Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity, and the Geographies of Performance 0415854385, 9780415854382

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Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity, and the Geographies of Performance
 0415854385, 9780415854382

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Introduction: Transnational Geographies and 'Asian' Performance
1 Transnational Theatre Networks
2 Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre
Part I Transnationalism in Context
3 Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival
4 Performing Displacement: Asian American Diasporic and Refugee Theatre
5 Touring Transnationality: The Production of British East Asian Theatre
Part II Transnationalism Across Contexts
6 Singapore-Scotland: Transnational Policy and Theatrical Exchange
7 Relational Spaces of Protest: The Orphan of Zhao Controversy
8 Translocal Circulation: From M. Butterfly to Mu-Lan
Conclusion: A Slice of Transnationalism, Performance and Asian Identity

Citation preview

Performing Asian Transnationalisms

This book makes a significant contribution to interdisciplinary engagements between Theatre Studies and Cultural Geography in its analysis of how theatre articulates transnational geographies of Asian culture and identity. Deploying a geographical approach to transnational culture, Rogers analyses the cross-border relationships that exist within and between Asian American, British East Asian, and South East Asian theatres, investigating the effect of transnationalism on the construction of identity, the development of creative praxis, and the reception of works in different social fields. This book therefore examines how practitioners engage with one another across borders, and details the cross-cultural performances, creative opportunities, and political alliances that result. By viewing ethnic minority theatres as part of global—rather than simply national—cultural fields, Rogers argues that transnational relationships take multiple forms and have varying impetuses that cannot always be equated to diasporic longing for a homeland or as strategically motivated for economic gain. This argument is developed through a series of chapters that examine how different transnational spatialities are produced and re-worked through the practice of theatre making, drawing upon an analysis of rehearsals, performances, festivals, and semi-structured interviews with practitioners. The book extends existing discussions of performance and globalisation, particularly through its focus on the multiplicity of transnational spatiality and the networks between English-language Asian theatres. Its analysis of spatially extensive relations also contributes to an emerging body of research on creative geographies by situating theatrical praxis in relation to cross-border flows. Performing Asian Transnationalisms demonstrates how performances reflect and rework conventional transnational geographies in imaginative and innovative ways. Amanda Rogers is a Lecturer in Human Geography at Swansea University, UK. Her research examines the geographies of the performing arts and particularly focusses on racial-ethnic identity in theatre.

Routledge Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies

1 Theatre and Postcolonial Desires Awam Amkpa 2 Brecht and Critical Theory Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics Sean Carney 3 Science and the Stanislavsky Tradition of Acting Jonathan Pitches 4 Performance and Cognition Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn Edited by Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart 5 Theatre and Performance in Digital Culture From Simulation to Embeddedness Matthew Causey 6 The Politics of New Media Theatre Life®™ Gabriella Giannachi 7 Ritual and Event Interdisciplinary Perspectives Edited by Mark Franko 8 Memory, Allegory, and Testimony in South American Theater Upstaging Dictatorship Ana Elena Puga 9 Crossing Cultural Borders Through the Actor’s Work Foreign Bodies of Knowledge Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento

10 Movement Training for the Modern Actor Mark Evans 11 The Politics of American Actor Training Edited by Ellen Margolis and Lissa Tyler Renaud 12 Performing Embodiment in Samuel Beckett’s Drama Anna McMullan 13 The Provocation of the Senses in Contemporary Theatre Stephen Di Benedetto 14 Ecology and Environment in European Drama Downing Cless 15 Global Ibsen Performing Multiple Modernities Edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte, Barbara Gronau, and Christel Weiler 16 The Theatre of the Bauhaus The Modern and Postmodern Stage of Oskar Schlemmer Melissa Trimingham 17 Feminist Visions and Queer Futures in Postcolonial Drama Community, Kinship, and Citizenship Kanika Batra 18 Nineteenth-Century Theatre and the Imperial Encounter Marty Gould

19 The Theatre of Richard Maxwell and the New York City Players Sarah Gorman 20 Shakespeare, Theatre and Time Matthew D. Wagner 21 Political and Protest Theatre after 9/11 Patriotic Dissent Edited by Jenny Spencer 22 Religion, Theatre, and Performance Acts of Faith Edited by Lance Gharavi 23 Adapting Chekhov The Text and its Mutations Edited by J. Douglas Clayton and Yana Meerzon 24 Performance and the Politics of Space Theatre and Topology Edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wihstutz 25 Music and Gender in English Renaissance Drama Katrine K. Wong 26 The Unwritten Grotowski Theory and Practice of the Encounter Kris Salata 27 Dramas of the Past on the Twentieth-Century Stage In History’s Wings Alex Feldman 28 Performance, Identity and the Neo-Political Subject Edited by Matthew Causey and Fintan Walsh

29 Theatre Translation in Performance Edited by Silvia Bigliazzi, Peter KoÀer, and Paola Ambrosi 30 Translation and Adaptation in Theatre and Film Edited by Katja Krebs 31 Grotowski, Women, and Contemporary Performance Meetings with Remarkable Women Virginie Magnat 32 Art, Vision, and NineteenthCentury Realist Drama Acts of Seeing Amy Holzapfel 33 The Politics of Interweaving Performance Cultures Beyond Postcolonialism Edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte, Torsten Jost and Saskya Iris Jain 34 Theatre and National Identity Re-Imagining Conceptions of Nation Edited by Nadine Holdsworth 35 Nationalism and Youth in Theatre and Performance Edited by Angela SweigartGallagher and Victoria Pettersen Lantz 36 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Theatre, Identity and the Geographies of Performance Amanda Rogers

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Performing Asian Transnationalisms Theatre, Identity and the Geographies of Performance Amanda Rogers



First published 2015 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2015 Taylor & Francis The right of Amanda Rogers to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rogers, Amanda, 1981– Performing Asian transnationalisms : theatre, identity and the geographies of performance / by Amanda Rogers. pages cm — (Routledge advances in theatre and performance studies ; 36) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Theater—Asia. 2. Theater—Asia—Foreign influences. I. Title. PN2860.R645 2014 792.095—dc23 2014011111 ISBN13: 978-0-415-85438-2 (hbk) ISBN13: 978-0-203-74401-7 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by IBT Global.


SFI label applies to the text stock

Printed and bound in the United States of America by IBT Global.

For Judith, Barrie, Christopher and all those who taught me to imagine a more colourful world.

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List of Figures Acknowledgements Introduction: Transnational Geographies and ‘Asian’ Performance

xi xiii



Transnational Theatre Networks



Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre


PART I Transnationalism In Context



Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival



Performing Displacement: Asian American Diasporic and Refugee Theatre



Touring Transnationality: The Production of British East Asian Theatre

PART II Transnationalism Across Contexts 6




Singapore-Scotland: Transnational Policy and Theatrical Exchange


Relational Spaces of Protest: The Orphan of Zhao Controversy





Translocal Circulation: From M. Butterfly to Mu-Lan


Conclusion: A Slice of Transnationalism, Performance and Asian Identity


Notes References Index

217 231 245




3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.2 4.3 5.1 5.2


6.1 8.1


Chowee Leow as Zoe binding the Chinese Barbie in An Occasional Orchid at Wild Rice Theatre Company, Singapore, 2001. Millie’s dream with her grandfather. David Allen Jones and Janet Song in the 2011 Grover Theatre Centre production of A Book by Its Cover. An Invitation to Dream alongside the lit landscape of Singapore’s fi nancial district. The Mega Line Dance at Marina Bay Sands. The Cargo truck. At Tanjong Pagar port, near the border. New York Imelda cast during the New York Philippine Independence Day Parade, 2009. Leilani Chan as Apple Pie Mom in Refugee Nation, Los Angeles 2012. Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan as Thongsouk and Chansamay in Refugee Nation, Los Angeles 2012. Tina Chiang as Mother in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of Boom, London 2009. Jonathan Chan-Pensley as Jason, Ashley Alymann as the Wavemaker and Louise Mai Newberry as M. in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of wAve, London 2009. Louise Mai Newberry as M. and Jay Oliver Yip as Jason Junior in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of wAve, London 2009. T’ang Quartet playing in Optical Identity, Edinburgh 2007. David Tysall, Adam Matalon, Daniel York, Julien Ball and Mark Aiken in Chay Yew’s Porcelain at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1992. Daniel York and Mark Aiken in Chay Yew’s Porcelain at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1992.


64 86 87 88 89 104 111 114 127


130 160

204 204

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This book is the product of a decade of work with Asian theatre communities in Singapore, the UK and the US. I am immensely grateful to all of those who helped me on this journey and who offered me the intellectual, moral, emotional and fi nancial support to make it happen. Academically, I must thank former colleagues at the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway for guiding me through the genesis of this project and for providing me with an intellectually enriching environment. This begins with my Ph.D. supervisors Philip Crang and Felix Driver, follows through my ESRC Postdoctoral mentor David Lambert, and ends (once again) with Phil encouraging me to write the application for my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship before guiding me through it. One of the wonderful things about Geography at Royal Holloway is its interdisciplinarity and I benefitted enormously from this. In this regard, I must also thank the Department of Drama at Royal Holloway for teaching me so much about theatre theory and praxis. I am indebted to Matthew Cohen, Helen Gilbert and Ashley Thorpe for their intellectual exchanges – and for reminding me (without realising it) to be more precise in my writing and thoughts. Elsewhere at Royal Holloway, special thanks must go to Shzr Ee Tan, who introduced me to so many of the practitioners that I wanted to meet, and to the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore for providing me with a home from home, twice. More recently, thanks must go to my new(ish) colleagues at the Department of Geography, Swansea University for creating a truly supportive environment that gave me the confidence to fi nally write this monograph. Special thanks go to my readers Christopher Bear, Dave B. Clarke and, particularly, Harriet Hawkins for providing detailed insight and suggestions and for considerably improving my grammar. Artistically, I am overburdened with debts to so many wonderful, articulate and inspiring people. This book is based on over 120 personal interviews, as well as innumerable productions, staged readings and rehearsals, and it is impossible to name everyone individually. However, I would like to thank everyone I met and interviewed for this project, everyone who appears in this volume and everyone who doesn’t, because you all shaped

xiv Acknowledgements my understanding. Nevertheless, some people warrant special thanks. In Singapore, I would like to thank Wild Rice (particularly Glen Goei and Ivan Heng) for their time and for providing production photographs and copyright releases, TheatreWorks Singapore (particularly Tay Tong) for allowing me to use their incredibly rich production archives, and The Necessary Stage (particularly Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma) for their time and energy. Thanks also to Lena St George-Sweet for allowing me access to some of her personal records, and to the employees of the National Arts Council of Singapore, especially the team behind the 2010 Singapore Arts Festival. In the US, I would like to thank Tim Dang for allowing me to become part of the East West Players fold on Imelda and Philip W. Chung, Chil Kong and Jeff Liu for teaching me so much through Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. Thanks to Damon Chua for allowing me to reproduce parts of A Book by its Cover and to Kevin Cochrane of the Grove Theatre Centre for allowing me to use photographs of its production. Thanks also to Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng for providing me with copyright releases for scripts and photographs of Refugee Nation, as well as to Sung Rno for his permission to use wAve. In the UK, thanks to Yellow Earth Theatre for allowing me access to their production archive, to Sacha Brooks for allowing me to look at his early Mu-Lan production fi les, to Chowee Leow for his help with An Occasional Orchid, as well as to Rosaline Ting for allowing me to reproduce parts of Journeys. In Scotland, thanks to the Mitchell Library and the Scottish Theatre Archives in Glasgow for their patience and assistance. Thanks also to Manuel Harlan, Greg Krijgsman and Eamonn McGoldrick for photograph permissions, sometimes at little or no cost. Special thanks to Daniel York for so many things over the years that I can no longer remember them all. In British East Asian theatre history, the controversy around the RSC’s production of The Orphan of Zhao was truly a watershed moment. In this regard, I would like to thank everyone in the UK, US, Canada and beyond who responded to my questions, gave me permission to reproduce quotations, and for making my work feel valid. Special thanks to my fellow founder members of British East Asian Artists for allowing me to be part of the fight: then, now and in the future. Part of Chapter 4 was published as ‘Thinking through Intercultural Spatialities on Imelda: A New Musical’ in The Journal of Intercultural Studies, 35: 53–73 and part of Chapter 8 was published as ‘Butterfly Takes Flight: The translocal circulation of creative practice’ in Social and Cultural Geography, 12: 663–683. They are reproduced here by permission of Taylor & Francis, with thanks. Financially, the research in this text was funded by a number of organisations, principally the British Academy, who awarded me a threeyear Postdoctoral Fellowship to undertake an initially daunting project (PDF/2009/429). However, my research here also encompasses work conducted during an ESRC doctoral studentship (PTA-030-2003-01127), and

Acknowledgements xv subsequent ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (PTA-026-27-1668). It was also completed and tidied using my research overheads from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, and my research incentives from the Department of Geography at Swansea University. Personally, I would like to thank my family for supporting me through all the years of work, especially my mother for allowing me to talk at her whilst I worked through my ideas and problems. Special thanks also to my husband, Christopher, for his unending support and patience, for giving me the freedom to write without guilt and for telling me when it was time to stop.

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Introduction Transnational Geographies and ‘Asian’ Performance

In Los Angeles during June 2011, East West Players held the third National Asian American Theatre Conference and Festival. The event was entitled ‘New Directions’ in recognition of “the global reach of the arts, new media and a new generation of voices exploring new forms [to] expand the Asian and Asian American voice in new directions.”1 A feeling of energy, a sense of camaraderie and an expectant possibility permeated the gathering, something aided by the fact that Los Angeles became a hub of theatrical activity, with Radar L.A., the Hollywood Fringe, the 4th Annual Festival of New American Musicals and the Theatre Communications Group’s 50th anniversary conference also happening within the same twelve-day period. Asian American artists from across North America turned up to become involved in the different events and, as a result, almost to the letter of the conference programme, there were new faces to meet and different ideas to explore. Yet despite the rhetoric, there was one new direction that had been anticipated but that perhaps was not expected to be so prominent: transnationalism. On the fi rst evening of the conference, I met the British Chinese director Jonathan Man and the Singaporean, but then London-based, writer and actor Jeremy Tiang. I was slightly surprised to see them as they seemed out of place from the London settings in which we had previously met. Yet I should have expected this criss-crossing of our worlds. Frustrated by a lack of opportunities in the UK, many artists who might be collectively described as British East Asian are building networks that allow them to create work in a range of foreign contexts. In addition, Singaporean artists have long travelled to the UK and the US for theatrical training and experience and, to a greater or lesser extent, have been involved with British East Asian and Asian American theatre companies. Asian American artists have worked in London and Singapore, and British companies, such as Yellow Earth Theatre, have staged Asian American and Singaporean plays. However, very few individuals from outside North America (apart from myself) had attended the Asian American Theatre Conference or Festival before. Jonathan and Jeremy were two of a handful of foreign nationals who appeared on the scene in Los Angeles in 2011. Their presence created


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

a stir and signals a transnational trend whereby minority theatres become connected together—and with Asia—in complex ways. Many Asian American practitioners were keen to make links with ‘the Brits’ as they became known (although Jeremy is Singaporean he has a Received Pronunciation accent)—or, indeed, renew existing relationships with them that were created in other settings, such as the Lincoln Centre’s Director’s Lab. Such a label glosses over the personal and creative trajectories of these artists but it signals a perceived difference in nationality and creative agenda within the overall context of the event. The conference thus became a hub for international networking, but the presence of this small group of transnational individuals threw debates around contemporary identity and creative practice into sharp relief. ‘The Brits’, along with the Malaysian-born writer and performer Richard Chang, were part of a panel entitled ‘Cross Pollination and the Urgency to Break Barriers.’ This session reignited the debate around transnationalism and Asian American theatre: should Asian American theatre be internationalised? What would that entail besides a focus on immigrant stories? What possibilities would such a move open up? What would it foreclose? Should Asian American artists actively build links with Asia—and beyond? What form would those creative relationships take? Are Asian Americans and British East Asians of all stripes part of what Jonathan Man called a “global majority” that can identify with an all-encompassing notion of ‘being Chinese’? Some practitioners in the room were inspired by these ideas and felt that they were important questions in an interconnected and transnationally mobile world. Some were more wary, keenly sensitive of the need to still write one’s own stories and histories, to continue with a project that allows marginal and differentiated voices to be heard as part of an American cultural landscape. This tension between transnationalism, where Asian Americans are seen as diasporic migrants who may not view America as their main locus of political and cultural belonging, and multiculturalism, where Asian Americans identify as a racial minority with a history of collective struggle and resistance, has characterised Asian American theatre and scholarship for many years (see Wong 1995; Lee, C. 2005). Yet the debates opened up by the 2011 Asian American Theatre Conference and Festival were occasioned by transnational processes that pitch ethnic minority theatres as part of global cultural fields. Here, mobile ‘Asian’ practitioners engage with one another through lateral transnational connections, not only through immigrant relationships to an ancestral homeland. Even the explicit evocation of China as a locus of identification did not operate in nostalgic diasporic terms. Rather these relationships are about networking, creating the potential for cross-cultural exchanges, new modes of identity and identification, creative opportunities, political alliances and resource sharing. They are strategic as much as empathetic. Current funding and artistic frameworks sometimes struggle to encompass transnational relationships insofar as they remain rooted in nationalist



agendas. Jonathan Man applied to stage two plays as part of the festival: Rosaline Ting’s Journeys, about the friendship between two women living in London (see Chapter 2); and Simon Wu’s Wolf in the House, a thriller about love and murder set in Hong Kong. As plays by East Asian minorities in the UK, they did not fit the American rubric of the festival despite their thematic and stylistic synergies with much contemporary Asian American work, and Arts Council England would not fund the productions to travel into this context. Conversely, by the end of the week, Jeremy Tiang arranged for his play A Dream of Red Pavilions to have a staged reading at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York: an epic Chinese story that appealed to Pan Asian’s sometimes traditional, Asia-centric aesthetic. In addition, Wang Ling, the Secretary General of the Chinese Centre from UNESCO’s International Theatre Institute (ITI), who was also at the conference, encouraged a group of Asian American, Asian Canadian and British East Asian artists to attend the ITI Congress in Xiamen as part of their national delegations—a trip they undertook in September 2011 out of interest and creative exploration (Liu 2012). Clearly some, but not all, artists are exploring multiple creative opportunities at home and abroad. Moreover, they are doing so in ways that open up our understanding of transnational theatrical practice and its different formations, particularly regarding the interrelationships between Asian minority and diasporic theatres, and in turn their relationships to Asian performance. Academic literatures are starting to compare Asian minority theatres (see Lo et al 2010) but this fails to capture the event above, falling short of examining how practitioners actually engage with one another transnationally, the networks they use to do so, and the implications for creative practice and identity. In contrast, this book explores the terrain of transnationalism and performance through an analysis of Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatres. I examine the cross-border relationships that exist within, between and, to a lesser extent, beyond, each of these three theatrical spheres. In so doing, this volume also develops existing studies that analyse these contexts in relation to the domestic racialization of the nation-state, or as populated by foreign individuals, cultures and concerns. Although transnationalism evokes the act of border-crossing, this may be imaginative as much as physical, with performers, plays and productions becoming part of transnational flows to varying degrees. My research develops such ideas through its explicitly interdisciplinary approach, being inspired by geographical accounts that view transnational space as multiply inhabited and bringing these to theatre studies in order to develop our conceptual understanding of transnational performance. In return, this spatially extensive focus also furthers geographical research on performance and creative production, moving beyond accounts that analyse the relationship between performance and place. In examining transnationalism and its geographies in the contexts outlined, I seek to create a new dialogue between human geography and


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

theatre studies on transnationalism and performance that will be conceptually fruitful for both. In the remainder of this introduction, I examine geographical literatures on performance before discussing my approach to transnationalism as a variegated spatiality. I then detail the implications of this approach for conceptualizing transnational theatre and outline the relationship of transnationalism to other forms of cross-border theatre practice. In partly pursuing these ideas in the context of ethnic minority theatres, this volume is concerned with the tension between transnationalism and multiculturalism, and so I address my perspective on this before providing further information on the three theatres covered here. Although an interdisciplinary text, my methodology is perhaps more familiar to those within theatre studies, but it adds a different dimension to existing analyses of creative production within human geography, and so I expand upon this before outlining the overall architecture of the book.

GEOGRAPHIES OF PERFORMANCE Interdisciplinary engagements between geography and theatre studies have intensified in recent years as questions surrounding place, identity and performance have started to converge. This book extends these discussions through its transnational focus. Historically, human geography has a tradition of theorising subjectivity and identity as a series of embodied practices and geographers have used performing arts vocabularies to express these ideas, such as in the analytical conception of our life-worlds as ‘place ballets’ (Seamon 1980). Similarly, Erving Goff man’s (1956) notion of social life as theatre has been deployed in human geography to reveal how we perform social roles according to where we are and who we are with, drawing attention to the management of emotion and behaviour (Crang 1994). In particular, Goff man’s ideas around social interaction have illuminated the production of convivial spaces and encounters in everyday settings (Laurier and Philo 2006). Geographers have also engaged with Judith Butler’s (1990, 1993) theorisation of performativity, examining how identities are performed and enacted within social space (for example, Gregson and Rose 2000). In attending to the political potential of performance, Butler’s ideas are suggestive of how identity performances may challenge normative expectations that exist both in society and in specific locations (see Mahtani 2002; Pratt 2004). Despite these conceptual overlaps, the performing arts have often been used as metaphors for describing geographical phenomena. However, with the emergence of non-representational theory, dance, improvisation and performance increasingly became the object of geographical enquiry (Thrift 1997; Nash 2000; McCormack 2005). In simple terms, non-representational theory examines how different spatialities are lived and constituted in ways



that draw attention to their skilful embodied enactment, drawing upon a diverse theoretical lineage that encompasses Foucault, Deleuze, Latour and Massumi (see Anderson and Harrison 2010). The performing arts were initial, yet central, objects of analysis for this body of work because they emphasise practice and value intuition, sensation and feeling. Performance thus offered a more evocative way of thinking about how people create and experience everyday spaces, moving away from a perceived ‘deadening’ focus on textual representation and conventional identity politics (Thrift and Dewsbury 2000; Thrift 2000). From a non-representational perspective, representation limits the possibilities inherent within bodily practice because it reads our actions through established categorisations and understandings of the social world. The performing arts were therefore seen as a crucible for experimenting with alternative ways of being, developing geographical understandings of how embodiment can be open-ended, improvisatory and experimental. Performance thus became a field of enquiry that animated understandings of subjectivity and drew attention to the creative production of space and place (McCormack 2008; Merriman 2010). Although non-representational theory conceptualizes representation as an active process, there remain concerns over the theorisation of embodiment in this field of work. The lively, experiential focus that performance brings to geographical research has been celebrated and, indeed, become deeply influential, but critics still suggest that non-representational theory fails to address conventional understandings of power and injustice (see Nash 2000; Thien 2005; Tolia-Kelly 2006). As a result, another strand of research on performance has emerged that retains an alignment with concerns around place and identity, grounding performances in specific social bodies (see Pratt and Kirby 2003; Cresswell 2006; Rogers 2010). The result is a diverse theoretical and empirical engagement with performance in geography, one that examines a range of spaces and processes, including the construction of home and identity (Blunt et al 2007), urban regeneration and memory (Somdahl-Sands 2008) and the production of conviviality (Simpson 2013). Theatre, in particular, has been seen as a public space in which democratic politics can take place, with dialogue emerging in new ways and through new forms. This emphasis on theatre’s political potential is highlighted in the tendency to examine participatory theatre, such as in the work of Augusto Boal (Pratt and Johnston 2007) or street theatre (Johnston and Bajrange 2014). Simultaneously, theatre theorists and practitioners have sought out geographical concepts that elucidate the processes or politics underpinning performances, with space and place becoming central to the theory and practice of the performing arts (McAuley 2000). Practitioners informally refer to ‘using the space’ and incorporate features of places into their work, such that geography is central to both the location and constitution of the performing arts (Schechner 1994; Wiles 2003). Practices from the scenographic manipulation of the stage through set, light and sound design, to


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

the emotional spaces created by acting techniques, emphasise the centrality of this inter-relationship (Tait 2002; McKinney and Butterworth 2009; Rogers 2012a). As performances have moved outside traditional auditoria with the creation of site-specific works, engagements with material geographies have proliferated because practitioners use the qualities and politics of different places, reconfiguring the relationship between space, place and praxis in the process (Pearson 2010). Elsewhere, I have argued that emerging intersections and collaborations occurring between geography and theatre studies focus particularly on landscapes, sites and cities as interdisciplinary exchanges gather momentum empirically and conceptually (Rogers 2012b). Such dynamics are intensifying because geography is also experiencing a disciplinary impulse to investigate creative practice, with increased attention being paid to the making of artistic geographies (Hawkins 2013, 2014). Research not only investigates the site-specific relationship between art, performance and place (see DaCosta Kaufman 2004) but also quite varied geographies of creative process and production. An emerging field of creative cultural geographies highlights the work occurring in locations such as studios (Bain 2004; Sjöholm 2014) or specific areas of cities such as suburbs (Bain 2009), as well as analysing how genres such as Pop Art or Kinetic Art are associated with counter-cultural movements in particular places in Britain and America (Rycroft 2011, 2012). Although many of these accounts are localised, geographers have also started to move beyond a focus on place to investigate how transnational networks influence artistic styles. For instance, Morris (2005) examines the development of Abstract Expressionism through an Atlantic space of connection that encompassed flows of painters, critics and dealers between New York and St Ives. Elsewhere, I have examined the translocal geographies through which theatre practitioners create and circulate their work, highlighting that creative production is forged through cross-border fields of activity (Rogers 2011; see also Gibson et al 2010). The relationship between geography and creative practice is, therefore, a growing field of enquiry and one to which my research here contributes through its in-depth transnational focus. This book is therefore situated within, and develops, an on-going dialogue between geography and theatre studies. In examining transnational geographies of ‘Asian’ culture and identity through the performing arts, this study is original for research emerging in both disciplines. Firstly, it develops geographical literatures on performance and creative production that usually remain focussed on local analyses, particularly when interrogating how spaces are embodied and experienced. In contrast, my work situates performance within spatially extensive geographies, arguing that practitioners think and create in relation to broader cultural flows than much current geographical work on performance and the arts suggests. Theatremakers respond to the complexity of contemporary transnational culture and shape cross-border spatialities in the process. These activities occur in



and through particular places, but also work across a range of other spaces, such as the city, the region or the internet. A transnational approach allows the interrelationships between these spaces to become apparent. Secondly, my work extends existing research in theatre studies on globalisation and performance by drawing attention to the geographical specificity of crossborder performance production, circulation and reception. In particular, it demonstrates how performances reflect and rework the multiply inhabited nature of transnational space. It is to the conceptualization of transnational geography and its impact for performance that I now turn.

TRANSNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIES Transnationalism is an exponentially growing, interdisciplinary field of enquiry. As globalisation intensifies, the interaction of people, cultures, commodities, fi nance and ideas regularly extend beyond the borders of nation-states. Transnationalism describes this act of border-crossing and provides a conceptual handle on its effects, allowing us to apprehend how the relationship between culture, people and place is reconfigured as national territories no longer automatically provide the main locus of identification and belonging. Rather, cross-border flows and migrations mean that “relationships, patterns of exchange, affi liations and social formations” become multiply situated, they are de-territorialised, operating across different locations and connecting them together (Vertovec 2009: 2). Conventional accounts of these processes emphasise the sustained nature of transnational activity, drawing attention to how it creates new social fields and communities (Pries 2001). These fields are not grounded in one location, nor do they simply extend an existing community or set of activities occurring in the territory of a single nation-state; instead by spanning multiple localities, transnationalism is seen as fundamentally altering the constitution of nationhood, culture and identity (Basch et al 1994). This is because transnationalism allows individuals to draw upon the resources of differently positioned groups, harnessing capital, commodities and information, but also more intangible assets such as “memories, hope and social relations”, to forge a place in the world (Ley 2010: 26). These multiple influences unravel boundaries and borders, allowing “dialogic communities and syncretic cultural forms” to be produced, indicating transnationalism’s generative, indeed creative, potential (Mitchell 1997: 108). In this book I am concerned with the relationship between transnationalism and performance, with how cross-border flows influence the practice, production and reception of theatre and, in turn, with how performances and practitioners embody and produce transnational geographies. Transnationalism evokes movement and fluidity owing to its historical focus on migration, but as Vertovec (2009: 19) suggests, transnationalism can encompass those individuals who travel regularly between sites, those who


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

stay in place but engage with people and resources in a place of origin, and those who have never moved but who are affected by the activities of people abroad. As a result, research on transnationalism has taken a wider focus, viewing all forms of cross-border action as “an increasingly important part of everyday life both within and beyond processes of migration” (Collins 2009: 438). One need not necessarily migrate to partake in transnationalism as it does not only consist of actual movement, but is also a form of situated practice through which cross-border activity and imaginations are used to remake everyday worlds. As a result, those who may not necessarily be characterised as transnationally mobile can respond to, and rework, flows of ideas, images, fi nance, and cultural or performance practice. This broader purview provides a counterpoint to narratives of globalisation that suppose a smooth and frictionless world of flows, but it also suggests that we are embedded in transnationality as “our surroundings, our places of settlement, our belonging in the literal sense of material culture, are all constituted through much wider [ . . . ] circuitries” (Jackson et al 2004: 7). Geographical work on transnationalism often draws upon such ideas, being less concerned with a specific defi nition of transnationalism and more with using it as a “frame of analysis for investigating a range of networks, actors and spaces within and beyond national boundaries” (Collins 2009: 437). Nevertheless, there has been a conceptual desire to ‘bring geography back in’ to the study of transnationalism in order to highlight that space is not the backdrop to abstract processes or flows (Mitchell 1997). Rather space is “constitutive of transnationality”, as it is through a range of geographies that the transnational is made and reworked (Jackson et al 2004: 1). Research in human geography therefore probes the suggestion that we are all displaced, instead attending to how de-territorialisation is a highly uneven and partial process. Indeed, in analysing transnational geographies, their constant emergence, proliferation and unpredictability become apparent, creating new challenges for thinking about how people narrate and create their lives. Accounts of transnationalism highlight the variegated spaces through which cross-border relationships are channelled and (re) configured. Research may ‘ground’ transnationality, illustrating how practices of attachment, belonging, identity and citizenship are located in, and formed through, particular spaces (see Ley 2004; Brickell and Datta 2011). Yet such processes may equally occur in relation to rhizomatic networks, circulatory flows and lateral interconnections (see Featherstone et al 2007; Rogers 2011). As a result, geographical accounts of transnationalism convey the sense that it is a “multidimensional space that is multiply inhabited”, including a “variety of actors who have varying investments in, experiences of and expressions of the transnational” (Crang et al 2003: 441–449). This book brings these ideas to theatre and performance studies, expanding existing interdisciplinary engagements around questions of space and place. My research is inspired by accounts that examine how different transnational geographies are constantly being re-produced but also extends this



research by considering their influence on creative practices and identities. Performance can be considered a spatial-cultural practice that grounds (i.e. locates) transnational flows through embodied action, yet its representations and enactments may also order and re-work transnational geographies. This interdisciplinary dialogue opens up our understanding of the imaginative construction of transnationalism and allows us to explore its embodied social complexity. However, as a concept, transnationalism only occasionally surfaces in research from theatre studies, although this does not mean it is a non-existent field of enquiry. Transnationalism bleeds into a range of work that addresses globalisation, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, interculturalism and hybridity, all of which evoke cultural mutability and exchange in performance (for instance, Grehan 2003; Balme 2006; Gilbert and Lo 2007; Rebellato 2010). What, therefore, does a transnational focus add to our understanding of theatre? Here I argue that, when seen through a spatial lens, transnationalism helps to clarify the emerging, diff use and abstract processes that are wrought by globalisation. In turn, this allows for a more nuanced investigation of the relationship between globalisation and performance owing to transnationalism’s emphasis on how multiple forces are brought to bear on, and reworked through, theatre practice, production and reception. In developing these ideas regarding literatures on globalisation, a geographical approach that grounds transnationality does not simply imply a focus on locality, or view the local as oppositional to processes of deterritorialisation; rather it analyses how practices work across, and produce, different geographies simultaneously. As Pratt and Yeoh (2003: 10) argue, “one of the distinctions of transnationalism as a concept, compared to globalisation, is that it signals specific locations, and the continuing, if evolving, importance of borders and the nation state.” Transnationalism thus pays greater attention to the friction within flow, but it also does not assume that globalisation leads towards cultural or spatial homogeneity via the idea that the world is a single place. A transnational imagination thus extends work in theatre studies on globalisation, where the global is seen as the harbinger of ever-increasing uniformity, and the local or the cosmopolitan as the realm of resistance and difference (Rebellato 2010). The identical production of ‘megamusicals’ across the world has been seen to epitomise this phenomenon, reflecting the capitalist imperative behind globalisation. For instance, in her study of Bombay Dreams, Daboo (2005: 331) highlights that megamusicals commodify and repackage culture for mass audiences but that they also acquire complicated layers of meaning as they are consumed, such that the musical both “resists and reinforces” globalisation. Locality here is partly a counteracting force to the homogenisation of culture and difference, with performances becoming ‘glocal’ as they fuse local distinctiveness with global forces, but local specificity can also become lost as performances become global in reach (Robertson 1995). However, transnationalism potentially offers a different imagination of


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

politics through its attention to spatial complexity. Cross-border mediations of culture and identity occur through, and produce, different geographies in ways that cannot always be predetermined and that create contradictory political effects. As I demonstrate here, the local, for instance, is not always resistant, de-territorialised cultural forms may create essentialism as much as hybridity, and networks may cross the borders of nation-states but also be constrained by them. Transnationalism is therefore a shifting spatial field, but it offers a way to locate contemporary and historical connectivity. However, theatre scholars have turned to cosmopolitanism, rather than transnationalism, to conceptualize global diversity and its embodiment in performance. In part this is because cosmopolitanism “matches the scope and complexity of the global without entirely succumbing to the latter’s over-determination by economic narratives” (Rae 2006: 10). Cosmopolitan performances are still connected to economic forces, but emphasise the practical and imaginative mediation of cultural difference, reflecting the “ethical, political and intellectual challenges of cross-cultural and transnational encounters in contemporary life” (Gilbert and Lo 2007: 5). As a cultural-political theory of embodied practice, cosmopolitanism can be seen as the outcome of transnationalism; “transnationalism refers primarily to flows of people, resources, ideas and activities, cosmopolitanism refers to an ability to negotiate difference” (Jeffrey and McFarlane 2008: 420–421). However, cross-border processes also entail agentive activity as transnationalism encompasses a dialectic between being situated and being in flow. Transnationalism brings together social, cultural, political, economic, imaginary and material spaces, and the ability to think across these is one reason why this field of research has been so productive, distinguishing it from a cosmopolitan agenda that is often (but not always) culturally-politically focussed. Recognising the multiplicity of transnationalism thus allows for analyses that attend to the richness and contradictions of performance whilst also deepening our understanding of theatre’s relationship to, and production of, spatial formations.

TRANSNATIONAL THEATRE Theatrical analyses of transnationality associate the phenomenon with movement because “the transnational work—the work in journey-form— enacts dynamic processes rather than codified patterns, and favours open forms over permanent structures” (Ferrari 2010: 358). Reflecting the idea that transnationalism is a concept where “the prospect of movement is always latent”, such a perspective attends to the flexibility of transnationalism and emphasises the shifting construction of theatre styles, aesthetics and genres in and across space (Ley 2010: 2). Performances also acquire multiple meanings as they move between localities, operating as forms of travelling culture that reflect and disrupt cultural expectations. As many



intercultural theatre academics have argued, performance is a site where cultural trajectories are encountered, embodied and negotiated (Lo and Gilbert 2002; Knowles 2010). In opening up a geographical imaginary based upon cultural, political and economic flow, transnationalism can emphasise multi-local circuits as much as bi-national interactions. It therefore contains the potential to move away from a narrative of intercultural engagement that is often framed around East-West exchanges (see also Yan 2005; Ferrari 2010; Peterson 2011). Transnationalism may involve multiple paths or routes and is often conceptualized as a series of networks that link different locations and practitioners together (Noszlopy and Cohen 2010). The idea that national territories are transcended or traversed is etymologically embedded in transnationalism, exceeding state imaginaries as well as core-periphery models of theatrical interaction. With this can come a freeing of ideas, the development of theatrical practices or forms, and the production of hyphenated identities. Discussions of itinerant or nomadic performers have traced such geographies, their travels driven by networks of patronage or mentoring, the need to enact cultural diplomacy, the demands of elite urban consumers and the desire for new experiences and recognition from abroad (Cohen 2010). It is tempting to valorise transnationality in this perspective, to assume that it is always associated with movement and that this movement is both progressive and transgressive. Yet the politics of transnationalism are more complex. Cross-border activity may entrench performance forms and identities or stymie attempts at adaptation, such as when wealthy audiences abroad want to see ‘traditional’ theatre, or when refugee practitioners use performance to connect with their former homeland. Transnational movements are also uneven, tracing asymmetries of fi nance, cultural capital, experience and belonging that reveal particular agendas or interests (Edwards 2003). Identities may be reinforced rather than transformed, particularly at the national level. Rhizomatic geographies of flow therefore exist in dialogue with the cultural, political and economic borders of states, and critics have been deft in analysing this weave as it is expressed in theatre. For instance, in her study of Chinese Opera along the Pacific Rim, Lei’s (2011) analysis of Pai Hsien-yung’s The Peony Pavilion: Young Lovers’ Edition demonstrates how the performance was constructed and enabled through a transnational Chinese adaptation of kunqu, using transnational Chinese actors and investment from elite transnational Chinese residing in California. Yet ultimately, the performance’s success signalled a cultural capital, identity and pride resolutely orientated towards China itself. Similarly, Steen’s (2010) analysis of the tours undertaken by Mei Lanfang, Anna May Wong and Paul Robeson demonstrates how their performances transcended national borders, even as popular representations of these artists, as well as their own affiliations, dovetailed with national identifications and agendas. Transnational performances thus remain influenced by the nation-state which continues to “defi ne, discipline, control, and regulate


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

all kinds of populations, whether in movement or in residence”, including performers (Ong 1999: 15). Of particular concern to this book is the relationship between national multiculturalisms and transnationality—an issue I discuss further below. This research reinforces that theatre is a responsive and productive mode of transnational practice, able to articulate the multiple, competing geographical forces embedded in transnationalism. Human geographers have recognised these malleable qualities of performance when using theatre to convey geographical research on transnationalism. In the documentary theatre piece Nanay, the geographers Caleb Johnston and Geraldine Pratt (2010) emphasise the complex and contradictory positions held by employers and their Filipino nannies working under Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program. The performance juxtaposed different perspectives to create a dialogue between Filipino migrants and society at large that moved beyond demonising or victimising different parties, fleshing out the economic forces that propelled transnational relationships and the impacts on families on both sides of the Pacific. The performance allowed audiences to make connections across different narrative threads to develop their understanding of the difficulties Filipino caregivers face. Although the production represented an analysis of transnational geographies, Johnston and Pratt (2010) also discuss how it created new cultural fields through emotional connections and by illuminating micro-geographies (such as the politics of entering or surveilling a live-in caregiver’s bedroom) that may otherwise escape attention. However, in analysing the relationship between performance and transnational geographies, this book does not attempt to provide a spatial typology of transnationalism. This would be contra to an approach that is concerned with elucidating the emergent production of transnational culture (Crang et al 2003). The empirical chapters analyse transnational geographies as they are configured in different contexts of performance at particular historical junctures. As a result, my analysis emphasises how theatre practitioners and performances represent but also produce, navigate and order transnational geographies. Performance praxis also enables such geographies to interweave and be reworked, encouraging their further proliferation. As such, theatre can physically and imaginatively create new configurations of place, identity and culture that are always in the making.

TRANSNATIONALISM/MULTICULTURALISM The contexts in which I pursue the relationship between transnationalism and performance are Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatres. I investigate some of the English-language transnational dynamics of each performance scene and analyse the lateral interconnections



between them. Given that two of these spheres are what may be termed ‘ethnic minority’ theatres, such an approach necessitates a consideration of the relationship between multiculturalism and transnationalism. Existing literature on each of these theatres tends to frame their performances in relation to the domestic racialization of the nation-state: they are at once part of, but seek to gain equal rights in, mainstream national culture on the basis of racial-ethnic affiliation. Asian American theatre in particular is often interpreted in these multicultural terms, with analyses documenting a political project of coming into visibility in ways that are not degrading or exoticising (see Kondo 1997; Lee 1997; Lee 2006). The small literature on British East Asian theatre similarly discusses anti-racist concerns over being British, but mainly focusses on the intercultural aesthetic of Yellow Earth Theatre, the main British East Asian theatre company for many years (Liang 2009). Such accounts therefore overlook the transnational relationships and productions occurring in both contexts and their influence on identity and creative practice. When transnationalism is discussed in such literatures, it is often framed as a form of diasporic relationship between Asian minorities and Asia (Wang 2005; Gonzalves 2010). Although this book similarly attends to these dynamics, it is also concerned with the multiplicity of transnational forms and relations. As such, I am influenced by research that attends to how transnationality entails strategic, contradictory, ambivalent and tenuous relationships, involving agents whose motivations and movements cannot always be easily understood. For instance, Esther Kim Lee’s (2005) biographical account of the Korean actor Soon-Tek Oh details his career in America and Korea, charting his negotiation of race, prejudice, acting skills and activism in and across both contexts. The limited engagement with transnationality regarding racial-ethnic minority theatre stems from the fact that conceptualizing ethnic minorities as transnationals potentially reinforces the idea that they are a group on the move who are not constituents of the nation, deflecting attention from structural inequalities regarding race. Literature on Asian American theatre has tentatively approached transnationality for this reason: because it could stymie attempts to gain inclusion and equal rights through a national multicultural project. Similarly, in their seminal study of British Chinese communities, Benton and Gomez (2008: 4) suggest that the transnational “diminishes a notion of national identity among people who do not travel across borders, reinforcing stereotypes about a lack of belonging.” This dualism between nationalist inclusion and transnational exclusion ultimately mires transnational forces in an “impasse of assimilation or alienation” that obscures the shifting, multi-placial production of identity and culture (Chaudhuri 1995: 233). This binary opposition between transnationalism and multiculturalism also glosses over the transnational relationships and aspirations of racial-ethnic minority artists, and the complex accommodations that they make as a result. As highlighted earlier, this binary relies upon a particular


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

imagination that associates transnationalism with regular migration across borders. In opening up the purview of transnationalism, I have argued that these activities, and the relationships they create, encompass various degrees of movement, thereby bringing settled or American- and Britishborn Asian communities into a transnational orbit. As Carruthers (2013: 217) suggests, “although the distinction between ethnic minority and transnational migrant identity is no doubt useful, it is also clearly open to deconstruction.” There is, therefore, a blurring between multiculturalism and transnationalism that interplays different cultural identities and affiliations. This may lead to the resurgence of national identifications as much as their unravelling, and need not assume a methodological nationalism whereby migrants are always perceived as different from mainstream culture. My work here analyses how a transnational-multicultural intersection does not simply operate in relation to Asia, but also in relation to other national Asian minorities. By arguing that racial-ethnic minorities are part of transnational fields, I argue for a complex imaginary whereby Asian and Asian minority practitioners may interact with a range of people in a variety of spaces, through production processes that both work within and escape labels of racial-ethnic origin. Tracking the creative and personal practices of artists can avoid some of the pitfalls of essentialism that befall analyses of group identities where ideas of unity and coherence dominate. Rather, a range of shifting motivations, impetuses and identities becomes apparent. As such, a field of performance is created that constantly metamorphoses and emerges, exposing varied and variable interactions “between non-western artists, minority artists within the west and western art movements” (Mercer 2005: 8). However, collectively describing these relationships as ‘Asian’ needs justifying as, at fi rst glance, it seems to contradict the ideas around differentiation outlined.

