication. Being the worry wart that I am, I immediately appealed to all the gods and goddesses and prayed that Ashley did not have amoebic dysentery or something more serious. For the rest of the tour Ashley was on medication and his culinary delights consisted of self made blend vegetable soups and no spices! This, I would like to remind the reader, was happening in Malaysia, where every corner was found a food vendor who concocted magical aromas made of spices imported from ancient India. In Ashley’s case, I was sure he was paying the cost of his capacity to eat anything and everything when he landed in Malaysia tummy first during his first week in that spice ridden country.
There were also lessons learnt about money. Apart from our return airfares from and to Kuala Lumpur, there were expenditures during the tour. People ahev to eat and sleep comfortably if not luxuriously, even if they are merely actors. No problem. I had a budget that would cover no-star accommodation but still bearable. Then came the crunch. The Malaysian government required working visas for all foreign performers. Each visa varied in cost depending on the passport a person held. And a security bond for each actor. Our budget did not take into account such miscellaneous expenditures which turned out to be probably one of the largest in the overall pre-tour budget. Yikes! Narry a worry. Money was found. Less said the better here. Suffice to say, all of us pitched in and raised the extra money thanks to an anonymous sponsor. What I learnt from this is that lack of money could sometimes bring out the best in people with a common purpose. I also learnt that when you budget for any journey in life, you budget with 100 percent given to unthinkables, and/or have-not-thought-of miscellaneous expenditures. Always.
Navigating round the shortest route in keeping the tour expenses within the budget constraints was an interesting exercise in examining my own skills and attitude towards money. In every situation when it came to money, I used commonsense and common decency as two criteria in my decision. I gave to the cast and crew what I gave myself. As a result, I received no complaint from them. It was nice to know that the challenges we faced was not to do with money. I learnt that when it comes to the crunch and when push comes to shove, and when I have to choose between money or love in coming to a decision, I chose love! In return the cast and crew were reciprocating, generous and loving in their own way to me and to each other. That is not to say we did not growl and snarl, shout and make faces at each other. However, in the end, love did conquer all and on the 31st of August, Malaysia Independence Day, Aparna cooked us a scrumptious meal back in her home in Melbourne and Richard made and showed us a movie of the first part of our tour. It had taken him eight hours to make. Phil, in a fit of inspired madness, together with Richard, created a new song with a tude that can seduce even the flatfooted platypus to dance! The O-M-G song is a song of gratitude to all!
What can I say, but thanks for the memories and thanks to our tour, I can now lead another. Next time around I am going to be much wiser to the antics of taking a motley cast and crew on tour. I have learnt.
As a “stage hand” on tour with the intercultural play Our Man in Beijing by Moni Storz, I learnt many things…
The plane, an Air Asia “Firefly”, touched down on the tarmac of Langkawi Airport, Malaysia, at 4.40pm on Thursday 23 May 2013. The flight had taken a mere 22 minutes from Penang.
Moni was at the airport to meet me. After the customary hug she led me to a hired car and drove me to Sugar Restaurant where Our Man in Beijing was to be performed. There I met the first cast member David Lih who was sunbathing on a lounger. I went off to have a coconut and sat on a lounger to enjoy the sight and sound of the waves lapping against the shore. Later that evening I met the other cast members and crew. We walked from Sugar Restaurant to Fat Cupid Restaurant for dinner. There I met Phil Trainer, the composer and singer of You Know, the theme song of Our Man in Beijing.
Earlier in the car, Moni, who was the producer as well as the playwright, had mentioned to me the shortage of a stage hand and hinted I might be able to help them out. I had never been a stagehand before so I thought it might be fun and agreed. At this juncture, I must say the nearest I have been to a play was walking past the theater in Windsor, England, and walking along Shaftsbury Avenue in London.
After dinner Phil gave me a lift back to Sugar on a motorbike. That was fun and a relief as I had sprained my ankle prior to my arrival in Langkawi. I was soon to be the one and only limping instant stagehand in Langkawi!
I had never seen the script so I had to work closely with Wolf, the director who doubled up as the other stagehand. So not only was I limping, but I was also working as a stagehand, “blind”. Wolf taught me how, where and when to put up the big prop, “Beijing International Airport” and the small props, and just as importantly, when to take them off. Not being fully familiar with the play, sometimes I had to rely on a signal or gesture from Wolf. So I learnt to work closely with him.
