Meet Nikita 雅涵 Tu-Bryant, Chye-Ling Huang, and Marianne Infante—the three women behind Proudly Asian Theatre’s upcoming show, Tide Waits for No Man: Episode Grace.
We met at The Spreading Tree where they’ve been rehearsing for the Auckland debut run of February 19-23 at Basement Theatre.
Over an hour, we talked through the issues that arise through the show: internalised racism, reconnecting with one’s cultural heritage, navigating intersectionality as women of colour, and the intricacies of puppetry. The interview is broken up into sections. Each section has an audio clip and accompanying summary, along with a full transcript available in the click-throughs.
And don’t forget to book tickets here!
Interview by Nadya Fauzia, Anuja Mitra, and Janna Tay
Words and photos by Janna Tay
L-R: Chye-Ling Huang, Marianne Infante, Nikita 雅涵 Tu-Bryant
BACKGROUND TO THE SHOW
audio — 0:00 to 9:25
‘Tide Waits for No Man: Episode Grace’ (歲月不饒人: 雅安) was born out of the death of Nikita’s great-uncle in Taiwan. As she grappled with grieving from a distance, she began to write a story of cultural rediscovery from the perspective of the character, Grace. We ask each of the three to speak about their roles and the highs and lows of the Wellington run. Nikita describes the show as a return to her roots—we discuss the intensive research process as well as what her plans are as we go further up the tree.
” … it’s literally just a big Asian wāhine collaboration, and it’s been so delicious and good.”
” … 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.”
“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.”
audio — 9:26 to 26:41
In any cultural rediscovery, there is distance and loss which makes that rediscovery necessary. We discuss the reasons behind that distance: namely, internalised racism. How do we reconcile self-hatred with feelings of guilt and loss? How do we recover pride in our culture and who we are? Marianne speaks of her pride in being Filipino while Nikita explores the shame she felt about being Asian. Chye-Ling talks about how she processes this through art and the struggle in being biracial of having to do the opposite: prove not only that she is “Asian enough” but that there should be no such thing. We also touch on how the non-verbal aspect of the show removes barriers of understanding and allows audiences of all kinds to connect beyond language.
“Basically when I was growing up all my friends were Pākehā. I didn’t want to be associated with a group of people that couldn’t speak English. There was this inner pride that was like, “I can speak English.” So I did everything I could to be separate from people that were considered, that couldn’t speak English. I don’t know what it was—but just wanting to fit in.”
“I think that it’s interesting the yarn between ‘what is Asian stories?’ and ‘what is Asian art?’ and do you just want to be an artist that’s just making stories that are unbranded in the Asianness but you can’t really avoid it. If it’s part of you, which it is, there’s always going to be that struggle that’s always going to come through your work.”
“Sassy Filipino! They exist! Because I stripped myself away from the accent—this is my comfortable way of speaking—I was like, ‘How do I become “Filipino enough”?’ And again that sparked up anything I’m doing now, essentially. I did everything I could to become attached to Proudly Asian Theatre. I’m proud too!”
INTERSECTIONALITY & CONNECTION TO CULTURE
audio — 26:42 to 47:53
We dive deep into the world of intersectionality and what it means to be Asian women of colour in New Zealand. Nikita takes us through the symbols that arise in the show regarding what is traditionally expected of Taiwanese women and the main theme of the show, in Nikita’s words: “How much do we sacrifice? How much do we compromise when we want to respect where we come from, respect our culture, but also remain true to who we’ve become?” We wonder whether in forging new paths we can balance our modern identities against our histories and families, for acceptance is never just about us. Can we ever reconcile the push and pull?
“The word ‘peace’ (安) can also mean peaceful or silent—it is the character ‘woman’ under a roof. That is what will keep everything in harmony is a woman inside, domestic, where she belongs. And I was just fucking furious.”
“But at the same time there are so many aspects of our culture that are inherently against our feminist ideals. When I’m waving the Chinese flag and being like, ‘I’m proud of my culture’, do I mean I’m proud of the part that says women are lesser than men?”
“I don’t fully embrace everything that has been passed down to me as a Filipino woman, whilst now on, from here until the future, I’m going to be teaching my kids what it means to be Filipino Kiwi, which has never happened before me. That’s a choice that I’m making because I want my offspring to know both worlds, then giving them the choice to either lean to that side or lean to the other side, is up to them.”
audio — 47:53 to 1:01:49
How artists choose to give shape to their work through form is crucial in understanding what they want to convey. We discuss the very unique form of puppetry. Spoiler alert: it’s so much more than The Muppets. Each of the three talk about how they came to puppetry and just how powerful puppets can be, particularly in controversial topics. More than anything, puppets open up whole new worlds as they allow us to step into a surreal, in-between space that is much like allegory.
“I think people don’t really think of puppetry as this adult story-telling mechanism and that puppets can create fear or mysticism and surrealism and grief — and because of the unpredictable nature of puppetry… it can turn from one thing to another. Something happens and it can take the wind out of you — you’re literally seeing something that’s being transformed right before your eyes like a humanoid creature that changes entirely.”
” … it’s so great for me to learn in terms of how a puppet breathes and the pace and the patience and the concentration and the focus that needs to you know, for the thing that you’re manipulating with your hands, what that thing absorbs from the person that’s controlling it. It’s definitely magical for me because this thing can’t think, therefore I can’t judge it.”
“I really love in theatre when things start in a certain place but then it goes to a place you would not expect. So there’s an element of surprise. … [S]eeing how easy it was to make shadow puppets out of trash — something might look like trash but then behind a screen it’s creating something really beautiful. Which kind of goes with the theme, which is like Chinese culture and what appears on the outside isn’t necessarily what’s going on behind closed doors.”
WORKING WITH ONE ANOTHER & WRAP-UP
audio — 1:01:49 to 1:05:14
We wrap up the session with reminders to check out their rehearsal space, The Spreading Tree, for events and hire, and to get stuck in with Proudly Asian Theatre’s 2019 season of Fresh Off the Page. The Oscen team left the conversation energised and inspired, and we hope you do too. We can’t wait to see the show for ourselves and how all of these themes come through in Grace’s story. At the end of the day, all of us are here to find and to build community, for none of us can do it alone.
“Are you going to cry?”