Defining ‘Asia’ The three theatrical fields discussed each have a different understanding and constitution of Asianness. My analysis is partly concerned with how practitioners negotiate these shifts as they perform for different audiences in different cultural settings. However, using ‘Asian’ as a common term for the book as a whole superficially seems to reinforce ideas of foreignness and discrimination. As Yan (2005: 227) argues, Asian is not a neutral or self-evident term, but “a conceptual construction at the service of the British colonial legacy and Euro-American racist hegemony.” In this book, I deploy the term in a critical manner, revealing the complicated and contradictory positions of performances as they are embroiled in transnational relationships. In so doing the term’s “centre of gravity” is displaced through an analysis that attends to the differentiated production of identity and theatre across borders (ibid.). The remainder of this section does not attempt to reproduce a history of each theatrical scene because others



have done this in detail (see Peterson 2001; Lee 2006). Rather, I provide information about the identity politics associated with each context, as well as background about the companies or performances analysed within the following chapters. Singapore Whilst geographically part of South East Asia, Singapore is a multicultural and cosmopolitan society where definitions of identity are problematic. The city-state is well known for having no indigenous population, being composed of immigrants from across Asia. The People’s Action Party, who have run Singapore since it acquired independence from Britain in 1965, have therefore attempted to build a national identity based upon core ‘Asian values’ rooted in Confucianism (as opposed to ‘Western values’ rooted in the liberal individual) in which community is placed before the self, the family is seen as the building block of society, consensus is valued over contention, and emphasis is placed on racial and religious harmony. Singapore is a multicultural, multilingual and multireligious society that is based around the racial-ethnic categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other (CMIO), where Singaporean Chinese comprise the largest group at around 76%. English is the lingua franca of Singapore but citizens must also learn a second language linked to their racial-ethnic identity (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil). This model of multiculturalism, like many others, “assumes and requires individuals to have a declared, unambiguous and unchanging ethnic identity”, one that glosses over the reality of Singapore—not least in its famously mixed Singlish (Yeoh 2004: 2442). As a result, many Singaporeans, particularly those of mixed-race and Peranaken heritage, must choose an identity that fails to capture their intercultural experience. In recent years, this problem has intensified as Singapore has epitomised creative city thinking through policies that market the city-state as a ‘Renaissance City’ or a ‘Global City for the Arts’ (Yeoh and Chang 2001). There has been a desire both to make Singaporeans part of a globally mobile talent pool and to make Singapore a place where that talent pool will settle. The resulting influx of foreign workers is unravelling the CMIO model with each of the racial-ethnic groups becoming ever more heterogeneous, and political debate centring on whether Singapore needs foreign talent and of what type. Singaporean arts are inextricably linked to these debates because investment in the so-called ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ of performance has been justified on the basis of creative city economics (Kong and Yeoh 2003). Nowhere is this more evident than in the annual Singapore Arts Festival (SAF), which has become the flagship event for Singaporean place branding (Peterson 2001, 2009). Events such as this involve artists from across the world, sometimes challenging the censorship restrictions that surround the depiction of homosexual identities and the discussion of politics, race and religion on stage. Singaporean artists constantly


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

navigate their relationship to the state (Chong 2011) but the SAF is part of a broader performance ecology that includes traditional Asian performance forms such as Chinese Opera or Zapin, as well as companies working in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. However, the book focusses predominantly on English-language theatre and some of the transnational relationships forged through this medium. Asian America The term ‘Asian American’ is often considered an identity created in the negotiation between state structures and group activity because it is rooted in Civil Rights-era struggles for equality. It is therefore a grouping based upon “political unity enabling diverse Asian groups to understand unequal circumstances and histories as being related” (Lowe 1996: 71). In theatrical terms, Asian American is often considered to be a pan-ethnic concept that represents anyone who is American-born or naturalised but of Asian descent (Espiritu 1992; Mengel 2001). Asian American often implicitly refers to the descendants of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino labourers who came to the US to work on the transcontinental railroad and in fishing canneries. However, contemporary Asian America is fractured by mixed-race, transnationals with dual citizenship, and immigrants who arrived after prohibitions were lifted in 1965. All of these groups have a different historical experience that does not overtly relate to Civil Rights-era activism. This is particularly the case for Asian Americans from South East Asia who migrated or were granted asylum in the wake of the Vietnam War. Many of these groups feel excluded from, and must negotiate, the dominance of Chinese, Japanese and Korean American stories in Asian American theatre production. The major Asian American theatre companies try to represent these newer Asian American groups, tell their histories, and help them negotiate their relationship to American society, something discussed here regarding Filipino and Lao Americans. Simultaneously, other Asian American communities are entering their third and fourth generations and are increasingly mixed, writing works that do not neatly fit conventional multicultural categorisations. An important part of Asian American theatre is the staging of EuroAmerican classics with Asian American casts because these productions aid a political project of working against marginalisation. Firstly, such performances allow Asian American actors to play roles that they may otherwise be barred from owing to a lack of equal opportunity, and secondly, these works enable Asian Americans to be seen as three-dimensional characters, challenging stereotypes associated with Asian or Asian American subjectivity. In narrative terms, such performances operate as part of a so-called ‘third generation’ of Asian American theatre, where writers and actors are no longer overtly concerned with telling immigrant stories (fi rst generation) or addressing racial politics (second generation). Rather,



Asian American identity becomes the backdrop to telling more complex stories that confound mainstream expectations or allow for cross-racial identification. Although performance still relies upon a politics of visibility, politics emerges in the staging rather than the writing of these works, with many younger Asian American artists concerned with fi nding their own mode of expression, rather than viewing themselves as part of an historical theatre movement. British East Asia In the UK, the seemingly equivalent term of ‘British Asian’ is associated with South Asian identity, as ‘Asian’ was the term used by colonial administrators to describe citizens of post-colonial India and Pakistan. Discussions of British Asian theatre therefore focus on companies who are a part of South Asian histories and diasporas, examining traditional performances from South Asia, South Asian castings or adaptations of western classics, and intercultural performances (Ley 1995; Hingorani 2010; Ley and Dadswell 2012). However, the relationship of East and South East Asians to British theatre remains under debate. The history of British cultural politics means that during the 1970s and 1980s the struggle over identity was linked to being black, where ‘blackness’ was an umbrella term that was defi ned in opposition to whiteness. Paul Gilroy’s (1987) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack drew attention to the construction of the British nation as a homogeneous white racial sphere that oppressed black communities, irrespective of political affiliation or class. The work of scholars in Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham drew attention to the black experience in Britain, but in so doing this became “‘hegemonic’ over other ethnic/ racial identities” even as they were included within its remit (Hall 1989: 441). South Asians and East Asians were part of black Britain, yet in reality they were often excluded from its orbit (see Song 2004). It wasn’t until Naseem Khan’s (1976) report The Arts Britain Ignores that the way was opened up for Asian artists to be seen as part of British cultural life, but there was no discussion of East or South East Asian practitioners. British artistic production has therefore continually excluded what is referred to as the ‘British East Asian’ sector. For many years, the artistic presence of British East Asians has been relatively small scale, as even though they are the third largest minority in the UK, the largest demographic group, the British Chinese, only comprise around 1.7% of the population (Parker 1995; Yeh 2000). To even talk about a British Chinese community is problematic owing to internal divisions rooted in places of origin in China and South East Asia, immigration policies that dispersed Chinese throughout Britain to create integration, and the resulting high incidence of mixed-race British Chinese (Parker and Song 2001; Benton and Gomez 2008). British East Asian practitioners reflect this differentiation, but the term British East Asian is preferred over

18 Performing Asian Transnationalisms British Chinese because it can include the increasing number of performers with Singaporean, Filipino and Vietnamese ancestry in the UK as well as mixed-race identities. British East Asian is not a demographic category (it is not present on the census), nor is it rooted in a history of political activism. Rather, artists, particularly Yellow Earth Theatre, use the term to reflect their dual heritage in the UK and anywhere “East of India and West of the Americas.”2 Yet it is also a term under considerable debate as practitioners repeatedly discuss whether it is an adequate descriptor, making it an artistic identity in flux. This book is therefore not an account of traditional Asian theatres and their circulation, though it speaks to research that is beginning to move those theatres out of nationalist historiographies through its transnational focus and expansive understanding of Asian identity (Cohen 2010; Lei 2011). However, I collectively describe the interconnections between and beyond these three theatres as ‘Asian transnationalisms’ to reflect the fact that Asianity is a contested and variable signifier that shifts across space. Like Ang’s (2001) conceptualization of ‘being Chinese’, and Crang et al’s (2003) expansive notion of ‘Indianness’, discourses around ‘Asian’ performance are multiply inflected within the transnational theatrical fields examined. The meanings of Asianity are delineated in each chapter and I use specific terminology, but identities are contextual and highly variable. As Ang (2001: 17) suggests, “what it means to be ‘Asian’ can no longer be defi ned or described in clear cut, unambiguous terms.” ‘Asian’ is instead a contingent identity that includes differently located individuals with different experiences of transnationality, experiences I access in this book through a focus on three contexts of theatrical production.

RESEARCHING ASIAN TRANSNATIONALISMS Performing Asian Transnationalisms is based on a decade of research in a range of locations in the UK (particularly London, Edinburgh and Glasgow), the US (Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York) and Singapore. It uses a range of methods and perspectives to examine the relationship between transnationalism and theatre. Broadly speaking, the chapters focus on theatrical production, performance and reception via an ethnographic approach that examines how individuals construct their identities in relation to theatre and how theatre re-produces and re-works social and spatial formations. The book is therefore concerned as much with theatre’s connection to society as it is with the aesthetics of production (see also McAuley 2000; Atkinson 2006). As a result, the chapters display a shifting emphasis on the “conditions of production” (the theatrical context), the “performance text” (the performance itself) and theatrical reception (Knowles 2004: 17). However, the book does examine all three domains in its analysis, highlighting different parts of the theatre world at different



moments, bringing together inception, rehearsal, performance, festival presentation, audience readings and social gatherings. Applying this analytical approach from theatre studies to the discussion of spatial phenomena is another contribution that this volume makes through its interdisciplinary orientation because geographical analyses of theatre, and the creative arts more widely, are often weighted towards one domain (particularly production or the work itself). Rather, as a whole, this volume links different facets of performance process, artwork and reception together to form a rounded picture. My specific approach in each chapter is driven by my overall attempt to explore the different ways that theatre is embroiled in transnationalism, reflecting a conceptual emphasis on how cross-border flows work in and across settings, and encompassing the tensions that surround movement. When examining transnational processes in a particular theatrical context, my research weaves participant observation of rehearsals with analyses of performances and events to obtain an in-depth perspective on the production of transnational geographies and identities. This volume also draws upon over 120 personal interviews conducted with theatre practitioners about their experiences, as well as my own performance analysis. It is important to note that there is no single method for documenting and analysing performance (compare McAuley 1998 and Pavis 2003) but I focus on elements that provide particular insights into the transnational processes being explored, including staging, costume, dance and accents. In looking at connections across contexts, my method has been to ‘follow’ plays, performances or practitioners as they travel, examining the processes through which people and objects become “entangled” in different sites (Cook et al 2006: 656). Transposing these ideas to theatre suggests that movement is part of the meaning and form that creative practice takes in different locations, reinforcing the relationship between performance and context. Performances assemble scripts, sets, ideas and people, but these components differentially travel to shift the constitution of performance. In part it has not always been possible to have a direct knowledge of these differences myself, and so I use newspaper or periodical reviews, publicity material, personal interviews with practitioners and theatre archives to explore and analyse them. In considering all elements of theatre-making, I also examine the cross-border experiences of practitioners, discussing their work abroad and delving into why they remain in place even as they partake in the imaginative or physical construction of transnational spatialities. Such an approach dovetails with studies that analyse performer biographies and illustrates the relationship between performance praxis and space, as practitioners can provide “an equally important and frequently overlooked index” of the relationship between performance and transnationalism (Steen 2011: 20; Cohen 2010). Tracking transnationalism therefore entails tracing flows of people, plays and productions, but this process also demonstrates if and how theatre is re-figured, its socio-cultural impacts, the

20 Performing Asian Transnationalisms factors that enable or prevent movement, and the resulting effect on the production of identity. My approach therefore interweaves a range of empirical sources and materials. The book uses different points of view to understand a performance and its relationship to cross-border spatialities, working as a type of “situational observation” that interplays different individuals and agencies (Lash and Lury 2007: 20). At times, therefore, chapters focus on specific scripts, at other times particular transnational cultural policies and the performances they enabled, or the lives of practitioners themselves. My case studies are selected partly on the basis of availability or access to companies, productions and artists, and partly on the recognition that performances expressed or re-created transnational geographies. Nevertheless, the book’s selection of studies, which I briefly outline in the next section, always focusses on the different ways that theatre-making relates to crossborder activities.

ARCHITECTURE OF THE BOOK This study is organised around the spatialities of transnationalism, capturing the tension between transnationalism as a phenomenon that is experienced or imagined in place, and one that embodies cross-border flows of people, fi nance, ideas and objects. To provide a backdrop for the studies that form the bulk of this research, the fi rst two chapters demonstrate that transnational geographies are central to understanding creative practices and identities. Chapter 1 examines the production of transnational networks between the three contexts outlined. It analyses how networks emerge, the creative, social and economic relationships underpinning these formations, and the differing ability of plays and practitioners to move through them. I highlight how networks influence, and are produced by, Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatre scenes, but also how they operate through specific cities and sites (such as particular theatres). In encompassing the dialectic between mobility and immobility, this chapter offers a broader perspective on the different ways performances and practitioners become engaged in transnationalism, particularly focussing on creative development and training. However, the chapter also demonstrates that one need not travel physically in order to construct transnational fields. Chapter 2 moves beyond only analysing the interplay between theatrical practice and racial-ethnic identity to consider the relationship between transnationalism and intersectional identities. Focussing on three plays by transnational migrants (Ivan Heng and Chowee Leow’s An Occasional Orchid, Rosaline Ting’s Journeys and Damon Chua’s A Book by its Cover), the chapter discusses how transnational movement entails multiple negotiations of identity. An intersectional perspective attends to questions of power and thus negates a simple celebration of transnational movement



as enabling identities to be reworked or reimagined. Although this is a key feature of many of these plays, these works also document the negotiations and contradictions that occur as identities are produced by traversing different contexts. The section ‘Transnationalism in Context’ opens up a transnational imaginary by examining the production of cross-border spatialities within each theatrical context in ways that do not always require the three to be interconnected. It particularly attends to how transnational processes unravel but also reinforce the production of multiculturalism and racialethnic group identities. Chapter 3 examines processes of ‘glocalisation’ at the Singapore Art Festival, where glocalisation is understood as the production of scale and thus a process of spatial re-organisation. Rather than discussing festival geographies through a local-global dualism, this chapter highlights how responding to transnationalism created a resurgent emphasis on producing nationality in the festival, often working across different scales and spaces (including the body, the city and the region). Chapter 4 similarly examines a tension around nationality and transnationality in performance through a focus on displacement and emplacement in Filipino American diasporic performance and Lao American refugee performance. Both productions searched for belonging to national cultures abroad but were influenced by, and helped reproduce, American multicultural relations and agendas. As such, they undermined the idea that transnational migrants are necessarily ‘foreigners’, demonstrating how second and third generation Asian Americans can create transnational cultural identities. Finally, in this section, Chapter 5 discusses how transnationality can produce multicultural diversity through collective group identification. Focussing on the production of wAve by Korean American playwright Sung Rno, and Boom by Singaporean playwright Jean Tay, the chapter focusses on the production of a multiply inhabited British East Asian identity. Being or becoming British East Asian is an ambivalent process, relating negotiations of identity to the experience of touring in different settings. As such, this chapter demonstrates how a transnational and multiply experienced social field was created in a British context. The section ‘Transnationalism across Contexts’ develops this analysis of transnational mobility and performance, with the chapters creating an increased sense of artistic movement, exchange and interconnection. Chapter 6 analyses how transnational policy frameworks have stimulated collaborations between practitioners from Scotland and Singapore. I critically evaluate how these policies worked through particular spaces and institutions (the British Council and international arts festivals), revealing the possibilities and problems of transnational arts agreements in the process. The chapter examines the changing expectations of artists and governments over time and difficulties in interpretation and reception. These collaborations demonstrate how spatially extensive relationships with Scotland helped develop Singaporean theatre, unravelling and reinforcing national spaces of


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

production. Chapter 7 examines the political relationships between British East Asian, Asian American and other artists during the controversy over the casting of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) The Orphan of Zhao. I argue that the protest against this performance created a relational space that worked across borders to place pressure on the RSC. However, as the protest developed and political outcomes were required, this space became codified, reducing its transgressive potential. Finally, Chapter 8 develops an analysis of multi-locationality by arguing that performances circulate through explicitly translocal spatialities that affect the constitution of creative practice and identity. Through these geographies, performances also help to re-organise place relations and socio-cultural relationships. In particular, the chapter details the emergence of British East Asian theatre through the translocal circulation of ideas, plays and practitioners across the three domains. Performing Asian Transnationalisms therefore highlights the complex geographies of transnationality and how they impact on performance practice and the everyday lives of individuals. Yet it also seeks to understand how practitioners and performances are the agents and mediums of transnational geographies rather than simply being their outcome, particularly as theatrical practice can physically and imaginatively rework transnational flows to create new configurations of space and identity. By grounding discussions of transnationality in Asian theatres, this book highlights an emerging field of practice that cannot simply be captured by reference to the politics of multiculturalism or the experience of dislocation and exile from Asian homelands. Rather transnationality is more expansive, encompassing different degrees and expressions of movement, providing a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between performance and globalisation in the contemporary world.


Transnational Theatre Networks

I begin my journey into the transnational dynamics of ‘Asian’ theatres by asking a simple question: how are these theatres connected? What are the networks through which theatre practitioners interact and what spaces do these geographical morphologies encompass? There are myriad responses to these questions that relate to specific contexts, locations, backgrounds and experiences, all of which are impossible to detail here. Nevertheless, this chapter discusses some common interconnections between Singapore, the UK and the US based upon tracking the production of plays and tracing the career trajectories of practitioners. In so doing, it provides an account of lateral networks that render national spaces and minority identities more porous and fluid. At a simple level, networks are physical or imaginative flows that cross national borders, being driven by—and producing—geographies of connection and exchange. Given the impetus to insert geography back into analyses of transnationalism, this chapter analyses the “spatialities of transnational networks”, that is, “the overlapping and contested material, cultural and political flows and circuits that bind different places together through differentiated relations of power” (Featherstone et al 2007: 386). Networks are multidirectional and multicentred; they stretch beyond the nation-state and challenge its pre-eminence as a container for socio-cultural and political relations. Economically speaking, networks create new transnational orderings as cities become centres of fi nance, producing operations horizontally across space, as much as vertically within the nation-state (Sassen 2002). Networks are thus often seen as dissolving national spaces and communities, but cross-border activities are always located, they are situated somewhere. Although cities are the obvious spatiality within which networks are enmeshed, networks can encompass variegated sites and locations (such as theatres) that may also be central to their constitution. As a result, networks are never completely disconnected from “local constraints and social moorings” (Guarnizo and Smith 1998: 12). These ideas are pertinent when considering how racial-ethnic minority identities, and the theatres they encompass, can potentially be renegotiated through transnational networks. Transnationalism is often seen


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

to render “any strictly bounded sense of community or locality obsolete” and the idea of minoritization assumes that the nation is the focal point of belonging (Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 9). Traversing networks may erode the link between identity and nation, but creative practice can manipulate or reassert that relationship. A tension exists, therefore, between identities as multiply located and collectively grounded. However, this chapter draws upon a social network perspective where “each person [is] a ‘node’ linked with others to form a network” (Vertovec 2009: 32). This approach cuts across spaces and group identities by focussing on individuals, but it does not preclude the formation of community identities as regular patterns and spaces may appear. In the process, collective identities based around nationality become porous and heterogeneous through different personal relationships, trajectories and sites of connection. Networks are often seen as empowering, not least because the act of border-crossing is associated with subversiveness, liminality and new modes of interaction (Meinhof 2011). Identities forged ‘from below’ potentially offer a counterpoint to the dominant forces of capital and the state, but networks are created and maintained through multiple influences that make a narrative of domination and resistance too simplistic (Guarnizo and Smith 1998). The idea of networks as overlapping and contested suggests that they are constantly shifting in relation to different forces. For instance, Kiwan and Meinhof’s (2011) study of the transnational networks of African musicians reveals the realities of everyday working lives, examining the different cities to which musicians move, and the power relationships underpinning their mobility (or lack thereof). Using Meinhof and Triandafyllidou’s (2006) notion of ‘transcultural capital’, they draw attention to the different cultural, symbolic, social and economic relations that artists possess, examining how musicians develop and deploy such assets strategically in order to develop their careers. In their account, networks are constantly being forged and manipulated but this process sometimes stutters and stalls. As I highlight below, networks may be difficult to create, becoming tentative and uneven. The power relationships between artists, or their situation within wider social fields, may also make networks, and the spaces they encompass, uncomfortable to inhabit. In what follows, I utilise the idea of networks as a way of analysing the transnational connections between practitioners and different theatre scenes. Although transnational networks may be immediately associated with globetrotting superstar artists, they equally form the basis of everyday encounters, careers and imaginations (see also Mercer 2008). The chapter begins by examining networks based upon theatrical skill emanating from and to Singapore, detailing how these overlap with economic and social networks to become concentrated in particular sites. It moves on to discuss how these networks link to a British, particularly London-based, theatre scene, and the difficulties practitioners face in establishing connections owing to their racialization. The chapter then discusses transnational

Transnational Theatre Networks


networks forged to the US, emphasising the importance of social relations and the heterogeneity surrounding constructions of racial-ethnic identity. These contexts all illustrate Featherstone et al’s (2007) idea that networks overlap with one another, creating a constant interplay between individual practice and its wider socialization. Networks highlight the heterogeneity of racial-ethnic minority theatres by conveying a sense of directionality, fluidity and multi-locationality. However, what also becomes apparent is that networks embody confl icting power relationships, providing opportunities for some artists at the expense of others, being tenuous or difficult to inhabit, and are politically retrograde as well as politically empowering. Networks are highly uneven and asymmetrical, offering a note of caution to celebratory accounts of transnational flow. In undertaking this analysis, therefore, I am less concerned with how theatre-makers represent, evoke and respond to transnational interconnection in the performances they create, and more interested in how their practice is situated in relation to border-crossing activity.

NETWORKS TO AND FROM SINGAPORE The creative migration of theatre-makers to and from Singapore is linked to the development of the city-state’s arts and cultural scene. Transnational networks established with the UK and US started in the 1980s, when actors such as Lim Kay Tong decided to train abroad owing to a lack of arts infrastructure at home. Singapore was infamously a ‘cultural desert’ at this time, having focussed its energies on economic development and the material well-being of its citizens (Wee 2003). Although Singapore’s interest in culture and the arts is economically focussed (see Chapter 3 and Chapter 6 of this volume), establishing connections to theatre scenes abroad was initially driven by individuals desiring skill development and artistic careers. Alongside these outward-facing geographies, Singapore’s emerging theatre community also forged transnational networks that were concentrated within the city-state. In thinking about the geographies of these networks, one site held a prominent position in focalizing activities: Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT). Established as a professional theatre in 1993, SRT was an outgrowth of STARS, Singapore’s amateur company for American expatriates. The American director, Tony Petito, led this transition, establishing SRT’s remit to perform Euro-American work using practitioners of Asian descent. SRT was the fi rst Singaporean company to pay a professional wage comparable to Broadway and the West End in order to attract ‘named’ directors or actors, such as Barry Kyle and Lea Salonga (Peterson 2001). This approach moved Singaporean theatre away from an amateur set-up where theatre was a hobby pursued after work. Valuing theatre fi nancially arguably helped establish its importance culturally. However, employing


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

professional theatre stars also operated as a magnet for other talented practitioners, helping the company to develop cultural capital nationally and internationally, as Tim Dang, the Producing Artistic Director of East West Players (EWP) in Los Angeles, described: Tony also wanted to create a name for SRT outside of Singapore, so he started doing international co-productions. He created a group of people who were able to put on their CVs that they had worked at SRT, or say, “Oh I worked on this at SRT” and then people would start to recognise SRT in Los Angeles, New York, London, wherever.1 Harnessing transnational networks created a reinforcing cycle of cultural capital in a context where theatre was not intrinsically valued as part of society. This interplay of economic and cultural capital underpinning the formation of networks is also evidenced in the playwriting competition organised between SRT and the International Herald Tribune in 1998. SRT was searching for a play that addressed Asian identities at the turn of the Millennium, offering a prize of US$15,000. The Thai American playwright Prince Gomolvilas won with his play The Theory of Everything, a pan-Asian work that centres on seven UFO-watching Asian Americans in Nevada. The characters explore what it means to be ‘alien’ or displaced in America, but more broadly, the play meditates on the meaning of life and how individuals deal with confusion, uncertainty and hope in an everchanging world. This competition led to a production partnership with EWP, highlighting how networks were forged between theatres as specific creative locations. SRT and EWP already had a working relationship, as EWP provided local knowledge about Asian American actors when SRT productions were cast abroad (see below). SRT had the fi rst option on The Theory of Everything but EWP were aware of the play and wanted to produce it. This situation led to a co-production involving five Asian American and two Singaporean actors directed by the Singaporean born writer-director Chay Yew (who was EWP’s Resident Director at the time). Rehearsals occurred in Singapore before the production opened on 19 October 2000. It then transferred to EWP on 8 November that year. Transnational networks based upon talent were therefore channelled through specific theatres, but coproductions were also realised by mobilising ‘transcultural capital’ as they shared resources and drew upon individual reputations (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006). Other co-productions followed, including Red, Chay Yew’s play about the Cultural Revolution in 2001. He wryly observed in interview that this production “was like the prodigal son returning home”, highlighting the importance of his success abroad to his artistic validation in Singapore. 2 SRT also created, and was characterised by, networks that operated across multiple locations, drawing individuals to one another and reflecting

Transnational Theatre Networks


the idea that networks “bind different parts of the world together and [ . . . ] are constituted through (and in fact constitute) particular sites” (Featherstone et al 2007: 383–4). SRT productions such as The Glass Menagerie (1996) and Hamlet (1997) utilised casts that connected individuals from different English-speaking Asian backgrounds with members of the Singaporean theatre diaspora training and working abroad. Casting across different cities was linked to a lack of high-quality talent at home, but the practice also cemented SRT’s international reputation. Productions such as Barry Kyle’s Hamlet (1997) were cast in London, New York and Los Angeles and involved Singaporean theatre stars (such as Adrian Pang) alongside Asian American and British East Asian actors. As a result, no production could be simplistically described as ‘Singaporean’; instead this national location was relationally embedded in personal networks that encompassed diverse influences and trajectories (Portes 1995). For some actors, SRT was formative in developing their confidence and acting abilities, as the Asian American actor Ryun Yu (who played Laertes in Hamlet) highlighted: Singapore totally changed my life as an actor. At RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London] I couldn’t tell the difference between utterly brilliant and not good at all! But on Hamlet I learned how to control my performance. It really was an amazing opportunity. Just to work with those people, Adrian playing Hamlet, David Yip as Claudius, [Neo] Swee Lin as Gertrude, these incredible actors and then Barry Kyle. I just learnt so much. 3 Working in Singapore was often discussed in these artistically validating terms and reinforced the idea that actors needed opportunities to perform in order to develop. These networks were also politically empowering, as they were inextricably linked to encountering a ‘racial formation’ that shifted individuals from a position of marginality to one of power and dominance (Omi and Winant 1994). Rather than being minority actors in America or Britain, individuals became part of a racial majority through traversing transnational networks. The British East Asian actor and writer Daniel York, who had worked in London since the early 1990s, highlighted this interplay between creative practice and racial identity when describing how performing in The Glass Menagerie (1996) and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1998) in Singapore helped him become a “decent actor”: “Ivan (Heng) and Glen (Goei) are like my family, they’ve always put me on the stage and always believed in me. Tony Petito did that as well. They put me on stage, in the middle of the stage and let me do it.”4 Working with a group of people located in this theatre developed skills and personal trust, but importantly, they also positioned York centre stage, “in the middle”, a significant position when one is used to being marginalised as a minority actor in Britain. Singaporean actors and directors living

28 Performing Asian Transnationalisms in London also created and traversed transnational networks with SRT in order to hone their craft and work with notable practitioners. The type of parts available was a significant draw, as the Singaporean actor and director, Adrian Pang, who lived in London for eight years, highlighted: The things I did come back for, for example Hamlet, The Glass Menagerie, They’re Playing Our Song with Lea Salonga, were productions that, significantly, I knew I would never ever get a chance to do as an Asian actor in the UK. You know, the chance to not just be involved in a production of Hamlet, but to play Hamlet would never happen. 5 As discussed below, Singaporean practitioners experienced restricted opportunities in Britain’s theatre industry owing to their racialization. A number of Singaporean actors and directors therefore returned every year to gain particular kinds of experience. These opportunities centred on SRT and simultaneously challenged the racialization experienced abroad whilst reinforcing the dominant racial formation in Singapore, revealing the multiple operations of power embedded in transnational networks (Featherstone 2007). However, in considering the embodiment of power within networks more widely, these connections partly suggested that Singapore could learn from the UK and US. Given the city-state’s post-colonial emergence and attempts to fi nd its own socio-cultural voice, this was problematic because such a perception reinforced ideas of colonial superiority (see Chapter 8, this volume). One way in which these politics emerged was through the dominance of American performance styles, as interviews with Asian American practitioners who worked at SRT demonstrate: Acting is acting, so there weren’t really any differences. Our vocabulary and the way we worked as Americans was a little different but you always work with different people anyway, so in rehearsal you pick things up through osmosis and fi nd the balance just like with any other play.6 Such a response signals the geographical and technical generality attached to working in Singapore. Productions did not create cross-cultural understanding or intercultural modes of engagement, rather practitioners and performance practice seemed transplanted in a way similar to touring works. In addition to these dynamics, reviews of plays involving Asian American or British East Asian actors, such as The Theory of Everything, highlighted that these actors “steals [sic] the show” and that local actors “pale in comparison” owing to their lack of experience.7 The Asian American actress Emily Kuroda described how she “felt bad taking their parts” because by creating opportunities and transnational networks for actors from abroad, local Singaporeans were disadvantaged: “There’s actors in Singapore, use

Transnational Theatre Networks


them instead of importing us! [ . . . ] I said, ‘I’m so sorry, this is not right, they should use you guys.’”8 Transnational networks freed some individuals from being “trapped in place” by providing work that was non-stereotypical, but this occurred at the expense of Singaporeans who could not afford to train or work abroad (Featherstone et al 2007: 386). Transnational networks were therefore politically contradictory, and as a result, uncomfortable to be part of. This discomfiture was also reflected by established British actors such as David Yip, who highlighted that coming from the UK contained difficulties around skill: In the UK, doing something like Shakespeare, your opportunities are stop start, stop start, so you worry about it. It was nine years between doing Hamlet [in Singapore] and King Lear [in Shanghai] and I did think, “Will I be able to still do that?” Of course, you get back into it, but you’re not doing it regularly.9 Transnational networks reveal insecurities but they also query the professionalism and success immediately associated with different theatrical contexts. These processes occurred laterally in relation to Singapore, highlighting confl icts in power relations and the hesitancy, rather than certainty, of embodying transnationalism. Although SRT was the main site of activity, the relationships established through these productions inevitably sprawled beyond it. Here, a social network perspective is important in tracking individual connections that both encompass and move beyond nation-based community identities (Rogers and Vertovec 1995). For instance, Ryun Yu met Neo Swee Lin and her husband Lim Kay Siu on Hamlet but he then worked on Kyle’s next production in Louisiana (Angels in America). This production allowed him once again to move beyond being labelled as an Asian American actor. Yu then returned to Singapore to perform in TheatreWorks’ production of Chay Yew’s Half Lives (1997), directed by Lim. This time, the invitation and his choice to work in Singapore were driven by the interplay between personal and creative networks, as “I had booked a commercial and TheatreWorks was not paying the same but I wanted to go to Singapore to do Chay’s play.”10 Lim also asked Yu because he “needed an actor who liked workshopping, liked exploring, and Ryun is that kind.”11 Similarly, after working together on The Glass Menagerie, Daniel York visited Emily Kuroda in Los Angeles to explore the possibility of working there in theatre and film. Relationships made in one place were therefore harnessed to creating transnational networks and professional opportunities in another. In time, the social networks created at and through SRT also occurred in parallel with those developed in London, particularly via Glen Goei’s British Chinese company, Mu-Lan. As discussed further in Chapter 8 of this volume, Mu-Lan drew together networks in Singapore and in London,


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

which is unsurprising given that so many SRT practitioners were based in the British capital. In London these individuals shared food, watched soap operas and further cemented friendships as Lim Kay Siu described: “Swee Lin was so close to Ivan [ . . . ] and she worked on Glen’s Three Japanese Women, so Glen and Ivan got back in touch. Adrian was there, Jen . . . we were all Singaporeans abroad.”12 Despite the construction of a collective Singaporean identity, such relationships were not exclusive but rather highlight the co-constitution, and resultant heterogeneity of Singaporean, British East Asian and other identities. Mu-Lan brought these Singaporeans together with the Caucasian producer Sacha Brooks and an array of British East Asian artists with diverse backgrounds, such as the Trinidadian Chinese actress Jacqueline Chan, mixed-race performers such as Anna Chen, Paul Hyu and Daniel York, and the Malaysian born Chowee Leow. Many of these artists have continued to work together over the years in productions such as An Occasional Orchid (see Chapter 2, this volume), Goei’s Restoration farce The Magic Fundoshi in Singapore in 1994 and 1996, and York and Pang in Dealer’s Choice in 2011. Although these networks are utilised on a project-by-project basis, they are heterogeneous and socially underpinned. However, they increasingly occur in Singapore, rather than through the more dispersed geographies in which they were forged. Over time, many (although not all) practitioners returned to Singapore, using their experiences to develop the city-state’s theatre scene. The auteur Ong Keng Sen is notable in this regard in that his exposure to experimental theatre in New York and mainland Europe inspired him to create types of theatre previously unseen in Singapore. For those traversing transnational networks, such developments were artistically interesting and creatively energising: Swee Lin came back to work with Ong Keng Sen on a site-specific project called The Yang Family (1996) where they used a whole house in Chinatown to present this story about a matriarch. I had seen sitespecific work in London, but not as well done. Then I came back with Glen to do The Magic Fundoshi (1994, 1996) and the audiences rolled in the aisles laughing. So we realised how much we were missing out on, especially with what Keng Sen was doing, Longing (1994), Broken Birds (1995), presentational theatre, deconstructing theatre, SRT doing theatre in Fort Canning park on a huge scale, there was this creative energy, this realisation of a Singaporean theatre scene trying to forge its own identity. It was really very, very exciting.13 Ong’s exposure to environmental theatre through Richard Schechner at New York University (NYU), and the development of his deconstructive and intercultural practice, were all evidenced in The Yang Family, a performance that a number of Singaporean practitioners cited as original in

Transnational Theatre Networks


interviews. Lim’s response situated Ong’s work amid the emerging variety of Singapore’s post-colonial theatre scene but this world was influenced by different contexts. Ong’s practice highlighted such interconnections but so did SRT’s Shakespeare in the Park, performances initiated by Kyle’s Hamlet. The ability to belong to this world and help develop it ultimately drew many practitioners back in ways that re-established national borders of identity and creativity. However, contemporary transnational networks, particularly those based upon training and development, are driven by government objectives because grants from the National Arts Council of Singapore are usually awarded in priority areas that will strengthen Singapore’s creative economy. It is well documented that Singaporean arts are valued because they help to make Singapore a creative city, and funding remains concentrated on “sending” people abroad (National Arts Council 2000: 6; Kong 2000). In part this links to the idea that Singapore is a small place and that artists need to travel to “discover and to create, in order to renew one’s awareness and one’s formal responses” (Haerdter 2005: 7). Singapore does have training provision, with La Salle College of the Arts taking its fi rst cohort of Drama students in 1991, and the Theatre Studies Program starting at the National University of Singapore in 1992. Yet, as highlighted in some statements above, cultural capital and prestige is often attached to foreign residencies, programs, teaching and experience. This is also evidenced in the establishment (and closure) of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia (2007–2014), which was designed to make Singapore a regional arts hub. However, local and regional students failed to be attracted to its courses, which were largely postgraduate and the same cost as those at NYU in New York, highlighting the pre-eminence of cultural capital in encouraging budding practitioners to train abroad. Practitioners who do acquire government grants are bonded and must work in Singapore’s arts and cultural sector for two years during a fiveyear period once their studies have fi nished. This focus on skills retention orientates transnational networks inwardly and reinforces their temporary nature. As a result, these recently established networks are more fluid and diff use compared to those forged in the 1990s and early 2000s. Singaporean practitioners are dispersed across institutional locations in the UK, the US and beyond, connecting Singapore to various sites based on creative trajectories and interests, rather than being concentrated in a particular theatre, school, or even city. For instance, Rydwan Anwar took an MA in Cultural and Creative Industries at King’s College London, Noorlinah Mohammed undertook a Ph.D. at Warwick University as she was interested in arts education and the academic work of Jonathan Nelans, and Jean Tay went to Brown University to study economics but took elective modules in creative writing, a step that “empowered me as a playwright” owing to the “supportive” environment created by the professors and students.14 However, practitioner motivations are different from government


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

objectives and can undercut the economic rationalisations behind these network formations. When interviewing Singaporean practitioners studying in the UK, they were reflective both about their craft and Singapore’s cultural development: In England our discussions are long and deep. It is Singapore as an entity, the idea of Singapore, we ask a lot more questions because we are away. Those reflections happen unconsciously in Singapore, but being distanced they come to the surface, because I’m just reading, writing, thinking about my art. You need time, and in Singapore you hardly have time to think. The pace with which we walk is fast and the distance between places is short. The pace here is extremely slow.15 Transnational distance enabled in-depth critical reflection, especially when meeting other Singaporeans. As a result, pre-existing social networks were replicated transnationally, revealing the tenuous nature of connections to places outside Singapore. Imaginatively, creatively and socially, transnational networks are now embedded in Singaporean identities and national spaces. They are weighted inwardly in one direction even as their morphology appears more diffuse and sprawling.

NAVIGATING NETWORKS TO THE UK When tracing these networks to the UK, Singaporean and Asian American practitioners become part of a fluid and heterogeneous East Asian theatre world. The British East Asian (BEA) sphere is ad hoc and involves East Asians born or based in Britain from a range of cultural backgrounds and geographical locations, including Singapore, the US, Australia, China and Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Caribbean and Vietnam as well as many mixed-race identities. This community is largely defi ned by racialization in ways that homogenise its diversity (see below) and is not concentrated in particular companies or theatres. There is currently only one BEA company, Yellow Earth Theatre (YET), which was formed in 1995 by Kwong Loke, Kumiko Mendl, Veronica Needa, David Tse Ka-Shing and Tom Wu. However, the company has been in flux since Tse left as Artistic Director in 2008 and it lost its Arts Council England revenue funding in 2011. Similarly, Meeling Ng founded the British Chinese theatre company, Mu-Lan, in 1988, Glen Goei took over as Artistic Director in 1990, and then Paul Hyu when Goei returned to Singapore. Its loss of funding in 2004 forced it to close. As a result, there is a diff use community of practitioners operating across variegated spaces, overlapping with other theatre scenes. The transnational networks in which BEA theatre is enmeshed are therefore differentiated and individualised, but by tracking careers through a social network perspective it is possible to elucidate common connections.

Transnational Theatre Networks


London is central to transnational networks involving the UK owing to its concentration of theatre companies, auditions and workshops, and few theatre practitioners of Asian descent sustain an artistic life outside the city. The perception of London as a cultural capital, as an inspiring environment owing to its variety of art forms, also emerged repeatedly in interviews with theatre-makers who decided to forge a career there: London’s so multicultural and it’s got so much on offer, not just in terms of theatre but in terms of galleries, music, fi lms and festivals. All these things have an impact on my acting and my writing. [ . . . ] It’s also research; the people that you meet and the stories that you hear in London are all so varied. You meet someone and think, “You’re going to be a very good character one day!”16 Alongside this idea that one could engage with, or consume, many different art forms to develop theatrical practice was the notion that London was a competitive place that “makes you tough.”17 Despite the number of individuals based in the UK, and a growing community of British artists with East Asian heritage, both groups described the difficulties of establishing a career in London, let alone developing transnational networks to facilitate this. Artists who migrated to London, or tried to establish connections to its theatres, found themselves indelibly marked by racialization. Practitioners were viewed as part of a British East Asian theatrical community, or subjected to stereotypical representations of East Asians by mainstream institutions. Establishing transnational networks with the UK, both with and beyond BEA theatre companies, is therefore difficult. High-profi le artists struggled to develop ‘transcultural capital’ and convert their recognition into new projects or productions in London (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006). Mixed-race Asian writers, such as Velina Hasu Houston, who are recognised forces in American theatre, were unable to ignite interest in their work, despite visiting and meeting literary managers several times: I was boxed as ethnic, I was told to go to the ethnic companies. But the ethnic companies had a monoracial view of their world. That is to say, if it was an Asian company, they wanted stories only about Asians and not intersecting with any other ethnicities (except for white ones) and, with regards to a Black company, they catered to what they called “real” Black stories; the same for companies focussed on other ethnic heritages. When one is multiethnic and has a more global, transnational view of the world, the door is not open to your worldview.18 Similarly, David Henry Hwang, the pre-eminent Asian American playwright who has the by-lines ‘Tony award-winning’, ‘Pulitzer Nominee’ and


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

‘Signature Artist’ attached to his name, described having “zero presence in London” to me in 2011.19 Hwang partly felt dissatisfied with his ‘then’ literary agent but he also likes to “work with the ethnic companies so that they can use my name to raise their profi le.”20 As an artist able to work across contexts in the US, he expected to do the same in the UK. Yet such networks did not materialise, especially as he could not develop an ongoing relationship with YET owing to their administrative changes, and as Houston suggested, many ethnic minority companies also display narrow perceptions of race that work to exclude. Racialization may therefore be encountered or used in different ways but can prevent, as much as enable, transnational networks from being forged. As a result, these examples highlight the tenuous nature of transnational networks and offer a cautionary note to the idea that they are politically, or indeed artistically, empowering (cf. Featherstone 2007). All interviewees discussed the difficulties of being racialized as a racialethnic minority in the UK. Drawing on Portes (1995), transnational artists must therefore navigate their relational embeddedness—that is, social networks in and across contexts—but also their structural embeddedness— that is, different scales and hierarchies of social relationships in place. In particular, British-born and British-based East Asian practitioners must navigate remarkably persistent stereotypes of Chinese difference whilst visually conforming to expected racial signifiers of that difference: “London now is so cosmopolitan, it’s so mixed and I feel very at home here, but it would be great if that could be reflected more in the arts. Casting directors, directors, they want pigeonholes, but I think, I hope, that slowly it will change.”21 Racialization creates a sense of community but this is grounded in a reductive image of phenotypical difference that glosses over this group’s diversity. As a result, opportunities for East Asian practitioners outside BEA theatre companies or settings are limited. The number of anecdotes about stereotyping (at least one in every interview) suggests that these practitioners are conditioned by their relationship with the mainstream theatre industry, with actors, writers and directors largely obtaining work when a performance contains an East or South East Asian setting. Productions such as Wild Swans (2012) at the Young Vic, #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (2013) at Hampstead Theatre and Chimerica (2013) at the Almeida and West End were all cast with East Asian practitioners playing Chinese characters, but few of the actors involved had previously worked at these venues. Whilst offering high-quality working opportunities, this recent spate of performances is invariably linked to the economic rise of China and Britain’s cultural-political negotiation of its relationship to this new superpower. Before the opening of Wild Swans, East Asian practitioners were still describing how mainstream theatre opportunities had “become worse.”22 The productions above are all from a Euro-American perspective, capitalise on high profi le

Transnational Theatre Networks


figures or events (Tiananmen Square in Chimerica, the Cultural Revolution in Wild Swans), and ultimately reinforce associations of transnational difference vis-à-vis foreignness, especially for those who are British born. This intersection of transnationalism in a racial-ethnic minority context can be seen as a contemporary manifestation of an Orientalist fascination with difference that ultimately attempts to know and control (Said 1978). However, the fluid networks that many transnational practitioners (and BEAs more widely) establish challenge this binding of transnational forces into a self/other dynamic. For instance, the Singaporean-born, but London-based, playwright Rosaline Ting was part of a number of writing groups, including YET’s Yellow Ink, a group for women writers, as well as Tamasha’s (a British South Asian company) writing programme Small Lives, Global Ties. Her participation indicates how practitioners can work across theatres linked to diff erent axes of identity. Ting is indicative of many, with, for instance, the Chinese Trinidadian actress Jacqueline Chan working with the black British company Talawa, as well as YET and Mu-Lan, and YET sharing administrative support with the South Asian theatre company Kali. These groups offer scope for working beyond a boxed racial-ethnic identity but they rely upon the acceptance of minoritization. In writing groups at mainstream theatres, such as the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices programme, racial identity remains “sticky” with individuals burdened by the fact that their participation is based upon being a racial-ethnic minority (Price 2012: 807). Yet without such diversity initiatives, East Asian practitioners would, arguably, have limited access to such institutions and their expertise. Some writers have managed to progress through the hoops of race to become part of the Royal Court’s Studio Group, such as Tuyen Do and Daniel York, whilst working with Tamasha and other theatre companies. Although this suggests that talent will out, there remain structural forces at work that condition participation on the basis of race. In this context it would be easy to suggest that London theatre is discriminatory. However, the type of work being created is important, as the Singaporean playwright Jeremy Tiang (then based in London) suggested: I’m not writing the “right” play! I don’t want to say there’s a lack of interest in East Asian work in London because that’s not the full answer. So with A Dream of Red Pavilions, YET approached a lot of mainstream theatres and were told that people don’t want to see a Chinese play. It’s not that simple, as people may be afraid of something that sounds obscure and hard work, which a play adapted from an 18th century Chinese novel [The Dream of the Red Chamber] is going to be, and an 18th century Chinese novel you have never heard of, adapted by a writer you have never heard of, being promoted by YET which has been through this transition. 23


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Tiang articulated his forging of physical and imaginative transnational networks in relation to a racial-ethnic company but then discussed a combination of factors that created obstacles to production beyond this setting. Racialization is not a uniform process, as only particular types of Chinese stories are of interest, reinforcing the need for contemporary and accessible works for mainstream theatres. These qualities also needed to dovetail with established artistic reputations to allow networks to become more fluid and varied. Similarly, Tim Dang described how Asian American theatre may not resonate in London: I would love for East West Players to be staged in London, but we don’t have an audience. I am very aware of this thing called turf. I have no idea what London is like, what the audience base of different theatres is outside of the British Asian companies. Where we would go? Who could we create a partnership with? Who would an EWP production appeal to? I don’t have that expertise.24 The idea of turf in terms of location, audience and remit highlighted that distance impeded one’s contextual knowledge such that the adage of ‘fi nding the right home for the work’ was more complicated. Social networks with individuals who have the requisite knowledge or long-term physical presence abroad are therefore key factors in establishing transnational networks for production, but even then such work may remain pigeonholed. However, Asian American actors who had worked in London often did so in co-productions, tours or musicals, and thus by-passed some of the experiences relayed above. Often these individuals worked in the mainstream, did not encounter BEA theatre and so felt less of a minority. Positive experiences were held by practitioners who worked on shortterm contracts on a specific production (e.g. L.A. Plays (1993) at the Almeida or Paper Dolls (2013) at the Tricycle) rather than by those actively pursuing a living in the city. Working in London then allowed these actors to break expectations surrounding their racial identity when they returned to the US. Transnational networks developed transcultural capital and increased employability at home: “If you’re an Asian American actor who has worked in London, in that big place that is the heart of theatre, then it’s more credible, there’s more weight to it, rather than, ‘Oh well you’re Asian, so you worked in Singapore, where else would you work?’”25 Asian Americans, much like their UK counterparts, are often perceived as outsiders and so are almost expected to work in Asia. However, transnational networks and the resultant garnering of cultural capital could be manipulated to rework assumptions of racial and ethnic heritage (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006). This was reinforced by the emphasis on theatre’s cultural, artistic and economic value: “There was a different valuing of theatre, your practice was valued for its own sake, but you were also paid well for theatre and people paid to see theatre.”26

Transnational Theatre Networks


In London different types of capital came together, but even Asian American practitioners living and working in London felt that there was a greater focus on skill, with the UK being “more of an ability-based system.”27 In London: “To a great extent your work speaks for itself, you put yourself out there and if people are impressed with your work, they are impressed, if they are not, they are not.”28 Although these practitioners did not deny racialization and pigeonholing, when compared to the US, this emphasis on ability led to “more interesting work overall”, highlighting the comparative contextual trade-offs that artists make when situated in transnational networks.29

NETWORKS TO AND WITH AMERICA Contemporary developments are creating and galvanising transnational networks between, as well as beyond, Asian American and BEA theatres. These emerging connections are transversal, occurring between different marginal groups, and based upon solidarity and sociability in relation to a shared experience of racial exclusion. These networks were highlighted during a workshop on ‘Race and Performance’ that I organised in 2008, an event involving academics alongside Asian American and British East Asian practitioners. Philip W. Chung, then Co-Artistic Director of Asian American company Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, wrote for AsianWeek: “There really isn’t a relationship between the Asian artists in England with those in America. Logically, there should be—after all, in both countries we’re English-speaking minorities facing similar issues. Perhaps now [ . . . ] we should make more of a genuine effort to come together.”30 Although Asian American theatre has more practitioners, companies, a more integrated sense of artistic community and a longer history of activism, there are common agendas with the UK context. Both groups want equal representation and to be seen as part of a national fabric; both fight stereotypes and the practice of yellowface; and both hold institutions to account over diversity initiatives. These shared interests stimulate transnational social networks, and did so during the Royal Shakespeare Company’s casting of the Chinese classic The Orphan of Zhao in 2012, an event that brought Asian American and BEA practitioners together to protest the casting of white actors in Chinese roles (see Chapter 7, this volume). Artistic frustrations over limited opportunities and stereotyping have led East Asian practitioners born or based in the UK to engage strategically with Asian American theatre. One example of this was the staging of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face at London’s Park Theatre in 2013. The Asian American actor Kevin Shen obtained the rights to produce the play from Hwang after feeling that “the concept of being both British and Asian seems to be a novel idea here [whereas in America] it is expected that even if you’re Asian, you’re from somewhere in America fi rst.”31

