A very satisfying effort indeed. The cross-cultural counsellor, the ACT’s first ChinDian performance raised a $1000 over three little shows for Prasad Australia. The skit can be the beginning of a fully developed play and let us hope that the writer Graham Pitts will now be encouraged to do it. The ACT’s mission is to promote intercultural theatre and a ChinDian sketch that is a fusion of Chinese and Indian staged in Australia, featuring an Indian Australian actress, Chinese actor as her stage husband, written by white Aussie Graham Pitts and directed by German Australian Wolf Heidecker and me as producer, an Australian Malaysian Chinese!! Talking about multicultural fusion eh? I love it! Thank you to all our supporters, fans and friends who came to the show.
When a word is so overused that it can have so many meanings, eventually it becomes meaningless. Take the word Multiculturalism. Or “Asian” as used in Australia. The word “multiculturalism” is bandied around in Australia very carelessly especially by politicians when they are trying to be politically correct. If we are not careful we can end up using the term like these unthinking politicians and be guilty of excluding our black Australians/Aboriginal or indigenous Australians! When we say multiculturalism, unconsciously we do not think Aboriginal Australians. Not that I am advocating that we include Aboriginal in the term Multiculturalism seeing that the label is so meaningless.
Multicultural performances simply mean a whole lot of people from different ethnic backgrounds or countries (and therefore international) coming together and doing an event, as in the show Opera 1938 at the Melbourne Fringe (2012). Brilliant multicultural performance with Anglo-celtic, Italian, Aboriginal and Chinese languages and “historical” snippets from colonial Australia. Wonderful multicultural performance. There are many multicultural performances and events all over Australasia but we are short of an intercultural theatre in the southern hemisphere. The ACT is possibly the first in the world focusing on Australasians and Chinese. (I am still grappling with the term Australasian Chinese or Chinese Australasian! In the USA, they use “Chinese American” which I think is truer to the reality the Americans wish to describe! I.e. they are all American citizens and Chinese in the label describes the ethnicity of the person’s citizenship. But over here in Australasia, we simply use “multicultural”. See what I mean?). The ACT is intercultual notably because it is going to put on performances which are intrinsically “intercultural” in that two cultures or three or even four drawn from Australia and New Zealand. This is a challenge. For anybody. But not insurmountable.
Two plays Happy Ending by Melissa Reeves and my own Our Man in Beijing specifically reveal the cultural elements of both white Anglo Australians and Chinese people. The values intrinsic in both values are revealed if one knows both cultures for example, the Anglo value of egalitarianism and the Chinese value of hierachicalism ( no such word exists in the English language but it is the opposite of egalitarianism and I also believe that heirarchicalism is a value that describes more than half the world’s culture hence it is important that this word is used.)
That is why an intercultural theatre is necessary. An intercultural theatre specifically focuses on two ethnic peoples or cultures, for example, Australian and Chinese cultures. We blend whatever is Australian with whatever is Chinese. This is where the challenges emerge (as pointed out in my earlier paragraph). What is Australian culture? Does it include Anglo-celtic and Aboriginal ? What about the Australians from European and other Asian ethnic backgrounds? And what about the term Chinese? What is Chinese culture and even more challenging: Who are the Chinese? Every question merits a PHd thesis. Yes, these questions are academic but if language constructs realities and it does, shouldn’t we be educating the masses to use the appropriate words to refer to realities. The realities are that underlying the language we use exist feelings of prejudice and racism: twin evils in the world that have killed millions in terms of “ethnic cleansing” and history has shown us again and again that people have gone to war to do horrible things simply by naming and labelling. People are still doing that!
I name my theatre company an intercultural theatre and rightly so for it is narrowly and deliberately focused on Australian and Chinese cultures. It is an intercultural theatre in Australasia (that is, Australia and New Zealand) for it seeks to create opportunities for Australasian Chinese or Chinese Australasians. And now if we unwrap the term Australasian, it includes Anglo-Celtic/Gaelic, European Aussies & Kiwis, Aboriginal and Maori Aussies & Kiwis, and Chinese. This is an unique combo! No theatre company in the world has this combination of ethnicities and seek to create opportunities for these peoples. Come on Aussies, Kiwis and Chinese of all shapes, sizes and colours, let us get cracking and write plays and films that will blend our cultural elements, truly intercultural theatre!
HAPPY ENDING BY MELISSA REEVES
LAWLER STUDIO, MELBOURNE THEATRE COMPANY (September 2012)
Review by Moni Lai Storz
Happy Ending by Melissa Reeves is an intercultural play rarely found in Australia. It explores the relationship between an Anglo Australian woman in her forties and a young Chinese masseur. But this alone does make it intercultural. It is so because a number of key cultural issues, for example, the dining etiquette at a Chinese banquet, were satirized in the lines and in the scenes. An intercultural play must have certain issues from both cultures being acted out. In Happy Ending, some of these were in the intercultural psycho dynamics found in the relationships between the main protagonists in the many scenes which involve Chinese masseurs and Anglo Australian clients. Finally for a small portion of the play, both English and Mandarin were used.