The next day the cast members, Richard and I went up a mountain by cable car. The scenery was breath taking. Then we went to a nearby waterfall by taxi. During this excursion we did a lot of walking and climbing up and down many steps. Enjoyable though the day was, it was probably not the best preparation for opening night. I did not feel guilty because officially I was on holiday and just helping out as a stagehand. I thought it was probably better for the cast to rest and relax.
Generally speaking, the cast and crew worked well as a group. There were no “prima donnas” among them. In fact, they were a friendly, easy-going bunch of people. I noticed before rehearsals began they each went their separate ways clutching their scripts and mumbling to themselves while Wolf, the director, and I got the stage ready for the opening scene. Occasionally they stopped to consult Wolf on certain points. He was a very experienced director and explained the points to them clearly and concisely. Sometimes two of them would go to him to ask him to clarify certain parts of the script, for example, Ashley, the male lead and Siew Yong, the female lead, would ask Wolf how they should interact with each other in certain scenes. He would instruct them with great authority. He always spoke very clearly. Sometimes he would shout at the cast to restore order. Apart from that, he would leave them to revise their scripts and get themselves mentally ready in their own way. As rehearsal time approached Wolf would call them back. During rehearsals sometimes he would stop them at certain scenes and explain the finer points of the script to them and ask them to start again from certain points. As a result, some rehearsals seemed to drag on and on. However, there were a couple of interesting moments.
On one occasion, I overheard Siew Yong saying, “I am not kissing him.” She was referring to the last scene where the female lead had to kiss the male lead. It was not clear whether they took the matter to the director, but they resolved this matter by doing a “pretend” kiss at the end of the play behind a hat held by Siew Yong to hide it from the audience.
Sometimes a cast member would forget his or her lines but covered this up very cleverly by improvising. In the final show in Kuala Lumpur, Ashley could not open his brief case. In a blind panic or a flash of quick thinking or both, he rushed off the stage to as if to chase the taxi driver for the combination code of the briefcase. He re- appeared on stage, calm and composed to carry on with the show!
Perhaps the most encouraging lesson I have learnt is: you can lose your briefcase and your job and still get the girl. I certainly realised it took a lot of hard work, time and money to produce a play and even more dedication and effort to get it performed. Would I like to write a play, produce it or act in it? The answer is “No” to all three questions. I would rather write about it.
Action, adventure, the trip of a lifetime! That is what I thought when I was told that I was to be traveling overseas to play the lead role in the intercultural play by Moni Storz, Our Man in Beijing. I was not disappointed. However, I feel I should start where all odysseys start, at the beginning.
I was told by my lovely girlfriend Tegan soon after we started dating that I “…have to meet Auntie Moni.” This in itself confused me, as Tegan told me that Moni was not actually her auntie, as there is no blood tie between them. This was the first of many cultural differences I was to experience but more on that later. So to Auntie Moni’s place we went. Whatever expectations I might have cultivated leading to this meeting with this woman could not have been more wrong. This unassuming 60+ little Chinese Malaysian woman had more energy and spirit than most people I have ever met.
Tegan and I upon arriving at Moni’s house (in Melbourne) were told that there was going to be a reading of her play Our Man in Beijing and almost immediately I met Wolf Heidecker, the director. His first words to me were to ask if I could read the part of the male lead as the actor playing the role could not come that day. Needless to say I obliged. Little did I know at that moment, both Moni and Wolf had pegged me to take on the role later to tour in Malaysia!
It wasn’t long before we were rehearsing, getting ready for scheduled performances. They were “warm-ups” (for lack of a better term) before the big overseas tour. One warm-up performance was held at the Sandy Point café/bistro where optional donations for bushfire victims. At this point I was still in disbelief thinking about our planned journey to Malaysia, even when Moni asked for my passport! Before long the time approached for our flight to Kuala Lumpur and as I was packing, it hit me. I was getting the opportunity to tour another country, one much different from my own, as an actor!