38 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Hwang’s artistic reputation enabled the play to be produced in the opening season of a newly refurbished, albeit fringe, venue. 32 His previous difficulties in mounting a British production were overcome by Shen’s London base, as Shen was able to negotiate with the theatre and gain support for funding applications. The production also generated interest as Hwang travelled to London to publicise it. This movement of play and practitioner, based upon talent and creative reputation, helped physically cement the virtual transnational connections established during The Orphan of Zhao controversy but also highlights how networks are “materially heterogeneous”, involving people alongside objects, or in this instance, words (Featherstone et al 2007: 386). Although Yellow Face used a multi-ethnic cast, the play unsettles the racialization of East Asian actors by situating the performance of identity in more complex geographies. Yellow Face is a farce based on the casting of the white British actor Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian Engineer in Miss Saigon and questions our desire to categorise racial identity by emphasising multiplicity and mistaken identity. Its London staging can be read as an example of how transnational networks unravel nation-based minority identities, as this explicitly Asian American play brought together a diverse British East Asian, white British and Asian American cast in a mainstream setting. Yet this would belie how the London production created an American Asianity through accents and explicit contextual references to the Broadway Miss Saigon controversy (a controversy that was not replicated in the UK). This geographical reworking challenged the perception of Asian identity in the UK by re-orienting the focus away from Asia towards America. However, the production was frequently reviewed in relation to The Orphan of Zhao protests: The under-representation of east Asian actors on British stages received overdue attention late last year after criticism of the RSC’s casting of the Chinese play, The Orphan of Zhao. So [ . . . ] David Henry Hwang’s comic drama from 2007 is particularly timely, raising slippery issues about the portrayal of race.33 Even today, British Asian actors remain woefully under-represented on our stages. Only last year, the RSC was forced to defend a largely Caucasian cast performing the Chinese play The Orphan of Zhao. 34 As a result, this production did not loosen nation-based identities, but rather brought them into dialogue with one another. At one level, this was a play about Miss Saigon and Asian America. However it was geographically layered and could also be read alongside The Orphan of Zhao, drawing attention to the Britishness of the actors involved, the contemporary resonances with debates in the UK, and the performativity of the identities portrayed. This awareness was simultaneous, and therefore the transnational

Transnational Theatre Networks


networks behind the production helped subvert dominant expectations about race and foreignness (Featherstone 2007). These politically empowering “minor to minor networks” take shape through individual social networks and are grounded in creating artistic opportunities from a shared perspective (Lionnet and Shih 2005: 8). For instance, the British Chinese director Jonathan Man met with Pan Asian Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Tisa Chang when he was at the Director’s Lab at The Lincoln Centre. Although Man sought to develop his own directing career and experiences, Chang was keen “to promote [the] . . . US Asian and UK Asian exchange” in order to share work, develop ideas and create cross-cultural dialogue.35 This interest in exploring works or fi nding resonances has stimulated an emerging series of engagements with writers from different backgrounds. As highlighted in the introduction, Jeremy Tiang secured a reading of A Dream of Red Pavilions after meeting Tisa at the Asian American Theatre Conference in Los Angeles, with a subsequent production slotted for 2015. Although the play is based on a Chinese novel, it fits Pan Asian’s reputation for staging Asian stories with an intercultural sensibility, such as Rashomon (2001) or Cambodia Agonistes (1993, 2005) (Lee 2006). Similarly, 3rd Kulture Kids, a New York theatre company exploring mixed-race and bi-cultural heritages, produced a staged reading of Daniel York’s Fake Chinaman in Rehab in 2013. These networks were established through Wild Swans—a 2012 co-production between Boston’s American Repertory Theatre and London’s Young Vic. The director, Ron Nakahara, was one of the Asian American actors in Wild Swans, alongside York’s wife, Jennifer Lim, and Nakahara’s New York theatre networks led to the reading of York’s play. Whilst in Boston, Lim also met Lauren Yee, whose play Hookman was being performed in the city. Wild Swans thus opened up the possibility of exchanging ideas and scripts, and discussing future productions. Interpersonal friendships and sociability therefore create transnational networks for development or production that do not necessarily require validation from the dominant mainstream, and illustrate “the creative interventions that networks of minoritized cultures produce within and across national boundaries” (Lionnet and Shih 2005: 7). Despite these emerging connections, comparatively few BEA theatremakers have lived in the US, making these networks asymmetrical. Like their American counterparts, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a trans-Atlantic crossing outside explicitly racialized settings and, as a result, working opportunities are only marginally better and easier to come by in New York or LA than in London. Visa regulations also mean that one must be ‘an alien of extraordinary talent’ to work and reside in the US, such that the vertical space of the nation-state significantly impacts upon the creation of lateral networks. Obtaining the necessary track record for a visa can be difficult given the opportunities available for BEA actors, especially in colour-blind roles. Actors such as David Yip have tried working in New York but one must already have cultural capital to activate these

40 Performing Asian Transnationalisms transnational networks physically (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). Even with the required experience, Yip found it difficult to escape being pigeonholed into race-specific roles: I’ve been to New York a few times and after my fi rst marriage broke up, I thought, “Oh I’ll go try it.” [ . . . ] I went to meet theatre agents and I loved New York as a city. [ . . . ] I got a phone call saying, “David Henry Hwang has got a play coming into Broadway and we would like you to read the script”, so I got the pages. 36 Very few practitioners shifted the type of working opportunities available to them through transnational networks. As a result, when moving outside “minor to minor” transnational networks, BEA practitioners faced the same issues as at home, only as part of a larger and more competitive Asian American theatre scene (Lionnet and Shih 2005: 8). Although BEA practitioners felt that racial identity was “less of a hindrance” to their acting in New York, this does not mean that inequality does not exist.37 Rather, the greater availability and openness of auditions, as well as informal access to casting directors, creates a sense of increased opportunity: as Lim described, “I was just viewed as an actress, rather than an East Asian actress.”38 Despite these experiences, and the idea that racial minorities were more visible in New York theatre, most Asian American practitioners still feel that there is a need to address racial-ethnic diversity, with statistics collected by the Asian American Performers’ Action Coalition (AAPAC) highlighting that only 3% of roles on Broadway go to Asian Americans (AAPAC 2013: 2). In further considering the overlapping influences behind transnational networks, stringent visa regulations and dominant social forces work alongside fi nancial pressures to make transnational networks difficult to inhabit long-term. Although money is a draw, particularly in Los Angeles where practitioners can mix film, television and theatre, to relocate requires at least a “six month fi nancial gamble” whilst individuals try to obtain work.39 For many this risk was ultimately off-putting. Singaporean practitioners, such as Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin, tried migrating to LA in 1999, when Lim had a credited part in the fi lm Anna and the King. Guided by their friendship with Ryun Yu, they tested the waters, but realised that theatrically they would experience the same frustrations as in London but with additional fi nancial pressures: The theatre was great, the kind of work Lodestone were doing. The only thing was we couldn’t survive fi nancially with it. It was the only thing I wanted to do in LA. The things they [the Asian Americans] were thinking about, the knowledge of their craft and what they wanted to do with it was fantastic [ . . . ] So we started the ball rolling on the Green Card but it’s a lot of money, we would be there, not getting work or getting small stereotype parts, really the repeat of London.40

Transnational Theatre Networks


Despite obtaining auditions and parts, and fi nding personal and creative synergies with Asian American companies, the expense made Los Angeles a hard city to move to. The fact that LA is the epicentre of America’s film and television industry means that theatre is often perceived as a subsidiary activity, despite its vibrancy, artistic diversity and experimentalism. As a result Asian theatre practitioners may feel both an artistic and racial-ethnic minority, especially when compared with New York. However, Lim’s experience was perhaps coloured by Yu’s own social networks in the city, particularly his involvement with Asian American theatre. Superficially, it seems that being perceived as a racial-ethnic minority made geographical specificity almost disappear within transnational networks, as the experience of working in different cities and the types of opportunities available seemed to render one city very much like another. Yet many Singaporeans living and working in Los Angeles expressed surprise that one was “suddenly Asian” rather than Singaporean, and felt “no connection to that idea of minority identity.”41 As a result, there was a tendency to “seek the theatre peer, rather than the Asian peer”, to actively explore opportunities in a mainstream theatre world, or work between Asian American, multicultural and mainstream organisations.42 This ability to traverse multiple theatres is characteristic of Los Angeles theatre, and allowed some practitioners to retain a Singaporean identity without feeling minoritized by dominant perceptions of race. Writers, in particular, are often involved with an array of companies and groups, such as Cornerstone Theatre, Playwright’s Ink and Playwright’s Arena. These companies are defi ned by their interest in new writing rather than by race, and thus enable transnational networks to encompass variegated spaces. A number of Singaporean theatre-makers also established accidental networks to Los Angeles, staying in the city after university or moving there because of different careers. As Featherstone et al (2007) suggest, transnational networks are comprised of multiple overlapping forces, but sometimes their effects and directionality cannot be predicted. For instance, Deborah Png is a well-known actress in Singapore but migrated from Singapore to Dallas before moving to LA owing to her American husband’s catering career. Similarly, Singaporean-born playwrights Henry Ong43 and Damon Chua started out in different careers in the city (journalism and fi nance respectively). Chua described how being in LA gave him the impetus to pursue theatre full time: Working in fi nance didn’t allow me to create in any way, and this hobby that I had been nurturing all these years was dying to come out. Eventually I felt the need to express myself in a bigger way, and I think LA is certainly a very creative place in that there are lots of actors, writers, directors, who are doing their own things. So being in LA allowed me to become more focussed on my true love.44


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

LA’s economy is characterised by flexible specialisation and the ability to work across creative industries, and this provided a creative stimulus for emerging practitioners (Storper and Christopherson 1987). However, these artists had an additional source of income that fi nanced a transnational theatre network. Many Singaporean writers, directors and actors return to work in Singaporean theatre and explore the possibilities of staging theatre there (such as Lydia Look in One Bed Three Pillows (2001) or Deborah Png’s involvement with SRT and Action Theatre). Such explorations are funded not only by alternative careers but also by lucrative film and television work in LA (for instance Look wrote the very successful Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior for Disney). As a result, the city’s economy did not simply concentrate practitioners in the city as flexible specialisation suggests, but allowed them to create geographically extensive networks (cf. Storper and Christopherson 1987). Eventually Singaporean practitioners, like some of their Asian American counterparts, traversed a well-worn network between LA and New York in order to develop more fi nancially viable and varied theatre careers. As a result, transnational networks melded with local and national networks to reinforce the primacy of New York as the epicentre of American theatre. Although Chay Yew worked at EWP and ran the Mark Taper Forum’s (LA’s most prestigious theatre) Asian Theatre Workshop until it closed in 2005, he gravitated to the East Coast. His plays were staged in Asian American and mainstream theatres in New York, such as his adaptation of The House of Bernarda Alba at National Asian American Theatre Company in 2000 and Red at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1999, and he directed Asian American productions such as Durango (2006) at The Public Theatre. His career trajectory demonstrates his ability to develop bi-coastal relationships in order to build his track record and open up nonracially-specific opportunities, including becoming Artistic Director of The Victory Gardens in Chicago. Despite the contradictions surrounding work for Asian or Asian minority practitioners, the scale of New York’s theatre industry offers greater professional development within and outside racialized networks. Damon Chua decided to move to New York after nine years in LA but only when he had a job in theatre (as the Executive Director of the off-Broadway company KEEN): I had been working with different theatre companies and I really wanted to see what New York has to offer, because that’s where you get bigger theatres, you get Broadway, off Broadway, and all that. So I decided that if I can fi nd a position in New York I would move there.45 Chua was attracted by the opportunities in New York to develop his writing, being selected for both The Public Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group, and Ma-Yi Theatre Company’s Writers’ Group, again traversing racially and non-racially-specific worlds. Transnational networks

Transnational Theatre Networks


therefore mobilise a range of influences, but also pull together, overlap with, and work across spaces.

CONCLUSION: NETWORKING ACROSS CONTEXTS Transnational networks capture “fluidity, multicentredness and complexity but [ . . . ] without denying hierarchy or confl ict” (Holton 2005: 68). This chapter has shown that transnational connections between Singaporean, British and American contexts are often driven by individual careers, artistic impulses and social relationships (such as friendship) to forge lateral connections, rather than being led by government initiatives. As a result, a range of social, economic and political forces shape the symmetry and morphology of the networks created, highlighting the intersections and tradeoffs that artists make between different forms of capital in their attempts to physically inhabit multiple locations (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006). Networks also operate through and across a variety of spaces, traversing the nation-state, global cities and specific locations (notably theatres) in those cities. At times, these networks hold such a prominent position that they come to defi ne certain spaces, such as SRT, as well as operating through them (see also Featherstone et al 2007). Practitioners involved in these networks often work in varied spaces, demonstrating the multiplicity of social connections and encounters through which theatrical careers are made and pursued. Networks are often seen to undercut the dominance of the nation-state, being a way to forge new identities and political activities. Yet this is a highly variable activity insofar as national spaces and identities are simultaneously unravelled and reinforced. In the account above, this dynamic is prominent with regards to the interplay between racialization and nationality, with many Asian artists being racialized as minorities by dominant social forces. Such processes presuppose the existence of a national sphere, one that practitioners may not identify with, that is constantly reiterated through the kinds of creative opportunities available, and complicated by the very presence and creative activities of those who criss-cross theatre spheres. Yet transnational networks may also work in tandem with well-established national networks (such as between LA and New York) operating across and within existing spatialities. Transnational networks can therefore be harnessed to develop new working opportunities or to allow for the movement of plays and productions. Artists may utilise such connections to subvert mainstream expectations, even whilst gaining a foothold. In London, a play such as Yellow Face, produced as a self-starring showcase by an Asian American actor, helped cement embryonic imaginative networks, challenged the type of opportunities available for actors of East Asian descent in the UK and reworked the spaces of identity embodied within the play. Activities along “minor to minor” transnational networks may therefore overlap with dominant or


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

‘major’ worlds and challenge their assumptions (Lionnet and Shih 2005: 8). They potentially help free practitioners from a nation-based politics that grounds individuals as minorities by pitching them into wider fields of activity, providing supportive and creatively enriching relationships that do not necessarily require mainstream validation. However, the politics of transnational networks cannot be assumed and may not be progressive in their outcomes. Opportunities for some artists may exist at the expense of others and reinforce marginality, making network morphologies uncomfortable and hesitantly inhabited. Transnational networks are therefore heterogeneous and uneven as they contain confl icting and contradictory possibilities. As a result, forging and navigating these spaces requires constant work and the manipulation of social, fiscal and political resources in the search to fi nd the ultimate balance of opportunity.


Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre

As practitioners create and move through the transnational networks outlined in Chapter 1 of this volume, they encounter different contexts that influence the construction of identity and the development of creative practice. In this chapter I drill down from these broad dynamics to examine how the experience of transnational migrancy influences, and is represented in, theatre. Theatrical scripts and performances often offer the ability to manipulate identity, especially for racial-ethnic minorities, challenging expectations around behaviour and being (see Forbes 2004; Rogers 2010). However, this chapter moves away from viewing theatre-makers and their work solely through a racialized lens, instead taking the multiplicity of identity as its starting point. Building on David Román’s (2005) reading of Chay Yew’s (1998) immigrant drama A Beautiful Country, I attend to how power is reproduced and reworked through the intersection between different identities. Examining the interrelation of race, gender and sexuality in Yew’s play, Román details the “queer immigrant acts” that transform “the social and public worlds in which these [migrants] travel” (2005: 104). His analysis is, in part, a political project of recovering marginal voices that can counter official discourses of nationality. However, like much research examining the relationship between different facets of identity in theatrical performance, Román’s account does not explicitly use the language of intersectionality. Yet to do so offers a sharp focus on politics, highlighting the contradictory dynamics that surround the performance of identity. Thinking intersectionally reveals that the transformation of one axis of identity may occur at the expense of another, such that marginalisation may be challenged and reinforced simultaneously. As such, intersectionality potentially offers a nuanced account of identity politics in theatre.

INTERSECTIONAL IDENTITIES Intersectionality is a field of feminist research that analyses how oppression works through the relationship between different social identities. By evoking the image of a road intersection, intersectionality examines how


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

individuals are multiply positioned within socioeconomic structures (Crenshaw et al 1995). Intersectionality conceptualizes identities as co-constituted such that power relationships affecting one identity inevitably influence the construction of others. As a result, the production of identity and subjectivity constantly shift in relation to dynamics of privilege and marginalisation. One can therefore be in a position or relationship of power in one domain whilst simultaneously being dominated or oppressed in another. In developing feminist standpoint theory through an emphasis on the multiplicity of relations, intersectionality dispels the idea of homogeneous or essential social categories. Rather it draws attention to how complex identities are situated; as Valentine (2007: 18) argues, “‘who we are’ emerges in interactions within specific spatial contexts and specific biographical moments.” Intersectionality thus attends to the multifaceted ways in which domination works, making social structures more able to be challenged and reformed. However, intersectionality is problematic. Uneven attention is paid to particular intersections, with gender and sexuality featuring prominently. A potentially unlimited number of intersections can also be examined such that our analytical choices risk reinforcing or obscuring oppression, rather than revealing it. Intersectionality can also create an “oppression Olympics” whereby axes of identity are added together to suggest increasing marginalisation (Brown 2012: 543; Yuval Davis 2011). A working-class black woman thus becomes viewed as more oppressed than a middle-class white man, a perspective whereby categories predetermine identities and gloss over their complexity. In order to counteract this approach, intersectionality is often conceptualized as a process that gives rise to identities, with debates usefully harnessing McCall’s (2005) division between anti-categorical, intercategorical and intracategorical complexity. Anticategorical complexity uses an intersectional lens to deconstruct identity categories, suggesting that they are a product of discourse and practice; intercategorical complexity uses existing social categories in intersectional analyses of inequality; and intracategorical complexity offers a halfway house, suggesting that the constitution of existing categories is emergent and thus open to contestation and change. Literatures on intersectionality generally favour the latter approach, highlighting how social categories persist even as individual or collective practices “complicate and use them in a more critical way” (McCall 2005: 1780). As a result, identity often appears performative, as enacted in relation to existing social constructions but with the potential to reformulate and disrupt them (Butler 1993). Moira Gatens (1996) develops this line of argument in her analysis of sex, gender and sexuality. She draws upon Deleuze’s politics of difference, where the body does not conform to predetermined molar binary categorisations (male/female), but is seen as dynamic and connected to an ever-shifting environment, a “multiplicity within a web of other multiplicities” (ibid. 7). Embodiment is therefore emergent and in a state of becoming, shifting in relation to different networks and forces. Yet

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 47 Gatens does not view Deleuze’s ethology as replacing molar identities and their politics, rather she sees the two as “qualitatively [ . . . ] distinct planes” that coexist, where one (molar identities) describes the process of being and its history, and the other (molecular) describes the process of becoming and emergence (ibid. 12). As a result, identities and power relations are always yet to be formed, as beings “select between a range of possible future becomings, those particular becomings that will decompose and recompose present molar beings” (ibid. 15). In this account, intersectionality responds to the contingent and emergent formation of identity, allowing individuals to work within, but also beyond, social categories (see Probyn 1996). Gatens’ approach is particularly resonant in transnational contexts as social expectations and power relationships are negotiated in different geographical settings. Research on transnationalism analyses the politics of transformation that results from these spatial encounters, particularly that on migrant labour. The experience of working in different places can create shifts in gender relations that in turn influence the production of race, nationality and family (Honig 1998; Pratt 2004). Intersectionality is therefore “translocational” as it reflects the “interplay of a range of locations and dislocations in relation to gender, ethnicity, national belonging, class and racialization” (Anthias 2002: 502). Yet despite this geographical variability, intersectionality highlights the fact that the act of crossing borders is not intrinsically liberating. Social identities, and the power relations embedded within them, are persistent and individuals within transnational fields may not be “set completely loose from their social moorings” (Pratt and Yeoh 2003: 163). McDowell’s (2008) probing discussion of intersectionality questions whether identity may be reformed through migration, and discusses how the marginalisation or integration of migrants proceeds along multiple axes of identity. Existing identity categories can be reproduced as much as challenged, creating contradictory political effects. As a result, a transnational politics of intersectionality operates modestly, drawing ‘countertopographies’ that highlight the similarities between processes occurring in diff erent places whilst attending to their specifi city in a particular geographical context (Katz 2001). This chapter grapples with such dynamics in attending to the performance of intersectionality in the work of theatre-makers who have relocated transnationally. In so doing, it highlights the role of transnationality in considering where the fluidity or reworking of identity emerges, but also where these processes crystallise and harden. This is achieved by examining intersectional identities in the scripts and staging of three plays: An Occasional Orchid (1996) by Ivan Heng and Chowee Leow; Journeys (2008) by Rosaline Ting; and A Book by Its Cover (2011) by Damon Chua. These plays were all created in relation to the transnational migration of their authors from Singapore and Malaysia

48 Performing Asian Transnationalisms as well as their subsequent lives in London and Los Angeles. In undertaking this analysis I view personal experiences as informing, rather than determining, the plays created. All three works explore identity intersections in explicitly transnational settings or through transnational encounters, and all highlight the possibilities and limitations of intersectionality. The selection of works by writers born in Singapore is also partly driven by availability and the high level of transnational traffic that connects artists from the city-state with other contexts. Yet theoretically, using a single departure point also reinforces the intersectional imperative to view identities (here, nationality) as composed of heterogeneous experiences that, whilst not reducible to one another, nevertheless remain connected. RACE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN AN OCCASIONAL ORCHID An Occasional Orchid is a solo performance that tells the story of Joseph, a young Peranakan man from Malacca who travels to London to study. Free from cultural and familial expectations, he openly explores his trans identity as Zoe. A budding horticulturalist, Zoe enters into a relationship with Bryan, a white transattracted man with a fetish for all things ‘Oriental.’ Although being in London offers Zoe some freedom in her identity construction, this is mitigated by her desperate love for Bryan. She enacts the stereotypical image of subservient Asian femininity in order to try and please him, but this fails to secure Bryan’s love and their relationship crumbles. Zoe realises that she does not need to be defi ned by social expectations, and in an act that symbolises her acceptance of her fluid identity, removes her clothes to become Joseph and decides to return to Malacca, telling her/his mother that there is “someone I’d like you to meet” (Heng and Leow 1996: 23). The story is told through non-linear scenes where the performer predominantly plays Zoe, but also a young Joseph, his mother, and other minor characters, a device that reinforces the idea of multiple identity performances. The script and performance of An Occasional Orchid play with the possibilities and contradictions of intersecting race, culture, gender and sexuality in a transnational setting. The play was written in London by Singaporean Ivan Heng (who also directed) and Malaysian-born Chowee Leow (who performed as Zoe). It premiered at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden on 30 October 1996 as part of London’s One-Person Play Festival, but has also been staged in Hong Kong (1996), Amsterdam (1996), Malaysia (2001) and Singapore (2001). I analyse the 1996 script alongside segments of the performance enacted and discussed by Leow in interview. The performance begins with a revolving Chinese Barbie doll on a pedestal lit by a single spotlight. This is followed by a blackout where the voice of Joseph’s father warns him: “Boy, I send you to England,

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 49 you better study hard [ . . . ] You don’t go and bring back ang mo wife. Remember you are Chinese. Come back and marry a good Chinese girl” (Heng and Leow 1996: 1). The play immediately highlights Joseph’s gender as male and indexes a series of intersecting norms surrounding Chinese identity, particularly the cultural desire of parents for children to pursue successful careers and for them to be in heteronormative relationships that will carry on the family name. However, the audience recognises that Joseph will challenge expectations as he is revealed as Zoe, wearing a pink jacket, lilac blouse, and grey palazzo pants. From the outset, Zoe’s emergence is signalled as only possible through transnational migration. The play addresses Zoe’s exploration of her gender, but this process always occurs in relation to her Asian and sexual identities. As a result, the play “queers” Asianity as a transnational formation where “queerness and diaspora provide a critical methodology for a more adequate understanding of [ . . . ] racial and sexual formation as shaped in the space between the domestic and the diasporic” (Eng 1997: 32). Although the play suggests that traversing national borders can transform identity, it also draws attention to how this is an uneven and contradictory process (Pratt and Yeoh 2003). The emphasis on exploring gender was influenced by Leow’s own “investigative experience” of cross-dressing, something that is now “very much a part of me.”1 Chan’s (2004) analysis of An Occasional Orchid situates the play in relation to the increasing prevalence of drag and queer identities in Singaporean theatre. Yet the play was also influenced by intersections between the racial, gendered and sexual politics of transnational migration as Leow described: In the early part of my career I faced a lot of stereotyping and was constantly playing either gangsters or waiters. This was far removed from my experience as an out gay man and female impersonator living in London. I wanted a do a play that depicted something a bit closer to my life experience [ . . . ] Performing my own work was the only way to get any artistic fulfillment. 2 Heng similarly discussed how this was a play that “we could have only created in London [ . . . ] There were ideas that we were interested in exploring.”3 The performance was partly inspired by their transnational cultural encounters, particularly with a British ‘racial formation’ (Omi and Winant 1994) and its associated stereotypes of East Asian gendered identities: I was curious that as a Chinese man living in the West, I would walk past a bunch of Caucasian construction workers as a man or a camp gay guy, and they would look (demonstrates disgust) or say, “Chink!” But when I walked past them as a woman they perceived

50 Performing Asian Transnationalisms me as something completely different and desirable. But I was still this exotic female creature.4 Cross-dressing undercut and reinforced expectations surrounding race through its intersection with gender, as by becoming female Leow at once challenged the derogatory associations of race even as he performed an image of East Asian women as sexy Suzy Wongs. Such a negotiation challenges Butler’s idea that performative identities destabilise categories of gender and sexuality (Butler 1993). Rather, the intersection of race and gender can fi x oppressive power relationships through the reproduction of stereotypes. In An Occasional Orchid, the transnational transformation of identity is reinforced through scenes depicting a young Joseph visiting his female cousins in Kuala Lumpur. Here we see his embryonic exploration of gender: he wants to be Jill in Charlie’s Angels and plays with Barbie and Ken, rather than Action Man. Barbie’s appearance, her “blonde hair [ . . . ] waspy waist [ . . . ] ski-slope nose and perfect cherry pout, long neck, long arms, long legs and tits, pert and proud” attract Joseph, with Leow playing with the Barbie in a strong Malaccan accent, “Hi Ken! Why so late! Where were you? I’ve cooked dinner already. It’s Tau Yew Back . . . your favourite . . . come and eat” (Heng and Leow 1996: 14). When nearly caught by his father, Joseph’s reply that he was doing nothing signals the impossibility of Zoe’s emergence except through transnational movement. However, Leow’s child-like performance with the dolls reinforces normative social power relationships in the intersection between gender and culture, with women looking after the family at home. In London, this playful dialogue between Barbie and Ken is literally re-enacted between Zoe and Bryan. As a result, Joseph’s emergence as Zoe challenges the heterosexual normativity associated with fi nding a ‘good Chinese girl’ in Asia, yet simultaneously reinforces what being or performing as a ‘good Chinese girl’ entails in both contexts. Transnational migration thus highlights how identities are produced by “multiple, sometimes contradictory discourses” that intersect, but managing these can open up spaces of resistance (Pratt 2004: 20). An Occasional Orchid playfully explores how identity is naturalised, particularly through the motif of orchids, a metaphor for Asian trans identities. Orchids intersect gender and sexuality in ways that suggest intracategorical complexity (McCall 2005). They have long been viewed as overtly sexual flowers, resembling female genitalia (as in the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe) and male genitalia (their name comes from the Greek orches, meaning testicle). They also mimic the visual appearance and pheromones of female insects in order to attract males for pollination. Such ambiguities have been referenced in theoretical literatures, such as in Deleuze and Guattari’s (2004) use of the orchid-wasp analogy in their description of rhizomes. They argue that in the interaction of

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 51 flower and insect both undergo a transformation as they de- and re-territorialise one another, with the resulting entanglement creating a “surplus value of code [ . . . ] a veritable becoming” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 11). In turn this idea can be used to suggest that new configurations of identity emerge through intersectionality, with the component identities becoming fundamentally entangled and transformed. Orchids therefore complicate existing categorisations of gender and sexuality and the play productively extends this metaphor to trans identities: “Their colours, markings, scents and form have evolved to attract suitable pollinators, invariably of the male sex. Some have such developed powers [ . . . ] that they take on the appearance and scent of the female” (Heng and Leow 1996: 3). Zoe embodies this liminal intersection of gender and sexuality on stage, with the stage directions suggesting that she initially appears “as Orchid” (ibid.) and Leow emphasising the subtext of orchid-related speeches, “it’s all about me, it’s all about transsexuals.”5 However, orchids are always used as a metaphor for Asian trans identities, even if race falls to the background of the performance. Leow described orchids as “very Asiatic”6 and when Zoe and Bryan meet at a lecture on orchid cultivation, the plants/trans identities are immediately perceived in relation to transnationality and race: Spider Orchids . . . They’re very common back home But extra beautiful here . . . exotic. (Heng and Leow 1996: 2)

The spatial distinction between ‘home’ and ‘here’, ‘common’ and ‘exotic’ reinforces that Zoe’s sexual allure as a transvestite cannot be separated from her racial identity. Her exoticism is an attraction for Bryan, who has been to “a collaborative exhibition of Eastern calligraphy, fi nger painting, porcelain, haiku and origami [ . . . ] With an interactive deconstruction of the Peking Opera” (ibid. 7). The listing of these Orientalist images in quick succession, combined with Zoe’s bewilderment, reiterates the normative performance of racial and gendered identity that Zoe must enact for Bryan, but their excessiveness also creates ridicule and laughter. Sartorially, Zoe’s plain clothes challenge expectations of exoticism visually, both regarding race but also regarding drag as a particular mode (indeed stereotype) of transvestism. Zoe is part of an everyday world and the play explores this through the different ways she tries to enact transgender identity. Throughout the play, Zoe is unable to consistently fit expectations of gendered, racial and trans identities. However, her transgenderism both reinforces and subverts normative intersections of gendered heterosexual desire, particularly through her appearance: Through my false eyelashes I failed failed to notice that during our conversation, he was talking to my breasts.

52 Performing Asian Transnationalisms My breasts My breasts. (ibid. 4)

This speech is an indignant affront at being positioned as a woman under a male gaze, but the shifting emphasis on the words suggests that in order for her transgenderism to transgress heteronormativity, an essential and stable masculine identity must remain underneath. Elsewhere, the play discusses the complexities of having one’s gender ‘sussed’ but Zoe retains a position of fluidity in these situations. When stopped by a policeman, Zoe evades his question of which bathroom she uses by replying with the other option available: “disabled” (ibid. 8). Her reply highlights the limited options for gender performance available to Zoe as a trans person, with any subversive potential remaining ambiguous. Claiming to be disabled is empowering when viewed through the prism of gender relations, yet the critique could potentially be dulled by negative stereotypes of disability. This opaqueness reinforces that the process of intersectionality reflects contradictory politics, as intracategorical complexity displays the tension between the performativity and instability of one identity in relation to the fi xity of another (McCall 2005; McDowell 2008). Zoe also explores different intersections of her (trans) gender identity with culture and race. This particularly occurs in the home where Zoe attempts to perform as the perfect Asian housewife. One mode of identity available to Zoe is to become her mother, a move that highlights transnational parallels over the construction of patriarchy and is reinforced by the act of solo performance. The play contains companion scenes such as ‘Monsoon in Malacca’ and ‘Monsoon in Shepherd’s Bush’, where both women cook the same meal (Tau Yew Bak) and repeat the same lines when faced with their partner’s infidelity. These acts reinforce the reproduction of gendered and cultural normativity across transnational contexts. Mother’s Bonsai Society meeting also echoes Zoe’s orchid lectures, as signalled by the use of a Chinese Barbie as a Bonsai tree and a white Barbie as an orchid (see Figure 2.1). In performance, Zoe binds the Chinese Barbie’s feet as she describes how in bonsai “the point [ . . . ] is to manicure, tame and train it [ . . . ] bonsai growers say that the trees love it really” (Heng and Leow 1996: 17). Whereas Zoe’s transgendered identity contains moments of fluidity, her cultural identity as an Asian woman marginalises and entraps her. This idea is reinforced in performance by retelling the Malaysian folkloric story about Pontianak, a vampire who seduces and kills young men. Pontianak becomes a beautiful and loving wife but only when controlled by having a nine inch gold nail in her head. This image is reiterated in performance through a series of actions where Zoe opens a compact, touches up her face, re-applies lipstick and resets her wig with a pin. As Zoe’s relationship with Bryan crumbles, she repeats this ritual as if it will enable her to comply with normative gendered, racial and sexual identities. Although Zoe attempts to be the perfect Asian (trans) woman for Bryan, these acts of performance fail to keep their relationship alive.

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 53

Figure 2.1 Chowee Leow as Zoe binding the Chinese Barbie in An Occasional Orchid at Wild Rice Theatre Company, Singapore, 2001. Photo by Wild Rice, provided courtesy of Wild Rice.

The political limits of the intersection between gender, race and sexuality is also explored in the scene ‘Personals.’ In the 1996 productions, neon coloured Jimmy Choo shoes surrounded Zoe on bright green squares of AstroTurf, but in the 2001 productions this was extended to the entire set, which became a trellis of 200 pairs of shoes that collapsed when Bryan left. In trying to fi nd a model of identity to inhabit, Zoe picks up a shoe and


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

reads the personal advert inside it before trying the shoe on in her search for the perfect companion. The adverts explicitly highlight the intersection of race, gender and sexuality via the power inequalities of the Orientalist white male/Asian female binary: Orientals! I think you are special. Heterosexual male, 32, assertive, tall, blonde, good looking, versatile, bored in a stale relationship, seeks shy, gentle, quiet, smooth, submissive TV/TS for no strings fun. Masculine muscular East London white master, 45, has vacancy for grovelling Black/Asian/Oriental TV slave for cleaning, ironing and personal services in an abusive atmosphere. (ibid. 11) Zoe’s attempts to fi nd the right shoe highlight her desperation to fit expectations of white men seeking a submissive Asian transgendered ‘woman.’ In so doing, she seeks out the possibilities for different ways of inhabiting this intersectional position, one that reinforces her marginality and submission. Trying on the shoes (an act that has fetishistic overtones as they become more difficult to wear) foregrounds the performance of femininity but the adverts make the audience aware that this intersects with fi xed expectations around transgender and race. An Occasional Orchid draws our attention to the inescapability of identities and their power relations, as well as their potential for transformation. Transnational intersectionality appears as a site of contradiction and conflict between gender, sexuality, race and culture, both within and across locations (see also Anthias 2002). In the denouement, Zoe accepts her transgendered identity on her terms, removing her eyelashes, make up and clothes, before changing into boxer shorts. Although the disrobing reinforces that gender is a performative construction, the play seems to reiterate essentialism through the suggestion that Zoe is still a ‘man.’ However, Joseph’s desire to confront his mother as Zoe, holding the wig as he says, “there’s someone I’d like you to meet” renders that essentialism more complex (Heng and Leow 1996: 23). This moment recognises Zoe’s emergence as an individual in all her complexity but gains critical (and personal) force through transnational return. The play privileges transgender identity and ends on a positive note of empowerment, yet this is not simplistically achieved. The exploration of established and emergent identities, and their political contradictions, means that An Occasional Orchid depicts the difficulties of transnational intersectionality even as it ultimately celebrates its possibilities for individual liberation. GENDER, CULTURE AND AGE IN JOURNEYS The potentialities of intersectional migrant identities are further explored in Rosaline Ting’s Journeys. The play explores how the dreams and desires

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 55 of middle-aged women challenge patriarchal relations, with transnational movement reworking the constitution of identity. The play is composed of five scenes that detail the evolving friendship between Jackie and Yoke Zheng, two migrant Chinese women from Hong Kong and Singapore who have lived in the UK for over fifteen years. In the fi rst scene on a London bus, Yoke Zheng is grieving over the death of her eldest daughter, a child born of a love affair before her marriage. Over the course of the play, Jackie helps Yoke Zheng through her mourning but has her own burdens, working hard in the family takeaway but married to an unfaithful husband. In the fi nal two scenes, the women travel to Asia: Jackie to Guangzhou where she escapes her British Chinese family but must confront her guilt over her abusive stepfather’s death; Yoke Zheng to Singapore where she visits her son and fi nally meets her former lover. The women support each other as they confront their pasts, undertaking a series of physical and emotional ‘journeys’ that enable them to move forward. Journeys has not been fully produced but has received several staged readings, including Wimbledon Studios (London, 2007), Tara Arts (London, 2008), the Women Playwrights’ International Conference (Stockholm, 2012) and the Underground Theatre (Hong Kong, 2013). My analysis draws upon the 2011 script (the most up-to-date at the time of writing) alongside observations from the 2008 reading directed by Annie Castledine and performed by Daphne Chung and Su-Lin Looi. Journeys is the most explicit of Ting’s plays in addressing the intersection of gender with culture, age and transnational movement. Ting is a fi rst generation Singaporean Chinese migrant who came to the UK thirty years ago as a chartered surveyor but who became a playwright. In interview she described her concern with tackling “women’s issues”, particularly older women who may be fearful of changing their life-course, with Journeys born from her experience: When I wrote Journeys I was gripped by this thing of a woman fi nding the courage to reinvent herself to start afresh, and that’s of course my story. You encounter difficulties along the way because most people see in terms of material gains, whereas I wanted a new route [ . . . ] I found that in my writing.7 However, the play is made more powerful through its intersection of gender and culture. Although close, the relationship between Jackie and Yoke is not framed by kinship, by roles of daughter, sister, wife, mother, motherin-law and daughter-in-law, roles traditionally defi ned in Chinese culture by the wishes and needs of men. It is in friendship where independence can be thought, shared and acted. This does not mean rejecting normative patriarchal relations; rather the play reappraises gender roles and the terms on which they operate. Intersectionality manifests itself as the protagonists become different kinds of Chinese women through the play, such that


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

identities are emergent even as they recognise their historical precedents as Gatens (1996) suggests. The performance also recognises the multiplicity of Chinese identities as the script uses a Singaporean accent with Malay expressions for Yoke and an array of Cantonese exclamations for Jackie. As a result, any intersection with Chineseness is always heterogeneous, with language reminding the audience of the women’s different, yet related, cultural backgrounds (see Ang 2001). Journeys begins with Yoke and Jackie conforming to heteronormative gendered and marital relations, as women who look after their husbands and children. Jackie is more exuberant in expressing her entrapment by this role, with her frustration at the expectation for her to act as a wife and mother demonstrated when the women are travelling on holiday to Blackpool: And of course he played his trump-card—pretending to show great concern for our girls. (Challenges the audience) But, did I fall into his trap? Chi Xin! The girls are almost adults. They can look after themselves. (Ting 2011: 16)

Jackie is angry at attempts to try to make her return to the family fold, “his trap.” As the scene progresses, she becomes enraged by her relationship with different men, particularly her adopted father, Papa, who physically abused her. Jackie’s anger can be read as a reaction against performing different gendered roles of wife, mother and daughter, and against the duty and submission that is expected to accompany these roles. Ting highlighted that these frustrations and desire for a sense of self are “not necessarily only Chinese concerns, they are part of the human condition”, but the play tends to intersect patriarchy with Chinese cultural identities.8 The reworking of the intersection between gender and culture is also enabled by another evolving identity: age. The fact that both women are middle-aged signals a time when their familial roles become negotiable as their children grow up. Jackie calls her husband ‘Chi Xin’ (crazy) when he suggests that her daughters need her, using their age to rationalise the reappraisal of her life and opening up the possibility of an intracategorical reworking of identity (McCall 2005). Yoke and Jackie are very different characters who, in the performance I saw, stood or sat together at angles but rarely talked directly to one another. This spatial arrangement reflected the fact that the women do not always see eye-to-eye, even though their experiences are connected. Yoke also feels trapped by gendered and cultural expectations, but faces a dilemma because she no longer loves her husband yet “can’t fault him as a husband, as a father” (Ting 2011: 17). Her reasons to leave therefore appear to her as more self-interested than Jackie, who blames her husband’s infidelity. Jackie is spirited and seems less inhibited by cultural expectations:

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 57 Aiya, think about your future . . . (Silence) This is an open-minded world. Divorce is common, even in China, even for older people. And we are only middle-aged women—just. (ibid. 11)

Despite their years in England, Yoke’s reticence can partly be viewed through the prism of Chinese culture, as Ting described when discussing her experiences in relation to the play: I said, “There’s no way I can go and live in Singapore.” I don’t fit in [ . . . ] I mean, Chinese don’t give up a lucrative job to be a penniless writer, you do not divorce if your husband is not a womanizer, if you have a comfortable house. Why would you give up all that? Do you want to destroy things to pursue your dream? It’s seen as selfish, so it is hard to break the mould.9 The idea of moulds or norms for identity and behaviour is reflected in Journeys where Yoke is torn between her personal desires and cultural expectations to behave as an older Chinese woman. Even when she tries to fi nd her fi rst love in Singapore, emotions of grief and romantic nostalgia lead her to search for fulfi lment within normative gendered relations. However, this man is never given a name in the play, being referred to indirectly as ‘He’ and thus remaining a distant figure who represents how love can also lead women to conform to patriarchy. However, Jackie works within gendered and cultural norms, using her status as a migrant and the everyday working space of the takeaway to manipulate her position. As a result, she uses the intersection between gender, culture and labour to find empowerment for herself thereby opening up possibilities in identity formation, even whilst working within established molar formations (Gatens 1996). Working at the front counter, Jackie’s identity reproduces a common gendered and spatial division of labour between the male chef and female counter staff. However, her exuberance attracts the customers, securing the takeaway’s profitability: “If I wasn’t so hearty with the customers, how do you think we could keep the business going? I’m not known as the top boss for no reason” (Ting 2011: 26). In the takeaway, Jackie’s performance echoes that of the authoritative Chinese matriarch, the “top boss.” Although the matriarch usually has power over the domestic sphere, the takeaway blurs spaces of home and business through its reliance upon marital relations. Jackie must also act as a matriarch because she must work with the money provided by her husband, such that her identity is defi ned by her ability to work within—and rework— patriarchal relations. She describes how, “with me, his fist is so tight, his pound coin is bigger than the wheel of a bullock cart” (ibid. 22). However, Jackie uses her position to fi nd fi nancial and personal independence. She


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

puts money into bank accounts in China and eventually steals two years’ worth of takings for her retirement. When leaving for China, she describes her work in the takeaway as “slavery” and says, “time to get out of prison”, such that transnational travel offers her the opportunity to reconfigure her family, marital, and labour identities in a “translocational” manner (ibid. 26; Anthias 2002: 502). Jackie remains a matriarchal figure and likes to be a Chinese woman with power and respect but in China she can perform this role beyond the control of men. She is welcomed home “like a celebrity” because she is rich, bringing westernised gifts that the “village girls will clamour over” (Ting 2011: 28). Her historical or ‘molar’ identity as the invisible “Chinese Takeaway Woman” (ibid. 26) in London ultimately enables her to fi nd a new configuration of being or ‘becoming’ a matriarch (Gatens 1996). She manipulates the intersection between gender, culture and age through ‘intracategorical’ complexity to gain social status and authority (McCall 2005). The second half of the play involves the women travelling to Asia, where they further explore the possibilities of recomposing the intersection between gender and culture (Gatens 1996). On stage, the actresses’ physical separation increased as the women unburdened their pasts, reflecting their increasing independence from normative expectations of identity. However, unlike An Occasional Orchid, this transnational movement lacked the same level of tension to offer a more utopian sense of the possibilities of transnational intersectionality. When Yoke meets the father of her daughter to see if she can resurrect their love, he fails to remember her: And he—hard-hearted—his wealth coating his heart with steel. The rich can be so careless . . . . “Who?” he said, “Yoke Zheng? I don’t know any Yoke Zheng, have never heard of this name.” (Ting 2011: 33)

This rejection forces Yoke to realise that she cannot be defi ned by the past or by gendered relationships, reiterating the play’s emphasis on older Chinese women searching for independence and self-value outside patriarchy. She starts to resist pleas for her to return home, to conform to her previous gendered familial identity, and instead decides to follow her own path. When her daughter telephones asking her to return to England, she replies, “I’ll stay as long as I like”, refusing to be positioned as an obedient wife and mother who is missed because she has left a gendered role unfi lled; “miss my laundry service, meals on the table, clothes off the floor” (ibid.). Her loss of grief and reworking of gender and culture occurs transnationally, starting in England and fi nishing in Singapore. Similarly, after having a nightmare about her past, Jackie asks Yoke to accompany her to Yellow Mountain (Huangshan Mountain), one of China’s beauty spots, then Holy Mountain (Emeishan), one of the sacred mountains of Buddhism. These are sites of religious pilgrimage and enlightenment, and

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 59 it is in this setting that both women reach a state of peace. Jackie fi nally unburdens the circumstances of her adopted father’s death, retelling his slip into a monsoon drain during a storm and confronting her complicity by deliberately ignoring his cries for help. Yoke tries to reassure her that it was not her fault, and it is at this moment during the performance that the women actually touched and really looked at one another for the fi rst time, as Jackie reached for, and squeezed, Yoke’s hand. Yoke is also brighter in this fi nal scene, such that it is at this sacred site that both women cement their friendship, with their physical connection reinforcing the mutual understanding which is required to make this metaphorical and physical ‘journey.’ The play ends with the idealised possibilities of returning home to Asia, reproducing a classic narrative of travel as offering freedom and escape (Clifford 1997). However, the audience is not wholly sure what decisions the women will make at the conclusion, with their identity in a state of becoming and process, rather than formative being and defi nition. Their situation draws upon historical molar identities and norms but also reworks the intersection between gender and culture without fi xing it into a new configuration, being indicative of Gaten’s (1996: 15) idea that identities “select between a range of possible future becomings.” Jackie is likely (although not certain) to stay in China as a matriarchal figure who is fi nancially and emotionally independent; Yoke is more ambiguous as she may return to her daughters in England. If she does, her ability to refuse familial and gendered expectations suggest that her roles as wife and mother no longer defi ne who she is, yet nor is the audience sure who she will become. As such, transnationality helps reconfigure intersectional identities for both women, but this remains open to negotiation on their terms. NATION, CULTURE AND RACE IN A BOOK BY ITS COVER The fi nal play, A Book by Its Cover by Damon Chua, considers the intersection of different national and cultural identities by tackling an emerging field of cultural discourse: the relationship of Chinese Americans to China. It does this by exploring different cultural assumptions and expectations between Millie, a third generation Chinese American, and her Chinese cousin Pui Mun, who lives in Guangzhou. Millie, who is married to a Caucasian husband called Greg, is researching the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act on the development and prosperity of the Chinese American community. Her research leads her to contact her long-lost cousin, who she interviews for her book. Millie’s unfavourable comparisons between Chinese and Chinese Americans create tensions between the cousins, a situation accentuated by Millie and Greg’s declining fortunes with America’s loss of economic power and Pui Mun’s


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

increased social and economic status as her husband’s (Ah Keung’s) gaming business becomes a global corporation. The play explores preconceptions of American and Chinese cultures through this transnationally extended family. As the balance of power shifts from America to China, so do the cousins’ perceptions of one another. The audience is led through the play by a Brechtian-styled narrator who comments on, and at times directs the action to reunite the cousins. A Book by Its Cover was produced at the Grove Theatre Centre, Burbank (Los Angeles) from 25 June to 22 July 2011. My analysis discusses the script and performance of this production. Many (although not all) of Chua’s plays deal with different facets of identity, something he attributes to his migration trajectory from Singapore to London (where he lived for seven years) to the US (where he has lived for fourteen years). His exposure to “different people, different cultures, different situations, different work situations, has informed me and the characters that I create.”10 A Book by Its Cover explicitly plays with the intersections between nation, culture and, through its staging, race. This focus is the result of two events within Chua’s personal background. In 2009 he became eligible for American citizenship, something that would require him to rescind his Singaporean citizenship: I thought, “That’s a big step. What does it mean to be an American? Not just a Chinese American or Asian American, what does it mean to be an American?” And I thought [ . . . ] I should write about what it means to be a Chinese American so that through writing the play I can see whether I fit that label [ . . . ] What I decided was that I wasn’t ready to be American, so then I am not a Chinese American.11 Through the character of Millie, A Book by Its Cover engages with Chinese American history and its relationship to identity, raising broader questions about the attitudes of Asian Americans towards their Asian heritages and cultures. In particular it debates whether Chinese and Chinese American identities are compatible with one another and explores how that relationship changes as China becomes economically and politically powerful. Such a focus on the complexity of identity in relation to the legal and cultural framing of nationality is thus invariably influenced by Chua’s own personal journey and negotiations around race and citizenship. These issues framed the play and its marketing, with the poster using an outline of the People’s Republic of China fi lled in with the stars and stripes of the American flag and an image of Millie superimposed on it. This layering highlights that China, America, and women are central to the play. Gender is a background, normatively assumed identity in A Book by Its Cover, but the decision to have two female protagonists was again linked to Chua’s experience. His Singaporean mother contacted and then

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 61 visited his father’s distant relatives in China, with all contact occurring between women in the family.12 The play’s focus on cultural misperceptions, particularly regarding economic changes within China, was also born from this experience: We were very suspicious. We told her, “Don’t give them any money, don’t do anything otherwise you’ll get kidnapped” [ . . . ] because then you open the gates to more relatives [ . . . ] that is the prejudicial view [ . . . ] and that’s how we all thought. The reality is something completely different. When she got there, these relatives who used to be farmers not too long ago, sold their farm to a real-estate developer and now they are living in a mansion.13 A Book by Its Cover explicitly challenges stereotypical expectations of nation and culture, intersecting these through the transnational negotiations created by an emergent Chinese capitalism. These ideas were reflected in the production’s staging where quick scene changes, the use of moveable walls to divide spaces on the set (with the narrator moving these walls) and the entrance and exit of characters through doors set into them created an impression of miscommunication. The play develops these themes through a simple cultural clash between the two cousins as intersected with their national identities. Millie initially contacts Pui Mun for an interview but she reproduces, and is blinkered by, Orientalism in her attempts to reinforce the superiority of Chinese Americans. She therefore fi xes the intersection between gender, nation and culture through her reliance on stereotypes before even meeting Pui Mun, asserting that “she’ll fit the paradigm” without seeking to understand her cousin or contemporary China (Chua 2011: 10). As a result, her book is both generic and inaccurate: “Subject hails from the south of China, is uneducated, lives in conditions that could be best described as third-world, and has little prospect for a happy future” (ibid. 40). Even after meeting Pui Mun, Millie describes her cousin as a “very typical Chinese person” where “women stay at home and look after the kids and cook. The men go out and be hunter-gatherers” (ibid. 29). Millie constantly distinguishes and distances herself from Pui Mun, usually on the basis of economic status, suggesting, “these people can’t be further away from us in terms of [ . . . ] well in terms of everything. They probably live in poverty” (ibid. 30). Her distancing is highlighted by the third person pronoun and Millie continues to maintain this economic distinction through the intersection with her citizenship: “I’m Chinese American. Huge distinction” (ibid. 9). The intersection of national, cultural and economic identity initially positions Millie as superior to her cousin but this relies upon a problematic dynamic of othering and exclusion, reinforcing the idea that “American citizenship has been defi ned over and against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically and culturally” (Lowe 1996: 4).