In actuality, the play crosses borders on age, gender and ethnicity. Just on those variables, Happy Ending already won me over. In short, the play, wonderfully crafted in the hands of an experienced and established playwright such as Melissa Reeves is a total delight to watch from an intercultural viewpoint. Many of the scenes that move the action along are culturally plausible, and in fact, are derived from the sound and fury of “doing business with the Chinese” in the late eighties and nineties in Australia. Happy Ending replays some of the Australian experiences when dealing with China at the beginning of the globalization that swept the world, taking Australia in its wake.
The main character, Louise, is played by Nell Feeney. She is a character easily recognizable by many fortyish year old married women who are in the audience. Recognition always evokes laughter, nervous or otherwise in an audience. Feeney gave us a Louise that we can identified with: a woman caught in an intercultural situation with nothing to help her but her own ignorance. Ignorance can be a useful tool and in the end, it was a “happy ending,” a euphemism for sexual intercourse at the end of one’s massage session, so I was told. Her desperation led her to seek out a “China expert”. The role of the China expert was played very well by Christopher Connelly. The Chinese masseur, the object of Louise’s obsession was played by Gareth Yuen, an Australian born Chinese (an ABC). I love the way Yuen move his body to show his emotions ranging from fear, mild distaste, confusion, resignation and exploratory acceptance towards the “happy ending.” This is a vast range of challenging emotions to portray in a Chinese. (Chinese are taught not to show their feelings. Confucian ethic embedded in our unconscious culture). Yuen acted well. The role of Jie played by Fanny Hanusin was accomplished not without challenges. One of these was the fact that Hanusin is not a mandarin speaker, yet she had memorized her lines like a true professional. Unfortunately her “memorization” filtered through to the audience. I could clearly tell that she had memorized her lines. Keith Brockett who is half Chinese played the dual role of Wen and Jun. Always challenging playing two parts in one play. Keith was able to execute both his roles with smooth competence. He was a delight indeed! Roz Hammond who played Lilana was undoubtedly that of an artist. I think I like her performance the best in the play. She lived in her role. At no stage was I reminded that she was acting.
The set design is evocative of Zen or Chan Buddhism, and the changes in scenes are reminiscent of a moving meditative dance. Stilllness in motion. Together with the Chinese music flooding the theatre and the creative use of lighting the whole performance managed to retain its ‘chineseness’. All this ‘chineseness’ would have come to naught had it not been for the intercultural literacy of the direction. Director Susie Dee did an interculturally “good” job. A number of the intercultural and bilingual scenes could have gone wrong easily. (As it was, only the subtitles were placed too high and moved too quickly for middle age eyesight. But this was a technical issue, not one of direction). I sat through the whole 90 minutes performance without glancing at my watch. Happy Ending was aesthetically and competently accomplished in the hands of a cohesive cast and crew. I hope to see more intercultural plays such as Happy Ending
in Australia in the near future.
I am extending my invitation (beyond Australia) to American story tellers to join us in sharing your stories that are intercultural, that is, Chinese American. You may wonder why am I inviting our American friends to share your stories.
While doing research in intercultural or cross cultural theatre with a focus on Chinese theatre making, most of my search has taken me to the USA. David Hwang’s M.Butterfly leads me to his intercultural Chinese American comedy Chinglish. As a result, I am a fan of his now.
I also realise that in Australia, Chinese Australian story tellers are very few. We are a very small population compared to the number of Chinese Americans. Those who are famous in telling intercultural stories about Chinese and Australians are even fewer compared to the American ones. Names like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan and David Hwang, the playwright, are 3 great story tellers that come readily to mind in the USA.
Here is how you do it:
1.Send me a snippet, a tale, an anecdote or a short, short, very short story for my Chinese Theatre that is intercultural and in need of stories and plays to perform. It is just a snippet, a snap, a tale, a “story” to tell at a party or round a camp fire. So it does not have to be a well crafted written short story. As yet.
2.Length: not exceeding 500 words
3.It must be in English.
4.It must be intercultural – Chinese & American
Intercultural is defined as including some Chinese aspect or issue or person in your tale.
As a young Chinese student in Australia, I was invited to a party. My Australian friend Barbara told me to “bring a plate.” I brought an EMPTY plate. (In Aust, “bring a plate” means “bring some food”. Being Chinese, it was (and still is) unheard of to ask a guest to bring their own food.
In this snippet or anecdote, the Chinese is me, the person. But it could be an issue, an incident or even a made up tale.
WHAT DO YOU GET IN RETURN
And in return I will give you a gift. To show my appreciation for your time and effort, I will give you my ebook (The Young Poetess & Other Short Chinese Stories) in www.smashwords.com for free. If you don’t want this lovely gift, then invite me to your blog and I will make a comment and/or like your facebook page. Fair enough as we Australians would say!