Landing in Kuala Lumpur and stepping off the plane to feel that humidity was like walking into a brick wall. Trying to negotiate our way through customs, securing our ride to the hotel and going to get dinner for the first time, I couldn’t have been more excited to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a new country! It was almost a sensory overload to be in this place and to see so many cross cultural differences and similarities amongst the ethnic groups who call themselves Malaysians. It didn’t take long for me to realise that here, I was the minority member. Despite being in the minority, in almost every instance I found that people would go out of their way to help and be hospitable to my companions and me. Even then I quickly noticed the three distinct cultures within Malaysia, being the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian. I heard many different stories about how these people interacted with each other and their government.
Malaysians have their own problems with their government as I heard about the instances of corruption that many citizens shared with me. Bribing government officials and police officers were common knowledge and regularly practised. One told me that due to a national holiday coming up, police would pull vehicles over more frequently to collect bribes so that they could afford to take their own families on holiday. While on the topic of road issues, the stereotype of Asian drivers is somewhat perpetuated out here. I saw traffic accidents and some Malaysians’ complete disregard for road rules. Every road displayed this intricate ballet of everyone driving their own way and taking no notice of anyone else. The danger was more evident on highways in which this mentality continued, albeit at higher speeds. In one instance, I saw a truck burnt to the ground, its occupants’ fate unknown. Even one of my fellow actors was nearly ran over by a truck driver who by all intents and purposes looked as though he was planning to drive through him.
I digress. This was not a holiday and I had to work. Immediately we were surveying the theatre we would be using in Kuala Lumpur. I also got to meet my co-star, Siew Yong, and other support staff of the show, so without delay we commenced rehearsing. We had less than a week to go from our first meeting to putting together a cohesive show, a difficult task, but one I rose to. The rehearsals also revealed a cultural difference to me: Wolf, with his western style of directing the actor to bring forth their own meaning from the character was leagues different to how Siew Yong had been trained for the theatre. She informed me that actors are more or less puppets that just do what they’re told. Regardless, we rehearsed hard and soon found ourselves flying to Langkawi, having met up with the rest of the actors that hadn’t been able to come from Australia earlier.
Langkawi is very beautiful, a tropical island paradise, save for the litter problem, another culture shock that I suffered. In Langkawi we performed in a restaurant called ‘Sugar’. I was surprised to see how well the very same play was performed in Melbourne was received in Malaysia, the same jokes made the locals in this country laugh wildly. I was starting to realise what the term intercultural theatre meant. This was a play that transcends seas and countries. It was designed to mingle the two. I already knew that I had many similarities with my character John Williams, in the sense that John and I are both from country towns, had troubled upbringing and both had little knowledge of cultures other than our own. I found this evident when we reached Penang and I was to meet Tegan’s Chinese Malaysian side of her family. So many uncles and aunties, cousins and second cousins did I meet that I was bowled over by names that were so different from western culture, not to mention that in Hokkien (the family’s native dialect) each uncle and auntie has a different title that I was to call them. Being the younger person, out of respect, I am meant to call them uncle and auntie, but according to the kinship hierarchy where Tegan is positioned. For example, Tegan’s mum’s eldest younger brother is called Tua-Ku, which is roughly translated into first uncle in the Hokkien dialect. This title would change depending on what position in the family hierarchy you were, as for example, a child of a different uncle would call Tua-Ku a different title. Needless to say this confused me no end, exacerbated as Tegan’s mother was one of six children. It only got worse the more family members I met. In any case, this culture had blended into Australian culture with Moni being called Auntie when there was no blood relation. It was indeed just a sign of respect and affection to an elder in the community.
I made an attempt to observe and replicate as many local customs as I could, from the Malay modified handshake in which your right hand is just held and then upon release placed across your heart or to not cooking pork/ham products in one of our hosts’ houses due to their maid being Muslim. On the point of religion there were a plethora of different worship centers! In my rural region the most I had seen was the random church. But in Malaysia there were places of worship for all faiths: Hindu, Buddhism, Christianity, Muslim and I believe the list continues. These worship places varied from small plinths to temples built into the side and caverns of mountains. In Langkawi I was woken many times by the Mosque’s 5am call to prayers that were broadcast over loudspeakers to the surrounding areas.
At the end of this journey I find myself writing this article. It is impossible to sum up a country, its people and the experience of working internationally in a few paragraphs. But maybe that’s the point, this snapshot of an adventure is to pique your interest. Maybe one day you’ll ask me about my trip and I’ll regale you with how I accidentally destroyed the water pipes in a Langkawi hostel or maybe the heart stopping moment when there was a critical prop failure on the last show of the tour. Either way I am thankful for the chance to learn about other cultures and perform for an appreciative crowd and I look forward to what else the Australasian Chinese Theatre company will do in the future.