62 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Millie’s insensitivity can be read as cultural arrogance. Yet her investment in American nationhood is rooted in the inequality of her racialized status, a position that she tries to impose upon her cousin. Millie’s pride is linked to her Chinese American identity, and she overtly positions Chinese immigrants and their descendants in a narrative of American nationhood and citizenship: “The repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act led directly to an increase in terms of per capita economic contribution. Which implies, Chinese immigrants were more productive than most” (Chua 2011: 16). Underneath the confident assertions is an anxiety about the intersection of race and nation that counteracts celebratory narratives of multiculturalism. Janet Song’s defensive performance as Millie suggested this tension, particularly when she was accused of displaying a “victim mentality” on the basis of her racial identity (ibid. 63). Millie’s need to reinforce Chinese American superiority is rooted in historical exclusion from nationality on the basis of race, and she still feels this is “part of my identity” (ibid.). Inhabiting a contemporary intersection of race and nation entails recognising historical precedents of inequality that prevented this particular co-constituted crossroads. The intercategorical instability of identity means that Millie is anxious and she tries to maintain her position of power by rejecting any cultural identity that is linked to China. Millie’s attempts to grapple with Chinese culture as a third-generation Chinese American citizen highlight a much broader question regarding how culture and nationhood intersect transnationally, especially outside minority discourse. Throughout the play Millie is described in molar binary terms as ‘not Chinese’ and as disconnected from any transnational relationships, fi nding her mother’s reconnection with China confusing and “ridiculous” (ibid. 60). As a result, her cultural identity is initially mapped singularly onto the American nation-state through her citizenship, rather than occupying a more fluid position through transnational associations that might unravel her location of belonging (Stevenson 2001). However, through the relationship between the cousins, molar identities based upon ‘being’ are transformed into a state of ‘becoming’ (Gatens 1996). This is because the play situates belonging in culture, rather than territorial or legal citizenship, enabling a new intersection between race, nation and culture to emerge through transnationality. Millie fi nds a balance between her American and Chinese cultural identities through her reconciliation with Pui Mun. By 2001 Pui Mun epitomises the transnational, highly mobile, elite Chinese traveller (see Ong 1999), meeting Millie in San Francisco Airport on her way to Ah Keung in New York. She speaks perfect, rather than broken, English and Ah Keung’s company has become globally successful. This contrasts with the fi rst meeting between the cousins in 1996 at Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong at a time when China had loosened its restrictions on citizens travelling across the border. The play draws attention to the power relations embedded in the

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 63 cousins’ mobility through these ‘non-places’, reflecting the shifts in intersections between their citizenship and economic status (Augé 2009). The changing power relations between America and China are mirrored in the cousins’ relationship. Greg’s redundancy forces him to apply for a job at Ah Keung’s company and Millie’s theories about Chinese American superiority crumble. Her attitude towards her cousin changes on the recognition of Pui Mun’s socio-economic mobility, something that leads her to realise that “I should’ve been nicer to her” not simply because she can offer Greg a job, but because Millie recognises that her assumptions have been challenged (Chua 2011: 58). A Book by Its Cover presents Chinese American identities, through Millie, as able to incorporate elements of transnational Chinese culture without contradiction, perhaps reflecting Chua’s migrant cultural identity; he is “not American” or “Chinese American”, he is perceived as Asian American, but called himself an “Asian playwright.”14 By the end of the play, Chinese and Chinese American cultural identities are interconnected in an emerging intracategorical formation (McCall 2005). Greg works at Sino-world and Ah Keung hires Millie to write a book about contemporary China. Chinese America appears almost indebted to China, or at least more confident through engaging with Chinese, rather than solely American, cultural heritage, creating new identities and power relations in the process. The play outlines the development of contemporary Chinese American identities based in a shifting transnational confluence of economy, nation and culture, rather than being over-determined by the intersection of race and nation that is central to American historical narratives (see Lowe 1996). This mode of ‘becoming’ Chinese American, rather than ‘being’ or occupying a conventional historical intersection, is accompanied by confidence as highlighted through Millie’s personal transformation (Gatens 1996). When Millie starts writing her new book, the narrator appears to her in a dream. On stage he stands behind her as a guide, and reveals Chinese history to her as they look out to the audience (see Figure 2.2). During this scene, we see Millie’s facial expressions change from uncertainty to realisation as the narrator stands smiling. Janet Song’s performance became more relaxed as Millie becomes more secure in her bi-cultural intersection of racial and national identity. The play therefore suggests that one can have multiple cultural identities that do not map onto one’s political identity as a citizen. In speaking to Asian Americans, it reconfigures the intersection between race, nation and culture through the transnational economic and cultural relationship between Chinese America and China. Asian American theatre often operates as part of a multicultural framework that seeks equal rights and inclusion in America’s cultural-national spheres (see Lee 2006). Yet it is often driven more by a racial politics of visibility than an engagement with Asian cultural heritage (Rogers 2010). Such a theme is more likely to emerge in

64 Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Figure 2.2 Millie’s dream with her grandfather. David Allen Jones and Janet Song in the 2011 Grove Theatre Centre production of A Book by Its Cover. Photo by Dallas Ocean, courtesy of Kevin Cochrane ©Grove Theatre Centre.

works dealing with the conflict between fi rst and second generations, rather than exploring how third or fourth generation Asian Americans may relate to their Asian heritage in ways that do not suggest they are foreigners. In this respect, the play creates a dialogue with respect to the intersectionality of race, culture and nation by positioning the story in a geographically expansive transnational field. This thematic comes to the fore in the narrator, who, in the fi nal scene, reveals that he is the cousins’ grandfather. The casting of a white man, wearing a black and red tangzhuang with black trousers, challenged audience expectations:

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 65 I know what you’re thinking: He’s not even Chinese. [ . . . ] You see—when I passed [ . . . ] I was granted a wish. [ . . . ] I said “I want to be an American.” Clearly I was talking about my legal status. But those people had, how shall I put it, a most colourful sense of humour. [ . . . ] So, yes, I’m a hundred percent Chinese. Chinese American. (Chua 2011: 81) The narrator plays with the intersection between race and nation. On one hand, his identity problematically assimilates racial difference into whiteness through its intersection with nationality, marginalising Chinese Americans in the process. Yet the narrator critiques this intersection because the crossroad of race and nation is influenced by his Chinese identity. The implication is that the racialization of Chinese Americans is a state-led political process divorced from culture, but his Chinese cultural identity remains inherent, and thus, problematically essentialised. Yet in this tension between intercategorical and intracategorical identities, the narrator reconfigures Chinese American identity (McCall 2005). By disassociating the race-culture intersection for Chinese Americans, the intersection between nation and culture gives equal weight to both identities without contradiction. As a result, Chinese American identity is situated in a contemporary transnational moment where national belonging involves “multiple and overlapping [ . . . ] sets of identities and social orders” (Vertovec 2009: 86).

CONCLUSION All three plays discussed here explore the shifting construction of identity in and through transnationalism. Each of the characters undergoes a transformation in their identity through transnational mobility or through transnational cultural interaction, and all reach some form of self-acceptance in the process. At one level, therefore, these works are celebratory in their account of how transnationalism “allows us to see how crossing borders produces not only political changes but also economic and cultural shifts that broaden identity, citizenship, symbol, culture and gender relations” via intersectionality (Segal and Chow 2011: 8). However, these positive endings are reached through negotiation, with intersectionality illuminating the difficulties and tensions that surround identity constitution as migrants attempt to conform to normative expectations. Plays such as An Occasional Orchid and Journeys attend to the contradictions and oppressions of different intersectional identities, where moving into a position of power along one axis of identity occurs simultaneously with marginalisation along another (Crenshaw et al 1995). Reworking the configuration of power associated with particular

66 Performing Asian Transnationalisms identities or intersectional positions is therefore not a straightforward or easy process. Geographical dislocation or transnational encounters may lead to the inhabitation of specifi c identities (e.g. a Chinese American or a Chinese matriarch) but the protagonists explore intersectional possibilities and variations within these confi nes. As a result, the three plays adopt an intracategorical approach, not dispelling identity categories, but fi nding new ways to make them ‘fit’ (McCall 2005). Performance provides a window onto how intracategorical complexity emerges, and how the formation of identity may shift in relation to cross-border movement. Categories of identity still remain intact and hold appeal for individuals renegotiating their orientation of belonging. Performative acts on stage help render identity intersections fluid and negotiable, with theatre imaginatively exploring alternative modes of becoming (see also Román 2005). For instance, Journeys moves towards this position by reforming, yet not fi rmly establishing, what it means to be a ‘middle aged Chinese woman.’ Performance can rework intersectional positions and open them up to consider how people relate to questions of identity and how they live within and beyond social expectations. Yet conversely, the writing, staging and casting of theatre can rely upon essentialist associations that work against the ethos of intersectionality, both as a process that deconstructs homogenisation and as a politics of anti-oppression. Although the plays encapsulate Gatens’ (1996) planes of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’, intersectionality is not only about reworking identities but also the power relations associated with them, and at times the “political implications [of intersectionality] are perhaps less clear than the implications for how to theorize difference” (McDowell 2008: 504). Nevertheless, a focus on intersectionality does highlight some of the frictions of transnationalism, rather than assuming that migrant flows or cultural encounters are inherently transgressive. By being in different spaces, navigating different intersectional norms, social or cultural expectations, economic positions and racial formations, the contradictory politics of transnational identity are made apparent. From a geographical perspective, intersectionality is not a blanket approach for a transnational feminist project. Rather, the chapter illustrates the more modest gains made through a ‘translocational positionality’ that attends to specifically locatable experiences and the spatial variability of intersectional processes and encounters (Anthias 2012; see also Valentine 2007). Connections can be made between and across contexts to map a ‘countertopography’ that retains the anti-oppression ethos of intersectionality whilst demonstrating the tensions such a project entails (see Katz 2001). In this chapter, for example, all three plays highlight that the patriarchal expectations experienced by ‘Chinese women’ are remarkably persistent, yet navigated and reworked differently through different sexual, cultural, economic and migratory identities. As a result, experiences are

Intersectional Identities in Transnational Theatre 67 not simplistically framed in terms of a politics of centre and margin. Instead, power is seen to operate through different processes at different scales. Transnational intersectional identities therefore map a complex political field of association and dissociation, one that theatre helps to imaginatively represent, (re)configure and shape.

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Part I

Transnationalism in Context

So far, my analysis of transnationalism and performance has focussed on the cross-border networks between the three contexts covered in this book, addressing the movement of practitioners and plays, how these migrations are interconnected and the identities they produce. Yet this is a relatively neat and tidy account, one that does not fully capture the transnational formations, attachments and dynamics within which theatre is enmeshed. In opening up a transnational purview, the next three chapters examine transnational spatialities in each context, highlighting that transnationalism is not always so tightly interwoven, but at times a messier, more complex field. In focussing on each context individually, these chapters move away from a dominant tendency to equate transnationalism with migration and cross-border movement (see Pries 2001). Although this dynamic is discussed in the next section, individuals and performances in situ are engaged in all manner of transnational flows through their imaginations, practices and encounters. As James Clifford (1998: 365) suggests, there are “degrees of entanglement in [ . . . ] transnational orders” such that one need not necessarily travel in order to partake in transnational culture. In focussing on transnationalism in Singaporean, Asian American and British East Asian theatres, these three chapters are not simply concerned with grounding or embedding cross-border flows. Rather, they reveal how transnational spaces emerge, how they are produced, as well as how they are negotiated and engaged. Chapter 3 discusses ‘glocalisation’ at the Singapore Arts Festival, analysing the contradictory reshuffl ing and reinforcing of transnational geographies (Swyngedouw 1997). In trying to make the festival more locally relevant, performances cut across regional, national and bodily spaces. However, only particular types of cross-border performance are welcome in such settings, and it is worth highlighting that very few British East Asian or Asian American practitioners have been involved in the Singapore Arts Festival. This reinforces that the transnational networks and social fields discussed in Chapter 1

70 Part I were located in and through particular sites, whilst also illustrating that very few theatre practitioners from these racial-ethnic backgrounds have international reputations. Rather they seem to construct less elitist ‘global pathways’ based upon working relationships (Werbner 1999). Focussing on the Singapore Arts Festival therefore broadens the consideration of the fluid and multidimensional transnational geographies that Singaporean practitioners (and audiences) negotiate. In further opening up the examination of how theatre produces transnational spaces, Chapter 4 analyses geographies of displacement and emplacement in Asian American theatre through a focus on Filipino American diasporics and Lao American refugees. Among Asian American academics and practitioners there is still a wariness of transnationalism as it suggests de-territorialisation and foreign belonging. This chapter examines the way that theatre can “potentially interrogate and create a sense of identity in a deterritorialised world” by anchoring individuals in and across locations (Daboo 2005: 331). Whereas in Chapter 4 the plays appear located, but the people dislocated, Chapter 5 operates in reverse, examining how Asian American and Singaporean plays were produced together to create a British East Asian tour. This latter chapter reconnects the three contexts, but to view it solely in this light would be to overlook the different dialogic encounters created by these performances. In addition, this chapter also moves extant discussions of Yellow Earth Theatre, and British East Asian theatre more widely, beyond associations with British Chinese identity and transnational relationships to Hong Kong. Together, these chapters also provide insights into the tensions between transnationalism and multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is often criticised for reinforcing difference and separateness, working with “a container model of the nation state that promotes cohesion, cultural belonging and political participation within its boundaries” (Vertovec 2001: 5). Transnationalism is often viewed as unravelling and challenging these identifications, but “crossing boundaries can have transformative effects or protect the status quo” (Pratt 1998: 45). Transnational forces may confl ict with existing multicultural orderings, but they may also be incorporated into, and create, multicultural belonging. Such variability surrounding the transnational-multicultural nexus is evidenced in attempts to disavow or rework relationships to the transnational, in the use of multilocational emplacement to reinforce a multicultural politics of visibility, in performances that critically address the tensions between migration and the nation-state, and in transnational encounters that both diversify and promote collective identities. Multiculturalism need not automatically map onto the nation, but in contexts marked by marginalisation such a configuration is almost inevitable in the search for belonging and equality. As a result, these chapters reveal the dialectical relationship between the nation-state and transnationalism, between boundary-making and boundary-destruction (Guarnizo and Smith 1998).

Part I


This section by no means exhausts the transnational spatialities and dynamics present in each of the three theatre scenes discussed. However, it does contribute to the idea that transnational geographies of performance are multiply inhabited and constructed. At the very least, transnationalism appears as a cross-border field that may not always be sustained, but is instead periodically encountered and negotiated by different groups at particular moments. This is certainly true of British East Asian theatre, where, as I discuss in Chapter 5, the transnational movement of plays and cultures occurred at a time when there was a breach to be fi lled. Similarly in Chapter 4, transnational imaginations of, and connections to, South East Asia are emerging at a specific historical juncture when particular communities are coming to artistic fruition. However, these periods of increased or decreased intensity regarding transnationalism are not only linked to socio-cultural formations. As Chapter 3 illustrates, they are also related to contextual negotiations in the wake of the global economic recession. As a result, when combined, the chapters attend to the “range of subjects, registers and spatialities of cross-border lives” (Collins 2009: 439).

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Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival (SAF) is Singapore’s flagship annual arts event. It began in 1977 as a small-scale enterprise that provided local theatre practitioners with an opportunity to practice their craft. Over the years, it has grown in size and repute to become one of Asia’s leading international festivals. The National Arts Council of Singapore (NAC) runs the event, with the festival’s curatorial direction determined by a Steering Committee where the NAC is strongly represented. A Festival Director, or, as of the 2010 SAF, a General Manager, curates the festival as an employee of the NAC. This organisational structure means that the SAF provides insights into government thinking around the role of the arts in the city-state. In particular, the festival’s relationship to the Renaissance City Plan (RCP), a three-stage economic and social policy programme spanning 2000–2015, has been well analysed, revealing the economic underpinnings of Singapore’s interest in culture and the arts (Kong 2000, 2012). As a version of creative city doctrine, the RCP has focussed on developing a vibrant arts scene in order to attract foreign talent and stimulate an inventive society that will make Singapore’s economy globally competitive. However, critics have highlighted that these discourses are unrelated to the everyday lives of many Singaporeans, are divorced from attempts to develop the local arts scene, and mark out creative individuals and spaces as sites of regulation (Lee 2004; Wee 2003). Nevertheless, the SAF has been at the forefront of Singapore’s international ambitions, operating as a vehicle for establishing the city-state’s credentials as a cultural capital. Through Festival Director Goh Ching Lee (2000–2009), the SAF epitomised the “image maker” potential of the arts, branding Singapore as an international cultural hub by programming and commissioning high-profi le performances, particularly from Europe and North America (Quinn 2005: 932). As a result, the SAF embodies a series of tensions between the national and the transnational, making it a good starting point for investigating these spatialities and their interweaving across different domains of performative activity. The SAF has therefore focussed on performers with international reputations, with Singaporean practitioners often involved in collaborations that paired local and foreign companies (such as 2007’s Optical Identity,

74 Performing Asian Transnationalisms discussed in Chapter 6 of this volume). During our interview, Goh described this as “being glocal”,1 fusing local distinctiveness with global reach and ambition, and reflecting government desires to “showcase locally made content internationally” (Kong 2012: 287). However, the extent to which Singaporean cultures and identities manifest in these performances has been questioned. Peterson (2009: 114) suggests that the SAF displays a “grobalised” aesthetic, one that is “sleek, recognizable [ . . . ] but which offends no one and increasingly elides the particulars of culture, politics, and place.” Performances are either culturally unspecific, or provide a veneer of culture to overlay an otherwise contentless piece. Lim (2012) similarly argues that under Goh the SAF cultivated an ‘artistic habitus’ based in an international trend for contemporary, multi-genre, cross-cultural work, one separate from the intercultural milieu of Singapore’s theatre scene. These divisions reflect a wider problem of how to realise the international aspirations of festivals without excluding local artists and audiences (Harvie 2005). This chapter develops existing analyses of the SAF by focussing on the period after Goh’s tenure. It analyses the 2010 SAF and its mixed success in re-engaging Singaporeans whilst touching on discussions about the festival’s future. After Goh’s departure, the festival’s transnational geographies were reshuffled, and I argue that this process typified Swyngedouw’s (1997) idea of ‘glocalisation.’ In particular, the SAF tried to reassert national identity through Singaporean cultural concerns and theatrical forms, even as it situated the city-state on the international stage. As a result, the SAF reflected the tensions surrounding how transnational forces can recognise and reinforce the nation-state, even as they traverse and unravel its boundaries. In this chapter I discuss these re-orderings, outlining how they occurred through the festival’s programming, particularly in attempts to forge a national canon of work, as well as through the inclusion of participatory performances that allowed audiences to become more involved in the event. All of these activities can be read in the light of changes in Singaporean arts and cultural policy agendas. As a result, the chapter analyses the contestations around transnationalism as it is configured in and across different scales of activity.

GLOCALISATION AND THE TRANSNATIONAL Glocalisation often invokes a happy melding of global and local spaces, with local specificity retained or adapted through transnational forces. As a process, glocalisation therefore counters the idea that globalisation is a singular or totalising force (Robertson 1995). For instance, Lim (2005) analyses how ‘global queer culture’ is interwoven and adapted in Singaporean theatre, reflecting a wider interest in how theatre expresses the relationship between the local and the global (see Rae 2006; Rebellato 2006). However, the nature of ‘the local’ remains taken-for-granted, rather than

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


attending to the multiple spatialities it might encompass. Geographical work on globalisation has highlighted its variegated nature, particularly beyond a local-global dialectic (see Amin 2002; Marston et al 2007) but transnationalism focusses us on these differences as it is a more geographically defi ned concept that signals “specific locations and the continuing, if evolving, importance of borders and the nation-state” (Pratt and Yeoh 2003: 161). Globalisation and transnationalism are related phenomena, but cross-border movement may not always be linked to the sense that economic and social activity is converging as globalisation suggests (Holton 2005). In attending to the different spaces within and across a local-global binary, transnationalism can account for these interplays, especially when combining an analysis of economic, social and cultural processes. A transnational perspective therefore extends analyses of festivals and theatre that focus on globalisation as a cross-border field of capital accumulation being worked through a single ‘local’ site (Harvie 2005; Peterson 2009). This is not to deny the economic underpinnings of, and globalising influences in, the SAF. Rather, this chapter analyses the re-orientation of the festival’s geographies through a resurgent emphasis on the nation and the region, and thus attends to different imaginations of locality and their transnational dynamics. In particular, I deploy Swyngedouw’s (2004) understanding of glocalisation to analyse the emergent and contested production of vertical geographies of scale. Here, glocalisation refers to two interlinked processes: “(1) the contested restructuring of the institutional level from the national scale both upwards to supra-national or global scales and downwards to the scale of the individual body or the local, urban or regional configurations and (2) the strategies of global localisation of key forms of industrial, service and fi nancial capital” (Swyngedouw 2004: 37). This understanding of glocalisation highlights how space and scale are produced as the result of capitalism’s changing demands, rather than simply adding two geographical formations together. In highlighting the processes through which scale is created, glocalisation attends to the material embodiment and expression of power (MacKinnon 2011). This idea is explored here through a focus on the Singaporean government’s agenda to increase participation in the 2010 festival. However, the chapter highlights how this worked in dialogue with transnational processes across different spaces, such as the city and the body. The SAF’s shifting spatiality can partly be read as an attempt to reassert the primacy of the nation-state in the wake of the 2008 global economic recession (Kong 2012). In 2010, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) initiated the Arts and Culture Strategic Review (ACSR) to assess the role of the arts in Singapore’s society and economy. The report emphasises two strategic directions: to invest in existing companies and talents; and to “bring arts and culture to everyone, everywhere, every day” (MICA 2012: 26). Although the report fails to acknowledge that without a review of censorship policies Singaporean arts will never fully flourish,

76 Performing Asian Transnationalisms there is an emphasis on making art relevant to Singaporeans, “more understandable to the man-in-the-street” (ibid. 29). The ACSR therefore brings everyday engagement with the arts into the explicit orbit of the creative economy. Although individual involvement in creative activities appears to be valued for social and cultural reasons, the report locks such engagement into a familiar narrative whereby attempts to “maximise Singaporeans’ creative potential” are harnessed towards economic ends (ibid. 20). The 2010 SAF prefigured this shift in government thinking. For the first time, the festival was curated around a theme, ‘Between You and Me’, reflecting a reignited desire to engage Singaporean artists and audiences with the festival, and to develop the cultural content of the performances presented, particularly regarding Singaporean works. The promotional posters highlight this outreach literally, with hands playfully embracing different ages and genders of each of Singapore’s racial-ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, Indian). Such imagery reproduces the idea of multicultural harmony, a key philosophy in Singapore’s nation-building enterprise (Yeoh 2004). The festival’s aim was to develop a “Creation and People’s Festival” that allowed individuals from across Singaporean society to participate.2 However, in the process, the SAF displayed the politics of spatial reshuffling that characterises glocalisation. I explore these shifts in the remainder of this chapter by analysing the festival’s programming, particularly its attempts to involve Singaporean artists. I then move on to discuss the participatory works in the festival, performances that included Singaporeans whilst simultaneously celebrating Singapore’s position as a global city and as a regional South East Asian centre. Combined, my analysis demonstrates how glocalisation worked across multiple festival spaces to contradictory political effect.

FESTIVAL PROGRAMMING Literatures on festival performance explore how local people can take ownership of these events so that they are not simply ‘carnivals for elites’ (Waterman 1998; see also Harvie 2005). This chapter builds upon such work by discussing how the SAF grappled with transnationality, and economic globalisation more widely, as it attempted to re-engage with Singaporeans. Singaporean artists have often felt isolated from the SAF as they have rarely, as one practitioner put it, “filled the big halls at the Esplanade.”3 However, Low Kee Hong’s appointment as General Manager from 2010–2013 was well received by the Singaporean theatre community. As a practitioner (he was previously an Associate Artistic Director at TheatreWorks), he was perceived as attending to companies and their aesthetic agendas, as Alvin Tan, Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage, described; “Kee Hong asks you to do what you like [ . . . ] you can have a decent dialogue about the piece.”4 Under Goh, the SAF had increased public accessibility to, and awareness of, the arts through free concerts and performances in parks, shopping malls

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and hawker centres. However, Singaporeans did not necessarily become creatively engaged through these activities, but instead became more savvy consumers of cultural products (Ooi 2010). The nature of engagement is therefore central in considering how the festival promotes creativity to Singaporeans. Under Low, the 2010 SAF deliberately dispensed with many of the free events dispersed throughout the city-state and cancelled the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies in the heartlands. There were only six free events, including the opening and closing performances, compared to over four hundred the previous year, and all had a participatory element to them. The festival also became spatially concentrated in ‘downtown Singapore’ around the Esplanade and the Padang Precinct. The attempt to create a space where “people can just hang out with art works, engage with art and artists, have that dialogue” was better realised in 2011 and 2012 with the return of the Festival Village, a leisure space mixing performance and other consumptive activities. 5 The lessened geographical scope of the festival on the ground initially appears less democratising, but it suggested that art and performance were worth making the effort to see, rather than being encountered by chance. The 2010 SAF therefore moved away from the generalised production of buzz and the type of ‘grobalised’ theatrical performance characteristic of economic globalisation (Peterson 2009). Low reinforced this message in the media, stating: “The Key Performance Indicators of audience attendance and ticket sales—they do show you a kind of impact of the festival. But what about the social, emotional and intellectual impact? [ . . . ] Numbers cannot tell the full story.”6 The festival therefore hoped to promote sustained engagement with the arts among Singaporeans and to shift that engagement to a more qualitative experience and understanding. The number of post-show discussions was increased so that there was one after every performance, there were festival chats in public libraries where Singaporean and foreign artists discussed their work, public workshops were held by companies to educate audiences about different theatre forms, and a year-long outreach programme called com:mune was established, including school visits, tours of the Victoria Theatre, and workshops on writing, photography and film-making. These events were part educational, part publicity, but they focussed audience engagement on process as much as product. This approach was embodied in the closing event, a Mega Line Dance that anyone could join. The nature of the participation promoted will be questioned below, but the important point is that there was an attempt to increase both the representation of Singaporean artists and the engagement of the Singaporean public in order to “give people ownership” of the event.7 At times, what was being engaged with was a placeless aesthetic, but this rubbed up against Singaporean intercultural identities and creative voices. The 2010 SAF thus illustrated the contested, ambiguous boundaries that surround the renegotiation of scalar geographies, at once resurrecting and dissolving the divide between the performance scene


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of the festival and that of Singaporean theatre more widely (Swyngedouw 1997; Lim 2012). Most importantly, the 2010 SAF programmed more Singaporean works. Owing to the change in leadership, the festival still contained European and American performances that displayed the globalised setting outlined, such as Slyvie Guillem, Robert Lepage and Russell Maliphant’s Eonnagata, Peter Brook’s 11 and 12 and Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz. Yet there were a number of Singaporean practitioners doing diverse types of work, including On the String by Joyce Beetuan Koh, T.H.E Dance Company’s O Sounds, The Necessary Stage’s Those Who Can’t, Teach and a revival of Emily of Emerald Hill. There was also a club night that included digital electro rock acts Zai Kuning and The Analog Girl, an ‘Open Studio’ of works in progress and a Platform Campus event showcasing performances from higher education institutions. Some of these will be discussed below but there was a mix of performances and aesthetic styles, alongside the desire to include Singaporean groups at different career stages and at different moments in the creative process. The SAF’s programming also displayed glocalisation through its emphasis on regional performance. Previous festivals included performances from Asia but this became a deliberate agenda, with around two-thirds of the ticketed performances by Asian companies or by those with Asian heritage. There remained a perception that previously “the arts festival was about the contemporary, from a point of view that was European”, referring as much to the style of work as its origin.8 This geographical re-orientation was partly tied to the creation of cultural content, mitigating some of the ‘grobalisation’ that Peterson (2009) identifies: “It’s a very conscious decision to put more investigation into work happening in this part of the world, because if you are from this part of the world and you don’t invest in the region, then who is going to do it?”9 An Asian focus helped make the festival distinctive, particularly as Singapore’s fusion of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultural heritages explicitly connects the city-state to South East Asia and beyond. Many Asian works were programmed through the ‘Between Tradition and Contemporary’ platform where traditional performance forms were adapted to reflect Asian modernity or were intercultural in orientation. For instance, Makhampom Theatre Group’s Red Demon was a Thai Likay adaptation of Japanese playwright Hideki Noda’s Akaoni, Beijing Paper Tiger’s Cool obliquely critiqued Chinese society through a highly sensory, grotesque piece of contemporary physical theatre, and Pitchet Klunchun’s Nijinski Siam entered into a critical dialogue with Nijinski and his (1910) work La Danse Siamoise through classical Khon dance. However, the emphasis on producing national and regional scales of activity cannot be divorced from Singapore’s desire to retain its position as a “global city at the forefront of Asia’s economic transformations”, particularly given its competition with cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai (Chang and Lim 2004: 182). Low’s discussion of ‘investment’ above

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is telling, and his description of creating a regional festival that mixed traditional and contemporary works was reminiscent of ‘New Asia Singapore’ (ibid.). This was a place-branding exercise that marketed Singapore as embracing Asian modernity whilst being grounded in multiple cultural traditions. The SAF transnationally transposed and extended these discourses across Asia: It’s crucial to engage with tradition, precisely because it informs certain sensibilities of the contemporary in Asia. When we programme so-called “traditional works”, it is not tradition as such, it is how artists who are trained in traditional forms are presenting the work in a contemporary frame.10 The festival revived the idea of Singapore as the gateway to Asia, rather than being just another stop on an international touring circuit. These geographical positionings are arguably resurfacing as economic power shifts east, but they are not new, as “the Singapore = Asia paradigm has remained a constant in Singapore’s self-imagination since the 1960s” (Chang and Lim 2004: 182). Refocussing on this geography thus reveals the transnational connection of national and regional spatialities as part of globalisation’s economic transformations.

GLOCALISATION AND NATIONAL RESURGENCE In this section I examine the contradictory production of nationality through the 2010 SAF, tensions that reflect spatial renegotiation (Swyngedouw 1997). The festival shored up familiar ideas of Singaporean nationhood, but it also presented contemporary work by practitioners. Nevertheless, the nation was asserted as the SAF’s pivotal scalar spatiality. Three of the four Singaporean productions in the main festival programme were revivals, with Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill re-created in its original staging with Margaret Chan, and Those Who Can’t, Teach by The Necessary Stage (TNS) and O Sounds by T.H.E. Dance Company, both being revised. Emily of Emerald Hill and Those Who Can’t, Teach were part of an initiative to restage Singaporean productions in order to establish a national canon of theatre, one that would mitigate the sense that Singapore should always look forward and modernise: “For a long time the festival was obsessed with the new. That’s important but you also need to look at a certain fundamental that begins to build a discourse about who we are.”11 These revivals were intended to explore Singaporean identity but they were also artistically validating, providing “recognition and empowerment for local works, that they are worth revisiting.”12 Restaging performances therefore counteracted the process of “forgetting to remember” that has been seen to characterise Singaporean modernity (Chang and Huang 2005: 267).

80 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Emily of Emerald Hill and Those Who Can’t, Teach rapidly sold out. This is unsurprising, as Emily of Emerald Hill is part of the school curriculum and The Necessary Stage is a popular company. Both plays are also multilingual and use Singlish for characterisation as well as for comedic and dramatic effect. Government policy promotes singular ethnic identities through language, as children are taught English and then the language based on their ethnic background (Mandarin, Malay or Tamil) but the multilingual code switches of Singlish are prominent in daily life and are a form of popular nationalism. As a result, the plays highlight that “nationalism remains the cornerstone of popular constructions of collective identification” (Lo 2004: 1). Emily of Emerald Hill is a one-woman play told through flashbacks and conversations. Spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, it details the life of a Peranakan matriarch, documenting how Emily marries into a wealthy family, becomes the owner of Emerald Hill, but ends up lost and lonely. The play is viewed as the classic Singaporean play owing to its depiction of the city-state’s multi-layered linguistic, cultural, gendered and class relations, with Emily herself the archetypal Singaporean character (Peterson 2001; Lo 2004). After its production in 1985, Emily of Emerald Hill was staged multiple times at home and abroad, but the SAF resurrected the first, and arguably definitive, staging with Margaret Chan. If revivals were included to remember the past, then this performance was a museum piece with playwright Stella Kon commenting that it was like “dusting off an old antique.”13 Critics similarly suggested that it was “a nostalgic slice of our cultural heritage” and the post-show discussion reinforced this sentiment as it was dominated by questions about Peranakan identity and Chan’s reprisal of the role.14 As a result, the “baggage” surrounding this classic meant that the performance did not question the play’s depiction of class and colonial power relations or Emily’s role in, and struggle against, patriarchy.15 The production failed to address the mix of “collusion and subversion” that characterises the play, and did not interrogate how such ambivalence might shed light on contemporary Singapore (Lo 2004: 132). Instead it created nostalgia for a by-gone era. In contrast, Those Who Can’t, Teach was almost remade from its 1990 staging. The Necessary Stage has an extensive catalogue of works, but they selected Those Who Can’t, Teach because it was a “breakthrough” in the company’s artistic journey, a production where they developed their devised method (using four teachers to generate scenarios and material) and deflected criticisms of being “propaganda theatre [ . . . ] we were able to touch on social themes but in terms of characters and their relationships.”16 The revised play updated its context from school relocation and rapid educational shifts in 1990, to contemporary debates around being an autonomous, rather than state, school. The 1990 production “attacked the system and the way rapid change impacted on our social fabric” but Tan felt that this resonance was now lost because rapid change is part of everyday Singapore.17 The focus therefore shifted to the relationships between teachers, students and parents, with the lead character, Mrs Puah, concerned with student well-being whilst

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


juggling relationships in the staff room and at home. The performance was thus concerned with the everyday politics of Singaporean society through the school setting, rather than overtly critiquing the state. Although more appropriate for the SAF as a government-organised event, this focus also reflected the theatre company’s artistic evolution: Yes, this play is not [overtly political]. It’s more personal, social, a bit existential. We are also growing as artists and not just seeing the political thing or to have politics in the content. If the work’s thought provoking then people can do the political thinking.18 Re-staging Those Who Can’t, Teach provided insights into the development of Singaporean theatre practice but also spoke directly to Singaporeans, particularly teachers. One secondary school teacher I met after the performance said: “So much of my job is about building their self esteem, not just about teaching them. [ . . . ] But it made me think I focus too much on the bad students who need help. Am I neglecting the others?”19 Comments on the festival blog also appreciated the depiction of teachers with personal lives, but some respondents found the characters “easy caricatures [ . . . ] who yes, asked some difficult questions.”20 Unlike Emily of Emerald Hill, the production therefore invited reflection on the role of individuals in society but both pieces offered familiar images of Singapore grounded in everyday realities, mirroring the government’s aim to make the arts more appealing to the general public. Revisiting performance therefore reinforced popular images of Singapore that reflected attempts to build a national canon and both productions worked well when framed as part of a discourse about Singaporean theatre: Emily of Emerald Hill as, arguably, the fi rst “totally home-grown theatrical work” (Le Blond 1989: iii); Those Who Can’t, Teach as displaying the evolution of a company’s praxis. They work less well when viewed with regards to theatre’s role in Singaporean society. Revisiting productions in the SAF was inevitably a political process but it appeared neutralised. It is harder to imagine plays such as Robert Yeo’s (1974–1996) Singapore Trilogy, some of the fi rst to obliquely address detention, or Eleanor Wong’s (1995–2003) trilogy Invitation to Treat, about a lesbian lawyer, being restaged in this showcase. 21 Although not part of attempts to establish a national performance canon, Kuik Swee Boon’s contemporary abstract dance piece, O Sounds, was also reworked from its 2008 incarnation as Old Sounds. O Sounds combined slick, fluid bodies with multimedia projections, moody lighting and a soundscape of chanting, being reminiscent of the globalised aesthetic that the SAF has been criticised for promoting (Lim 2012). However, through publicity and the post-show discussion it became apparent that the piece is based on Kuik’s research into the disappearance of Singapore’s Chinese dialects and his attempts to capture these through folk

82 Performing Asian Transnationalisms songs, stories and dance. This interest was born from his inability to speak to his mother in Hokkien owing to the state’s bi-lingual policy (which focusses on Mandarin). Recordings of these disappearing dialects were sampled to create an echoing pulsating soundtrack. The performance therefore reflected the SAF’s attempts to value cultural heritage but it was only after watching it that this interpretation could be elucidated. However, the dance can also be read in a more critical light, as articulating the frustration over the inability to claim cultural heritage and critiquing the city-state’s promotion of particular forms of Chinese identity (particularly those that are economically expedient). O Sounds therefore interrogated Chinese Singaporean identity, questioning the production of nationalism even though its aesthetics seemed to reproduce the forces of economic globalisation that it challenged. Nevertheless, glocalisation was focussed at the national level and allowed artists to feel more connected with the festival but this process of renegotiation also created attempts to instigate a different approach to the creation of performance. A noted problem with Singaporean works at the SAF is that they are not as well developed as those touring from overseas, usually because they are commissioned and developed in six weeks, rather than two to three years. By revisiting works, whether through developing a performance canon, or as part of performance-making, the festival opened up the possibility that performances can take time to develop. As a result, theatre was viewed not only as a product for consumption but also as requiring an on-going process of reflection and refinement, with this shift in praxis helping to bridge the divide between the SAF and the Singaporean theatre scene: Kee Hong said, “Just forget about whether the work can travel, whether it is able to tour to other festivals, just do your thing” [ . . . ] Previously you have to make your work relevant to what festivals might want, you have make your work conceptually stimulating [ . . . ] But our own voice can have a unique concept, that says, “Hey this is from Singapore, from South East Asia, this is the concept that is cool.” I think that in a few years’ time if we keep at it then it might evolve because by then we will know how to reconcile the gap between doing something local and doing it for the international arts festival circuit with a possibility for international touring. We just need to spend some time to reach that. 22 In the past, the SAF reproduced a globalising aesthetic convergence that Singaporean companies felt they had to match (Lim 2012). However, from 2010 onwards there were attempts to construct performances that packaged Singaporean culture and identity for international festivals without confl icting with individual styles. This move can be seen as an attempt to rework scalar geographies and their aesthetics by privileging the national level and encouraging a different way of making work. As a result, the

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national was placed in dialogue with, rather than subsumed into, transnational processes, with scale “actively mobilised as parts of strategies of empowerment and disempowerment” (Swyngedouw 2004: 33). Attempting to fi nd a Singaporean way of ‘being international’ involved greater dialogue with artists, including and empowering them, whilst also seeking to redefi ne the global discourse on festival performance. To assist with this aspiration, the 2010 SAF introduced an experimental platform called Open Studio, where Singaporean writers and directors showed works-in-progress to an audience paying SG$10. The intention was to establish a creative laboratory, inculcating the practice of developing work over one or two years and providing an opportunity to test ideas and receive feedback from the public. This emphasis on process enabled artists to complete a work for the festival having “gone through a kind of rigour.”23 The Open Studio had no fi xed format, varying from staged readings of scenes to the discussion of ideas. Many pieces were in development, with Bryan Tan simply relaying his idea to have Singaporean actors explore the politics of restaging the jingju opera Hai Rui Dismissed from Offi ce on the site of a disused temple. The event reflected an ethos of experimentation with the majority of audience members happy to engage with artists, particularly in an interactive piece by Irfan Kasban that encouraged everyone to map their memories of Singaporean landscapes. Some audiences also conveyed their surprise that they were able to be part of this process, the part of theatre-making that usually remains outside public viewing. However, even supportive audiences questioned the SG$10 fee, suggesting that this was high for pieces in such a rough-and-ready state. By pricing the process, the Open Studio opened up questions about the cost and consumption of performance at all stages, not simply at the end point of production. As a result, this event glocalised the SAF in a different way, allowing individual creative differences to become subject to globalising capitalism. In fairness, Open Studio events in 2011 and 2012 were free, better reflecting their democratising and demystifying impulse. By giving the public access to artists in an informal setting, Low hoped the Open Studio would be educational, enabling Singaporeans to understand the methodologies and perspectives of theatre-makers so that they had a better appreciation of theatre production, and the arts in general. The event therefore hoped to develop a deeper understanding and valuing of theatre, whilst making it “for everyone.”24 For Low, there was an artistic value and logic behind the Open Studio. However, in a Singaporean context, this kind of activity was enabled by a shifting government agenda that hinges economic policy on participation in cultural activity. Although there is a shift towards using arts to create social “vibrancy and joie de vivre”, it is difficult to imagine that arts participation at a more meaningful level is divorced from thinking around how to make Singaporeans themselves more creative, to foster an entrepreneurial


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

spirit and flexibility based on the (precariously positioned) arts worker (Kong 2012: 283).

GLOCALISATION AND PARTICIPATION IN THE CITY The previous section examined how glocalisation in performance operated at the level of the nation. In contrast, this section examines alternative uses and understandings of locality through a focus on participation in the urban environment. As indicated earlier, the 2010 SAF explicitly wanted the Singaporean public to participate more fully in its events. The education and outreach officer, Jeffrey Tan, highlighted that: “Previously the festival was about how can we be visible? How can we create buzz? Now we talk about connection and sustained engagement. Of course what do we mean by engagement, who’s it for and how do we do it?”25 This shift in approach can be linked to the transnational circulation of discourses surrounding engagement, conversation, and participation that have dominated the arts in recent years. The 2011 SAF used the language of participation more explicitly, but in 2010, engagement and participation were interchangeable, with the former being the dominant term. Engagement is more vague as a concept and conveys a less active mode of involvement but the shift towards these ideas was important and perhaps reflects government thinking, particularly given the emphasis in the ACSR on using creative activities to promote Singaporean identity, society and economy. In thinking about the nature of participation, Bishop (2006) suggests that encouraging audiences to participate in art through embodied activity has three aims: to empower audiences to reshape social and political worlds; to move towards a democratic model of creativity; and to construct forms of collective responsibility—what she terms “activation, authorship and community” (2006: 12). Participation is thus a “politicised working process” one that is less interested in artistic aesthetics per se and more in the relationship between art and society (Bishop 2012: 2). Indeed these works often take the social as their field of inquiry, involving people in performances that are process driven and structurally open with unfi xed outcomes, with encounters creating social inclusion and collectivity (Jackson 2011). Grounded in a Marxist perspective that suggests art is autonomous from the division of labour required for capitalist production, such pieces (in theory) work against commodification. However, critics have demonstrated how art and performance can provide a patina of inclusion that hides inequality, particularly when social outcomes are given equal weight to artistic values (Merli 2002). As a result participatory art can be used as a soft form of social engineering (Bishop 2012). In Singapore, the festival organisers hoped to use art to “inspire them [Singaporeans] to want to respond and to encourage them in new ways of seeing.”26 This alternative vision is not a full social re-ordering as in Singapore the desire for ‘activation’ and ‘authorship’ is limited by state censorship

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(Bishop 2006). However, the SAF’s geographies were re-orientated in multiple ways that were at times critical of the city-state’s involvement in transnational forces. In this process, participation and social engagement provides a further example of glocalisation. If glocalisation involves reworking the importance of particular scales as sites of economic and social relations, then audience involvement revealed the importance of the urban environment in reproducing, mediating and challenging transnational forces. Glocalisation can involve the simultaneous constitution of scales and this focus on the city simultaneously scaled up to consider the role of transnational economics and labour, whilst also scaling down through the involvement of communities and individuals (Swyngedouw 2004). The opening and closing performances of the 2010 SAF display the most obvious shift towards participation. The opening event was an outdoor Fire Garden installed along the Singapore River entitled An Invitation to Dream by French company Compagnie Carabosse. Its closing companion, the Mega Line Dance, involved line-dancing community groups in a three-hour dance marathon but anyone could join in. However it is worth examining what audiences are participating in during these events. The Fire Garden used 3,000 flames in different formations such as lanterns, stove pipes, revolving fi re wheels, wire mesh balls and burning claypots. The effect was enticing, with the installation set to a haunting jazz soundscape provided by musicians including Singaporean group Andrew Lum and New Asia. The fi re garden was hypnotic and created an atmospheric spectacle with members of the public sitting on the grass captivated by the flames and taking hundreds of photos whilst pretending to hold the fi re globes in an array of amusing positions. Amateur jugglers also performed impromptu with glass orbs and neon light batons. The event was engaging in a light-hearted way and enabled spontaneous everyday affective encounters. The Mega Line Dance that closed the 2010 SAF was split across two sites in the waterfront area: the Central Promontory and Marina Barrage, with country line-dancing in the former and more varied line-dancing in the latter. Such a spatial division does not quite signal the harmonious community building impulses of the festival, but at the dance I attended less adept members of the public were encouraged to dance rather than sit on the sidelines. The line dances were fi lmed with the intention of turning them into a dance fi lm to be shown at the 2011 SAF, involving Singaporean communities directly in the creation of the work. Both events involved interaction in an apparently democratic fashion, but they were safe fare where participation, to paraphrase Merli (2002), encouraged Singaporeans to accept, rather than change, their daily lives. Analysing the real star of both performances reinforces this argument: the urban landscape of Singapore. The three locations covered by the opening and closing performances are along Singapore’s waterfront and face the towering skyscrapers of the fi nancial district, or the newly developed and iconic Marina Bay Sands integrated resorts (with the famous boat atop three pillars, art-science museum and casino). Under a sun-setting sky, the events


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contributed to an illuminated night-time landscape that inspired awe at the material artefacts of Singapore’s aspirations as a global city (see Figures 3.1 and 3.2). These towering glass structures celebrate the city-state’s position as a centre of transnational fi nance. One participant commented to me that “it’s a great backdrop for a film”, highlighting that the landscape’s aesthetic was both a promotional device and a source of local pride.27 Creating a dance film was based in the genuine desire to increase the involvement and relevance of the SAF to Singaporeans but it also reinforced the complicity of the festival, and participatory performances, in global capitalism.

