Background to the Show: Transcript

Oscen
We’ll kick it off with an introduction about the show itself: Your roles, when the show will be running Auckland, and how it went in Wellington.

Nikita
The show is called “Tide Waits for No Man: Episode Grace”, or in Mandarin 歲月不饒人: 雅安. We’re performing it at Basement Theatre in Auckland in the Fringe Festival from the 19th of February until the 23rd of February. I play Grace in the show. I wrote the show and I directed the show and I composed the music and play the music in the show. That’s me.

Chye-Ling
Wellington was good. It was our first show. I am Proudly Asian Theatre’s creative director, Marianne is our current producer for “Tide Waits”, and we both act in the show as well. It was our first show that we ever did in Wellington so we were stoked for the opportunity to collaborate with Nikita on this because she has a lot of networks but mostly in the music scene. She’s primarily a musician in Wellington. I was very curious as to how that crossover would go because it’s not just a theatre show—it’s non-dialogue, it’s movement and puppetry and shadow puppetry with music throughout the whole thing. So you’re already performing to a non-theatre audience that Nikita’s bringing, in a town that’s outside of your normal networks, with a show that is quite experimental in nature. But it went really well, and our houses sold well and our reviews were great so we were stoked.

Marianne
And I think in terms of this project, it’s really important to highlight that this is the team, as well as Nic Cave-Lynch and Wendy Collings, two Wellington-based artists, who helped us with the lighting design and operated sound and light for us. Between the three of us, I choreographed the movement with the collaboration of these two women as well. We’re all trying to hit our marks for marketing, producing, and who’s doing this, who’s doing that, but it’s literally just a big Asian wāhine collaboration, and it’s been so delicious and good.

Oscen
And how long is the entire process in terms of initial idea…?

Nikita
It’s probably been five years now. But before it first got final-workshopped, it would’ve been four years. So the first inception of this play was five years ago. It started with my great-uncle passing away in Taiwan, and I hadn’t been home back to Taiwan for a really long time. And I remembered being quite close to him when I was younger and him coming to visit and hanging out with him, but then it’d been about ten years since I’d seen him and he passed away and so it was this really weird feeling of ‘I’m sad that this person is gone but I technically don’t know him anymore. I’m not going back for his funeral, so am I allowed to feel sad? But I do feel sad.’ So it’s this real weird permission to feel a certain way.

So I wrote a song for my band to play—my band, Nikita & The Spooky; it’s a cinematic folk band based in Wellington—and the song is called “Tide Waits for No Man”. It was inspired by him and his wife. My great-aunt is still alive; she’s amazing. I could talk about her for ages. And so that song kick-started my realisation that I was really ashamed of being Asian when I was growing up, really didn’t like to speak Mandarin. It’s obvious: I’m Asian. But I was like, “No, this is not me.” All my friends were Pākehā. And so I went into this self-shame thing and then I went back home to Taiwan after fifteen years of absence, and that’s when I decided I needed to write a whole show about rediscovery.

But when I first wrote it, it was a really big epic story. It was like: A man’s passed away, and all these different family members are reflecting about this man’s life. And through each of their reflection you learn about him but you never ever really—he’s not a main character. And I really believe in truth, so when people die, whether or not they live their lives really well or did really bad things, sometimes people can be glorified when they die, and I want the full picture of a human being, not just all their good things. So the idea of this story is the man that has passed away, he had really good relationships and really bad relationships. Initially, it was like a whole family tree full of people, complicated family relationships—and I was like, Okay no, this is too much. Each character needs their own episode. So I started with Grace, which is essentially inspired by me because she’s an artist that’s grown up in Aotearoa. I felt it was relevant that I started with her because she knew the least about her culture, and then while I’m relearning my roots I can work further up the family tree and the story would become more and more rootsy, if that makes sense. So a lot of elements of the show are modern sounds meets traditional sounds. But the further up we go, it’ll be more traditional. Did I just answer your question?

Oscen
Yes! Did that require a lot of research?

Nikita
Oh, it was a lot. I went to Japan four times to work with lots of Asian artists, collaborated in non-verbal theatre. That’s why it’s non-verbal. Well, there’s a lot of reasons why it’s non-verbal. I wanted to make sure that anyone could come to the show and understand, that it didn’t discriminate against whatever language you spoke. It says this in the director’s note—I don’t know if you guys experienced this growing up—but watching movies with my mum as a kid, I was always pausing, explaining, pausing, explaining. And it wasn’t until recently that I was like, “Man, that would’ve been so hard.” She would’ve come across that all the time. Her English is great now, but for all the people that are still starting out with whatever language that exists in the country that they’ve immigrated to. I did a lot of research in Japan where I did a lot of non-verbal theatre and then I went over to New York to a theatre company called Chinese Theatre Works. Kuang-Yu—she is Taiwanese—and [Stephen Kaplin] is Jewish-American, and they do traditional leather shadow puppetry. It’s quite incredible—actually, similar to Indonesian shadow puppetry.

Oscen
Like the Wayang ones?

Nikita
Yeah, really detailed, and they’re flat. And then through them they told me to go to Vermont to do Bread and Puppet. They’re not an Asian theatre company but they do a lot of sustainable art, a lot of activism. I’m quite an activist as well, I suppose, especially environmentally. They do everything from recycled materials, all that kind of thing. Basically all these different things that I went overseas in search of have just come into this show. I was looking at some of the stuff and I was like, Yeah that’s definitely heavily inspired by Bread and Puppet, and so on. So there was a lot of research and a lot of reading about history and learning calligraphy again, all that kind of stuff. But it’s been so fun—it’s been really fun. And I remember writing with Ling on our tour. I was just getting really excited about everything.

Oscen
You said that this is going to the roots. Are you planning on having more episodes in the future?

Nikita
There’s probably going to be a total of five episodes. It’s going to be four or five; I haven’t quite decided yet.