With a thankful bow, I am Ashley Macklin.
Langkawi is an island and to have three performances there to much applause is great! It was hot, steamy and crowded but the cast was superb. Thanks to Sugar restaurant which feted all of us and to Wijay’s & Brigit’s Sarong guesthouse, we had a great rest and saw a lot of Langkawi. Four of us flew to Penang for a press conference leaving the rest to bring the props in a ferry.
In Penang we had 2 rehearsals and three performances. Our first rehearsal was not a dress rehearsal but because professional photographers Peter Ho & Chua who were donating their services were only available for that particular time slot, we had to quickly don our costumes so pandemonium broke loose in the dressing room. That was a moment of high stress for the cast and crew of Our Man in Beijing in Penang. Well, more or less!
The audience loved the play and laughed and laughed! I was stunned. I never expected a predominantly Chinese audience to react so enthusiastically. One Malaysian Chinese couple said: “We had lived in Melbourne for many years so we know both sides and understand the jokes on both sides.” They thanked me for bringing Our Man in Beijing to Penang. That gave me a nice feeling. That was opening night in Penangpac. The next night the cast suffered a little from “second night blues” but they still gave a good performance to the audience. By the time the last show came for our Sunday matinee, the cast gave a sterling performance and once again the audience loved it.
To celebrate a successful run in Penang, we went off to have a Chinese banquet!Without chopsticks gymnastics!
We are almost there in body, cast and crew. Almost an out of body experience at this stage seeing that everyone is so excited. In fewer than 14 days, we are off to Langkawi where our first performances will be held at the Sugar Restaurant on Pantai Tengah in Langkawi. Sugar sits literally on the beach facing west. Each evening a golden sunset bathes the building in liquid gold. And it is in this very building upstairs framed by a balcony that we will be performing on the 24th & 25th May, 2013 at 8:30pm! How about that folks! Thanks to proprietors Jacky How & Jeremy Liew with loads of help from the fabulous kinky Karina Bahrin of La Pari Pari fame. Anyone visiting Langkawi during these dates are doubly lucky because we are performing for free! Just for the love of it all.
Two years ago, I started the Langkawi Performing Artists on this gorgeous island with our inaugural production “….And the Fight Started.” Now I am bringing an Aussie cast with an intercultural play that laughs at Aussie and Chinese values in a romantic comedy. I am so pleased with myself to say the least. As author and producer and equally importantly, as an ex Malaysian, I have come home having called Australia home for over 30 years! Ha! Wonders may never cease on the return journey. Who knows? Finally fame and fortune. Or perhaps just lots of laughs and nasi lemak!
In May of this year, we are going on tour to Malaysia, performing in the lovely island of Langkawi, Penang and of course, Kuala Lumpur. It is a real treat to be able to perform with the local Malaysian actors in their hometowns. A real intercultural experience for all of us.
In Langkawi opening night is 24th May 2013. Only 2 evening performances at Sugar/Fat Cupid Restaurant at Pantai Tengah 8:30pm. In Penang, in combo with Penang PAC at their palatial premisses in Straits Qauy, Floor 3A. Opening night 31 May. 2 evening performances only & 1 Sunday matinee at 3pm. And finally in Kuala Lumpur, in Sentul West at the luxurious klpac complex. All performances are at 8:30pm on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees at 3pm.
For more information visit our Malaysia Tour page for ticket and venue details.
As part of the cultural diversity week celebration Our Man in Beijing will be staged at the ACT Studio, 11 Cole ST, Brighton, on Saturday 16 March 2013 at 8pm. All are welcome. Contact Moni on 0419367261 or [email protected] for tickets and details.
Written by Moni Storz, starring Ashley Macklin, Sharon Karina, Lee Ton, Jo Armstrong, Matt Friend & Phil Trainer, light & sound by Richard Lyford-Pike, stage design by Julia De Rosario and flyer design by Jacy Teh. Our Man in Beijing is directed by Wolf Heidecker.
A romantic comedy of intercultural mistakes. Will John Williams get his Chinese cover girl when what he knows about Chinese culture is one dim sum.