Figure 3.1 An Invitation to Dream alongside the lit landscape of Singapore’s financial district. The Singapore Arts Festival, 2010. Photo by the author.

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


Figure 3.2 The Mega Line Dance at Marina Bay Sands. The Singapore Arts Festival, 2010. Photo by the author.

Participation therefore criss-crossed geographical scales, at once localised in the body but promoting the city as a site of transnational economic flows. In this regard, the performance’s content reinforced the SAF’s grobalised aesthetics (Peterson 2009). However, it would be unfair to characterise participation as singularly displaying this dynamic. Indeed, the dancing was fun and promoted convivial modes of engagement among Singaporeans. Elsewhere, artistic interactions displayed the underbelly of Singapore’s economy, reflecting contestations around glocalisation and power relations by raising ethical questions around what it means to be a place through which transnational flows of capital, goods and people circulate. In particular, a piece of site-specific theatre called Cargo: KL-Singapore by Swiss German collective Rimini Protokoll encouraged greater reflection on the transnational labour behind Singapore’s urban spectacle. Cargo has been performed in various festivals in Europe and Asia, being adapted to each context, itself a process that highlights the place-specific re-workings of performances moving across borders. The original performance was based on Bulgarian lorry drivers, highlighting how the mobility of these workers offers insights into everyday life, the space of the international border (where they queue for hours) and cross-cultural connections. In Singapore, the idea was transposed to the land border with Malaysia, where foreign workers regularly cross to transport goods, cement business links and quickly renew their visas. The politics of transnational border crossing,


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

particularly the exploitation of non-resident, low-skilled workers, were at the forefront of the Singaporean Cargo. The performance focussed on the relationship between the national and the transnational as it toured the city, exposing a political ‘hot topic’ in Singapore (see Yeoh and Lin 2012) and adding a critical element to the SAF’s glocalising re-orientations. Cargo transported an audience in an adapted lorry where one side had been transformed into a large glass window (see Figure 3.3). The glass only allowed the audience to see out, thereby drawing attention to the politics of viewing. At various points in the performance, screens came down fully or partly over the window, displaying projections of landscapes, informational commentary, and the live feed to the cabin. The audience was the cargo, driven by two real-life Malaysian Indian lorry drivers in a simulated journey from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore via the ports of Johor Bahru and Tanjong Bahru (see Figure 3.4). The men provided a lightly comedic commentary on their experiences of family and work, and highlighted the difficulties of nomadic lives. Yet the most powerful effect was in the dialogue between the commentary on screen and the urban landscape seen beyond the glass. Moments where the city-state’s categorisations of migrant workers were visually juxtaposed against the city made explicit connections between the physical labour of a working underclass and the material display of economic wealth. The bodies that literally built and service this landscape were then shown to audiences

Figure 3.3 The Cargo truck. The Singapore Arts Festival, 2010. Photo by the author.

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


Figure 3.4 At Tanjong Pagar port, near the border. The Singapore Arts Festival, 2010. Photo by the author.

by driving to the densely populated foreign workers’ dormitories in Tanjong Bahru. The performance therefore questioned the literal and metaphorical ‘place’ of transnational labourers in Singaporean society by exposing their precarious and exploited position (Huang and Yeoh 2003). Although framed within existing conventions of audience viewing, Cargo can be seen as participatory as it deliberately encouraged reflection and ambiguous, open-ended responses. Reviewers particularly appreciated the “uneasy interrogation”28 it created about Singaporean society: These are places that I’ve passed, but paid no attention to. And these are places that I’ve never thought about. People: of Singapore and/or in Singapore [ . . . ] Unsettling, affecting. And quite, quite real. 29

The performance’s one-way visual dynamic created this discomfort as the audience’s gaze was never returned. Whenever the performance encountered people or passed through less visible spaces, such as the container ports and the dormitories, there was a feeling of spying or of wanting to look whilst recognising that you were in a position of visual and economic privilege. Such ambivalence evokes Jackson’s (2011: 39) observation that socially engaged works are ones where the “aesthetic object coincides with

90 Performing Asian Transnationalisms the exposure of the social infrastructure that supports human societies.” However, not everyone reflected on the role of transnational labour in Singapore’s economy in the same way. Many audience members fi lmed these spaces on their cameras and smartphones, discussing them on the fi nal leg of the journey in a jovial way. Jamieson (2004) highlights that festivals are often choreographed to display a sanitised city, but here less salubrious spaces were opened up to reinforce Singapore’s role in the transnational movement of people and goods for capitalist ends, with the social world integral to the performance’s politics and power (Jackson 2011). The production’s ambiguity and open-ended responses to various kinds of encounter demonstrated its “divergent political investments”, both critiquing and being complicit in the reproduction of Singapore’s global economic ambitions (Bishop 2012: 4). Cargo challenged the marginality of the foreign workers who play an integral role in Singaporean economy and society by bringing them into view. Simultaneously, this opened up spaces around the port for greater interrogation and consumption. In performance, the contradictions and contestations of glocalisation therefore became apparent, especially around Singapore’s involvement in transnational economic forces through migrant workers, playing out in very localised urban settings through the interaction between different bodies. Participatory performances therefore helped re-orientate the SAF towards the national by involving Singaporeans at the level of the body and the city, but their glocalising dynamics continued to situate the city-state in much wider transnational and global forces through their focus on the built environment. As such, these pieces expose the political contradictions and contestations surrounding attempts to rework festival geographies.

EMBODYING REGIONAL SPACES In further focussing on the body, the fi nal mode of engagement I will examine is workshop performances. Workshops were a way of mitigating the anxieties that festivals can create over culture and identity (see Duff y 2005) and the problem of consuming culture as exotica (see Gilbert and Lo 2007). The short performance periods of touring works exacerbate this problem as works pass through place, creating limited time for cultural engagement. However, SAF workshops attempted to educate the public in theatrical forms they may not be familiar with in a 90-minute session. Many were tied to specific theatres, such that these events aided the festival’s transnational glocalisation in relation to the surrounding South East Asian region, enabling a deeper level of cultural understanding to develop. Culture was therefore presented as one mechanism through which identity, community and belonging were promoted in Singapore and beyond. However, not all workshops attached to festival performances were culturally orientated. For instance, a workshop with Christina Martin

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


from New York University on ‘Theatre for Social Change’ fi lled up before the programme was printed, perhaps indicating that practitioner aspirations are geared towards making Singapore a more permissive environment. All workshops focussed on practice, some were free or cost around SG$10–20, and most were framed as introductory sessions, such that the ability to participate was based less on skill or fi nancial status and more on interest. Many were held on a Sunday or Bank Holiday, enabling Singaporeans to participate, and people often went to multiple workshops owing to their location in the city centre, telling me that “it was pointless going there, all that way, for just one.”30 The spatial concentration of events meant that people made the journey worthwhile and became more involved. Alongside those tied to the festival programme, some workshops were also held as part of ConversAsians. This was a commercial four-day event for theatre practitioners and arts promoters linked to international festival programming. However, as the title suggests, ConversAsians emphasised networking and sharing ideas among Asian artists regionally. ConversAsians workshops were also open to the public (although some required dance or composition training, these were in the minority) and thus involved a mix of practitioners and everyday Singaporeans. The five workshops I attended combined an introductory talk covering the history and basics of performance form, demonstrations and practical experience of basic steps, sequences of movement and exercises, with questions at the end. They were an educational tool through which audiences learned to read and embody culturally distinctive performances, including Thai Likay, classical Cambodian dance and Nanyuan from Taiwan. A common criticism of cross-cultural performances is that they abstract culture and fail to attend to contextual politics (Bharucha 2004). However the workshops were almost over-contextualised, linking performances to specific national contexts and suggesting that they were unbroken living traditions. The relationship between place, performance and national or cultural identity seemed singular and uncontested; even in the Likay workshop linked to the intercultural performance Red Demon there was little discussion of how traditional forms are being reworked, or of how performances are bound up in politics. Issues of ownership were also glossed over (such as the politics of claiming Nanyuan as an authentically Taiwanese rather than Chinese form) creating a situation where Singapore appeared as the powerful modern city-state compared to its ‘traditional’ Asian neighbours. Participants came from a range of backgrounds with varied interests, and this meant that such power relations sometimes created uncomfortable undercurrents. Exoticism manifested itself in some workshops, with the fi rst question asked of classical Cambodian dancers focussing on the costumes and where the silk had come from. These participants later described to me how the dancing was “so pretty, feminine and graceful” such that its


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

aesthetic remained understood and consumed at a superficial, visual level.31 Whilst it is easy to valorise workshops as providing a meaningful engagement with cultural difference, forms can become exotica for middle-class Singaporeans. The workshops potentially operated as a form of intercultural tourism where one pays to consume and embody traditional cultural performance (see Knowles 1995; Bharucha 2001). This was problematic when workshops were tied to performances, as they partly became marketing exercises, especially when some university students were so enthused afterwards that they went to book tickets. However, the festival programme was more interested in contemporary adaptations of these performance forms (in pieces such as Red Demon or Pitchet Klunchun’s Nijinsky Siam). The workshops were therefore designed to educate audiences about Asian heritage in order to cement contemporary cultural identities. The workshops sparked interest and provided a more developed level of understanding and appreciation, as suggested by one participant who told me that: “I went to a Cambodian dance workshop in Thailand, and it was really interesting but not very in-depth. This was more in-depth and I learnt more about it. I enjoyed doing it, but it is so hard!”32 This response highlights the transnational networks through which traditional performances circulate and are consumed, but it also indicates that the structure of a workshop is important in countering intercultural tourism. The physical embodiment of these cultural forms was not easy, nor was it necessarily superficial. Rather it was a difficult, even painful process, as bodies were moved into unfamiliar positions or unable to hold postures. Some audiences were interested in learning about different forms as part of an on-going interest in dance, whilst one teacher attended because “I want to see how I can incorporate performance into my teaching in class.”33 Many were interested in particular forms, and this sometimes became a way to connect with one’s heritage: I’m learning Nanyuan as I learnt it in Hong Kong when I was a child. Now I’m taking lessons again, and I like it because it’s an ancient form, it has ancient roots and so I’m connecting with that, but from Singapore.34 Going to a workshop was a way to explore cultural heritage in a Singaporean context, although this belied South East Asia’s history of crosscultural exchange. Some participants also sought a deeper engagement with the festival performances, viewing it as “my duty to understand [ . . . ] what it is I am watching.”35 The workshops therefore signalled a genuine interest in developing an understanding of performance practice and cultural knowledge. The meaning of contemporary adaptations and performances also became clearer through such events. Workshops were more in-depth than post-show discussions which, whilst illuminating, did not always have enough time or the ability for personal dialogue. However, it is possible

Glocalisation at the Singapore Arts Festival


to suggest that workshops reinforced standards of judgement and taste, rather than promoting creative interpretations. For instance, after the performance of Red Demon the teachers and students I met at the Likay 101 workshop suggested that the production was not really Likay because it was not set outdoors and did not allow for improvisation or audience interaction. Critics also queried these features of Red Demon: “The show simply does not translate well when placed in a formal indoor performing space. It sits uncomfortably between community theatre and an attempt to make a theatrical presentation out of a traditional outdoor form.”36 Combining a Japanese story with a Thai theatre form for an international festival circuit omitted Likay’s participatory dynamics (a participation that the SAF was, ironically, seeking to achieve). Placing the performance in a conventional theatre space meant that Likay was considered through standard modes of audience viewing and interaction. In a Singaporean context, this also has to be read in the light of past tensions surrounding Forum Theatre as improvisation creates unpredictability, opening up the possibility for subversion and creating difficulties in the policing of ideas. As a result, only certain types of participation, particularly more guided forms, were promoted through the festival, potentially also promoting compliance among artists and audiences. The workshops therefore embodied glocalisation insofar as they were a mechanism through which the SAF re-orientated its transnational geographies towards South East Asia to produce regional geographies. Rustom Bharucha (2004: 5) argues that Singapore’s wish to connect with Asian cultures is linked to attempts to “enhance its cultural credibility and statemanaged multiculturalism in a metropolis that has thrived on eliminating local cultures and communities in the interests of the real estate.” In pursuing its position as a centre of transnational fi nance, Singapore has perhaps sacrificed its cultural moorings. Attempts to reconnect with regional heritage operated through workshops occurring at the scale of the body, whilst being produced in a context designed to feed the Asian (as well as international) festival circuit. This process was contested, with some participants accepting the traditions presented and others querying their insertion into transnational milieux. Yet all of these activities and their forms reflect upon Singapore’s imagination of itself, its position in Asia, and the creative capacities of its citizens. As a result, workshops produced and worked through multiple scales, but the nation remained the key space imaginatively and physically performed.

CONCLUSION: NEW DIRECTIONS? Returning to Bishop’s (2006) typology of participation, the festival moved towards more democratic models of creativity, encouraged moments of collectivity, but unsurprisingly did not reshape Singaporean society. The SAF

94 Performing Asian Transnationalisms displayed the contradictions of international festivals, instigating different modes of local engagement and reflection whilst reproducing a celebratory account of global capitalism. The process of glocalisation re-orientated the festival’s transnational geographies to produce regional and national spaces that also cut across different scales, encompassing individual bodies, the city environment, transnational migration and globalisation (Swyngedouw 1997). As such, the SAF’s spatialities expanded beyond a local-global dualism even when economic globalisation was a driving force. The festival included and nurtured Singaporean practitioners through its programme, counterbalancing the empty performances of international festivals by focussing on local culture, aesthetics and concerns (cf. Peterson 2009). Although this reinforced familiar and safe narratives of nationhood, it also created scope for reworking expectations around what comprises international work. Singaporean audiences were also encouraged to be more creatively reflexive through the types of performances and activities on offer, even if this did not always succeed. More participatory or socially engaged performances encouraged an understanding of national and regional performances whilst actively involving individuals in artistic activities. However, these performances often bolstered globalisation by reinforcing Singapore’s role in transnational economic flows of capital and labour. To conceptualize scale as “a socially constructed instrument of power”, a product of processes and social relations, reinforces that the focus on nationality, borders and the cultural content of what it means to be Singaporean, was linked not just to the desire to intrinsically value theatre, but also to bring non-artistic communities into the latest iteration of Singapore’s creative economic policy (MacKinnon 2011: 23). As a result, the SAF’s shifting spatialities, its glocalisation, were fundamentally embroiled in the city-state’s insertion into a transnational economic field. In subsequent years, the SAF continued with the schemes outlined above. In 2011, The Necessary Stage was commissioned to create a state-of-thenation play called Singapore that exposed the more critical thoughts that Singaporeans have about the city-state. The Open Studio included a performance of Chay Yew’s A Language of their Own in Mandarin, which was developed into a contemporary and well-received production in the 2012 SAF, being seen as suitable for transnational touring. 37 The 2012 Open Studio included an interactive walking tour called Songbird and the Festival Village included works geared towards local community building, such as the reproduction of Kim Itoh’s Bridge Café Project, where elderly Singaporeans worked as singing and dancing waiters alongside their younger counterparts. These kinds of activities continue to display the SAF’s glocalising negotiations of its identity and its place in Asia and beyond. However, in 2013 the SAF was suspended in order to “chart its future direction.”38 It is being re-launched in 2014 under the auspices of an “independent” company, Arts Festival Limited, with a Chief Executive Officer and a Festival Director.39 Such a move potentially signals that the direction

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of festival will be more freely determined (although the strictures surrounding what is permissible on stage will still need to be negotiated). Perhaps the SAF will then “develop a stronger identity of its own”, one that is more distinctive in a festival circuit based upon transnational touring.40 The appointment of Singaporean auteur and superstar Ong Keng Sen as the Festival Director suggests a continuing focus on contemporary Asian performance, particularly in the intercultural field for which he is famous. But this cannot be predicted as the SAF potentially undergoes yet more curatorial, aesthetic and spatial shifts that reflect glocalisation (Swyngedouw 1997). Festivals are often seen as both the “objects and agents of globalisation” but it is hard to imagine that the future SAF will be divorced from pragmatic concerns (Harvie 2005: 75). Despite the reworking of the SAF’s transnational spatialities in recent years, some outcomes have remained consistent. This suggests that the festival is deeply imbricated in capitalism, with glocalisation reinforcing the wheel as much as providing a space to reinvent it.


Performing Displacement Asian American Diasporic and Refugee Theatre

Moving from the liveliness of a festival setting, this chapter takes a more indepth look at spaces of rehearsal and performance in the context of Asian American theatre. In so doing, it continues to examine the negotiation of transnational-national dynamics but focusses on cross-border displacement and its relationship to the construction of multicultural belonging. Asian American theatre is strongly linked to the production of American multiculturalism because in providing a platform for the voices of Asian immigrants and their descendants, this medium has helped write Asian America into the national cultural fabric with non-stereotypical complexity. However, since the 1990s, Asian American theatre has responded to increased immigration from South and South East Asia (see Lee 2006). A debate was reignited in Asian American Studies over transnationalism, between an approach that “stresses the status of Asian Americans as an ethnic/racial minority within the national boundaries of the US” and one that “emphasises Asian Americans as one element in the global scattering of peoples of Asian origin” (Wong 1995: 1–2). Asian American productions have consistently negotiated these tensions but there remains unease that addressing transnational belonging will reinforce the ‘perpetual foreigner’ stereotype, undermining Asian American progress in obtaining legal and cultural rights as American citizens. However, Wong (1995: 17) considers the national and the transnational as “modes” rather than “phases” of analysis, thereby viewing the two approaches alongside one another. This is an important move that highlights the overlapping of a cultural-nationalist project with transnational fields but without making an either-or choice. As South East Asian communities rapidly expand in the wake of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act1, the Vietnam War and American neo-colonial capitalism, such an approach gains fresh impetus. Many fi rst or 1.5 generation Asian migrants do not call themselves Asian American but resort to ethno-national identifications, connecting “the immigrant to a specific imagined national homeland rather than a collective ethnic or racialized history” (Anderson and Lee 2005: 9). Accounts of Asian American theatre need to take these dynamics into account when considering the relationship between performance

Performing Displacement


and multiculturalism. Lee’s (2006) overview is exemplary in this respect, analysing the intercultural orientations of early Asian American theatre and discussing contemporary transnational-national intersections through the work of Ma-Yi Theatre Company and SHP Lodestone. This chapter continues in this vein, contributing to a nuanced understanding of the transnational-multicultural dynamics of contemporary Asian American theatre. Filipino American, Cambodian American, Vietnamese American and Lao American productions are becoming prominent both within and beyond the Asian American theatre scene, with works such as Lonnie Carter’s (2003) adaptation of Carlos Bulosan’s The Romance of Magno Rubio, Michael Golamco’s (2009) Year Zero, Henry Ong’s (2009) Sweet Karma and Eddie Borey’s (2013) Christmas in Hanoi addressing memories of countries left behind, myths of return, the tensions of assimilation, and transnational politics (see Lee 2006; LeBlanc 2008). This chapter adds to the analysis of this emergent field whilst contributing to research on theatre and transnational displacement through its analysis of essentialist relationships to homelands abroad and bi-cultural negotiation.

PLACING DISPLACEMENT Transnationalism, with its evocation of cross-border movement away from a location of origin, is often viewed as creating displacement. This chapter analyses two different experiences of displacement and their articulation in performance: diaspora and refugees. In analysing the spatialities these displacements create and evoke, the tension between displacement and emplacement becomes apparent, particularly through the notion of belonging to a home or homeland. Traversing these dynamics, the chapter discusses the tensions surrounding displacement in two productions: Imelda: A New Musical, originally produced by East West Players (EWP) in Los Angeles from 11 May to 19 June 2005 and restaged in New York City in a co-production with Pan Asian Repertory Theatre from 22 September to 18 October 2009; before turning to Refugee Nation, developed by TeAda Productions in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2012 and performed in a host of cities across the US. My analysis of Imelda uses observation of the Los Angeles rehearsals and performance, alongside interviews with practitioners from both productions. It highlights the musical’s contradictions around diasporic displacement, with essentialist modes of emplaced belonging to the Philippines emerging alongside the de-territorialisation of Philippine history and culture. The production therefore provides insights into the tensions between transnationally orientated Filipino American attachments and an Asian American context. In contrast, Refugee Nation highlights the complexities around the politics of remembering and the difficulty of establishing collective identity among Lao Americans. TeAda is a multicultural theatre company that overlaps with the Asian American


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

theatre world in Los Angeles, and Refugee Nation reflected this position through its attempt to create a Lao American community. The production hoped to involve refugees in American society by harnessing their bi-cultural moorings and the utopian possibilities of multiculturalism. My analysis utilises interviews with practitioners, performance analysis of the 2010 production in Minneapolis, and the scripts from the Minneapolis and the 2012 Los Angeles productions. Both Imelda and Refugee Nation demonstrate the politics of transnational displacement and subsequent attempts to fi nd emplacement in multicultural settings (see also Chapter 5, this volume). Diasporic and refugee identities share the fluid ground between displacement and emplacement, between alienation and belonging. Displacement breaks the link between identity and place, highlighting movement away from fi xed locales through the “separation of people from their native culture through physical dislocation (as refugees, immigrants, migrants, exiles or expatriates) or the colonising imposition of a foreign culture” (Bammer 1994: xi). In her discussion of black diasporic women, McKittrick (2006: x) suggests that displaced lives are “often rendered ungeographic” because the variety and variability of displacement, its unevenness, makes it difficult to place. Displaced identities are “both here and there and neither here nor there at one and the same time” (Bammer 1994: xii). Displacement thus evokes mobility and multilocationality. However, such movement is “not neutral or utopian”, as displacement is often a site of trauma and loss that can reinforce inequalities (Kaplan 1996: 4). Considering who is displaced and who is emplaced, who is segregated and who is integrated, illustrates the operations of power beneath such spatial binaries (McKittrick 2006). The tendency is to view transnational dislocation as politically progressive, being linked to cultural transformation and the construction of identities that escape easy categorisations (Bammer 1994). As I have already highlighted in Chapters 1 and 2 of this volume, this can be a difficult process, with belonging to place remaining incomplete or patchily achieved. Emplacement is the search for stability, the “interworking of place, identity and practice in such a way as to generate a relationship of belonging” (Hammond 2004: 83). In attempting to mitigate isolation, transnational emplacement can help forge belonging to multicultural and multiple national cultural spheres, counteracting the tendency to simply view transnationality as a process that undercuts the borders of national belonging. Analysing the tension around displacement may not allay fears that a transnational framework “derails the commitment to the critique of local inequalities” (Anderson and Lee 2005: 10). Yet attempts to fi nd home, to articulate belonging and located cultural identity, are sentiments shared among all generations of Asian Americans. Asian American theatre itself is predicated on working against the feeling of being marginalised and dislocated in one’s own country. Descendants of Asian migrants may also

Performing Displacement


articulate bi-cultural sensibilities or feel displaced from a foreign homeland that they know second hand through family. Identities can be located through multiple national and transnational attachments, such that placing displacement may not mean schismatic choices. Displacement differentially configures home and belonging, with migrancy intervening in, or dovetailing with, “identity fi xing cultural agendas” such as multiculturalism (Bammer 1994: xv). It is these intersections that the chapter will now explore.

IMELDA AND THE TENSIONS OF DIASPORIC DISPLACEMENT Imelda: A New Musical was a production about Philippine history that chronicled the life of Imelda Marcos from 1952 to 1986. It narrated her courtship with Ferdinand Marcos, their rise to political power, and the oppressions of their regime. The musical also satirised Imelda’s corruption and documented the Marcos downfall, contrasting this with the rise of politician Benigno Aquino, his assassination, and Corazon Aquino’s election as President. Imelda deployed a racially and ethnically diverse creative team alongside a Filipino American cast. The musical was written by Sachi Oyama with lyrics by Aaron Coleman, music by Nathan Wang, choreography by Reggie Lee and direction by Tim Dang. Imelda was therefore imaginatively orientated towards the Philippines but produced in a multicultural context. As a specifically Filipino American production, it was bound up in a multicultural assumption that separate cultural groups should be acknowledged and their differences publicly promoted (Mitchell 2004). This emphasis on equality and visibility was important to everyone interviewed but always existed in tension with the opportunity to “showcase” Filipino culture and talent.2 Imelda constructed a “diaspora space” that encompassed migrants, their descendants, and other groups in the ‘host’ society (Brah 1996: 208). This theorisation of diaspora is expansive as the “native is as much a diasporian as the diasporian is the native” (ibid. 209) Diaspora space highlights multiple locations of cultural belonging, intersecting diasporic and multicultural dynamics by including “the entanglement, the intertwining of the genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying put’” (ibid.). The concept thus augments the idea of diasporic experience as a “lived tension” between ‘here’ and ‘there’, between emplacement and displacement, by suggesting that identity emerges through connecting different contexts (Clifford 1997: 255). Imelda can also be situated within a history of bi-national Filipino American performance. Theatrical events such as the Pilipino Cultural Night have been analysed as a “unique genre of Filipino American expression” that hybridises American and Philippine performance forms as a way to explore historical relationships to a diaspora (Gonzalves 2010: 91). Filipino American theatre (such as that pioneered by Ma-Yi Theatre Company in New York) often engages with Philippine politics, society and culture, or


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

explores cultural dislocation through Filipino American identities. Imelda follows this vein in connecting transnational imaginations with American multiculturalism. The musical was also the fi rst time that East West Players had developed a Filipino American performance, being grounded in local demographic developments that made such a production commercially viable. In Los Angeles the largest and fastest growing ethnic group is now Filipino Americans, as Filipino migrants seek work in California’s medical industries and settle in established Filipino American suburbs (Bonus 2000). The Filipino American community therefore includes naturalised and American-born Filipino Americans, interweaving transnational and multicultural dynamics. Imelda tapped this emerging audience by eliciting connections to a Philippine homeland. Diaspora articulates various kinds of transnational displacements but it remains defi ned by collective ethnic or religious relationships to an ancestral homeland (Blunt 2007). However, the nature of attachment to home is at stake in debates. As detailed above, Brah’s (1996) idea of diaspora space views diaspora as genealogical because displacement enables multiple connections to places to be maintained and erodes the link between place and identity through an emphasis on ‘routes’ (Clifford 1997). Diaspora, in this account, is dialogic and anti-essentialist, recreating culture to open up opportunities for cultural, political or ideological subversion. Diasporic theatres are often interpreted as hyphenated or hybrid, with performance expressing the transformation of subjectivity and belonging that results from displacement (Kruger 2003). These accounts complicate affi liations to national identity by highlighting that home is a location of belonging that is difficult, even impossible, to achieve (Grehan 2003). However homeland also conveys “a sense of native origins [ . . . ] common bloodlines, ancient ancestry, and notions of racial and ethnic homogeneity” (Kaplan 2003: 86). Diasporas can reproduce essentialist discourses of ethnic origin and authentic belonging, working as “a concept of ‘sameness-in-dispersal’ not of ‘togetherness-in-difference’” (Ang 2001: 13). Longing for authentic roots abroad can appear regressive, whereas the ability to rework culture and identity appears more politically empowering (see Wang 2005). Yet as individuals seek a sense of place, community and belonging, their essentialist constructions of identity can take various forms and help form meaningful relationships of solidarity and emplaced stability. Diasporic theatres grapple with these different conceptualizations of displacement. Diaspora “bends together both roots and routes”, with performance producing and transgressing national identity, belonging and culture (Clifford 1997: 251). Imelda was underpinned by such tensions in the difference between how the actors related to the production and what the production tried to achieve. Filipino American actors felt displaced both from the Philippines and from multicultural America, using the production to create

Performing Displacement


emplacement through essentialist identifications to a Philippine homeland. However, the performance constructed a de-territorialised diaspora space that allowed multiple engagements and intercultural forms to emerge in an Asian American context. Imelda therefore grappled with the tensions surrounding transnational displacement and emplaced belonging.

Claiming a Philippine Homeland Filipino Americans working on Imelda used performance to articulate their belonging to the Philippines, underplaying bi-cultural orientations linked to American lives and identities. Actors identified as Filipino, promoting a simple link between place, ethnic identity and belonging: “I don’t think it matters whether you were born in the Philippines and grew up here, or whether or not you were born here in America. [ . . . ] I mean you’re Filipino.”3 Being ‘Filipino’ was essentialist but generic, encompassing a range of relationships to the Philippines in its emphasis on collectivity. The production team also addressed the actors as Filipinos when asking about the Philippines, assuming a uniform experience through a common ethnic background. The actors enjoyed inhabiting this position as representatives of Philippine culture and history, highlighting that they “very much liked how we were asked, ‘What would you do as a Filipino’” because they could express connections to a Philippine homeland.4 ‘Being Filipino’ assumed diasporic displacement, with attempts to claim belonging moving Filipino Americans from feeling culturally dislocated to feeling stable and located. As a result, the actors “claimed [Imelda] as our own because we don’t have anything else to claim.”5 Claiming the performance was a way of forging ethnic community in the face of dominant forces that create marginalisation. Filipino Americans often feel alienated from the mainstream, the Asian American community and their heritage in a post- (or neo-) colonial situation (Espiritu 2003). To claim ‘Filipino’ over ‘Filipino American’ suggests isolation from America and American multiculturalism, even among those who are American born. Both productions encouraged the production of collective identity by casting all, or nearly all, Filipino Americans, and the story inevitably focussed everyone on the Philippines. However, the essentialist assumption of diasporic belonging was highly constructed. Emplacement suggests process, a search for identity, and thus the role of becoming, not simply being, Filipino. In examining the construction of Filipino identities, memories of the Philippines became important in mitigating displacement. Although memories are differentiated, using and sharing these helped produce diasporic belonging to the Philippines, highlighting how essentialist identifications are not necessarily unified. For those who had been to the Philippines, the country became a repository of authentic experience


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

that helped create characters and scenes, re-establishing connections to the homeland in the process. Remembering events such as Ninoy Aquino’s assassination evoked shock when performing, but also pride and a “responsibility to do him justice and our history justice.”6 Personal memories were used to create ‘sense memory’ for method actors, evoking emotionally embodied states that produced an experientially felt sense of emplacement abroad: I have to think about the Philippines, especially in ‘Like God’, to get to the point of implementing Martial Law. I remember my experience, what I did last year and see the poverty in the Philippines and really visualise it to get that resolve in my body. It’s actually Manila Bay. I think we’re on top of a hotel and I’m looking down at Manila Bay.7 Rather than a experiencing a diasporic tension between ‘here’ and ‘there’, performance established a wholesale connection abroad (Clifford 1997). Actors recalled a host of memories, from Manila’s “underlying sense of tension”8 to its “extremes of wealth and poverty.”9 These memories, and their emplacement, were also geographically differentiated: I was far from it. In Mindanao, they kept a lot of things from the media and it didn’t affect me in such a direct manner. But when I’m performing some things still hit home. [ . . . ] At home in Mindanao we would have electricity and then it would go out for a couple of days. Then on television one or two channels would be on and they would be very fuzzy with static and we couldn’t get reception. [. . ] So that whole television scene, I totally relate to that, that was really us.10 The scene referred to here, that involved a family trying to watch the opening of the Philippine Cultural Centre on television, directly reflected personal experience, pushing memories to the forefront and articulating a located sense of belonging. This occurred through home as a multiple and variegated space, including different regions in the Philippines, specific material objects, and a personal connection that ‘hit home’ (Blunt and Dowling 2006). Performance therefore reinforced the stability of emplacement through authentic belonging. Searching for emplacement in a diasporic homeland is often critiqued as politically regressive owing to a romantic emphasis on origins (Naficy 1991; Radhakrishnan 2003). However, the actors were critically aware and highlighted the poverty, corruption and contradictions they witnessed in the Philippines as adults, with one summing it up as: “if you go to the Philippines today, it is not a beautiful place.”11 This quip references a number in Imelda called ‘A Beautiful Place’ where Imelda seeks a refuge after Marcos’ affairs are unearthed. She decides to only focus on happy memories,

Performing Displacement


blotting out that which she does not want to know. The analogy is telling as it highlights the desire for, yet impossibility of, idealised attachments. Emotional belonging was reflexive, encompassing a mix of longing and judgement (see Hua 2005). Physical displacement also enabled some actors to re-assess their opinion of the Philippines, especially those who had been brought up antiMarcos: “I started to think that she was propelled through a series of events and her history—how she grew up—affected the choices she made. Somewhere along the line of course, lines got very blurry for her but I am no longer sure she started off quite like that.”12 Individuals therefore repositioned themselves in relation to homeland politics but the assumption of authentic belonging remained. Filipino Americans born in the US, including some who had not been to the Philippines, described how they “wanted to fi nd out what there was to know about me that I didn’t know just from growing up, and this gave me the opportunity to do that.”13 This sense of unearthing and connecting with an inherent identity was common and allowed Filipino Americans to articulate their relationship to “my motherland.”14 In doing research for Imelda, the entire cast discussed books, documentaries, stories and images, producing a collective, shared Filipino identity. Relationships to a homeland were constantly being made and re-constructed, and some actors even travelled to the Philippines to do research for the production, literally mitigating their physical displacement to fi nd out more about their heritage. Background research for performance therefore created an essentialist diasporic genealogy, “a neat, pregiven and predetermined collective identity [ . . . ] guaranteed by descent” (Nash 2002: 28). These processes obscured American identities but can be attributed to feeling “lost here in America” such that “one of the best places to start was at our roots” in the Philippines.15 Neither production can be divorced from this dynamic of feeling culturally disorientated regarding American society. Yet in a contradictory move, actors reproduced themselves as part of a displaced diaspora in America. Performers asked family and friends about the history depicted in the musical, a process that continued when families watched the performance: It’s a Filipino show because I’m thinking about my relatives who have come to see it, who were not born here and who leave with tears in their eyes. It’s Filipino because I’m able to carry on a conversation with my aunts and uncles that I’ve never been able to carry on before, that I have a deeper connection with them and they to me.16 Imelda enabled fi rst generation Filipino Americans to reconnect with the homeland through remembering historical events. In post-show discussions these audiences appreciated elements of staging that reminded them of the Philippines, such as the laban (fight) gesture, sticks with yellow ribbon at


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Ninoy Aquino’s funeral, Tagalog phrasing, and even Imelda’s shoes. These observations sparked wider discussions about the Philippines because families and other audience members shared their previously untold memories, deepening kinship relations across generations and reinforcing the displaced production of diaspora. Imelda therefore created an essentialist diasporic desire for emplacement. Filipino Americans travelled large distances to see the musical and early publicity in New York reinforced the musical’s connections to a foreign homeland because the actors performed during the Philippine Independence Day Parade and at the Philippine consulate (see Figure 4.1). The New York cast also formed a group called Broadway Barkada, using their talents to raise money for the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Andoi. Imelda helped create a ‘deterritorialised nation’ as individuals became involved in homeland humanitarian causes (Basch et al 1994). However, the meaning of barkada as a close ‘circle of friends’ highlights the importance of forging bonds as Filipino Americans in order to mitigate cultural isolation. Imelda therefore strengthened relations to the Philippines whilst developing a sense of being Filipino in America, allowing individuals to become “different kinds of ‘Americans’ as well as ‘Filipinos’” (Gonzalves 2010: 119).

Figure 4.1 New York Imelda cast during the New York Philippine Independence Day Parade, 2009. Photo by Bong Dizon, courtesy of Brian Jose.

Performing Displacement


Diasporic De-territorialisation Although actors rooted identities in a Philippine homeland, the production attempted to make the Philippines understandable for American audiences. What was claimed as Filipino was therefore more Filipino American. Elements of Philippine culture were reworked into a de-territorialised diaspora space that included American and intercultural dynamics, working against essentialist defi nitions of ‘being Filipino.’ The Philippines was opened up as a cultural space, with its identities becoming inclusive and culturally heterogeneous (see also Rogers 2014). Imelda peppered a Broadway-style musical with Philippine cultural references, dances and language (Imelda was written in English apart from the song ‘Anak Ko’—My Child). As musicals cross Asian American and mainstream audiences, EWP wanted to make the production accessible but included Philippine culture in order to elicit identifications from Filipino Americans, assuming their transnational displacement. This process could be said to place cultural “alterity [ . . . ] in a western frame” but Imelda’s creators were conscious of the political pitfalls of representing the Philippines when they came from different backgrounds (Balme 1999: 206–207). From the outset, they explicitly “did not want to exoticise Philippine culture [ . . . ] or offend the Filipino American community.”17 The musical was workshopped with Filipino American community leaders in Los Angeles and the actors were able to provide input into the staging, particularly by adding Tagalog phrases. However, the contextual placement of Tagalog matched specific actions to enable cross-cultural understanding (for example, audiences had to realise that Marcos telling Imelda to “sige sige” meant that she should go ahead). Philippine cultural elements were often reconstructed when emplaced in an American context. As a result, what seemed ‘Filipino’ often emerged through cultures of “cross-connections, of routes, not roots” (Bammer 1994: xv). This mode of displacement was highlighted by lacunae in knowledge as elements of Philippine culture, for instance the Tinikling dance, were re-constructed from different perspectives: Reggie works on the Tinikling poles asking, “How do you click them together?” R and B are dancing, M and M click the poles. Reggie times it with the music and says, “Try this for now” (a straight tap down twice, then lifted and clicked together). E calls out, “Hold the poles on a diagonal” then gets up and demonstrates but it gets messy and confused. Reggie demonstrates that it’s easier to step between the poles with the feet one in front of the other rather than side by side.18 The collaborative process revealed differentiations in Filipino American identities and knowledge of homeland culture. Across the production, embodied action was multiply positioned, with diaspora space mediating


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supposedly ‘Filipino’ cultural fragments. For instance, one actor joked that performing the ‘L sign’ (where the left arm is lifted with the hand making an L-shape) meant laban (fight), but in America, it could easily mean ‘loser.’ The production context reinforced this dynamic because the Philippines was constructed across American multicultural difference. The lyricist described himself as “a black guy who grew up in West Covina” but this did not preclude him from writing the story of “an Asian woman who was strong.”19 Similarly, the composer mixed Euro-American pop rock, Latin rhythms and Filipino folk to create Imelda’s score. Actors and audiences identified songs such as ‘Anak Ko’, ‘Wear a Pretty Bow’ and ‘A Beautiful Place’ as culturally Filipino because their “very legato, very lyrical” music that was “from the heart, deep, rich and emotive” evoked memories of the Philippines. 20 Although these identifications suggest the authentic performance of homeland culture, the musical’s American context thwarted this attribution: There’s a lot of things that I can relate to and which are so true, and yet they’re [the creators] not Filipino (pauses) [ . . . ] The laugh that the Senators do altogether. I’ve been to Filipino parties here and in the Philippines, and there’ll be older Filipino men and women talking quietly in the corner then (breaks out into a loud laugh). That behaviour, it really is part of our culture. (Pause) I don’t know why as I’m sure it happens everywhere. 21 This actress was unable to square the diverse racial, ethnic and American backgrounds of the creators with moments of apparently Filipino cultural performance. The hesitation at the end of the quotation highlights the tensions surrounding displacement when diaspora space produces cultural fluidity and interconnection but co-exists with the desire for authentic homeland belonging. Imelda’s staging further constructed this interweaving, cross-cultural diaspora space. For instance, the disco number ‘Imeldific’ was set in New York and satirised Imelda’s spending and corruption. As Lee choreographed the number, Wang (the composer) playfully incorporated The Hustle, so Lee included further dance moves to an adaptation of the music. The Hustle is a dance that emerged from Latino beats and African American rhythm and blues (Jones and Kantonen 2005), but again, was explicitly identified as Filipino: “I thought, ‘Oh, the Filipinos are going to love this!’ We love line dancing—you see it at parties, pageants, karaoke competitions!”22 Claiming this number as Filipino from a displaced position suggests essentialism but in fact highlights how displacement encompasses a range of cultural influences and spaces. Being ‘Filipino’ highlighted that “belonging may be founded not on the basis of bounded geographical delineations but on multiple [ . . . ] cultural symbols and practices across interrelated spaces” (Bonus 2000: 3).

Performing Displacement


Songs such as ‘Imeldific’ highlight how the musical produced cultural routes as a Filipino American diaspora space intersected with an American multicultural context. Imelda’s music, costume and dance therefore represented the Philippines but linked different locations to complicate the production of cultural identity. Costume and dance are often sites of cultural negotiation owing to their ambiguity and links to the social world (see Kaiser 2001; Hughes-Freeland 2008) and Imelda was no exception. On one hand, costumes represented Philippine history, for instance, Corazon Aquino always wore yellow, symbolising political freedom from the Marcos dictatorship, and only the Marcoses wore the terno dress and the barong shirt to convey that they viewed themselves as representing Philippine culture. Imelda’s remaining sartorial codes were based on American historical periods and aesthetics to make it readable for mainstream audiences but some actors joked that this reflected American cultural imperialism in the homeland: “In the Philippines everyone is wearing t-shirts, shorts, jeans and slippers, same as here!”23 The semiotics of the costumes thus elided attempts to pin culture to particular locations, but this was contentious and reinforced colonial power structures. The political ambiguities of using Philippine cultural forms in this context of displacement were further highlighted by the choreography. Choreography was taught in a Euro-American style with routines demonstrated by calling out beats in relation to specific movements. This was, therefore, not a context where Philippine dances transferred embodied cultural memory and knowledge of the homeland through movement (cf. Knowles 2009). The mode of embodiment in dances such as the Asik and Singkil were instead interwoven with other cultural and choreographic elements, with Philippine culture signified across bodily surfaces. The “polytopianism”, or embodied layering, of dance and costume accentuated this tension (Chaudhuri 1995: 138). Numbers that explicitly represented Philippine culture, such as ‘The Origins of the Philippines’, incorporated Philippine folk tales and dances, demonstrated Chinese, Spanish, and American colonisation, and highlighted Muslim influences from Malaysia and Indonesia. Clichéd representations thus presented different cultures to American audiences as multicultural exotica (such as Flamenco dancing and skirts representing Spain, Ifugao bahagues and the Tinikling representing all indigenous Filipinos). However, the structure of the number created a hybridising slippage on the body because the cultural associations depicted through costume and dance became deliberately mismatched, evoking the idea that Philippine culture was composed of shifting fragments (for instance, a dancer in a bahague performed a segment of Flamenco). Such moments of performance evoked dialogic hybridity, with Philippine identity marked by the diasporic interplay of difference and disconnection (Hall 1991). However the composite parts suggested cultural purity, signalling that hybrid modes of displacement are both “transformative” and “conservative” (Lo 2006: 188). Imelda thus attempted to emplace Philippine history and culture in an American context, with the musical’s diaspora space assuming homeland


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identifications as it de-territorialised Philippine dance, costume, language and history both transnationally and across the racial-ethnic borders of multiculturalism. Yet this process did not evoke a politics that resisted binaristic closure or the lure of authenticity (cf. McKittrick 2006). Displacement was contradictory on and off stage, displaying the tension between multiculturalism and transnationalism, hybridity and essentialism. Despite the musical’s fluid cultural representations, offstage the production was dominated by an overwhelming desire for emplacement by claiming a displaced essentialist identity. This desire was empowering but there remained a schism between transnationality and multiculturalism, where belonging was assumed to be outside an American context. In the next production it is possible to see how these can be brought into closer dialogue.