“I had my childhood friend over to my place for dinner when I was 12 years old. My dear Mum kept on pouring food on her plate while all my family were in normal loud conversation. Afterwards she innocently asked me if “were you having a fight?” No, I said “that is how we normally talk!”
When I took my German Australian husband to Hong Kong for the first time, he went for a walk by himself while I had breakfast in bed. He came back and asked me why were there so many people quarrelling in the streets. I told him that’s how Cantonese is spoken. Loudly and with strong emphasis.
As performing artists and any other artists for that matter, we seem to get punished for doing the ‘job’ we love. How is that so? Well, we seem to be poor for a start. Poor only because we spend the best years of our lives creating our masterpieces. So as time is money, we miss the opportunities to make money in well paid jobs! Especially in the peak periods between 20 and 30 years old.
No one wants to pay us for entertaining them, singing them songs of joy, amusing them with our stand up comic acts, and so on. Yet some airhead, spinhead, thick head, bald head….all these heads of some organisation, state, country or other seem to get huge salaries…question is WHY? I am good at asking questions but to provide answers? who knows and who cares? I am an action woman. I am kineastheic. I learn by doing. That is what the big word means. In short, I dance. I dream too. I dance my dreams. I don’t care about verbal answers. I ACT. I find solutions for our common good, our common love of performing, which brings me to money for touring Asia. ACT goes to ASIA in 2013. We Chinese are not superstitious about the number 13.
I am dancing my dreams right now on this page. Being very action oriented (or kineasthetic) I am dreaming of taking the cast and crew to tour Malaysia. Dreams need to be translated into action plans (didn’t I say that I am action oriented?). Top of the action plan page is this word: FUN(D) RAISING.
I love the role of producer which I occupy for OMIB – why? this time I have an answer: I love money. I love making money. I love the challenge of seeing $88 turn into $880. Not much you may sneer! For ten cents more, at 0.99 cents you can buy my ebook. So turning $88 into $880 in 2 hours is a lot of money for artists. Time and money go hand in hand. But the profit margin is what we are interested in. I am not good at arithmetic. You work out the profit margin profit.
So being a producer is about raising money for my cast and crew to go on tour…no, not for holiday. Travelling to work. Yes, performing artists work. The key word is performing, as in performing assets if we are using business lingo. Artists we are but we are also workers. Working to give humanity joy, laughter and longevity. Some scientists worked out that laughter prolongs your lives, make you healthier, and definitely, unequivocally, absolutely, blissfully, magnificently, acceleratively enhances your sex life.
Come join in the ACT in our fun(d) raising trip. See you there at our next ACT!
Last night was our last show at La Mama and needless to say it was the best ever. A full house, actors well versed in every line, every gesture and in sync with each other. The crew was smooth, slid in and out of the stage changing props. As author I am amazed anew, like a child with a new toy every night. To blend what I see as Chinese culture with Australian culture, a fusion that is entertaining and theatrical is a sociologically creative challenge. Especially since many have debated these two questions: what is Chinese culture and what is Australian culture? Both questions are defiantly indefinable. In Our Man in Beijing, as an intercultural play, Chinese and white Anglo cultural elements are revealed. But what of Aboriginal Australians? Are they not Australians?
This song is probably the most famous of all tunes in Asia. It is like a national anthem that bonds Chinese everywhere. It is the signature tune of the Chinese diaspora. In Our Man in Beijing, Diana Nguyen sang it with a Vietnamese accent accompanied by Phil Trainer. There was not one Chinese person in the audience who didn’t know the song. Phil has put his own lyrics in English to the tune of Yue Liang. The most famous singer is Teresa Teng who sang Yue Liang Dai Bao Wo De Xin in China long before the country allowed a foreign person to do that. The Moon Represents My Heart, the song’s English title was composed anonymously. The first line of the chorus: you ask me how deeply I love you? (ni wen wo ai ni yu dao shin) From this profound question to the very last line, the song retains its magical and mystical quality. Yue liang ai ren, translates into moon light lover has the meaning of an eternal lover. So the song title The Moon Represents my Heart has several profound layers of meaning. It resonates with those who are moon lovers, enduring and eternal.
An awesome sell out…cast and crew were superb front and behind curtains. The rehearsals were hilarious as the new leading lady Diana Nyugen is a comdian, famous for her Phi and Me act in Melbourne. Peter Muir who was the leading man in last year’s production had to be flown in from sunny Queensland, straight from airport to La Mama. The bloops and bleeps at rehearsals seemed to disappear when the play opened. The magical mystery of real performances! what a cast and what a crew. I am not sure which i enjoyed more: the rehearsals or the actual performances. As the author of the play, I have an OBE everytime the curtain goes up and I listen to my own lines as if from another sphere. (OBE as in Out of Body Experience, not the Order of Australia).