‘GAO NA’ (MOVE FORWARD): FROM REFUGEES TO CITIZENS Refugee Nation develops the chapter’s analysis of the tension between displacement and emplacement. The play focusses on Lao refugees, attempting to move them from a state of transnational displacement towards a grounded belonging located in territorial ideas of the nation-state. In moving from refugee to citizen, the production recognises and works against the erosion of national borders associated with transnationalism, and reterritorialises belonging across multiple locations. Refugees are emblematic figures of displacement because they are situated in a state of transition in an “‘unliveable’ zone [ . . . ] a kind of no-where, neither home nor not home, maybe beyond home” (Jeffers 2011: 64). The nation-state’s ability to grant asylum marks a space of belonging between the citizen as resident in a bounded national community and the refugee as the stateless excluded ‘other’ (McConnell 2013). However, becoming a political citizen does not mean that inclusion and belonging automatically follow. The creation and analysis of refugee performances often focusses on this tension, addressing imaginations of a home left behind, or intervening in attempts to fi nd a new home (Kuftinec 1997). Such works traverse the “binary between home and away, where home indicates safety, belonging and rootedness, whilst away is designated frightening, inhospitable and unknown” (Jeffers 2011: 4). Refugee Nation addressed a community already granted citizenship but grappled with this Janus-faced dynamic because the desire for belonging was orientated both to the past and the future, particularly towards the production of American multiculturalism. The migration of Hmong and other ethnic Lao to America is linked to the 1953–1975 Civil War between the Royal Lao government and the Communist Pathet Lao. This war was embroiled in the Vietnam War, with Hmong guerrillas recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight a ‘Secret War’ against the Pathet Lao and block supplies to the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At the end of the Vietnam War, and even

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today, Hmong were killed as betrayers or sent to re-education camps. Around 200,000 Lao were therefore granted refugee status by the US government, but their position in American society has been one of “persistent invisibility” (Critical Hmong Studies Collective 2008). The US government did not acknowledge the existence of the Secret War until 1997 and continue to position Lao as terrorist guerrillas (e.g. General Vang Po, who led the Hmong in the Secret War, was arrested by the US Federal Government in 2007 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Laos Communist regime). As a result, Lao Americans remain caught in the shifting configurations of US power and foreign policy. However, Lao refugees are often analysed in terms of emplacement as they have developed large ethnic communities, particularly in the American Mid-West (Vang 2010). A burgeoning field of Lao American performance is concentrated in Minneapolis-St Paul, where practitioners gain support from ethnic-specific organisations such as the Centre for Hmong Art and Talent, as well as the Asian American company, Mu Performing Arts. Hmong American performers such as Katie Ka Vang and May Lee-Yang attempt to “move beyond the refugee mentality” where refugees and their descendants feel obliged to describe who they are and how they came to the US, but this remains a difficult process (Lee-Yang quoted in Chi and Robinson 2012: 324). This theatrical field thus demonstrates the tensions around “bureaucratic performance” where refugees must display political and social expectations of victimhood (Jeffers 2011: 15). Refugee performance often uses verbatim or testimonial theatre with transcripts read aloud or refugees performing their experiences onstage, leading to traumatic experiences being recounted. However, by “stepping into the refugee’s shoes” audiences may also experience emotional discomfort, pity or sympathy that can be mobilised politically (Gilbert and Lo 2007: 192). Nevertheless, such performances rely upon images of persecution and passivity that can be difficult to transcend. Refugee Nation inhabited these quagmires yet addressed multiple audiences through empathy and humour, sidestepping depictions of suffering. The production also aimed to create ethnic community, recognising that outside Minnesota, Lao Americans are dispersed and remain physically and socially isolated. The production therefore does not squarely fit conventional moulds of Asian American theatre that are predicated on shared histories of racialethnic community. However, Refugee Nation’s focus on the Lao American experience parallels Asian American theatre’s established focus on stories about migration, generational conflict, and the desire for representational visibility. Theatre from related refugee communities, such as Vietnamese Americans, is also emerging strongly within an Asian American field (for instance, Qui Nguyen’s Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company in New York). Refugee Nation also parallels plays about Cambodian America that address the trauma of war, such as Catherine Filloux’s (2004) Eyes of the Heart, and cultural disconnection, such as Michael Golamco’s (2009) Year Zero. Refugee Nation is thus positioned between refugee performance and Asian American

110 Performing Asian Transnationalisms theatre. It was the first production to engage with Lao America, and its title reflects an attempt to move Lao refugees, and Lao America more widely, from displacement to citizenship through Laotian and American nationhood. Refugee Nation consists of short scenes and monologues that provide contrasting insights into the Lao American experience. TeAda developed the production after the Artistic Director, Leilani Chan, and the Associate Producer, Ova Saopeng, decided to explore their South East Asian backgrounds. Travelling to South East Asia, they were struck by the continuing effects of the Vietnam War and its personal ramifications: Chan:

[Ova’s] family was still suffering and the whole country was suffering from the effects of the war [ . . . ] Saopeng: I look at the Vietnamese and the Cambodians [ . . . ] and they are developing. So the question for myself and my community is: What is the deal with Laotians? Why aren’t we cohesive? If you’re a community you are a lot stronger [ . . . ] but in the Laotian community there is so much mistrust. 24 Saopeng was born in Savannakhet in Laos but moved to Hawaii as a refugee in 1979. Visiting family in Laos catalysed TeAda’s exploration of the effects of war on Lao Americans. Saopeng initially established connections with Hmong and Lao American communities in Minneapolis-St Paul whilst working on a production there, and in 2005, he interviewed fourteen Lao Americans about their experiences of war and their lives in America. These interviews formed the basis of Refugee Nation. However, the stories have been transformed in performance with some characters weaving multiple stories together, and others injecting personal experiences with a critical or humorous edge. The performance developed over the next seven years through residencies and performances in a host of cities, including Anchorage, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle, evolving into a piece with Saopeng, Chan and the Lao American actor Litdet Viravong. Refugee Nation was also supported by the NGO Legacies of War, an organisation that raises awareness about the continuing effects of Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos. At one level, the performance reproduced an image of refugees as displaced figures, with home impossible to achieve or at best an affective state of inbetweenness, as one character describes: “America not my home. I have no home [ . . . ] I cannot go back to Laos” (Chan and Saopeng 2012: 33). Refugee Nation highlighted the difficulty of claiming an American home even when citizenship was granted, as refugees remain at the mercy of state power. For instance, the Apple Pie Mother scene was a classic piece of testimonial theatre, as she described her journey from Laos to Los Angeles via Thailand and Texas in order to give her children a better life (see Figure 4.2). However, her gang-member son was in prison and she was

Performing Displacement


Figure 4.2 Leilani Chan as Apple Pie Mom in Refugee Nation, Los Angeles 2012. Photo by Michael Burr, courtesy of TeAda Productions.


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

frustrated by the injustice of attempts to deport him back to Laos despite his American citizenship. A scene where her son and an ex-Royal Lao Army officer describe their experiences of violence reinforced the contradictions of refugee migrancy. Many young Lao American men fi nd a sense of belonging and family in gangs, partly as a result of social marginalisation, yet such street war embodies the violence that their parents sought to escape. The production therefore reinforced the fact that refugees complicate transnational displacement because “the sense of boundedness”, or congruency between identity and national belonging, is assumed to alter (Heisler 2001: 229). However, Refugee Nation both reinforced and redrew these boundaries in its attempts to emplace Lao Americans as American citizens. The performance partly achieved this by provoking debate over the position of Lao Americans in society. One scene involved two hosts describing the different “mentalities” of Lao Americans: the refugee; the immigrant; and the citizen (Chan and Saopeng 2010: 5). The production implicitly challenged audiences to consider their own position in this typology. The use of the term ‘mentality’ was deliberately provocative because it suggests that ‘refugee’ status is not only legal, but also cultural, and can therefore be changed. For many Lao Americans this is pertinent because they are citizens but have not fully achieved national belonging, remaining invisible and isolated. Of course, such language is deeply problematic, ignoring structural relationships of power and placing the burden of integration on the refugee. Yet in context, discussing mentalities was underpinned by the production’s “wishful performative” of imagining and enacting a future state of emplaced being as US citizens (Jeffers 2011: 93). Refugee Nation encouraged Lao Americans to fully inhabit their status as citizens by making America home, a desire that reinforced territorial borders of belonging. In the performance, two hosts suggested that being an American citizen involved being politically active by voting and partaking in discussions or debates (activities that are impossible in Laos because it is a single-party socialist republic). They also promoted participation through the Lao American community and thus aided the process of multicultural inclusion. In the 2010 performance, one host prided herself on being a ‘good citizen’, describing how she engaged with the host culture to the benefit of Lao Americans. By talking to the local mayor, she obtained a zoning permit for the temple, but her approach was described through Laotian cultural customs: “So I said, ‘Ajan, you forget that in Laos when you enter a village [ . . . ] you must make your presence known” (Chan and Saopeng 2010: 8). The analogy follows that Lao Americans should make their presence felt in America, to integrate by engaging with society. The performance viewed America in relation to Lao cultural heritage to become Lao Americans. In the 2012 production, citizens were those who: Think about their neighbour [ . . . ] city [ . . . ] state [ . . . ] they are involved in politics. They vote. [ . . . ] They donate to Legacies of War to

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remove the bombs from Laos [ . . . ] They become president of the L-B (Lao Brotherhood) [ . . . ] Laos Heritage Foundation [ . . . ] Lao Community Cultural Center. (Chan and Saopeng 2012: 26–28) Becoming a citizen meant being involved in American social, cultural and political life, being invested in transnational homeland politics and joining Lao American ethnic organisations. It is here that the link between national belonging and territory was redrawn because to become Lao American involved reconciling relationships to Laos. The performance navigated belonging “to several different ‘homes’ at one and the same time”, even whilst it highlighted how difficult and contradictory that process could be (Dwyer 2002: 198). In further examining how Refugee Nation promoted American modes of belonging, it is important to note its rhetoric of multicultural visibility. Creating spaces where refugee voices can be heard is inevitably a political process (see Nyers 2006) and despite addressing the complex politics of Laos, American ethnic multiculturalism appeared apolitical, relying upon conventional spaces, such as restaurants and ethnic towns: Somsy:

Every other Asian ethnicity has so many restaurants they have their towns. [ . . . ] Little Saigon . . . where’s our Lao-town? [ . . . ] Buk Noy: There so many Pho restaurants pop up. . . [ . . . ] no Lao restaurant. Somsack: What the Pho?! Something’s wrong with our Lao people. Why do Lao people say they are Thai? Or Chinese? Or Vietnamese? Where is the Lao? (Chan and Saopeng 2012: 43–44) Such references reflected the desire to forge Lao America as a visible part of an American, and Asian American, landscape. The performance thus imagined an inclusive multiculturalism as part of its “wishful performative” (Jeffers 2011: 93). However, making ethnic difference visible through spaces of consumption can elide power relationships that erase the violence of marginalisation against Asian refugees and migrants (see Lowe 1996). Refugee Nation combined this consumptive multiculturalism with the recognition of the tragedies infl icted by the US state regarding Lao Americans. As a result, the production was not naïve, but presented a complex view of the contradictions surrounding the possibilities of fully becoming an American citizen. As suggested above, Refugee Nation also attempted to forge local belonging by re-establishing relationships to Laos. The production empowered Lao Americans by sharing obscured refugee stories about the Secret War, but highlighted the difficulty, and at times impossibility, of making transnational connections through this mechanism. The performance illustrated how hard it was for refugees to talk about their experiences and the outright refusal of them to do so, particularly through a scene between a

114 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Lao elder called Thongsouk and a second-generation Lao American called Chansamay (see Figure 4.3). Chansamay visits Thongsouk to ask about his past and fi nd out more about her ethnic heritage but he spends much of the scene refusing to talk before fi nally breaking out in an agitated reprisal: “Why you want to know about war? Young people like you, you don’t know nothing about war. War is horrible. Brother against brother. Family against family. Lao killing Lao [ . . . ] I see young people like you, they torture, rape and kill” (Chan and Saopeng 2010: 20). After this response Chansamay replies, “I want to thank you for sharing even that much”, reflecting the lack of knowledge that many Lao Americans (including 1.5 generations) have about Laos, life in refugee camps, and the experience of migration (ibid.). For character and audience, war-torn Laos appeared opaque or oblique, frustrating audience desires for spectacular narratives of suffering, and transcending the tension between empathy and victimhood that often characterises refugee theatre (Dennis 2008). The production fi rmly articulated this desire to build a transnationally emplaced bi-cultural community, with the scene between Thongsouk and Chansamay highlighting the political difficulties of negotiating belonging. The performance proceeds through comic misunderstandings because Chansamay tries not to insult Thongsouk but is Lao American compared to his Lao American. As she talks about Laos, Chansamay says the word “community”, at which point Thongsouk freezes, mouths the word and

Figure 4.3 Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan as Thongsouk and Chansamay in Refugee Nation, Los Angeles 2012. Photo by Michael Burr, courtesy of TeAda Productions.

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then shuffles away from her. His movement is initially funny but the audience gradually realises the tensions surrounding this word. For Chansamay, community signals the inclusive rhetoric of American multiculturalism and Asian American Studies, but for Thongsouk it is associated with Communist Lao. The situation disintegrates as his fear is riled and he sits pointing at her, shouting, “You work with Lao government! Is that why you are here? Are you Communist? You are Communist!” (Chan and Saopeng 2010: 19). The audience sympathises as much with Chansamay as Thongsouk, especially when he breaks out into a stream of Lao that she does not understand. When the two reach an impasse, they break out into simultaneous speeches that explain their different perspectives and reasoning. Through these outpourings, audiences are given multiple, criss-crossing points of identification such that the performance did not neatly allow audiences to “step into the refugee’s shoes” (Gilbert and Lo, 2007: 192). In the 2012 production, Thongsouk challenges Chansamay on why she wants to know about her heritage but provides more detail about his experience, telling her that the Communists forced him to torture his brother. This was a quick snippet of information, rather than a detailed exposition, but it signalled the possibility of creating Lao American identities by connecting to Laotian history, however difficult. The structure of the 2012 production enabled this imperative because testimonial scenes were interwoven with those involving two hosts of the Lao New Year Festival. The characters of Somsy and Somsack discussed the invisibility of Laos refugees and their descendants, confusion over where Laos is and who Lao people are, and told stories about the Secret War and the history of colonialism in Indochina, thereby fulfilling the desire to engage with ethnic heritage. At one point, Somsy and Somsack claim the Royal Lao flag with its three elephant heads as the flag of Laos, rather than the Communist red and blue striped flag with a central white moon. This was a deeply political move that rejected Communist authority by harking back to an idealised time when the country was composed of three kingdoms that peacefully coexisted. Invoking this flag was a nostalgic attempt to forge community, imaginatively re-drawing ethnic “borders of inclusion” by transcending national, transnational and political divisions (Kuftinec 1997: 178). The production was inevitably utopian in its attempts to build a Lao American community by bridging transnational histories and ameliorating the generational, political and cultural cleavages created through displacement. In creating multi-locational emplacement, Refugee Nation ended with Saopeng in a t-shirt on which was written “Lao’d and Proud.” What followed in the 2010 performance was a participatory scene that involved asking the audience to mark Laos geographically. Saopeng asked which countries were to the East, West, North and South of Laos, marking Laos centre stage with a large trophy, a powerful act of claiming territorial belonging. The scene ended with Saopeng chanting “I’m Lao’d and I’m


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Proud” and encouraging everyone to participate by telling them, “Even if you are not Lao you’d better say it!” (Chan and Saopeng 2010: 30). Chanting recognised Lao heritage and created community by affi rming transnational identifications. After the performance, audience members were able to view an exhibition by Legacies of War about the 80 million cluster bombs that still need to be cleared from northern Laos. This display channelled the emotional empowerment created by the fi nale into advocacy work by “providing something they can actively do, whether it is signing a petition, calling a congressman or donating.”25 The performance tapped into “transnational non-electoral politics” in the Laotian homeland through the relationship with Legacies of War, highlighting that claiming home and identity is inevitably political (Guarnizo et al 2003: 1223). However, such advocacy required multiple emplacements in order to be effective because audiences had to feel connected to Laos from their American location. This was reinforced in the Los Angeles production where the ‘Lao’d and Proud’ scene was reworked: “Somsy: We can’t forget, but we can’t be stuck either. We have to progress. In Lao we say Gao Na. Move forward” (Chan and Saopeng 2012: 45). Refugee Nation both recognised and challenged the idea of refugee identities as perpetually displaced. The act of claiming Lao heritage also reinforced the need to claim a future home in America. As a result, the production emplaced Lao American identities and wove them into a multicultural fabric by forging transnational connections, such that individuals could be “local and transnational in their orientation, being able to interact with their communities but also able to connect to the different corners of the globe and the Laos [ . . . ] of their ancestors” (Ng 2008: 33).

CONCLUSION Dorinne Kondo (1997: 189) has famously argued that, “home, for many people on the margins, is [ . . . ] that which we cannot not want.” The desire for emplaced belonging with its invocation of stable identity is powerful and deeply political. The ability to claim home is linked to state and social power and may lead to an idealised nostalgia or a construction of community that elides division and violence. However, in their attempts to mitigate displacement, both Imelda and Refugee Nation suggested that “home making” was a critically aware process (Espiritu 2003: 2). The productions were transnationally orientated in their search for emplacement and blurred Asian and Asian American identities, yet neither resulted in a “mediating third term” or the production of hyphenated identities (Kondo 1997: 208). Transnational flows, and their resulting displacements of people and culture, are often fêted for altering identity by extending subjectivity beyond national borders in the move towards a post-national geography (Bammer 1994; Appadurai 1996). Yet both

Performing Displacement


Imelda and Refugee Nation marked a resurgence in territorial belonging, reflecting how “identities, while constantly in flux, are not free-floating” (Espiritu 2003: 12). The productions held Asian and American heritage in tension without becoming necessarily de-territorialised or culturally hybrid. Rather, the modes of displacement they created, whilst bi-nationally orientated, were often marked by essentialism. Such a politics need not be viewed as intrinsically regressive (cf. Bammer 1994) because in their assumption of communal ethnic identities, individuals found a powerful sense of belonging and security. Both Imelda and Refugee Nation represented and constructed Asian American groups as transnationally displaced populations but also reconfigured singular notions of identity that root individuals in one place. On Imelda, performers emplaced themselves in the Philippine homeland and underplayed American locations of belonging, reinforcing the condition of diasporic displacement. Despite its de-territorialisation and hybridisation of culture in politically problematic ways, the musical also attempted to elicit homeland identifications to the Philippines. However, the search for authentic belonging abroad has to be seen in context of isolation from American multiculturalism, highlighting how the search for an emplaced “home is both connected to and disconnected from the physical space in which one lives” (Espiritu 2003: 2). Similarly, Refugee Nation claimed Laotian and American locations of belonging to create a Lao American identity that encompassed both. In so doing, it promoted the establishment of Lao American communities, and thus the on-going production and adaptation of American multicultural politics. The production’s desire to create a sense of ethnic belonging moved it away from a focus on displacement, with much of its narrative content focussing on life in America and Laos, and attempting to reconnect the two transnationally. However, in re-territorialising belonging through bi-cultural moorings, Refugee Nation reinforced that inhabiting such a position was difficult and contradictory. These productions ultimately suggest a conventional and conservative politics grounded in the political possibilities of essentialism. Rooted identities—whether in, or across, locations—were constructed and inhabited in attempts to fi nd geographical moorings. Transnationality in these works is also not simply displaced but emplaced in an American multicultural setting. Although they may appear to re-create a schism between transnationalism and multiculturalism by being orientated abroad, it is not that Imelda and Refugee Nation have no bearing on American society. Rather, their transnational rootings highlight the invisibility and isolation felt by many Asian Americans from cultural representation, as well as the vagaries of US power in Asia. The performances demonstrate attempts to mitigate the experience of feeling doubly displaced from a foreign and American homeland, with performers attempting to feel at home in one place by seeking connections to another. Yet through their


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

production of ethnic community, both works reinforced national multicultural agendas and orientations of belonging, and thus revived, rather than unravelled, nationality in a transnational field. Transnationality can therefore be said to create multiple experiences and types of displacement but essentialist, ‘rooted’, forms contain as much political potential to contest marginalisation and discrimination in America as their more hybrid, culturally fluid, counterparts.


Touring Transnationality The Production of British East Asian Theatre

This chapter shifts the book’s focus from the displacement of people to the displacement of plays. It addresses the search for grounded belonging but turns inwards to examine how the cross-border movement of scripts, and their resulting performances, can help produce multicultural identities in Britain. This chapter particularly analyses the production of British East Asian (hereafter BEA) identities, advancing the idea that BEA theatre is a multicultural field that is multiply inhabited, with various interests in, and experiences of, the transnational. Rather than create a “false dichotomy” between transnational identities and cultural formations, and national imaginaries, this chapter views transnationalism as shaping British multiculturalism (Vertovec 2009: 17). In so doing, it moves towards a lateral account of transnational geographies and their influence on national formations of identity. BEA identity is an emerging and porous field, one constructed across multiple locations and engaging multicultural difference through dialogue and negotiation (Modood 2007). The chapter develops this idea by discussing Yellow Earth Theatre’s (YET) productions of wAve by Asian American writer Sung Rno, and Boom by Singaporean writer Jean Tay. These performances toured the UK from 21 October to 15 November 2009 opening at the Greenwich Theatre, London. Boom was then staged at Margate Theatre Royal, followed by wAve at Newcastle Live, Canterbury’s Gulbenkian Theatre and the Contact Theatre Manchester, before both were performed at The Riverside Studios, London. Five actors worked across both plays (Ashley Alymann, Jonathan Chan-Pensley, Tina Chiang, Louise Mai Newberry and Jay Oliver Yip). The chapter analyses the production, performance, and touring reception of these works, highlighting how theatre practitioners navigate the production of identity across multicultural and transnational fields. My discussion draws upon scripts, performance analysis, interviews with practitioners, and audience comments after the Riverside Studios performances, alongside questionnaire responses in YET’s archive. Boom is set in contemporary Singapore with its growing economy and demand for land. It tells the story of an old Chinese Singaporean lady (Mother) who refuses to move from her family home as part of an en bloc1


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

sale, despite the attempts of her neighbours and her son, Boon. Simultaneously, a psychic civil servant is tasked with relocating a cemetery but fi nds himself talking to an unidentified corpse. The two stories are resolved when Mother is forced to move, the corpse (her husband) remembers who he is, and the audience discovers why he never returned home. The play addresses our attachments to memory and our attempts to fi nd a place to belong. In parallel, wAve is a Korean American version of Euripedes’ Medea set in a hyper-real America. Jason and M. are Korean American immigrants. Jason rapidly assimilates and fi nds himself with a starring role in Mr Phnom Penh, a martial arts musical film based on Miss Saigon. Meanwhile, M. (the loss of letters from ‘Medea’ signalling her loss of identity through migration) becomes agoraphobic and isolated. To leave Korea, M. stole her family’s cultural treasure (referencing the Golden Fleece), murdering her brother in the process. She cannot forget her past and becomes psychically and physically trapped at home. When Jason falls in love with his co-star, a genetically re-engineered Marilyn Monroe, M. takes revenge. She tricks Jason into killing Marilyn and then (in the British production) murders her son, Jason Junior. A chorus of characters guides the action, including a Wavemaker narrator and the satirical television stars Chinky and Gooky. The play therefore adapts Medea into a tale of migrant identities and cultural alienation.

MULTICULTURALISM AND BRITISH EAST ASIAN THEATRE Conventional accounts of British multiculturalism focus predominantly on racial and ethnic difference regarding the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities who migrated from the Commonwealth in the 1960s and 1970s. This transnational influence on the constitution of contemporary Britain contrasts with recent migration that has produced a highly stratified ‘superdiverse’ society (Vertovec 2007). Migrants’ multiple origins, transnational connections, small groupings, scattered settlement and different socio-economic and legal statuses, create a complexity that seemingly cannot be contained by adherence to racial-ethnic group identities. As a result, transnationalism has been considered responsible for the end of multiculturalism, or at least its unravelling. However, I suggest that the intertwining of transnationalism and multiculturalism is more positive and productive, working as an “on-going negotiation of collective and individual responsibilities which need to be configured less on a national than a global [or transnational] scale” (Watson 2000: 110). This chapter addresses this dynamic by highlighting how the staging of Boom and wAve geographically stretched multiculturalism. By promoting BEA identities that encompassed transnationality, the productions helped artists carve out a space of multicultural visibility, producing and reinforcing collective racial-ethnic identities. As a result, the chapter attends to the intersection

Touring Transnationality


between transnationalism and multiculturalism by considering the extent to which transnational forces were worked into a British context through cross-cultural dialogue. In the UK, multiculturalism is not an area of “conscious policy” for government (Parekh 2000: 14). Instead, there has been a ‘multicultural drift’ where racial-ethnic diversity has become increasingly visible but has not been fully planned or managed (Hall 2000). This means that multicultural discourses can belie, even exacerbate, continued discrepancies in power between groups. Attempts to resolve inequalities or engage with difference often remain in the public or cultural sphere, rather than the terrain of political democracy, as Lowe (1996: 29) notes regarding the US: “where the state is unable to accommodate differences it has fallen to the terrain of national culture to do so.” Although many writers locate multicultural citizenship in civil society as much as the nation-state (see Modood 2007), the problem is that divorcing culture from politics can erase histories of inequality implemented through state apparatuses, allowing difference to be commodified and consumed. As the field of intercultural theatre highlights, productions that utilise culturally different performance forms often face a tension between developing dialogic cross-cultural understanding and reproducing a diluted cultural cosmopolitanism, one where multicultural difference slides into the trading of exotica (Gilbert and Lo 2007). BEA theatre is no exception to this dynamic, but Boom and wAve traversed this line, especially because they did not draw upon folkloric or traditional performance forms. Nevertheless, situating multiculturalism in the public sphere presents possibilities for shaping discourses on identity. Multiculturalism can refer to immigrant incorporation and the state’s recognition or protection of minority group rights, but it also promotes tolerance and respect for collective identities (Mitchell 2004). Rather than assimilate or shed cultural difference, multiculturalism allows groups to retain distinct cultures. In theory, the public recognition and visibility of difference allows civil society to be reworked as individuals, groups and organisations engage in dialogue, reaching universal understanding in the process (Parekh 2000). Dialogic forms of multiculturalism therefore draw attention to the multiplicity of identity, to the ability to cut across borders and create shared identities or modes of identification, whilst retaining a sense of cultural distinctiveness. Indeed, spontaneous, friendly and sociable encounters in our everyday society have been seen to promote convivial modes of multicultural dialogue (see Neal et al 2013), but such acts do not always translate into shared experiences, developed cross-cultural understanding or tolerance (Wise and Velayutham 2009; Valentine 2008). Despite these difficulties, much of the literature promoting multicultural dialogue suggests that all cultures should be interactive and self-critical in the moment of cross-cultural encounter such that everyone is changed through the interaction with difference. Achieving such a politics of accommodation is inevitably tentative,

122 Performing Asian Transnationalisms even utopian, but in this instance, it suggests that nationality need not be opposed to transnationality. It instead points toward a more accommodating politics where BEA identity can emerge in relation to differently positioned groups at home and abroad. In conceptualizing difference, however, multiculturalism has been accused of reinforcing essentialism, reifying boundaries as it demarcates racial-ethnic groups. Group identities imply a fi xed essence or set of authentic characteristics common to all individuals, with the suppression of differences for political gain inadvertently supporting “the racist discourse that [ . . . ] implies Asians are ‘all alike’ and conform to ‘types’” (Lowe 1996: 71). Groups may therefore be perceived as, or retain, a sense of separation but such identities are rarely homogeneous, something particularly true of BEA theatre-makers. Modood (2007) also argues that people are able to recognise differences whilst claiming a group identity, and although they may relate to that collective identity differently, this does not diminish their ability to remain a group. As a result, racialethnic distinctions are not homogeneous but contingent, “leaving open what variety it does or does not contain” (ibid. 119). Multicultural theatre is thus involved in a political process of challenging and remaking public identities; it is a place where “we discover and play with the identifications of ourselves, where we are imagined, where we are represented, not only to the audiences out there who do not get the message, but to ourselves” (Hall 1992: 477). This is pertinent regarding BEA theatre because it is an emerging racial-ethnic formation that is becoming prominent in public discourses among practitioners. As an identity, it dovetails with academic discourses surrounding the multiplicity of British Chinese identities (see Yeh 2000; Parker and Song 2001; Benton and Gomez 2008) and performances (see Liang 2009, 2012; Thorpe 2010, 2011), yet also exceeds such discussions by drawing attention to a wider racial-ethnic group. BEA is an identity that has become highly politicised in the wake of protests against theatre institutions (see Chapter 7, this volume) and creates a dialogue between different East and South East Asian communities, their transnational dynamics, and other cultures or communities in the UK. BEA is a strength-in-numbers identity evolving from the ground up, especially because funding bodies such as Arts Council England still use the categories ‘South Asian’ or ‘Chinese’ when supporting those with Asian heritage, leaving many backgrounds unacknowledged. BEA identity therefore encourages a vision of what is shared even as differences are highlighted, a constructed ‘new ethnicity’ that is ambiguously related to and encompasses different vantage points (Hall 1989). However, this identity is ultimately based in a common experience of marginalisation and invisibility, with those claiming and creating it hoping to rework the terrain of debate on multiculturalism and the arts in Britain. In this chapter, I explore the construction of BEA identity but begin by examining how Boom and wAve came to travel transnationally, discussing how their production related to British agendas and concerns.

Touring Transnationality


PRODUCTION BACKGROUND YET remains the UK’s only explicitly BEA theatre company. Based in London, it is a touring company that aims to raise the visibility of British East Asian culture and integrate it into mainstream society. YET therefore creates a type of “Big ‘M’ multicultural theatre” that promotes “cultural diversity, access to cultural expression, and participation in the symbolic space of the national narrative” (Lo and Gilbert 2002: 34). However, the company has historically traversed the line between a politics of multiculturalism and a transnational thematic, becoming known for mixing intercultural performances (Rashomon (2001) and King Lear (2006)) with plays addressing immigration (58 (2004)). This double-edge was evidenced in YET’s Typhoon annual play-reading festival that ran from 2001–2005, and again in 2008. This festival showcased work by writers from East and South East Asia, Asian America and Britain. However, very few of these plays were staged by YET or anyone else, with the company producing established pieces and developing works by its founder members. In 2008–2009 David Ka-Shing Tse left YET as Artistic Director and two Co-Artistic Directors were appointed: Jonathan Man and Philippe Cherbonnier (who was previously YET’s Literary Manager).2 However, Tse’s departure left limited time to create the 2009 tour, so Man and Cherbonnier staged two plays from the 2008 Typhoon Festival, with Man directing wAve and Cherbonnier directing Boom. The need to import plays signals a dearth of high-quality BEA writing at this specific historical juncture with few writers or works suitable for production.3 The production of wAve and Boom occurred during a transitional phase of BEA theatre and YET in particular. During my interviews with them, Cherbonnier and Man had different ideas around the company’s focus, with the plays’ staging driven by a negotiation between transnationalism and multiculturalism, around how British East Asian to be. Cherbonnier wanted to “emphasise more the East Asianness of the company and not the Britishness of it.”4 He was less interested in producing mainstream pieces with all East Asian casts and more in works “written by the diaspora, or by writers in East Asia, China, Japan, or by people here.”5 This approach risked reinforcing the idea that those working in BEA theatre are indelibly foreign, but focussing on East Asian identity was partly a marketing tool to distinguish YET as a company as well as reflecting his interest in intercultural theatre. A multicultural politics of visibility was less important to Cherbonnier than it was to Man, who was interested in the “diasporic sensibility” of being between cultures.6 This reflected his second-generation British Chinese identity and his concern with exploring invisibility and cultural stereotyping, something that led him to explore Asian American writers such as Rno because “we don’t have BEA writers doing that yet, if plays like that were on offer from here I’d have considered picking one of those.”7 The tension between Boom and wAve as plays therefore signalled a tension within

124 Performing Asian Transnationalisms the company, one that entailed negotiating the configuration of British East Asian identity in performance. The plays also moved the company away from its established focus on artistic forms and stories from Hong Kong and Mainland China, situating BEA identities in broader transnational Asian fields. However, whilst wAve and Boom both appeared foreign, they enabled multicultural negotiations to take place in Britain.

TRANSNATIONAL DISTANCE AS DIFFERENCE At first glance, wAve and Boom position East Asian identity as ‘not British.’ The playwrights are from America and Singapore, the plays do not contain British characters, and both detail the search for home by individuals who are either immigrants or located in a foreign setting. Through their transnational movement and production, the plays suggested that East Asian identity was the preserve of foreign migrants, underplaying British identifications and locations of belonging (Benton and Gomez 2008). Indeed, both writers were pleased, but also slightly surprised, that their plays were being produced in the UK. The scripts were submitted for Typhoon by email without any in-depth knowledge of, or personal connections to, YET, and as Rno described, “nine times out of ten, plays that get read in these festivals, nothing happens.”8 Tay felt that for British audiences, Boom would be a form of “cultural anthropology” where they could see: “How people in Singapore speak or behave, so if you’re open to seeing a culture that is not the same as yours then great. But if you’re expecting to see relevant theatre, then it might be more difficult.”9 Rno was similarly intrigued by wAve’s British staging, describing it as: “Another audience and a different place, but I’m always interested in reactions from those who aren’t your normal Asian American theatre audience, in that collision.”10 Neither playwright immediately thought that their work was relevant to British audiences, viewing cultural difference as cultural (indeed transnational) distance. The plays appeared geographically marked but their perceived spatial embeddedness did not preclude their participation in transnationalism. Although theatre is enmeshed in transnational forces that allow works to be performed in a range of contexts, the transnational mobility of Boom and wAve appeared hesitant and uncertain. YET struggled to overcome the sense of cultural difference and alienation raised by these works and had difficulties situating them within a British (multi)cultural landscape. In publicity, Boom was referred to as being developed in London through the Royal Court Theatre’s International Programme. During this residency, Tay worked on her play Plunge about the Asian economic crisis in the 1990s. It was after this that she decided to write a companion piece about Singapore’s booming economy, and although the Royal Court provided feedback, it was developed and staged at Singapore Repertory Theatre in 2008. YET’s marketing attributed a British origin to Boom, making it less foreign whilst signalling quality by locating the play

Touring Transnationality


in Britain’s pre-eminent theatre for new writing. However, many theatres were unwilling to host these transnational plays: Venues went, “No way, we don’t have audiences for that type of foreign work.” They want the play about the family struggling in the takeaway facing racism, the East is East of China. Tamasha just toured a Bollywood Wuthering Heights [ . . . ] audiences can relate to that in an exotic manner, whereas this is more foreign.11 As contemporary works, both plays resisted stereotypical Orientalist expectations of racial-ethnic minority theatres and provided an alternative to the familiar narrative of the British Chinese takeaway. wAve overtly parodied such depictions, pointedly commenting on the invisibility of East Asians in popular culture through the characters of Chinky and Gooky (their names overtly riffi ng off ‘chinks’ and ‘gooks’—racist terms for Chinese people). The plays therefore highlighted the everyday reification of racial-ethnic categories and the difficulties of creating dialogic multiculturalism. They also reflect Parekh’s (2000) critique of how cultural agencies, such as theatres, fail to view racial or cultural diversity as an asset, particularly when performances are not easily consumable exotic products. The transnationality of Boom and wAve, their perceived foreignness and cultural distinctiveness, challenged multicultural discourses and expectations of what East Asian theatre in the UK could be. As a result, the success (or failure) of these plays relied upon on their ability to promote dialogic multiculturalism in the public sphere, a process that required cross-cultural understanding and negotiation vis-à-vis transnationality.

PERFORMANCE: FROM DIFFERENCE TO DIALOGUE? In performance, both Boom and wAve remained true to their original cultural contexts, depicting East Asian identity as foreign. Both productions used accents to mark their settings but neither slid into a simple depiction of ‘otherness’, instead teasing out cultural nuances. In striving for authenticity, there is always a danger that one freezes difference, making it possible to know and lay claim to the ‘other’ (Filewood 1994). However, there was such an emphasis on elucidating diversity in performance that the depiction of transnational cultural difference was opened up, ultimately aiding British understandings and cross-cultural identifications. As a result, the performances started to move towards a version of multiculturalism that recognises how difference characterises society. Hall’s (1989) anti-essentialist idea of ‘new ethnicities’ is resonant in this context because it suggests that racial-ethnic identities are diverse and enable fluid points of identification to emerge. This politics of multicultural identity based on difference started to emerge in the performances via a transnational-national nexus, albeit in a stuttering and tenuous manner.


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Boom’s performance immediately appeared Singaporean owing to its use of Singlish but the audience was also able to locate the action through the story. As discussed in Chapter 3 of this volume, Singlish plays mark the advent of a Singaporean voice, one both critical of, and complicit in, the ideologies of the post-colonial nation-state (Lo 2004). Boom is written in this syntax, with only the civil servant Jeremiah not speaking Singlish but perfect Received Pronunciation English instead. These differences signal the class and generational strata of Singaporean society, because elite or younger Singaporeans who are educated in the UK or US are likely to speak with Anglo-American inflections. The YET production teased these out, with everyone using Singaporean accents apart from Jonathan Chan-Pensley as Jeremiah, and his civil service colleague, played by Louise Mai Newberry with American intonations. Accents also delineated different generations, with young estate agents desiring westernised homes and lifestyles being performed with lighter Singaporean accents, and older characters performed with strong Singaporean accents (including ethnic specific accents such as Indian Singaporean or Malay Singaporean). This direction positioned Boon against his mother by reflecting their different backgrounds and education, as well as the generational conflict between them. Even at this impressionistic level, the play successfully used Singaporean cultural forms to move beyond a simple depiction of homogeneous foreign difference, harnessing the accents to flesh out the play’s narrative. In the UK context, some subtleties of meaning were inevitably lost on audiences who did not understand Singlish and its nuanced use of Hokkien and Malay. Nevertheless the play and the performance often conveyed meaning in ways that promoted understanding. Phrases such as “Choy! Choy! Choy!” are an obvious exclamation of shock or offence. Sometimes the script directly translated Hokkien or Malay expressions through contextualisation, such as when Mother tells Jeremiah: Mother: Le gah wah zao! Le zao lah! Jeremiah: I’m going! (Tay 2008: 92) Le gah wah zao translates as ‘you go away’ and is signalled in Jeremiah’s response. The acting also aided this process, as for instance, when Boon looked at his mother’s figurines, he picked them up and grimaced, signalling his disgust at her old ornaments and apartment (see Figure 5.1). When he says, “I tell you, buyers can’t stand a place that’s got so many old memories [ . . . ] Throw away these hideous statues. Jing pai kua, leh” the audience understands that he views the statues as ‘very ugly’ and does not value the past like his mother (ibid. 11). The performance rendered Tay’s anthropological description prescient because although the play appeared alienating, it was not exotica, maintaining its cultural distinctiveness whilst allowing crosscultural dialogue.

Touring Transnationality


Figure 5.1 Tina Chiang as Mother in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of Boom, London 2009. ©Manuel Harlan, photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan and YET.


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

However, the connections that could be channelled into the production of a dialogic multiculturalism were not only cultural. Modood’s (2007) discussion of multicultural citizenship, much like Hall’s (1989) ‘new ethnicities’, suggests that belonging should be promoted along multiple axes of identity, such that a progressive politics of difference destabilises the constitution of nationality more broadly. In this regard, Boom’s discussion of the care of the elderly and our place in life (and death) was pertinent. The play’s satirical humour and the performance’s characterisation helped establish crosscultural relations, with Mother performed by Tina Chiang as physically old, bent over and shuffling, but witty, feisty and stubborn. Chiang conveyed a bitter anger that was both sympathetic and funny, particularly after Mother had been moved into a new apartment. In one of these later scenes, she looks out onto a car park full of new cars, describing them with sadness before her anger erupts and she wishes to be a bird that can “swoop out of the window, fly out and go shit all over those cars. Like Japanese kamikaze like that” (Tay 2008: 101–102). Critiques of society and government, particularly the idea that the old and the dead can become part of a government strategy of “re-cycle, re-use, re-allocate” were amusing, as was Chan-Pensley’s quivering Jeremiah set against Alymann’s fear-inducing politician (ibid. 16). As a play, Boom’s thematics were therefore “site unspecific” or ‘universal’, enabling it to become part of mobile transnational fields (Rebellato 2006: 112). However, as Rebellato (2006) suggests, the performance and reception were locatable across multiple sites, with concerns around age and family contributing to the Britishness of the production as I discuss below. Unlike Boom, wAve struggled to make connections outside a racial-ethnic framework and in performance did not fully harness its Greek theatre influences. As a result, it helped forge racial-ethnic identity but was less able to do so dialogically. The performance opened with everyone dressed in long black cloaks as a Matrix-styled Greek chorus from which the Wavemaker emerged and through his gestures opened the action, with M. entering to the sound of waves whilst remembering her journey. From the outset, the performance established that a chorus directly intervened in the action but this was patchily maintained through the performance (see Figure 5.2). As in Euripedes’ play, there is interaction between the characters and the chorus, with the Wavemaker explaining the narrative to the audience as well as the characters. Yet his appearance as different characters, including a homeless man, a journalist, and a psychiatrist, were not always marked by any explicit transformation or performative act to remind audiences of the Greek theatre reference. Other chorus members wore cloaks whilst doing set changes, creating the impression that they were moving the action around, but characters such as Chinky and Gooky or Marilyn II often simply entered on stage and, again, did not maintain the impression of a Greek theatre chorus shaping and discussing the action. In addition, Greek devices in the script were not always reflected in the staging. The lighting, for instance, was often dimmed or coloured purple when the Wavemaker was on stage but the remaining action was brightly lit and

Touring Transnationality


Figure 5.2 From left to right: Jonathan Chan-Pensley as Jason, Ashley Alymann as the Wavemaker and Louise Mai Newberry as M. in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of wAve, London 2009. ©Manuel Harlan, photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan and YET.

naturalistic, particularly in M. and Jason’s home. However, when M. and Jason fought over his affair it was performed with the characters on opposite sides of the stage making a direct appeal to the audience. The script is abstract and intellectual at this point, with M. telling Jason, “You’re no more American than a bowl of kimchee stew, hot and fermented, opening your nostrils to the pigmented pigskin of your fucked up identity crisis” (Rno 2004: 64). She gives him the gun that destroys Marilyn, with the scene paralleling the moment in Medea when she puts her case to the chorus for infanticide. Conceptually, however, this brightly lit scene in wAve’s staging did not reflect previous associations with the chorus. Combined, these inconsistencies meant that it was difficult to view the production as a story inspired by Greek theatre, one that would challenge and rework the borders of racial-ethnic difference. wAve radically departs from Medea because M. does not kill her son, but YET’s performance returned it to the Greek story. In the UK production, the Wavemaker remains on stage and allows M. to kill Junior (see Figure 5.3). Jonathan Man was determined that the ending should be tragic to fit the arc of the play and reflect the cultural invisibility of BEA communities: I’ve read about how a few British Chinese have killed themselves in the last couple of years, thrown themselves off buildings. The stakes can be that high, people feel cultural angst, so to have a happy ending? No. Can you imagine, to say, “We all feel very included, we’re not isolated or marginalised.” It doesn’t do justice to where British East Asian communities are at the moment and the arts community in particular.12

130 Performing Asian Transnationalisms M. was not triumphant in the fi nale as in Medea, but fragile, vulnerable and lonely. This alteration was made in consultation with Rno, who discussed in interview how he veered between Junior dying and remaining alive when writing wAve, ultimately opting for the latter because it was more palatable to American audiences.13 In transnational movement, the ending depicted a contrast between the desire to produce multicultural harmony despite differences, and a British desire to produce multiculturalism in ways that confronted the tragedies created by difference.

Figure 5.3 Louise Mai Newberry as M. and Jay Oliver Yip as Jason Junior in Yellow Earth Theatre’s production of wAve, London 2009. © Manuel Harlan, photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan and YET.

Touring Transnationality


wAve therefore directly appealed to a perceived feeling of marginalisation among a particular racial-ethnic group, potentially hardening the borders of identity. However this was not as homogenised as it initially appeared, because the performance used accents to draw out various relationships between migrancy and multiculturalism. Although the script is written in American English, M. was the only character using a Korean accent, reinforcing her position of migrancy and her separation from those around her. Jason and Jason Junior used American accents, with Junior having a strong drawl. Jason is a fi rst generation Korean American and Junior is second generation, and so the performance articulated how transnational migrants can become, and are indistinguishable from, other Americans. On one hand, the production located transnational subjects in a national sphere of belonging, on the other, M.’s inability to become American marked out her tragic fate. wAve maps stark transnational-multicultural intersections: shed one’s culture and assimilate; or hold onto one’s roots and be alienated. The play critiques these binaries because M.’s increasing neurosis and desperation, particularly in Newberry’s performance, created empathy for a woman breaking down under the weight of her alienation. When combined with Chinky and Gooky’s subversive commentary, the production created a sympathetic portrayal of Asian American or East Asian migrant lives. It revealed the multiplicity of racial-ethnic group identities through transnational-national orientations, aiding its resonance with fluid and heterogeneous BEA identities and establishing a sense of shared experience (Modood 2007). The play’s discussion of migrant identities and references to Greek theatre also contained the potential for creating a wider dialogic multiculturalism. However, as I discuss below, this was more difficult to realise in practice and the play became boxed as a piece of ‘minority’ theatre, albeit one that contained diversity within it.

THE ACTORS: TRANSNATIONAL INTERSECTIONS In this section, I discuss how the actors related to their characters, beginning to demonstrate how the plays extended British multiculturalism across borders, opening up lines of affi liation and difference that characterise the production of dialogic ‘new ethnicities’ (Hall 1989). In so doing, it is worth highlighting that the actors themselves signal the complexity of BEA identities. Louise Mai Newberry, Jay Oliver Yip and Ashley Alymann are all mixed-race, but with Vietnamese/white British, Chinese/white British, and Malaysian/white Australian backgrounds respectively. Jonathan Chan Pensley is British Chinese with South African Chinese ancestry, and Tina Chiang was born in Denmark to Singaporean parents and grew up in Singapore before settling in London. These individuals highlight the diversity of BEA practitioners, reflecting how this racial-ethnic identity is composed of multiple positions, encompassing


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

shifting national and transnational affi liations that the plays were able to exploit. Actors such as Chiang or Alymann who had lived in, or visited, Singapore, found Boom’s characters and themes easy to relate to. Alymann described how he “fell into” Boom as a play: “I could see in my mind the reality of it, I could picture the people. I could see the conflict between mother and child. South East Asian cultures are very family based, it is so important, you honour your parents, you honour your grandparents.”14 In interview, Alymann emphasised how cultural and religious values in his Malaysian upbringing enabled him to connect with a Singaporean work. Similarly, Chiang described how she used memories of Singapore to create her performance: “I was drawing back to how old ladies sat in Singapore where they would just be like, ‘We’re old.’ It’s very much, ‘I’ve earned my respect, I’ve earned my place.’”15 By remembering their transnational experiences of, and connections to, Asia, these actors related their performances to Singaporean and Malaysian culture, reinforcing the (South) East Asian identities in British East Asian. These actors were “tickled” to perform a contemporary Singaporean play, a culture not often depicted in the UK, and to act out the repartee that they saw as a distinctive feature of South East Asian cultures.16 Although these identifications appear transnationally orientated, they were not inherently exclusive, as Chiang and Alymann discussed Boom and Singapore with the British born East Asian actors, operating as cultural intermediaries. They explained Singlish and other phrases, leading to discussions about British education and theatre in post-colonial South East Asia. However, as a culturally distinctive marker of identity, Singlish was initially a hurdle for the British actors. Although Cherbonnier “would rather see a truthful performance that tells the story, than someone concentrating on an accent”17, as Yip explained, the specificity of the script meant that “eventually you had to give it a go [ . . . ] once you got over it, it helped and added to the character.”18 Alymann and Chiang were instrumental in this process as “we had Ashley and Tina on tap, so I would say, ‘Ashley what is “can also can”? Is it a throw away? What does it mean?’”19 Alongside linguistic discussions, Alymann and Chiang also brought pictures and Singaporean recipes to rehearsals, further developing cross-cultural dialogue among those with diverse backgrounds. Such practices are similar to those discussed on Imelda in Chapter 4 of this volume and whilst they were central to performing Boom with a level of clarity and understanding for audiences, they were not marked by a search for belonging. Rather, they helped create affiliations and loosely constructed a BEA identity by weaving transnational culture into a British context. In discussing wAve, all the actors loved Chinky and Gooky as characters because they “spoke a satirical truth” that resonated with their experiences as racialized minorities. 20 For Chiang and Alymann, the sense of cultural invisibility parodied by Chinky and Gooky was less strong owing to their

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Asian upbringings, but the experience of living and working in London allowed them to identify with being stereotyped: Even though we all have different stories and backgrounds, there’s that thing we can all plug into, which is being dislocated twice over: one by your choice of profession, and two, by working and existing in England—of being a minority [actors] within a minority [East Asian]. 21 Being a British-based East Asian actor dovetailed with that of being British born East Asian because marginalisation often works through an essentialism that conflates experiences and identities. The actors discussed their experience of inhabiting this position whilst challenging it through their differences. Similarly, in playing M., Newberry described how her background meant that: “I grew up in a family where I am the only ethnic person, I don’t have any relatives who look at all like me that I know of. Everyone is white. So I have that context for M.”22 M.’s transnational migration and cultural invisibility were key features of wAve that bonded the actors across the spectrum. They all conveyed how they were perceived as foreign, or as not existing, within a British multicultural landscape. The representation of migrant lives through a play that travelled transnationally articulated a shared racial-ethnic experience in Britain, whilst simultaneously illuminating a connection to Asian American concerns. wAve’s depiction of Asian American heterogeneity off ered further opportunities to challenge expectations. Yip and Chiang described the fun they had fi nding “the most stereotypical cod Chinese accent possible” for Chinky and Gooky. 23 The accents were so excessive that they appeared implausible, deepening the parody of popular representations. As in Boom, accents explicitly marked place but performing as American allowed actors to “flex a muscle you don’t often get the opportunity to, for a sustained period of time.”24 Being able to perform a good American accent was another way to challenge expectations by “trying to show that actors are actors, your background’s not obvious by your race.”25 As discussed in Chapter 1 of this volume, performing as American complicated assumptions around transnationality in a British context by breaking links to Asia. Simultaneously, Newberry’s performance as M. was “multicentred”, grounding the play in a range of sites that were variously infl ected by transnationalism but that connected British Chinese, British East Asian, and Asian American experiences (Lippard 1997: 5). Newberry met Korean women living in the UK, talked to them about their lives and practiced her accent with them. In depicting M., she felt it was important not to be “just doing any old South East Asian accent.”26 Her performance drew out the cultural specifi city of transnational migration and resisted the stereotype that ‘all Asians look alike.’ Newberry’s research also created dialogue across different ethnic groups and spaces because, as a method actress, she not only drew upon


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

her own experiences but also placed herself in situations that mirrored those in the play. For instance, she ate at Korean restaurants to fi nd out more about Korean food, she went to a therapist and sat in silence for an hour, and visited the beach at South Shields whilst on tour in Newcastle, incorporating the images and sensations evoked by these places into her performance. Through another acting job, she also visited America and decided to eat a Big Mac: “I had never eaten a McDonalds, so what does this smell like, taste like, I need to know because she [M.] talks about it rather a lot. It’s a big cultural thing for her, America is McDonalds.”27 Newberry’s performance therefore pulled places together across contexts, being plurilocal and dialogic as she explored diff erent geographical identities (Asian American, Korean migrants in Britain) in relation to her own, and M.’s, experiences. The East Asian identities performed in these productions were thus highly heterogeneous and encompassed different identities, racial-ethnic backgrounds and locations. As a result, they enabled varied lines of identification to emerge in negotiating the confluence of transnationalism and multiculturalism. However, the construction of porous and malleable identities was not always seamless or dialogic. For instance, Alymann’s preference for Boom, and comparative disconnection from wAve, was evidenced in his description of wAve as “a play based on an immigrant family, which we have all come across in one way or another.”28 wAve was typologised as ‘an immigrant play’ rather than one that thought through the nuances of Asian American or BEA identities. Similarly, when I asked Newberry about the different accents she used in Boom, she described how she found Singaporean identities more difficult to relate to, using accents to create ‘types’: The estate agent could have been male or female. There’s a type and a style, I don’t imagine that estate agents are that different in Singapore, America or the UK. I know what it’s like to be an office girl, so she could be anywhere, Singapore, America, France. She’s more a type as well.29 Performing minor or underdeveloped characters did not necessitate the same level of depth, but these comments again evoke Rebellato’s (2006: 12) idea of “site unspecificity” where plays can be performed in multiple contexts because of their generalising qualities, making them open to varied performative interpretations. However, in this context, generalising typologies exposed moments of cultural closure where transnational-multicultural intersections stuttered. As these plays became part of British East Asian theatre, there were times when transnational cultural difference stood out. Multicultural dialogue could not fully breach these to create shared or universal understanding in the manner outlined by some critics (see Parekh 2000), however there was a respect for that difference in this British context. The ability to hold these tensions together to create

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shared understandings and identities was a challenge but, as I now outline, not intrinsically impossible.

CONNECTING ON TOUR Despite these variable relationships between the plays and experiences or identities forged in the UK, the actors began to collectively inhabit a BEA identity through touring. As Nóvoa (2012) discusses in relation to musicians, touring is a specific form of mobility that produces artistic identities. Ng (2005) similarly details how the transnational tours of Filipino bands produce particular versions of Filipino identity in order to be commercially successful. Whilst touring Boom and wAve, the actors described a process of “becoming British East Asian”30 or “exploring their East Asian heritage”31 as they shared their experiences of working in entertainment and discussed their backgrounds. British East Asian identity was an “associational identity”, one that recognised commonality but was constructed and claimed dialogically across different experiences and touring spaces in a convivial manner (Hall 2000: 220). Although touring often appears routinised (Nóvoa 2012), the actors described it as disjointed because the plays were not consistently staged and the most any play was performed in one venue was three nights (in London). In addition, because the rehearsal period was only three weeks for both plays, the actors crafted their performances during the tour, such that it wasn’t until “Riverside where I actually felt any of us sank into it and we could play more.”32 In producing their characters, character relationships and racial-ethnic identifications through the tour with an increased intensity, the actors evoked geographical accounts of mobility that examine not only the act of movement between places, but that movement’s social and cultural meanings (see Cresswell 2006). In this regard, the fact that the actors travelled by train was important: “Being on the train gave us time to talk about things, talk about our experiences. We’d be discussing our characters, the performances, and running through lines.”33 The train was a mobile rehearsal space where the actors shared their ideas about the performance, stories about their backgrounds and practiced their accents with one another. It was through touring that much of the cross-cultural dialogue discussed earlier actually occurred, with physical mobility reinforcing the fluidity of identity. More specifically, touring fostered a collective racial-ethnic identity by developing BEA identifications: All our train tickets were bought so we would all sit together. I thought, “Here I am with the yellow people, the yellow people go on tour.” That’s actually quite funny because Jay, Ashley and I are mixed, we are all half white [ . . . ] all our backgrounds are completely different. But


Performing Asian Transnationalisms if you are someone walking down the train carriage, you go, “Look! East Asian people with black hair.” So there was this consciousness that developed around us being British East Asian, because we were performing together, touring together and eating together. 34

Visual perceptions of race were reductive as they created an essentialised otherness, but simultaneously, being grouped together fostered a collective BEA identity that encompassed different backgrounds and experiences. In interview all the actors were able to relay one another’s racial-ethnic backgrounds, discuss details about each other’s upbringings or migration history, and debate their career trajectories, revealing the extent and depth of their conversations. They created BEA identity in a manner that is reminiscent of associational identity, where there is “identification with certain group labels” but without partaking in distinctive cultural practices (Modood 1998: 385; Hall 2000). As highlighted earlier, Newberry’s depiction of M. was based in a range of spaces that included the tour, and other actors similarly detailed how their characters developed in this manner: Through touring there was more empathy with one another and it helped. To play family is a tricky one, and I was very different from Jay’s mother, his mother is white English, but a Chinese mother/Chinese son relationship is very different. We had to develop that but the experience of touring, you know, hanging out and having dinner after the show, going on trips together, all these little things help you to do that. [ . . . ] So with Chinky and Gooky, Jay and I would be doing silly things to make each other laugh, trying to “out funny” each other. 35 This account articulates how mobility constructs social relationships in relation to different racial-ethnic backgrounds. Chiang discussed the various experiences of British Chinese identity that were negotiated, including Yip’s mixed-race background, her Singaporean Chinese upbringing, and Boom’s depiction of that identity. She also discussed the pranks they played to create the repartee between their characters in wAve. BEA identity was configured as an umbrella term that encompassed a constant dialogue around transnational and national identities as they were related to the two plays. However, any sense of being BEA was often perceived and discussed in relation to British Chineseness as the UK’s dominant East Asian group, particularly as a key bonding activity was restaurant outings. Food was regularly mentioned in interviews as important in creating a collective group identity: “Food is important to all Asian cultures, but it’s a really big thing in Chinese culture and Chinese families it’s always shared with other people [ . . . ] So we spent a lot of time finding a good place to eat!”36 Food is stereotypically associated with British Chinese identity (not least via the takeaway) and whilst recourse to this identification was easy, even superficial, eating together further cemented a convivial shared experience.

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However, despite the elisions between being ‘Chinese’ and ‘East Asian’, there remained an expansive production of commonality and community that relied upon East Asian identity as “we were all East Asian actors, so we have that in common too and we would share those experiences.”37 The performances were underpinned by an inclusive East Asian identity that brought varied experiences into dialogue with one another, producing a formation that could, potentially, raise the visibility of this racial-ethnic group as part of a British multicultural landscape (Modood 2007).

RECEPTION: DIALOGIC CONNECTIONS Discussions of touring often suggest that physical transience prevents engagements with specific places (see Nóvoa 2012). However everyone involved in the tour of Boom and wAve had distinct memories of reception in each location and this is reinforced by the sources on audience feedback. Discussing reception further reinforces the possibilities, failures and tensions in forging multiculturalism through the coalescing of transnational and national identities. Audience responses displayed a range of (dis) identifications to the performances and their East Asian identities, thereby reflecting the contingent dialogue created by difference. Many audiences enjoyed the plays owing to their emphasis on family relationships and generational differences. These narratives established connections that extended racial-ethnic dynamics and opened up transnational axes of identity from a British context. This was particularly the case with Boom where BEAs and those from other racial-ethnic groups identified with the matriarchal Singaporean Chinese mother: “The Chinese mother that we see is close to the fi rst generation immigrant Chinese mother in the UK, they behave in a similar way (laughs). So though it’s not written from a minority point of view, it has British Chinese interests.”38 Although it would be reductive to suggest that all Chinese identities are the “same”, the play created a transnational comparison that highlighted the production’s relevance to a British context. Audiences after the Riverside performances similarly told me that the play was: Brilliant. [ . . . ] That tension between respecting your parents but wanting to move on and have your own life is something a lot of us have faced in the community. You know, doing what your parents expect [ . . . ] It was so funny because she [Mother] was so determined. 39 However to only view the production in relation to those with East Asian heritage fails to fully capture its resonances across different dimensions of identity. Jean Tay described how older white British men and women, who stayed for the post-show discussion in Greenwich, were preoccupied with the play’s meditation on what makes a home, discussing “forced dislocation


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

when they built Canary Wharf and now with Stratford and the Olympics. The role that property plays in the local consciousness here is very similar to the mother-son relationship in Boom.”40 Similarly, an older white British woman after the Riverside performances commented that: “That’s what’s being built all around us which is marketing to the young, they start their new life, while us old people are still there. When that lady went, ‘All I want is a room for me to die in.’ I thought, ‘oh my god!’”41 The generational conflict within Boom, which centres on the different values attached to home, fostered dialogue across culture, race and age. In Margate, with its largely retirement-age audience, those involved with the production commented on audiences crying or laughing at the attempts to get Mother to leave, and telling them how moving they found the play. Boom was therefore not simply an alienating transnational import but created an inclusive sense of belonging along multiple axes in a British context, particularly in locations where communities are being displaced through urban redevelopment (see Watt 2008; Raco and Tunney 2010). The production at once appeared culturally South East Asian, but also British East Asian, particularly as Singaporean audiences also noticed that the accents belied the British identities and associations of the actors. Boom’s reception was thus reminiscent to Modood’s (2007) expansive defi nition of multiculturalism, as dialogue occurred not simply across racial-ethnic groups, but across multiple dimensions of identity. The production enabled transnationality and nationality to be held together as part of a British East Asian identity. This conviviality was harder regarding wAve because the production had a mixed reception and articulated a conventional multicultural politics where the borders of identity are less porous in the focus on attaining equal representation. Although reasonably well received in Canterbury, Manchester and London, its appeal was more directly confined to members of BEA communities. In Newcastle, the reception was, by all accounts, disastrous, with a small audience mostly leaving at the interval. Several factors potentially contributed to these dynamics, including the fact that a play addressing racism and alienation did not interest local audiences. The single performance on Halloween was another problem, as was the theatre space in relation to the staging of this emotionally challenging play. The Live Theatre combines an auditorium with cabaret style seating and, as a result, M.’s breakdown came across as confrontational; it “wasn’t safe for them, I was too close and they didn’t know how to respond to that level of visceral emotion.”42 The references to Greek theatre were also viewed as esoteric and confusing, with reviewers describing the Wavemaker as “a mixture of new age gobbledygook and chunks of quantum physics that is hard to take seriously.”43 However, in London and Manchester (the city with the largest British Chinese population and arts community outside London), wAve was well received as part of a broader narrative about immigration, assimilation and

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cultural isolation. YET’s archive contains fi fteen audience surveys from Manchester and these detail how the play was “a real eye opener to the Asian community and their sense of isolation and loss of identity”44 whilst also being entertaining and creating “a sense of empathy with British born Chinese.”45 These responses worked across race and ethnicity, and recognised generational differences thereby drawing attention to the multiplicity of group identities. Jonathan Man described how many British Chinese stayed long afterwards discussing the play’s representation of cultural isolation, describing similar stories of lonely wives or mothers who rarely spoke to anyone outside their own family owing to language barriers. The audience surveys reflect this sentiment, describing how the play “showed the frustration of Chinese women with no outside support”46, providing “a snapshot of what immigrants are facing and going through.”47 Audiences therefore transposed wAve from its Korean American setting to express and discuss different experiences of British Chinese identity. Transnational connections between racial-ethnic minorities were also articulated, with audiences identifying with the struggle against stereotyping that wAve depicts as part of an Asian American agenda. This left some audience members with a desire for a more overt sense of British struggle for representation as indicated in comments that the production “breaks the cycle of misunderstanding and misconceptions for British Chinese”48 and wanting to see “more of it.”49 This desire to mobilise racial-ethnic identity towards representational visibility characterises multicultural politics based around group equivalence. However, it was orientated towards British Chinese, rather than BEA identities, reinforcing established multicultural categories and the dominance of British Chinese cultures. This is not necessarily problematic as long as the multiplicity of Chinese, East Asian and indeed other identities are recognised. Whereas this was more the case with Boom, it was less prominent with wAve. Rather, in reception, wAve reinforced established expectations that reduce the variety of East Asian identities. Even as British Chinese identities were opened up through cross-cultural and transnational connections, the production veered between reifying a specific ethnic group and creating dialogue articulating different configurations of multiculturalism.

CONCLUSION YET’s touring productions of Boom and wAve initiated a dialogue between different transnational and national contexts at multiple levels, including the production context, the performances, actor relationships to those performances, the tour and audience reception. Although both productions initially appeared transnationally foreign, together they initiated a series of negotiations about how to understand and interpret racial and cultural difference in a British context. Through their depictions of


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

multiplicity, both were able to stimulate dialogue cross-culturally, highlighting how lines of affi liation could be opened up within and beyond racial-ethnic framings, but both also contained moments where conventional categorisations and understandings came to the fore. Nevertheless, neither production simply fell into an exotic and homogenised depiction of otherness that reinforces stereotypes of British East Asians and the British Chinese in particular. Rather their difference allowed more nuanced depictions and identities to emerge. It is possible to suggest that Boom and wAve articulated two ends of the BEA spectrum, that Boom superficially seemed more ‘East Asian’ and wAve more aligned with ‘British’ concerns. Although the plays were selected on this basis, they also undermined this simplistic division, with Boom relatable for older British audiences, and wAve’s American location and multidimensional portrayals complicating its geographical ascription. Together, these works therefore started to offer a reworked, fluid idea of what it means to be British, and indeed British East Asian. Both plays opened up a sense of conviviality and dialogue in performance, even though at times this process stuttered and hardened the borders between identities grounded in difference. Stuart Hall’s (1992) query of “What is this ‘black’ in black popular culture?” challenged the idea that one was black or British in order to question essentialism and argue that black identities were politically and culturally constructed. Similarly here, the varied negotiations of a transnational-national nexus produced identities that pulled individual and collective identifications, connections and cultures together. In this respect, the plays and their production challenged the suggestion that transnationalism assumes a high degree of internal unity, one based upon ethnic association. Rather, in this instance, transnationalism introduced heterogeneity in discussions over Britishness, creating fluid and open group identities (Crang et al 2003). Such dynamics provide a counterpoint to the suggestion that cross-border flows (here of plays and the cultures they represent) have “little to say about transformations of identity and the emergence of new forms of national identity” (Benton and Gomez 2008: 4). As I have argued here, through these productions a multiply inhabited British East Asian identity began to be formed. This was an ‘associational’ or umbrella identity based upon a set of shared experiences and identifications that allowed relationships to be forged between those with different racial, ethnic and migratory backgrounds in a British context (Modood 1998; Hall 2000). Although dominated by British Chinese multiplicity, the discussion of, and at times identification with, a BEA identity recognised and incorporated wider differences, working as a polyvalent point of identification, a ‘new ethnicity’ that was constantly shifting (Hall 1989). As a result, the productions helped reconfigure a conventional British multiculturalism that often excludes East Asians through its imagination of Black and South Asian difference. Boom and wAve created an awareness of British East Asians as a group with shared experiences of marginalisation and,

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as we will see in Chapter 7 of this volume, it therefore gained political force among actors, even if at times the construction of this identity displayed varying levels of porosity and dialogue more widely. Conviviality and dialogism are often conceptualized as shaping the production of nationality through encounters with difference, and the performances contained and, at times enacted, this potential (Modood 2007). Boom and wAve gain critical force in this regard when viewed together, but the 2009 YET tour points towards how transnationality can shape debates around multiculturalism and the place of East Asians in a British imagination.

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Part II

Transnationalism Across Contexts

Developing the book’s overall theme of transnationalism as a multiply inhabited space, the next three chapters examine the cross-border interconnections between Singaporean, British East Asian and Asian American theatres. This section focusses on the lateral dynamics of transnationalism, on how practitioners and performances become mobile and make connections with one another. It analyses the cross-border activities behind theatre production and reception, the institutions and individuals who influence the form that transnational theatre takes, as well as its spaces of collaboration. Combined, the three chapters convey an increasing sense of interconnection and exchange whilst attending to transnational relationships both historically and in the contemporary moment. As a result, this section delves further into the tension between conceptualizing transnationalism as a boundless, de-territorialised phenomenon, and its production of and through particular spaces. Transnationalism is often conceptualized as a form of movement. Hannerz (1996) and Appadurai (1996) suggest that transnational flows are part of a “macroanthropology”, one that critiques the idea of globalisation as a homogenising force by attending to how diversity is organised into relatively coherent entities that operate at scales other than the nation (Hannerz 1989: 200). Cross-border flows and activities are ordered by different forces, such as markets and social and political movements, but this wider perspective can overlook the role of smaller organisations and phenomena (Rockefeller 2011). However, by attending to the multiple geographies of transnational experience, this pitfall can be overcome. In the chapters that follow, the work of institutions such as the British Council is discussed alongside international festivals, virtual relationships between artists, and the formation of theatre scenes, to reveal how flows of plays and practitioners are organised to produce cross-border complexity. In so doing, lateral transnational geographies

144 Part II are variously conceived and enacted: as exchanges organised on the basis of nationality; as spaces of relation that operate across not only national, but also racial and cultural borders; and as forms of circulatory movement running through specific places. Ideas of flow and fluidity often evoke harmony, continuity and smoothness, but transnational movement may also be discontinuous (Rockefeller 2011). These tensions are illustrated in the discussion in Chapter 6 of the power relations involved in exchanges between Singaporean and Scottish artists and the spatial organisation of their transnational collaborations, but such frictions also appear in debates over participation in protests in Chapter 7, and in the different types of mobility forged through connections between theatres in Chapter 8. Nevertheless, the flow of artists occurs in multiple directions as they move “continuously between cultures and continents”, influencing the forms that productions take and the meanings they acquire (Cohen 2010: 3). Tracking these transnational careers led me to the discussion of connections between Singaporean and Scottish theatre in Chapter 6. The chapter particularly focusses on how cultural policy agreements framed around national spaces both formalised and developed emerging creative relationships. Yet institutions and individuals promoted these exchanges in ways that ordered transnational spaces of distance and proximity, made national borders porous and open to re-formation, and shifted the emphasis from nationality to specific cities and locations. Taking another perspective on interconnection, Chapter 7 addresses the constant collapsing and re-asserting of geographic difference in relational fields of practice. Focussing on The Orphan of Zhao protests against the Royal Shakespeare Company, it views protest as a performative event, one whose practices established a range of connections with differently located individuals and communities. However the main thrust of the chapter addresses the “minor to minor” networks between British East Asian and Asian American artists, relations harnessed to the transnational production of solidarity (Lionnet and Shih 2005: 8). Such traversal relationships can overlap with and challenge dominant institutions, highlighting the political and creative possibilities of transnational transformation (see also Ferrari 2008). In these instances, the distinction between ethnic minorities (who are often situated with regards to the nation) and transnational fi elds starts to dissolve (see also Carruthers 2013). This is more fully developed in Chapter 8 where I analyse the translocal circulation of M. Butterfly, its production across contexts and its catalysing of cross-border relationships. In tracing the movement of practitioners and plays, this chapter highlights how these lateral connections actually stimulate the development of a theatre scene in place (London). It therefore parallels discussions in Chapter 6 that similarly address how transnational training and development initiatives provided opportunities to develop Singaporean

Part II


theatre. These chapters also hold settlement and movement in tension within one another, with Chapter 8 using a translocal perspective to analyse how circulation and multidirectional flow can become emplaced. As a result, the section ends with the book coming full circle, to consider how transnational connections influence the production of theatre across contexts.

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Singapore-Scotland Transnational Policy and Theatrical Exchange

Initially, it seems surprising that Singapore and Scotland have long-standing theatrical relationships. When I first realised that a number of Singaporean theatre-makers had trained, lived or performed in Glasgow and Edinburgh, it was an intriguing geographical anomaly given the very English- and Londoncentric imaginations of many practitioners I had interviewed. Nevertheless, these movements were enabled and promoted by two Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that formalised performance exchanges and collaborations between practitioners from Singapore and Scotland from 1990–1996 and 2007–2009. MOUs are agreements geared towards “the spirit of co-operation to create a body of different exchanges”; they are political gestures of goodwill that also facilitate the mobility of practitioners and their work.1 As light cultural policy tools, MOUs reflect government agendas surrounding the arts but they also respond to the attitudes, desires and values of artists and other organisations. Analysing the creation of MOUs, and the activities promoted through them, therefore offers insights into the dynamics of, and influences on, performance scenes. This chapter focusses on these Scottish-Singaporean MOUs, analysing the different ways in which the institutions implementing these policy frameworks produced and ordered transnational spaces of collaboration among practitioners. More specifically, I argue that these organisations are “institutional hubs” that not only concentrate cross-border flows, but that also territorialise transnational forces into different spatial configurations (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011: 6). Although these policy frameworks initially appeared to reflect national interests, their construction and enactment by institutional hubs moved beyond, and multiplied, this spatiality, illustrating one of the book’s key arguments that transnationality operates across a range of geographies.

SINGAPOREAN CULTURAL POLICY, INSTITUTIONAL HUBS AND THE ORDERING OF TRANSNATIONAL SPACE In its focus on geographically extensive relations, this chapter contributes to literatures on Singaporean cultural policy, its history and its influence on


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

theatre more widely. Scotland rarely emerges in these debates, yet was a key touchstone in Singapore’s formative years. Singaporean cultural policy is often discussed in relation to the Renaissance City Plan, but Chang (2000) and Kong (2000) have outlined how ideas around using the arts to promote economic growth have a much longer lineage in the city-state. Most famously, the 1989 Report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts suggested that the government should provide better arts training and facilities in order to harness their economic potential, forming “the blueprint for cultural policy in Singapore” (Kong 2000: 414). Established practitioners suggested that there was “no training, no arts and no culture” in Singapore at this time, with the National Arts Council (NAC) of Singapore only being established in 1991. 2 In 1992, the government’s vision of Singapore as ‘A Global City for the Arts’ similarly rested on developing a vibrant arts and cultural scene that would turn Singapore into a regional theatre centre, attracting tourists and arts workers whilst promoting national identity and the cultural enrichment of Singaporeans. The fi rst MOU between Scotland and Singapore was initiated in this context, being driven by Singapore’s interest in the economic potential of the arts. However, Glasgow’s role as the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 1990 was integral to this transnational relationship. Literatures on the ECoC highlight that Glasgow was foundational in being the fi rst city to use the ECoC for cultural-led regeneration (see Miles 2005; Quinn 2005). One of Glasgow’s key achievements was its “image transformation from grim industrial centre to attractive creative hub”, a shift that increased leisure and business tourism to the city (García 2005: 845). Although the longterm impacts of Glasgow’s success are debated, the MOU between Scotland and Singapore, beginning in 1990 but formalised in 1992, is a clear example of how Glasgow drew international attention (see ibid.; Tretter 2009). Glasgow’s use of the arts to bolster tourism and economic activity through place branding was central to Singapore’s desire for contact with the city. However, as the technicalities of creating the MOU developed, the focus shifted from Glasgow to regional and then national spaces. Recent work has highlighted that although cultural policies tend to conceptualize spaces as bounded, easily managed or controlled, policy administration and the nature of creative activity often renders geography more fluid, porous and heterogeneous in practice (Harvey et al 2011). This insight is central to this chapter in its analysis of how policy formation works through different spaces and how these geographies are, in turn, co-ordinated by “institutional hubs” (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011: 6). As a geographical formation, hubs are often discussed in relation to networks, being places that provide points of connection between local and global forces (Sassen 2002). Usually, such places are cities, but hubs may also be clusters or organisational centres undertaking a variety of activities—frequently in the service of economic fi nance. Hubs are places where interactions happen, where geographies become connected; they are sites that “bundle and focalize”



transnational flows of people, knowledge and money (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011: 5). However, in this chapter I draw upon the idea that “institutional hubs” are key organisations that “help organize or are themselves integrated into artists’ networks” (ibid. 6). Hubs are not simply conduits that concentrate activities; rather they arrange, order, and territorialise transnational spaces of collaboration among artists. In the fi rst half of this chapter, I discuss how the British Council activated the transnational networks of the 1992 MOU, ordering them into regional and national spaces of creative activity that worked by becoming embedded in specific sites. The British Council is an “international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations” that is sponsored by the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.3 From a Singaporean perspective, this institution is explicitly linked to the former colonial power, raising questions around the politics of its activities. However, the British Council can provide funding partnerships and artistic opportunities in ways that “facilitate the emergence of home-grown sustainable cultural scenes, and at the same time, also work towards the transnationalization of such scenes” (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011: 153). This institution therefore organises the development of performance productions, networking and exchanges across borders whilst also operating in specific locations and communities. In enabling practitioners to study and work in the UK during the early 1990s, the British Council became central to facilitating activities that aided the development of Singaporean theatre. However, in tracking relationships between Singaporean and Scottish artists over time, it is possible to see how these relationships became re-orientated, performed even, through particular sites. The second half of this chapter suggests that more recently, and certainly by the 2007–2009 MOU, international festivals have become the new institutional hubs. Festivals promote and arrange spaces of theatrical collaboration, as well as the relationships between practitioners, but their agendas explicitly reflect economic agendas of place marketing, tourism and urban development (Quinn 2005). This emphasis on festivals, particularly regarding Singapore, is unsurprising at a time when the city-state used the arts to promote national grandstanding abroad.4 However, festivals are unlike the British Council as an institution because their economic imperatives mean that they focus on individual (or star) artists, rather than embedding themselves in culture or performance scenes. These events therefore organise spaces of activity differently. Unlike many accounts of festivals that focus on being embedded in place, including Chapter 3 in this volume, (see also Curtis 2010; Gibson and Connell 2012) here I highlight how festivals can territorialise transnational collaborations among artists through varying combinations of distance and proximity but in ways that reinforce disconnection from place. The cultural exchanges promoted through the 1992–1996 and 2007– 2009 MOUs therefore displayed shifting spaces of transnational activity between Scottish and Singaporean artists. In both instances, these


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

relationships exceeded the confines of the agreements’ nationalistic framing. I discuss each MOU in turn before concluding with a critical assessment of cross-border collaboration, discussing the asymmetries of transnationalism and its operationalisation across different sites and scales of activity in ways that were emergent. However, I ultimately suggest that such relationships have maximised Singapore’s creative image rather than developing its creative practitioners.

CONSTRUCTING A POLICY EXCHANGE: THE 1992–1996 MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING The British Council has been involved Singapore’s arts scene since the 1950s, promoting British culture and developing local talent. Initial activities focussed on sponsoring British companies to perform in the city-state, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Bristol Old Vic, Cheek by Jowl and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. However by the 1980s, British Council arts officers (notably the dynamic Singaporean Lena St GeorgeSweet) became aware of local needs: Singaporean arts were in their infancy. Companies were starting to get established, so we were bringing out more British products but I felt that it could not be a one-way traffic. Singapore had something to give, so I kept insisting that it be a two-way exchange. If the British Council is working in a society, it must look at the needs and relevance of the programming to that society. 5 Initially, the British Council funded the presentation of Singaporean productions abroad, such as Emily of Emerald Hill at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1986. However, in talking to practitioners, St George-Sweet realised the need not just for exposure but also for theatre training and development. The British Council therefore focussed its funding on this front, an approach that dovetailed with their policy to promote British education: The British Council fosters good will and ties between countries [ . . . ] Once you are educated in a country you have links to that country, you understand another culture better. And so it is with arts education. If you bring an act to perform in Singapore, people have a good time, they go home, they may think about it and say, “Oh it’s a great night” but that’s it. If artists perform together, then those ties are long lasting, and that’s the way to link countries.6 From the late 1980s the British Council therefore awarded scholarships to Singaporean practitioners to enable them to train abroad. For instance, in 1988 Nora Samosir and Christine Lim pursued a directing course at



the British Theatre Association and Goh Ching Lee undertook a one-year diploma in arts administration at City University. However, St GeorgeSweet’s personal archive shows that the two British Council scholarships awarded in 1990 both involved sojourns in Glasgow (Ong Keng Sen to pursue theatre directing and Royston Ivan Simon to attend a lighting course), indicating that the ECoC drew practitioners to the city. During his time in Glasgow, Ong became aware of companies such as TAG (Theatre About Glasgow) and remembered them on his return to Singapore. Through his company, TheatreWorks, Ong was working with the British Council on a series of training workshops called ‘Springboard at the Blackbox’ that covered theatre-in-education, acting, playwriting, lighting, stage design, directing, arts administration, stage management, voice work and movement. The British Council funded British practitioners to visit Singapore and run these events but because TAG specialises in working with children, Ong invited Alan Lyddiard (then TAG’s Artistic Director) to lead the workshop on theatre-in-education. Whilst Lyddiard was in Singapore he watched various performances, including Chinese Opera and TheatreWorks’ (1990) production of The Dance and the Railroad by Asian American playwright David Henry Hwang.7 He became interested in integrating the two, and as a result, transnational collaborative relationships started to develop between theatre-makers in Singapore and Glasgow. These activities occurred alongside the British Council’s attempts to facilitate a cultural agreement between Glasgow and Singapore. In 1989, the Singaporean government approached the British Council wanting to establish cultural links that would enable Singapore to become a vibrant artistic centre, reflecting the interest in the arts during this period (Kong 2000). Strathclyde Regional Council (SRC) records consistently reveal that during meetings with the British Council “it was quite clear that Singapore had targeted a possible MOU with Glasgow in terms of its cultural input and its obtaining the title of ECC.”8 The Director of the British Council in Singapore, Alen Webster, was from Glasgow and he contacted the Director of the British Council in Scotland in order to develop these connections. Glasgow’s now famous use of the ECoC to implement culture-led regeneration was therefore directly linked to the Singaporean ambition to become the arts hub of South East Asia and gain the edge over its Asian Tiger rivals: The transformation of Glasgow from wasteland to one of the most vibrant cultural centres of Western Europe was the subject of many articles in the press. How had this been achieved? [ . . . ] Scotland’s excellence in the arts and in particular, Glasgow’s experience would be highly relevant to [ . . . ] Singapore in the 1990s. (Webster in The British Council 1997: 90) Although the success of Glasgow’s tenure as ECoC is debatable (see García 2005; Quinn 2005) the Singaporean government was interested in how


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

the city had raised its profi le. However, the British Council did not simply establish a transnational cultural policy between two cities; rather it organised arts activities at a regional and national level. Webster identified SRC as a partner from the outset, because the Singaporean government felt “not at all sure how to translate their stated commitment [to the arts] into action” and perceived the UK arts infrastructure, especially in London, as difficult to navigate because it was “so vast in comparison, the structures so complex that it is extremely difficult to construct a coherent development place.”9 Webster therefore suggested to Singaporean officials that they concentrate on a territorial area with a population similar in size to Singapore. Hence, Strathclyde was promoted as a region that included Glasgow as a city with relevant experience. However, the MOU’s spaces were “instituted, demarcated, contested and restructured” as different organisations became involved (Harvey et al 2011: 471). SRC’s Overseas Development Officer, Tony Rennie, was immediately interested in the possibilities for cultural and educational exchanges, but of equal importance was SRC’s position within Scotland and the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh: It has to be decided after the Year of Culture whether the Council is to be perceived as the largest regional authority in the UK with key cultural and educational links and as [ . . . ] considered by [ . . . ] the British Council or another local authority subject to early restructuring and trying to detract attention from “Scottish” national profi le as represented by government and “Scottish” institutes based in Edinburgh.10 SRC’s involvement bolstered the status of Glasgow and the region, both nationally and internationally, challenging Edinburgh’s position as the de facto political and cultural capital. However, Glasgow District Council (GDC) was not interested in the proposals and insisted that “any agreement should involve commercial as well as cultural activities.”11 In explicitly demanding provision for business and trade, GDC revealed their own interests in using the arts for economic gain. Yet Singaporean officials had no desire, or need, for such a relationship, turning their attentions to the Scottish Arts Council in Edinburgh and Dublin, the 1991 ECoC. The archives report a flurry of negotiations to secure the relationship for Scotland, concentrating the policy at the level of the nation-state. The MOU was signed on 29 January 1992 in Singapore, inaugurating the Singapore-Scotland Cultural Co-operation Programme. The agreement operated between the National Arts Council (NAC) of Singapore, the Scottish Arts Council and SRC, but was administered by the British Council, which funded a post to co-ordinate the activities. As an institutional hub, the British Council therefore ordered the transnational geographies of the agreement in relation to regional and national spaces (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). The MOU aimed to: promote cultural and educational co-operation;



share experiences in promoting culture and education; encourage training for artists and arts administrators; facilitate performance opportunities in each other’s country; nominate individuals for these programmes and organisations to co-ordinate these activities; and encourage joint programmes.12 In principle, these exchanges were equal but Singapore inevitably benefitted more than Scotland because the city-state’s artistic infrastructure was developing. NAC administrators went on month-long secondments to the Scottish Arts Council to learn about funding structures, arts schemes, and how to nurture talent, making it possible to suggest that Singapore’s arts council was influenced by these relationships and the knowledge they provided (cf. Kong 2000; Chang 2000). Around eight events occurred in each year of the MOU, a sustained level of activity that is unsurprising given that the arts programming of the British Council in Singapore concentrated on the agreement. The MOU was renewed in 1994, but it lapsed in 1996 when SRC was abolished as part of Scotland’s political restructuring. The plan was for a 3–4 year alliance and so the agreement naturally concluded, although the transnational networks it operationalised lasted much longer.

Networks of Mutual Influence and Exchange? The MOU territorialised emerging transnational relationships nationally and provided a framework for further activities. The Cultural Co-operation Programme made funding available to realise collaborative performances, notably TAG’s production of The Dance and the Railroad. The idea behind this performance occurred independently of the MOU but the production’s gala opening on 4 March 1992 at the Tramway Theatre, Glasgow, was used to mark the agreement. Singaporean Ministers, the Directors of the British Council in Singapore and Scotland, and Scottish Arts Council and SRC representatives all attended the event. This production of Hwang’s play involved Tom Yang, a Chinese American dancer who had been the Artistic Director of Basic Space in Edinburgh from 1985–1989, Unku, a Malaysian Chinese performer living and working in Glasgow, and four dancers and three musicians from the Leling Beijing Opera Troupe in Singapore. Archives show that Lyddiard originally wanted to cast Singaporeans in the roles of Lone and Ma, writing to Koh Boon Pin (who played Ma in the TheatreWorks production) that he had “explored every possibility of getting you over to Glasgow” and had also approached the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) to release the Singaporean actor Ivan Heng from his studies.13 The RSAMD refused and British Actors’ Equity regulations gave priority to performers based in the UK, preventing the establishment of a neat transnational arrangement involving an all-Singaporean cast with TAG providing the directing and staging. In contrast, The Dance and the Railroad was fluidly positioned and exceeded the dualistic national framing of the MOU by pulling together

154 Performing Asian Transnationalisms different Chinese heritages and cultural threads. TAG used the production to make visible “the culture of our resident Chinese and its contribution to the quality of life within the region”, weaving together the story of a Chinese American railroad labour strike, Beijing Opera from Singapore and British multiculturalism.14 Glasgow’s Scottish Chinese community, including students from China and Hong Kong, organised demonstrations before each performance, encompassing an array of activities such as Chinese calligraphy and painting, flower arranging, tapestry and ribbon craft, music recitals, singing, dragon dances, kung fu and tai chi. Members of the Leling Beijing Opera troupe also held workshops before the performance. These activities therefore combined the consumption of multicultural exotica with attempts to promote an intercultural understanding of the performance. As a theatre company for young people, TAG also conducted educational workshops that covered the history and experiences of Chinese American labourers, explained Chinese myths and legends, as well as demonstrating Beijing Opera movement. The production and its activities therefore reflected the movement of practitioners, plays and theatrical forms across contexts. The MOU also reinforced other existing activities, particularly at the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), where four Singaporean theatre-makers trained from 1990 onwards through the British American Tobacco Scholarships (Ivan Heng in 1990, Clifton Turner and Neo Swee Lin, accompanied by her husband, Lim Kay Siu, in 1991, and Josephine Peter in 1992). In Singapore, the British American Tobacco Company approached the British Council wanting to sponsor arts events but the institution does not promote tobacco or alcohol companies. As the British Council was supporting training initiatives, St George-Sweet suggested that they sponsor practitioners through three years of drama school. The British Council helped administer the scholarships but their name was not directly attached to them. However, in order to reinforce the emerging MOU, St George-Sweet turned her attention to the most prestigious drama school in Scotland. In interview, she described helping the RSAMD to short-list the best candidates and although this situation raised eyebrows the support of the British Council and the Scottish Arts Council legitimised the students’ presence.15 As a result, arts training for Singaporeans became concentrated on this single place, but inevitably started sprawling beyond it. The Singaporeans who attended the RSAMD were already seasoned practitioners, with Josephine Peter (now Ronan) being a founding member of The Necessary Stage. However, the training formalised their acting technique, and they all described “gaining practical skills that I didn’t have the luxury to do before.”16 Although sending students to the UK for theatre training and development perhaps suggests that Singaporeans could learn from their post-colonial master, the RSAMD students never simply assimilated British and European techniques. Rather, they worked on crosscultural collaborations with Scottish students and practitioners, activities that brought Singaporean plays and practices to Scotland. Ivan Heng, for



instance, staged Singaporean playwright Ovidia Yu’s The Woman in a Tree on a Hill, a production that won an Edinburgh Fringe Fest award in 1993, and involved Singaporean actors working alongside Scottish musicians who were playing Chinese instruments. Heng remembers this as an enriching experience insofar as “there was this desire to learn about each other’s cultures. We were learning all their skills and their plays and at the same time they were so fascinated that this was our theatre and culture.”17 The experimental drama school setting and the presence of other Singaporean theatre-makers in the UK enhanced these collaborations because the RSAMD drew Singaporeans together. Haresh Sharma, playwright at The Necessary Stage, was studying a MA in playwriting in Birmingham and he regularly visited Glasgow to work with the Singaporean actors, their Scottish teachers and peers. One collaborative piece they created was Trishaw, a project that involved Sharma alongside various RSAMD students and local practitioners. The play addressed cultural clashes and stereotypes and was devised through improvisations and workshops in the manner that The Necessary Stage creates work in Singapore. Like The Woman in a Tree on a Hill, Trishaw was a collaboration that promoted the exchange of ideas and theatre practices. However, Sharma is a prolific playwright, and like Ronan, was training to gain legitimacy, as the Singaporean government had branded The Necessary Stage as Marxists for using Boal’s Forum Theatre. Performing in Singapore meant “having a piece of paper became important” to demonstrate that “we were not villains, we were artists talking about social issues in a positive way.”18 Theatre collaborations in Glasgow kept Sharma active whilst he studied at Birmingham, but ultimately these performances produced limited outcomes. Sharma wanted to develop Trishaw further and although the British Council sponsored its performance in Singapore, the group failed to obtain additional funding because they were not attached to a Scottish theatre company. The MOU and the British Council therefore fostered a nascent place-based intercultural scene that pulled together Singaporean and Scottish practitioners. However, funding structures orientated towards supporting professional companies as part of a national portfolio meant that these informal transnational activities could not be supported. Although Singaporeans created cross-cultural performances in Scotland, the benefits to Scottish artists are less clear. Singaporean practitioners and arts council workers learned from Scottish expertise and also presented in the Edinburgh Fringe under the auspices of the MOU (including TheatreWorks’ production of Madame Mao’s Memories in 1992, alongside Heng’s 1993 performance). Singaporean students at the RSAMD created exchanges of theatrical praxis and ideas, with their Scottish counterparts able to perform in the city-state through projects such as Trishaw. However, St George-Sweet’s record of the activities sponsored by the Cultural Cooperation Programme show that the traffic was weighted towards Singapore. Scottish artists did exhibit in the city-state but when companies or

156 Performing Asian Transnationalisms individuals performed there (such as TAG or Scottish Ballet), they nearly always ran workshops, seminars or lectures for local practitioners as well. Combined, the depth and frequency of engagement promoted through the Cultural Cooperation Programme was therefore of greater benefit to Singaporean theatre-makers. However, there are questions about the MOU and the British Council’s involvement in Singapore’s theatre scene. Despite the common assertion that there was no training during this period, expatriate practitioners such as Brother Joseph McNally, John Faulkner, Christina Sergeant, Ruby Lim and Roger Jenkins hoped to “introduce the arts into a society that was, in reality, artistically barren at that time.”19 In 1991, Faulkner and McNally established a drama school at La Salle, an institution that already provided music, fine arts and design degrees. The school had no funding, yet ran a three-year drama course with students who could not afford to train abroad. Faulkner created the programme based on his own training at Webber-Douglas Academy in London and his experience as a professional actor.20 Friends from the UK were flown in to teach alongside expatriate performers before La Salle established a partnership with Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds, a relationship that allowed students to take the final year of their course in England. These activities occurred without receiving any funding or support from the British Council. Arguably, the desire to foster post-colonial Singaporean theatre with Singaporean practitioners meant that there was less focus on supporting these local initiatives, despite the fact that the British Council’s remit is to promote cultural exchanges with Britain. Rather, the emphasis was on creating high-profile transnational networks for Singaporeans that would, hopefully, benefit this city-state in the long term. In this story, it also appears that the Singaporean government took a back seat, allowing the British Council (and, indeed, SRC) to create and finance activities that developed Singapore’s theatrical expertise or ‘software’ (see Kong 2000). Tracing these Scottish-Singaporean relationships to the present, it is worth noting that two practitioners did not return to Singapore: Josephine Ronan still lives and teaches in Glasgow where she met her husband, whilst Clifton Turner lives in New York. Ivan Heng, Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu all moved to London to put their training into practice and gain experience in a competitive environment, joining fellow Singaporean Glen Goei (see Chapter 8 of this volume). However, they eventually decided to use their experience to energise Singaporean theatre: I was creating these shows with a Singaporean voice, and then coming home I realised that there was a lot of work to be done here, and I felt that with all the experience I had gained, that I could really make a bigger difference and reach out to a national consciousness. 21 When these practitioners returned to Singapore they created work for local audiences. Yet their time as an artistic diaspora in Glasgow and London was key to creating these theatrical partnerships: “We needed to be away for that



passionate link to happen. We needed to find what we wanted to do and say. Working so intensively together then, now there is always a deep engagement. At heart we are always searching together.”22 The specific fact of where their relationships developed seems less important than the fact that it was not in Singapore. In this regard, the ability of these theatre-makers to gain critical and creative distance occurred through transnational movement. Yet the stark national borders underpinning the formation of this collective voice belied the more diffuse spaces in which their practice was embroiled. Some Scottish and Singaporean theatre practitioners have maintained the relationships forged during the early 1990s. In 2007, for instance, Sharma wrote a one-man play called Eclipse for the now defunct Glasgow company 7:84, where Ronan was an Associate Director, and their mutual RSAMD friend, Lorenzo Mele, was Artistic Director. This was one of four short plays that addressed the idea of separation, with Eclipse using the Partition of India to discuss contemporary Singaporean Indian culture and identity. The piece toured Scotland before being extended and presented at Singapore’s Fringe Festival in 2008 with Ronan directing the British (South) Asian actor Umar Ahmed. These contemporary transnational collaborations help create prestige and cultural capital rather than being grounded in the exchange of performance techniques or cultural forms: It’s one thing to create a play in Singapore and then get invited to perform it in festivals overseas. [Eclipse] was different because I was commissioned to write it by a theatre company, it then went on tour and I was paid and treated as though I were any other respected British playwright. So they respect your writing, they trust your work and people here give you props because you are being given a platform by another country.23 Creative relationships developed twenty years ago under the auspices of a nation-based cultural policy agreement have again shifted their spatialities, operating through international festivals where money can be harnessed to create work. Alongside Eclipse, Ivan Heng’s company Wild Rice staged a production of Animal Farm adapted by his RSAMD teacher Ian Wooldridge to critical acclaim, becoming the fi rst Singaporean production to be invited to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2010. Scottish relationships have therefore played a role in Singaporean theatre over a number of years, yet increasingly international festivals are the new institutional hubs. It is to this development that I now turn.

THE 2007–2009 MOU AND FESTIVAL ALLIANCE In 2007 the National Arts Councils of Scotland and Singapore renewed their relationship, signing a two-year MOU to “encourage the promotion of cultural cooperation between the two countries and to strengthen cultural ties, foster understanding and artform development.”24 By this time, MOUs

158 Performing Asian Transnationalisms had become standard Singaporean agreements that assisted transnational artistic relations. The NAC had MOUs with Victoria (Australia), Korea and India to facilitate exchanges in the service of becoming a regional cultural capital. The relationship with Scotland was, again, driven by the idea that culture would bolster Singapore’s image and economic growth but Singaporean officials did not desire the training and educational program pioneered through the 1992 MOU. Rather, the 2007 MOU was designed to mark Singapore’s arrival on the international stage. From a Singaporean perspective, the place-branding associated with the 2007 agreement was illustrated by its direct focus on one of the world’s most famous performance events: The Edinburgh Festivals. The main objective was to sign an alliance between the Singapore and Edinburgh Festivals, rather than to enable a broader exchange program. The MOU did ease the transnational movement of artists and arts workers beyond the festivals (such as Scottish musicians visiting the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Scottish Arts Council workers now looking to learn from Singapore) but these were small-scale activities that formed a backdrop to the Festival Alliance. Indeed, Sharma described the 2007–2008 productions of Eclipse as “completely independent” of the 2007–2009 MOU.25 The agreement therefore did not simply support all Scottish-Singaporean collaborations; it was specifically targeted to festival performances. Then Singapore Arts Festival (SAF) Director, Goh Ching Lee, felt that the 1992 MOU created a willingness to enter into this relationship: “It’s a revival of something that we saw very positive developments in.”26 Yet in the intervening years, the Singaporean government had invested in and internationalised its cultural scene through the Renaissance City Plan, such that the alliance was another manifestation of this wider policy context (Lim 2012). In considering how festivals are institutional hubs that organise transnational spaces of collaboration it is worth highlighting that interpersonal networks were central to creating the Festival Alliance and its geographical orientations. In 2006, the Australian composer Jonathan Mills was appointed as the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) director. His agenda was to be less Euro-centric and so relationships with Singapore were a first step in exploring a cultural dialogue with Asia: “It offers me a gateway to [ . . . ] one of the most dynamic and fast growing areas of the world, one that is little known in Europe. I am speaking about Asia in general and South East Asia in particular.”27 This rhetoric suggests that Singapore had ‘arrived’ as the theatre hub of Asia (see Chang 2000), and that by connecting with Singapore the EIF could build cultural relations with a part of the world that was becoming more important economically, reinforcing the expectation that festivals are precursors of economic growth (Quinn 2005). Yet why Singapore, rather than other renowned Asian festivals such as Hong Kong or Seoul? In looking towards Asia, the EIF harnessed professional relationships from the Asia-Pacific. Several Singaporean practitioners commented to me that: “we knew each other because Jonathan is from this part of the world.”28 Mills had collaborated with Ong Keng Sen in 2004 on a theatrical interpretation of his composition Sandakan Threnody about the Borneo



death marches. He also knew Goh when he was Director of the Melbourne Festival and Singapore had a well-established MOU with Victoria. The Festival Alliance utilised these working relationships and, for Singapore, created a level of recognition that exceeded its regional aspirations. Edinburgh was the “gateway to the world”—the international platform for showcasing Singaporean performers.29 It was hoped that the Festival Alliance would “level up the playing field” so that Singaporean performers would be seen as possessing creative flair equal to European and American practitioners, especially as the city-state remains best known for its economic achievements.30 The Festival Alliance therefore targeted flagship events that represent places and nations to varying degrees. International festivals epitomise the transnational activities of institutional hubs yet are a different type of hub to an organisation such as the British Council. As institutional hubs, festivals are driven by and thoroughly imbricated in commercial forces alongside cultural flows and (in the Singaporean case at least) government agendas, but they are not always interested in building and sustaining local artistic scenes (Quinn 2005; cf. Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). Rather, as the remainder of this chapter analyses, the collaborations and activities promoted by festivals may reinforce physical and conceptual distance. Transnationality can thus work as a disruptive force, disturbing the neat relationship between performance, place and community identity (see Duff y 2005) with festivals shaping these geographies by producing different configurations of proximity and distance. Recent work on creative geographies has highlighted how artistic practice navigates these spatialities (Gibson et al 2010) but transnational collaborations magnify such dynamics. The 2007 MOU was marked by Optical Identity, a commission between the SAF and the EIF that brought together T’ang Quartet, Singapore’s only classical string quartet, and Cryptic, a Glasgow-based company known for its visual staging of live music. Optical Identity was a multimedia presentation of four contemporary compositions (Kevin Volans’ White Man Sleeps, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh’s Mugam Sayagi, Rolf Wallin’s Phonotope 1, and Manual Override, a commission by Joby Talbot) that also involved the Singaporean fashion designer Baylene, the furniture designer Jason Ong and the production company Reel Loco, alongside lighting by Glasgow-based Nich Smith and the Swiss digital media artist Jasch. Optical Identity premiered at the SAF on 31 May 2007, before playing at the EIF later that year. The idea behind Optical Identity began in 2005 when Cryptic’s Artistic Director, Cathie Boyd, visited Singapore on a fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts exploring music and synaesthesia. The NAC (including Goh) directed her to the T’ang Quartet and Boyd met T’ang’s cellist Leslie Tan as they were mutually interested in “exploring the possibilities” of different art forms.31 Boyd and Tan pitched an idea to Goh to create an embodied, sensory musical performance, which Goh then commissioned with an awareness of discussions for a Festival Alliance. Superficially, Optical Identity brought together ‘Singaporean’ and ‘Scottish’ artists but, from the outset, the collaboration was not driven by, or


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

related to, national theatre scenes or identities. Cryptic are known for working with artists from different fields, encouraging them to reconsider their practice in unfamiliar settings, and Optical Identity continued in this vein, integrating different creative fields to develop a theatrical piece. However, the collaboration operated by establishing connections between individuals with their own practice, rather than by bringing together a group of artists representing specific national backgrounds. Indeed, the piece could not be located, combining hi-tech multimedia, visually arresting lighting, and contemporary, abstract music in the manner that Peterson (2009) identifies as ‘grobalised’ (see Chapter 3 of this volume and Figure 6.1). In addition, all the artists that I met felt that their contributions were “only collaborative with Cathie.”32 Those involved in Optical Identity operated as a series

Figure 6.1 T’ang Quartet playing in Optical Identity, Edinburgh 2007. ©Eamonn McGoldrick, photo courtesy of Eamonn McGoldrick, T’ang Quartet and Cryptic.



of satellites that rarely connected; there wasn’t “a so-called meeting per se where all of us met together to brainstorm”, something that was initially surprising.33 The Singaporean artists did not discuss the piece despite their physical proximity and all met for the fi rst time during the residency before the premiere. As a result, Boyd became the transnational catalyst through which the performance was created. Cryptic usually create work over a number of years in order to facilitate experimentation and risk-taking. Much of the development process occurred independently by the artists, partly because the expense of a transnational collaboration means that there are fewer meetings but also because collaborative activity was configured to allow individual ideas to incubate. Optical Identity developed by combining Skype meetings, where designers discussed drawings and models, alongside physical meetings in Glasgow and Singapore. Boyd travelled to Singapore twice during 2005–2007 to recruit artists, discuss her brief with them, and to push the development process before the fi nal four-week residence in March 2007: As an artist you know when you need to be in the same room. [ . . . ] I went there and . . . I tend to make work in different stages. So I would do stage one and then I would to leave it for several weeks or months and then go back and do stage two because I think British performance is very guilty of just doing five weeks and then staging something. It gives people time to take risks because they can try an idea and reflect on it, rather than just see the opening looming.34 Boyd’s approach, particularly her desire to give artists conceptual space, challenges the idea that creative collaborations require proximity for developing content and concepts (Bennett 2010). Rather, proximity is required intuitively at different moments in the process. The transnational nature of the project promoted isolation, giving practitioners time to develop ideas, with Boyd pulling the threads together through her visits to Singapore. The creators therefore became proximate in relation to the festival, particularly through the residency before the premiere. Boyd and T’ang also met during the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, where T’ang were performing. During this time they discussed the selection of music, with festivals co-ordinating their meeting and organising the production’s spaces of collaboration. Although content development occurred in isolation, during the residency the different elements of the performance were pieced together because the technical process of adapting and negotiating ideas occurred practically. For instance, the quartet used a cardboard mock-up of Ong’s sculptural seating, but he had to change the curvature of the chairs because the quartet’s bows hit the backs when they were playing. Like any theatrical production, the technical period relies on proximity, on being in the same room, but this process intensifies when participants have been separated geographically during the development phase.


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Certainly, some designers missed bouncing ideas off one another and the potential this contains for developing artistic practice. Varying combinations of distance and proximity, of isolation and socialisation, invariably produced different outcomes in the fi nal performance. Practitioners saw the fi nal performance come together but realised that their physical and conceptual distance had influenced their contributions: We would have fully understood how they were planning to use the lights, use the set and it would impact how we shot [the film]. If we knew he was going to throw a red light here [indicates on screen] we may have changed the angle of the shot so that his body wasn’t in the middle but on the side.35 Even though we have email, Skype, it can’t replace a lot of the physical meeting and contact. It could have been a lot more spontaneous, but then at times it was also good to shut off and develop your own thinking.36 Jason Ong described how he only directly expanded his practice when meeting Nich Smith in Glasgow, learning how to light models to reflect surfaces rather than create shadows. Such developments occurred as a byproduct of the collaboration and remained individualised. Optical Identity did not lead, therefore, to new creative relationships because the artists had little contact with one another and they then continued to pursue their own trajectories: Ong used discarded research to design and manufacture a lamp in Milan; T’ang Quartet have since experimented further with performance in Soul Capture (2011) by the Chinese composer Hu Xiao-ou, a multimedia production where they played different objects with their bows. As institutional hubs, festivals orient transnational spaces of creative collaboration, operating through a combination of distance and proximity organised around a specific event. Individual artists are brought together temporarily before being dispersed again, even when they live and work in the same place, reinforcing how festivals are catalysts for transnational, rather than more localised arts production.

‘Diaspora’ and the Singapore Showcase The 2007–2009 Festival Alliance therefore did not foster cross-cultural exchange in the manner of its predecessor. Indeed, the direct invitation of Ong Keng Sen’s Diaspora to be part of the EIF main programme in 2009 occurred outside this agreement. Ong is an intercultural auteur and Diaspora’s invitation came directly from Mills to Ong, reinforcing that the Festival Alliance was less successful than social networks and individual reputations. However, the NAC capitalised on the event in order to strategically mark the culmination of the agreement, organising a Singapore Showcase to accompany the performance (see below). The focus on Ong as an individual superstar reinforces Waterman’s (1998)



idea that festivals can be ‘carnivals for elites’, something particularly pertinent in this context as the EIF has been perceived as elitist ever since it was founded (Harvie 2003). Yet Waterman’s (1998) argument is that elitism, including sponsors and the economic demands of place branding, leads to the selection of safe and sanitised works. Diaspora displayed this tension as it depicts the movement of contemporary global capital as much as the displacement of individuals and cultures. Ong asked five Asian artists with hyphenated identities to produce videos about migration that were then edited and shown at a frenetic pace on four vast wraparound screens. Alongside this, actors read excerpts from Ong’s interviews with migrants, speaking into a camera that live-relayed their faces onto the screens behind. The performance was accompanied by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, which played a musical score spanning historical Chinese mountain songs, contemporary pieces by composer Tan Dun and techno music by Toru Yamanaka. Combined, these elements conveyed how migration defi es simplistic notions of cultural origin and emphasised that our lives are increasingly mediatised. Diaspora was originally created for the World Bank-IMF meetings in Singapore in 2006 at a cost of SG$700,000 and the piece reflects its original audience with its textbook message of tolerance and cultural pluralism alongside a slick mediatised aesthetic, one so expensive that it embodied contemporary capitalism. Diaspora was ripe for promoting the cross-cultural understanding and artistic exchanges that the Festival Alliance was meant to stimulate. However the incursion of artists into Scotland’s wider performance scene was again piecemeal, driven by Ong rather than the wider framework of the MOU. Ong created a ‘Diaspora Project’ where he worked with Scottish Asian artists but the title of these collaborations reinforces that festival performances organise artistic exchanges and their thematic remit, even beyond the event’s confi nes. Ong worked with the late British Chinese artist Pamela So to create an online photographic exhibition entitled “Following the Diaspora: Chinese lives in Scotland.”37 He also included the visual artist Rabiya Choudhry during Diaspora’s performance, with Choudhry describing her own experiences of displacement whilst drawing images of Hindu goddesses. These insertions made the production locally resonant whilst further multiplying and fragmenting the experience of diaspora. However, the production did not create cross-cultural understanding or validate Singaporean arts as the MOU and Festival Alliance hoped. Audiences and critics struggled with Ong’s vision and the schizophrenic quality that Diaspora’s elements created when combined. The speed of the videos created a feeling of disorientation, evoking the idea that diaspora comprises multiply displaced histories, but critics found the snapshots of experience “random and unintegrated.”38 As a result, the piece was described as a directionless and “excruciatingly turgid” production. 39 Diaspora’s televisual aesthetic deliberately demonstrated how the media can alienate viewers from

164 Performing Asian Transnationalisms diasporic experiences but sacrifi ced its own ability to create emotional connections in the process. This response suggested that Singapore was not yet a global cultural capital for all the government’s rhetoric, as Ong commented: “if this work was coming from New York or Paris she [Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman] will not dare to [criticise] so directly.”40 The EIF was a highprofi le platform and Singapore had been found wanting. Singaporean reportage rallied around Ong, with comments such as, “If we all knew the formula of what makes a hit we’d all be millionaires”, or, “a lot of great art started out as controversy.”41 Goh suggested that a three-star review was a positive outcome for “‘a contemporary Asian production which is not commonly seen in Edinburgh’. [ . . . ] She added that some comments suggested a lack of empathy and understanding of Asian and multi-media productions.”42 The implication was that British reviewers did not have the requisite knowledge or understanding of contemporary Asian performance, instead preferring traditional theatre styles. Although this is perhaps a fair point, the fact that the media in Singapore is state-controlled and lacks critical bite makes the confident suggestion that British critics were wrong about Diaspora unsurprising. This bravado therefore led to a retrenchment, to the resurgence of national arts spaces through the failure to successfully stimulate transnational cultural capital in the EIF. Diaspora reinforces the mismatch between the wider MOU agreement designed to promote cultural exchanges, and festivals as institutional hubs driven as much by economics, branding and superstars, as by artistic content. Expectations ran high when a single artist represented Singapore in this setting. The Singapore Showcase also displayed these tensions and further demonstrates that when Edinburgh becomes a festival city, it arranges space and performance in particular ways. This has been well documented regarding how festivals create social and economic exclusion (Harvie 2003; Jamieson 2004). Yet there is also an ordering that performers, promoters and organisers from abroad must navigate. The Singapore Showcase highlights that it was only when working with the main Festivals that successful cross-currents emerged. The showcase included the pianist Jeremy Monteiro at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, Andrew Lum and New Asia at the Edinburgh Mela, writers Suchen Christine Lim, Simon Tay and Edwin Thumboo at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and Spell #7 and choreographer/performer daniel k in the Edinburgh Fringe. The showcase aimed to present Singapore as a country at Edinburgh, linking back to the MOU’s framing. Despite the potential exposure, this aim was perhaps unwise in a city that has cultivated its international festivals in order to market itself (Harvie 2005). Arts administrators wanted to demonstrate that “we’re an East West cosmopolitan hub and also there was a good body of work that looked at [ . . . ] how we are unique culturally and socially.”43 This government vision of Singapore as a cosmopolis is long-standing (see Yeoh 2004), but the showcase negotiated this image



in relation to the organisation and geographies of Edinburgh’s Festivals. The Festival Alliance smoothed the presentation of Singaporean artists because the NAC contacted organisers to fi nd out how they could fit the festival programming. For instance, the Edinburgh Mela is a central event in World Music, and Andrew Lum and New Asia openly fit this remit, as they play fusion music with traditional Asian instruments. Similarly, Jeremy Monteiro has performed at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, and so had the necessary experience for the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. Both artists also paralleled NAC discourses around Singaporean cultural blending, with Monteiro performing jazz standards alongside pieces from his Singapore Swing album, where he arranged national Singaporean songs in a jazz style. However, Singaporean performers were thinly spread across Edinburgh’s different festivals, and as a result, the desired message of Singapore as creative and cosmopolitan was lost as artists again performed as individuals. There was little opportunity for the showcase to cohere and for any sustained engagement with Singaporean arts or culture to be effected. In promoting the nation, all the performers were aware that they were “national ambassadors” but they distinguished themselves from the NAC in interview.44 This ambivalence regarding the NAC is characteristic of Singaporean arts as practitioners have learnt not to rely on government support because it can easily be withdrawn (see Chong 2011). Many also want to be seen as legitimate artists independent from the government and approached the showcase in “pragmatic terms” as a way to develop networks and collaborative opportunities, rather than solely as a way to promote Singapore.45 However, in fairness, the NAC genuinely hoped that the showcase would develop collaborations for artists: “First and foremost it was the works, the artists that were important. So we were quite cautious and conscious of the fact that it’s a very organic environment there [in Edinburgh] and it’s about collaborations that will last beyond one sitting.”46 Of course, such relationships are also important in raising the profi le of Singaporean arts internationally but festival collaborations are often thought to emerge through exposure and chance, from someone watching a performance and then making contact. For instance, Suchen Christine Lim met a playwright after her reading and they made plans “for her to come out here and we’re going to talk possible collaboration on turning The Lies that Build a Marriage into a play.”47 Festivals can also promote collaborations by pairing artists, so for instance, Monteiro performed with American trombonist John Allen and British saxophonist Alan Barnes, but Monteiro and Barnes then played together the following year in Singapore, Thailand and London. Aside from personal chemistry, each offered the other the opportunity to practice a different style of playing (particularly different forms of bebop). These collaborations create transnational movement beyond spaces of nationality, beyond being from ‘Scotland’ or ‘Singapore’ because festivals draw international audiences, providing a potential

166 Performing Asian Transnationalisms crucible for artistic encounters and collaborations that then become dispersed in and across different settings. However, the Showcase experienced diffi culties in negotiating the festivals’ fluid environment. The Singaporean artists seemed to simply jet in and out, rather than working with the timing and audiences of the Festivals in ways that would be more productive. For instance, those in the Fringe only performed for one week, rather than three (the time needed to garner reviews and word-of-mouth following). The Edinburgh Fringe is known for its size and intensity, being enmeshed in commercial structures of marketing and publicity that create a thoroughly globalised performance landscape (Harvie 2005). The NAC and the artists seemed underprepared for these dynamics. The only British article about the showcase highlighted that although Spell #7’s Tree Duet and Kok’s Q&A had “strong reviews” in Asia, their short performance period, in a difficult time slot (11am) meant that “they may struggle to get noticed in the maelstrom.”48 Organisers tried to match the works to particular spaces, but as a result had to move to the edges of the main Fringe area, where there was less footfall and exposure: We know that there are certain places we don’t want to be [ . . . ] We talked to the Traverse but they had a very strong agenda of new work, we wanted to work with Aurora Nova as it’s an organisation that presents international work [ . . . ] but for that year they closed shop. [ . . . ] So then we went with Universal Arts group that does the same thing at George Street.49 In these negotiations, the showcase was generically “international” rather than displaying Singaporean uniqueness, becoming locked into a globalised context that reduces culture to another variation of difference (Harvie 2005). Matching the venue to the work was difficult without the support of Festival organisers and although artists hoped to “gain profi le and look at Edinburgh as a marketing experience” this outcome did not fully materialise. 50 The showcase was lost in the intensely competitive environment, with performers only realising on arrival that they needed to self-promote using highly visual flyers and posters. The only publicity material available was the glossy ‘Singapore Showcase in Edinburgh’ booklet, an official piece of marketing aimed at producers and festival organisers rather than the general public. In this regard, the showcase seemed unaware of how the Fringe transforms the city and how one must act within it to maximise audiences. The only organisation that successfully manages a showcase in the Fringe is the British Council, an established biennial event with substantial resources to invite programmers, producers and agents from across the world to see ‘the best of’ British performance. Such a showcase raises select performances above the masses on the basis of national identity. Singapore could not have entered



into such an endeavour for a few performances, nor was this expected by artists, highlighting that the showcase needed more detailed thinking about its aims in relation to the context it entered into.

CONCLUSION Both the 1992–1996 and 2007–2009 MOUs were grounded in performing arts exchanges that were framed around (trans) nationality, but how this spatiality was enacted and traversed was very different in each period. Both agreements were driven by Singapore’s interest in specific Scottish cities and linked to the possibility of the arts to promote economic growth, regeneration, and place branding. The 1992 MOU initially focussed on Glasgow, focalizing emerging relationships between practitioners, but the politics of using the arts for economic growth, alongside the administrative structures of Scottish, rather than English, arts organisations meant that the MOU increasingly became regionally and nationally orientated. The British Council’s role in administering the agreement meant that the 1992 MOU promoted a co-ordinated and sustained programme of activities that focussed on developing Singapore’s theatre scene through transnational training, presentation and networks. Although the 2007 MOU was also framed around national bodies working together, it was really focussed on the Festival Alliance and was markedly different, being concerned with promoting individual artists. The economic driver behind the presentation of Singaporeans at the Edinburgh Festival was evidenced in the use of superstar artists, attempts to market the city-state through the Singapore showcase, and more widely through the stylistic content of many works presented. The chapter therefore reveals the transnational manner in which much national policy making in the arts proceeds, and unravels the idea that such cultural work is imagined, co-ordinated and implemented by governments at the national level (see Kong 2000). Although government agendas invariably dovetail with the informal activities promoted through these kinds of agreements, such creative practices and relationships are also excessive (see Harvey et al 2011). They do more than simply represent the nation; rather they extend this spatiality and connect it to others as cross-border collaborative performances and relationships develop. This chapter has also highlighted the role of ‘institutional hubs’ in directly intervening in artistic relationships and organising geographies of transnational performance practice (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). The British Council co-ordinated performance activities and the scale at which these operated, facilitating a regional, and then national, arts relationship with Scotland. Fifteen years later, the increased expectation placed on the arts to drive economic growth means that festivals have become the new institutional hubs through which transnational agreements and social


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

networks become territorialised (Harvie 2005; Quinn 2005). Festivals are more fluid, their variegated geographies more difficult to navigate and control, and performers must work with festival spaces and programming arrangements in order to successfully gain exposure and audiences. However these events arguably promote consumption at the expense of development and production, and are more divorced from the wider national scenes in which they are situated,reflecting their economic orientations and underpinnings (cf. Curtis 2010). In thinking about the outcomes of these two MOUs, it is clear that Singapore was better positioned to benefit than Scotland. Transnational relationships are often asymmetrical but despite the potential tensions surrounding the involvement of the British Council in a post-colonial society, Singaporean artists received more training and exposure through the 1992 agreement than their Scottish counterparts. Similarly the 2007 MOU involved much greater traffic from Singapore to Scotland than vice versa: it was Singapore with everything to gain (and also to lose). Despite government rhetoric, the 2007 agreement did not promote sustained engagement and collaborations in the manner of its predecessors, being simply based on brief periods of high-level exposure through festival settings. Singapore’s intense focus on being internationally recognised makes it worth stepping back (as discussed in Chapter 3 of this volume) to think more critically about why transnational collaboration and presentations are important, the benefits and drawbacks of so doing, and the tenor of relationships entered into. Are MOUs worth the paper they are written on if they promote consumption and branding? If they build long-lasting relationships between places and performance scenes? Or only for particular types of activity? Certainly, the limits of the 2007 MOU highlights concerns about how transnational performance activity proceeds, its aims, agendas and effects in the contemporary era.


Relational Spaces of Protest The Orphan of Zhao Controversy

In September 2012, the British East Asian actor, writer and director, Daniel York, alerted me to emerging discussions about the cross-racial casting of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) production of The Orphan of Zhao. I have often written letters of complaint about the stereotyping of British East Asians (BEAs) and their lack of representation in mainstream theatre and, initially, the RSC was simply another context to watch closely. What emerged was the largest, most contested, protest that BEA theatremakers have ever staged. This chapter focusses on this event, analysing the transnational support that propelled the debates in operation whilst also critically discussing the extent to which the protest represented the views of all BEA artists. The activities and achievements of individuals who mobilised this protest should not be underplayed, but in this chapter, I attend to how their practices and alliances set The Orphan of Zhao in a transnational field that questioned the RSC and threatened its reputation as a global brand. The volume of information on The Orphan of Zhao controversy makes a complete analysis of all the debates a larger task than what I am able to achieve here, and so the chapter provides an overview of the protest and its main points of contention. Drawing upon work in human geography on relational politics, I argue that the protests configured transnationalism as a relational space before analysing the production of that space in practice. The chapter then turns to the non-relationality of The Orphan of Zhao, to the disagreements among, and invisibility of, some BEA practitioners, before discussing the protest’s political co-opting. I draw upon publicly available debates in social media (particularly the RSC’s Facebook page where nuanced argumentation occurred), media reportage, semi-structured interviews with the main protagonists in the UK, the US and Canada, an anonymous questionnaire which elicited opinions from 54 individuals, as well as my own involvement and performance analysis. During events I was an “accidental hub”, someone who helps create transnational connections through their role as a researcher and who participates in, or co-constructs, knowledge as a result of their political leanings (Kiwan and Meinhof 2011: 7). This is the classic observer paradox of ethnographic work but, following

170 Performing Asian Transnationalisms Clifford and Marcus (1986), I attempt to be self-reflexive and balanced in this analysis, drawing attention to the possibilities and problems with how events unfolded.

THE PROTEST AND DEBATES The Orphan of Zhao is a Chinese revenge tragedy, often attributed to the 13th Century dramatist Ji Junxiang and referred to as ‘The Chinese Hamlet.’ The RSC staged an adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao by poet James Fenton from 8 November 2012 to 28 March 2013 in repertory with new adaptations of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov (by Adrian Mitchell) and Brecht’s Life of Galileo (by Mark Ravenhill) as part of their ‘A World Elsewhere’ season. Debates surrounding The Orphan of Zhao hinged on its casting and repertory context, as a racially and ethnically diverse cast worked across the three productions. As the opening production, the number and type of roles held by BEA actors in The Orphan of Zhao was initially the main point of contention. The staging involved three BEA actors (not all of whom identifi ed with this label) out of seventeen roles in a company that also included two mixed-race, one black, one Arab and ten Caucasian actors. The stereotypical nature of these parts was questioned, with the writer, performer and broadcaster Anna Chen describing the BEA roles as ‘dogs and maids.’1 The dog was a large puppet operated by two male BEA actors (Siu Hun Li and Chris Lew Kum Hoi) and a black actress (Joan Iyiola). The Maid (Susan Momoko Hingley) is a character who sacrifi ces her life in order to conceal the Orphan’s whereabouts. Given popular stereotypes of Chinese as subhuman dogs and suicidal Asian butterfl ies, these roles appeared problematic and commentators drew attention to the power relations embodied in the casting, highlighting the speech, visibility and whiteness of the main roles compared to the voiceless “avatars” of some ethnic minority performers. 2 Initially, the RSC dismissed concerns as “some twitter debate” and suggested that the “multi-cultural make-up of our winter season company refl ects British society” thereby failing to acknowledge how specific casting practices can reproduce stereotypes of East Asians and reinforce their socio-cultural invisibility. 3 The casting seemed to contradict The Orphan of Zhao’s marketing as an explicitly Chinese production. The poster depicted a scruff y-looking Chinese boy, the trailer used a stereotypical Chinese accent, and advertising in Mandarin was aimed at Chinese audiences and tourists. Gregory Doran, the Artistic Director of the RSC and the Director of The Orphan of Zhao, wrote a blog called ‘In Search of the Orphan’ detailing his weeklong research trip to China where he watched Chinese Opera (although no related movement appeared in the production) and received inspiration for

Relational Spaces of Protest 171 the set and props.4 The costume and set designs also displayed a Chinese aesthetic. However, the casting suggested that a key theatrical signifier, the people, were not Chinese. When this was set against the racial and cultural imagery that surrounded the production’s publicity many British Chinese felt discriminated against: “they want our money but not us, and certainly not our involvement as equals.”5 Indeed, concerns around cultural imperialism were difficult to ignore, with the production grounded in Orientalist signifiers of ‘ancient China’ that seemed appropriated by the predominantly Caucasian cast. Statements issued by the RSC further reinforced these ideas and were reminiscent of the controversies around Peter Brook’s Mahabharata (see Bharucha 1993). For instance: “We intend to present The Orphan of Zhao in our own way [ . . . ] Having absorbed something of Chinese conventions and dramatic idioms, we want to approach the play with a diverse cast and develop our own ways of telling this ancient story and thus explore its universality.”6 Universality and cultural neutrality were therefore invoked as a way of rendering race in performance supposedly irrelevant (Thompson 2011). A host of questions followed, especially around why there were so few BEAs in the production because the RSC has pioneered what they term ‘nonculturally specific casting.’7 The 2012 productions of an all-black Julius Caesar and an all-South Asian Much Ado about Nothing were invoked in popular debates as testimony to the RSC’s promotion of racial and ethnic diversity, although monoracial casts side-step some of the difficult contextual questions raised by racially mixed casts. The RSC’s wider casting history supported both sides of the debate, with some individuals suggesting that concerns over The Orphan of Zhao could be ignored, whilst others queried why BEAs were less prominent, something supported by reports that the RSC had reportedly employed only one BEA actor in over twenty years (they also included Yellow Earth Theatre and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre’s Lear in their Complete Works Festival in 2006).8 RSC supporters calculated whether this figure reflected the wider BEA population, a response that overlooked institutionalised inequality and the under-reporting of Chinese identities in the census (Song and Hashem 2010). Others questioned whether the RSC was fulfilling its remit as a recipient of Arts Council England (ACE) funding, drawing attention to how diversity is practiced in theatre: RSC is funded by ACE—£45m [million] over the next three years and is required by ACE to have a REAP (Race and Equality Action Plan). ACE have goals and priorities, two of which relate to equality and diversity. There is a serious question as to whether this funded body, and many others, are fulfilling their obligations fully.9 Debates therefore centred on the exclusion of BEAs from a multicultural imagination that focusses on black and South Asians, and thus

172 Performing Asian Transnationalisms from the policies and practices (such as colour-blind casting) designed to ameliorate marginalisation. Julius Caesar and Much Ado about Nothing also created the expectation that The Orphan of Zhao should be all-East Asian cast in a wait-your-turn game. The practice of diversity hardened the multicultural borders between groups and created hierarchies, rather than creating cross-cultural openness (Modood 2007). BEA artists and their supporters did not advocate a full East Asian cast but this became contentious when Doran stated there was “no way I was going to do this with an exclusively Chinese cast that would then go through to those other plays.”10 The immediate response was ‘why not?’ with the comment an incendiary reminder of the unequal playing field offered to BEAs. Colour-blind casting favoured majority groups, rather than providing opportunities for minorities. It seemed acceptable for white or mixed-race actors to play Chinese parts but not vice versa, highlighting how multicultural practices can leave dominant power relationships unchanged (Gordon and Newfield 1996). Discussions then focussed on whether all roles should be authentically cast, rather than attending to the exclusion from employment opportunities that were racially specific (lead roles in The Orphan of Zhao) and those that were not (lead roles in Boris Gudunov and Life of Galileo). On social media, debates were increasingly couched in the language of equal opportunity through phrases such as ‘a level playing field’ and ‘equality’, placing the production in a broader social context. This move was reflected in arguments around using the “best people available.”11 Many of the actors employed were in demand and had previously worked at the RSC with Doran. On the RSC Facebook page, Daniel York compared his experience to that of the lead actress, Lucy Briggs Owen, to question how ethnic minority actors can gain the requisite record to work at the RSC given the opportunities available to them: “You try looking like a good actor when all you get is ‘Heavily Accented Chinese Take Away Man.’”12 The RSC casting process came under scrutiny for operating through closed meetings and for its hierarchical tendencies, such that those with larger roles in one production will often have larger roles in another. The number of BEA actors auditioned was also questioned as Doran commented that he had seen “lots and lots” of BEA actors but informal networks suggested that it was around eight, including those in the production.13 Doran’s reported description of discussions as “sour grapes” framed events as disgruntled actors, rather than as institutional inequality, and referred to the fact that Daniel York, then also the Vice-Chair of Equity’s Minority Ethnic Members’ Committee, was not cast, despite being recalled for further meetings.14 York led the protest against the RSC along with a lobbying group of ten practitioners and academics (including myself) called British East Asian Artists. He decided to speak out having not worked in British theatre for four years and, with a sense of desperation, felt he “had nothing left to lose.”15

Relational Spaces of Protest 173 In fairness to the RSC, The Orphan of Zhao was a catalyst for expressing opinions about racial discrimination that had been brewing among BEA artists for years. An article in The Stage in 2009 drew attention to the stereotypical roles that BEA actors are offered, their exclusion from colour-blind casting, and their lack of representation in all elements of theatre production at major institutions.16 These issues were again aired when Yellow Earth Theatre had its ACE funding completely cut in 2011, leaving BEAs without a formal space of theatrical representation. The Orphan of Zhao and the RSC became a bulwark against which BEAs could air their views. However, and of particular interest to this chapter, The Orphan of Zhao also resonated with representational inequities elsewhere, notably The Nightingale at La Jolla Playhouse in California. The production therefore catalysed East Asian and other racial-ethnic minorities (including black, South Asian and Latinos) in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, as well as individuals more widely at home and in Asia, to air their feelings about diversity in theatre. Eventually, a closed-door meeting was held between the RSC, British Actors’ Equity Association, and ACE. The RSC released a statement where they “acknowledge [sic] that there is always more to do and recognise our responsibility in this area. We want to [ . . . ] engage more often with Chinese and East Asian actors [ . . . ] to integrate them more regularly on our stages”, agreeing to work with these bodies to address the invisibility of BEAs.17

PROTESTS AND PERFORMANCE The Orphan of Zhao debates traversed a well-worn path around the politics of colour-blind casting (see Pao 2010 for an overview) although these have rarely been addressed regarding BEAs (but see Rogers and Thorpe forthcoming 2014 regarding The Orphan of Zhao). Much of the literature on race, performance and casting has dealt with the contentious practice of cross-racial performance, such as the shifting reactions to ‘blacking up’ by the Wooster Group (Monks 2005) and the infamous controversy surrounding Jonathan Pryce in ‘yellowface’ in Miss Saigon (Shimakawa 2002; Lee 2006). This literature examines protests about performance, with the power relations or deconstructive possibilities surrounding race being the analytical focal point. This chapter contributes to this field but is more interested in the protest itself and how it drew transnational support to pressurise the RSC. My discussion therefore engages with literatures on the practice of protest, including a dominant trend to think about protest as performance. This perspective views protest as a participatory theatrical event that involves a range of embodied practices to create subversion and resistance, including play (Crossa 2012), clowning (Routledge 2012) and the creation of spectacle (Nield 2012). Protests also draw attention to the spatiality of performance as it literally takes place, emphasising the material politics and histories of different sites (Nield 2006).


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

However, The Orphan of Zhao protests occurred exclusively online, in the press and social media, and by direct emailing to the British Equity Equal Opportunities Officer, the board of the RSC, and the Director of Theatre at ACE. Aside from Equity meetings, BEAA gatherings and the fi nal meeting between the major parties, there were no protests in situ. A picket was discussed, but the difficulty of reaching Stratford-upon-Avon, even with coaches provided, and gathering enough numbers on a single night proved problematic. The RSC’s geographical location outside London was a barrier to organising a material protest. However, the protest’s online setting provided an opportunity not just to “voice concerns or complaints but [create] a platform for dialogue too.”18 Indeed, much of what occurred was debate, with the RSC Facebook debate composed of people trying to persuade one another along different lines of argument, rather than being antagonistic or oppositional. The internet also provided a level of anonymity among an increasing mass of voices, encouraging people to speak out, whereas being at the RSC required direct and emplaced embodied confrontation: “People are more vocal and more inclined to offer an opinion on line [ . . . ] I am an actor, and would still be too shy to speak out live!”19 This context means that a slightly different approach to thinking through the protest’s spatialities and performativity is required. Drawing on research in human geography, I view the RSC protests through the lens of relational politics, one that highlights how “histories and geographies of subaltern political activity [ . . . ] are not bounded. They have been constituted through, and have constituted, various relations that stretch beyond particular places and sites” (Featherstone 2008: 3). Rather than analyse how resistance occurs in and through bounded spaces, it is possible to consider how more open geographies affect the production of politics, identity and agency. Massey (2008) describes this as the relationship of “territory” to “flow”, analysing how the interconnections between these formations can change the status quo. Such an approach views politics as an on-going process distributed across locations and through different relationships, rather than as a discrete outcome. Drawing on Lefebvre, Sophie Nield (2006) similarly argues that resistance entails the production of new or different types of spaces, and it is possible to suggest that the internet, as a space dominated by connection, flow, and the production of community, created a relational field that enabled the protests to reconfigure transnational relationships and spaces. In making this argument, it is worth briefly discussing the relational production of space, particularly Massey’s (2005) idea of space as a sphere of heterogeneity and multiplicity, as composed of coexisting histories, relationships, and trajectories (i.e. the change and movement of things). In this view, space is interactive, with the possibility for human actions to bring together, juxtapose and separate hitherto unconnected stories. This process creates the possibility for connection and dialogue but also contradiction and “loose ends” that fail to intersect (Massey 2005: 12). Massey’s

Relational Spaces of Protest 175 (2005: 141) idea of “throwntogetherness” highlights that spatial relationships are constantly being negotiated, in turn affecting the construction of culture, place and identity. The geographies produced from these flows are emergent with emphasis placed on connections and encounters, rather than boundaries. The relationality of space therefore emphasises negotiation and multiplicity, such that, for instance, place emerges as “an open articulation of connections” (Massey 1999: 288). Harnessing these ideas illustrates that The Orphan of Zhao protests operated transnationally through a space of connection and flow that crossed multiple geographical, racial and cultural borders. However, as the protest developed there were attempts to replicate certain practices and ideas that represented the different ‘territories’ associated with national and racial groups, resurrecting spatial borders. This constant coalescing around ‘flow’ and ‘territory’ resulted from negotiating different actors, institutions and agencies in order to create a positive outcome. Although relational accounts of protest seek to open up our understanding of politics, The Orphan of Zhao protest ultimately reproduced a familiar relation of resistance-domination whose political effectiveness can be questioned (see Verson 2007).

TRAJECTORIES OF CONVERGENCE Those protesting against The Orphan of Zhao drew together “routes of subaltern activity”, promoting similarities, rather than differences, between places and communities (Featherstone 2008: 4). In enacting a “practical politics” of connection, communication, information sharing, and co-ordination, those involved produced a “convergence space”, whereby differently positioned and located activists worked together across borders (Routledge 2003: 345). In particular, the idea of a transnationally extended ‘East Asian’ family working in solidarity repeatedly emerged online. There was a “wonderful solidarity from our American bredren [sic]” as they posted comments, encouraged people to make their voices heard and lobbied American organisations working with the RSC.20 The similarities with a recent controversy and Asian American protest at La Jolla Playhouse, California (see below) meant that “the idea of being able to create alliances with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic was appealing” to see if similar outcomes could be achieved. 21 For some vocal participants, such as the Broadway musical theatre actress Erin Quill, the transnational migration of her mother from Australia to the UK and then the US, made her aware of “issues that she [Carmel Fang Yuen] had as a dancer of Chinese heritage”, such that the RSC controversy further reinforced her understanding of a common struggle across contexts. 22 Recent research on protests has analysed the performance of solidarity, developing our understanding of how this affective relationship can create political possibilities by reconfiguring connections between places

176 Performing Asian Transnationalisms (Featherstone 2012; Brown and Yaffe 2013). Although much of this work considers practices in and across material locations, the internet is a space of practical engagement that forges connections between differently located individuals. Support for the protest was generated by re-tweeting comments, sharing Facebook updates, questioning the RSC, lobbying journalists, and writing to those within the BEA community and supportive others to encourage them to respond or air their views. Individuals also wrote to their Members of Parliament, Sonny Leong (Chair of Chinese for Labour), and Lord Wei (the fi rst BEA politician in the House of Lords) for statements that would generate a broader political community to apply “pressure from without” (Featherstone 2012: 3). Anna Chen used her media contacts to create discussion in mainstream newspapers, as well as writing blog posts and an article for The Guardian, all of which were shared through social media. Pun Bandhu, a Steering Committee member of the Asian American Performers’ Action Coalition (AAPAC) relayed that her blog posts were the fi rst item to appear in his email inbox when he searched for ‘The Orphan of Zhao’ and Victor Wong, the Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) fi rst became aware of the controversy when a “colleague posted the fi rst Guardian article [by Matt Trueman] on [Asian Canadian Facebook group page] NotTooAsian.”23 These were organisations that the BEA theatre community had no prior contact with and their connection resulted from the transnational spirals created through the practice of social media, alongside the international audiences of British news outlets. BEAs (and others) also contacted everyone they felt would be interested in the controversy to gather support. One important transnational connection was made when the actress Jennifer Lim contacted Asian American actors she knew from working on Wild Swans (2012), with Julyana Soelistyo suggesting that she contact AAPAC. AAPAC contacted individuals they knew in the UK (including myself) to offer help and gathered statements from high-profi le practitioners such as David Henry Hwang and Tsai Chin, as well as the wider Asian American theatre community, to post on the RSC Facebook page. There was therefore a convergence of practice and a convergence of space, with commenting, liking, sharing, and posting open letters occurring in this location, creating a relational field of connections as supporters “occupied the RSC Facebook page.”24 Social media enabled geographically de-territorialised alliances (or in Massey’s (2008) terms, ‘flows’) to be rapidly established. Individuals from a range of racial-ethnic backgrounds at home and abroad overtly expressed feelings of solidarity, creating a community united across difference in the “struggle against a common enemy” and a belief in racial equality (Massey 2008: 338). The protest was therefore composed of “constellations of concerned people”, of “territories that claim not to have boundaries” (ibid. 339). Solidarity therefore helped dissolve geographical and contextual differences. However, for Asian Americans, The Orphan of Zhao protests occurred directly after The Nightingale

Relational Spaces of Protest 177 controversy at La Jolla Playhouse, a production with striking parallels. The Nightingale, produced from 10 July to 5 August 2012, was also set in China, with Chinese characters, references to Chinese history, and an aesthetically Chinese set design that included puppetry and lanterns. However, it was cross-racially cast with only two Asian Americans (one being a child playing a bird). The public outcry, which also occurred through social media, forced the creators to hold a talkback to address concerns about racial discrimination. The Nightingale was therefore a touchstone for Asian Americans who issued statements regarding The Orphan of Zhao, as well as for other American racial-ethnic groups such as Latino Americans and African Americans who posted comments. The RSC Facebook pages are littered with references to The Nightingale, as individuals explained what happened at La Jolla, re-posted blogs discussing diversity and casting, and shared links to the fi lmed talkback. 25 The temporal proximity of this American production, simply a few months beforehand, was important in producing a relational space because it allowed debates around the RSC and The Orphan of Zhao to create connections to, and dialogue between, different contexts. Asian American questionnaire respondents suggested that if they did not “make a loud noise [ . . . ] all advances gained in awareness would be lost”26 and that “I wanted people to see that this was something that occurred not just that one time, that it was not uncommon to cast white people in Asian-specific roles.”27 Participating in the RSC protests therefore reinforced the veracity of Asian American arguments about racial discrimination regarding The Nightingale. Similarly, for BEAs, this connection from abroad was “validating” because it “heightened the feeling of solidarity, having their perspective confi rmed and vindicated our outrage.”28 American concerns around The Orphan of Zhao therefore helped create a shared space of discourse that operated transnationally. Even though different geographical contexts were referenced, interview and questionnaire responses repeatedly highlighted that “this is EXACTLY the same debate”29 and that “the issues we are debating are systemic in our Eurocentric, western tradition of storytelling.”30 Indeed, discussing the two productions together reinforced that “our struggles are also part of a much larger, global fight against irresponsible cultural appropriation and racism.”31 Racial discrimination in theatre was therefore perceived as a shared problem: The explanation for the lack of Asian representation in the cast of Orphan of Zhao had many similarities to the explanations I have heard for yellow face in America and with The Nightingale. The rationale claims that Asians can’t represent universal themes. Asian characters can only be made universal and sympathetic if non-Asians play them. Asians aren’t good enough to fulfi l the expectations of the role, even when the roles are Asian. I disagree with all these prejudices, which are artistically false and professionally discriminatory.32

178 Performing Asian Transnationalisms These responses indicate the shared feeling of injustice and marginalisation across contexts, with participation in the RSC debates driven by the fact that “the emotions of Nightingale were still raw.”33 BEA and Asian American concerns also resonated with Asian Canadians facing “similar issues of media stereotyping, “othering” [ . . . ] limited opportunities for artists, marginalisation”34 as well as Australians who “looks [sic] on with keen interest.”35 The concerns raised by The Orphan of Zhao were given potency through their transnational connections to other settings and countered the idea that the debate was being conducted by ‘moaning actors.’ The idea that this was a British debate, with BEAs who were “the forgotten corner of multicultural Britain” was therefore opened up into a transnational context whereby minority Asian practitioners, and indeed those from other racial-ethnic backgrounds, collapsed into one another, into a flattened field of flows.36 Different contextual understandings of culture, race, diversity and creative values as well as artistic or economic rationales therefore dissolved. The distinct histories and operations of national multiculturalisms were rendered irrelevant even as they were referenced, yet these differences are important in establishing how discrimination operates, who is discriminated against, and how to instigate effective mechanisms for addressing inequality. Nevertheless, the protest’s practical, discursive and geographical convergence through its establishment of a “collective vision” of equal opportunity (Routledge 2003: 345) also points towards a wider concern regarding “the convergence of thought around the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism [ . . . ] over the past decade” (Mitchell 2004: 648). Progressive multicultural policies in Western liberal democracies are being erased, and so too, the concern with difference, equality and justice, reinforcing the power relationships of the status quo. The ease with which the protest established relations of equivalence therefore perhaps reveals frustrations about increasingly complacent attitudes regarding diversity in many societies. However, this transnational and cross-racial collapsing was not as great as it might have been. Focussing on the protest’s limitations demonstrates the different ways that the connections between territory (bounded groups and spaces) and flow (open alliances) operate in the spatial performance of solidarity (Massey 2008). Despite all attempts to do so, The Orphan of Zhao was “unable to reach out and gather that broad base of support” among different racial-ethnic minority artists.37 Although there were valued points of connection, there were considerably more instances where South Asian and black British cultural leaders refused to become involved. The British Asian writer Yasmin Khan conveyed that “I was dismayed that there seemed to be few British South Asians who publically weighed in on this issue” and it was only later in the debate that the British Asian theatre company Tamasha issued a statement of support for the protests.38 This was a single instance of a British Asian theatre company showing solidarity, with Yellow Earth Theatre only doing similar after the RSC agreed

Relational Spaces of Protest 179 to support diversity initiatives for East Asians. Publicly, the effect was to reinforce borders of difference and suggest that this was an East Asian fight by the few, rather than a broader debate around diversity in theatre. The protest therefore reinforced multiculturalism’s ability to ghettoize groups, rather than engage with intercultural relations. Attending to the spaces produced by solidarity, here to the disconnections within flow, illustrates the dangers of placing the burden on minorities rather than addressing wider structures that create inequality. A lack of cross-racial support at home suggested that existing power relations in the arts were acceptable. However this is a misreading of diversity in British theatre. In debates, BEAs discussed the Young Vic’s contemporaneous production of Blackta that satirised the dearth of in-depth roles for black British practitioners, as well as an article by the black British actor Danny Lee Wynter that discussed marginalisation and stereotyping. 39 BEAs therefore created a dialogue with black identities in attempts to create a broader discussion about discrimination. In so doing, they produced relational spaces that encompassed both home and transnational contexts, revealing the simultaneous dismantling and reassertion of borders around difference. This constant tension between flow and territory is particularly evident when considering how black identities were invoked to make arguments for BEA inclusion. For instance, many protestors ‘liked’ an article about Bruce Norris withdrawing the rights to a German production of Clybourne Park when he suspected that there would be ‘blacking up’.40 Similarly, a number of Asian Americans questioned: “Can you imagine a production of August Wilson’s Fences being put up but 90% of the parts are played by white people?”41 These references (which also included Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun) are curious, as Wilson famously attacked the notion of colour-blind casting as assimilationist in The Ground on Which I Stand (1996). Wilson suggested that African American theatre and stories came from a different historical position, and therefore, who could own or perform in those stories was also different. For protestors arguing for equal opportunities, and for ultimately reaching a point where race does not matter, these examples appear contradictory as they reinforce the differences between racial-ethnic groups. However, the point was to highlight that uncritical ethnic pretence was rarely, if ever, performed in relation to Black British or African American stories. Invoking blackness reinforced Pao’s (2010) argument that race matters: it must be seen and recognised, even as it is made invisible. This interplay with ‘black’ stories also emphasised how histories of protest have led to gains in equality. In particular, there was a crisscrossing of identifi cations as white British, BEA and Asian Americans invoked an African American history of protest, suggesting that “I really hope that this can be a Rosa Parks moment”42 or “this can be our Rosa Parks moment.”43 Martin Luther King’s famous quotation “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” was regularly used in


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

questionnaire responses and interviews, and this imaginative relational field even extended to South Africa with Daniel York’s provocative declaration that BEAs live in “a state of [ . . . ] artistic apartheid.”44 In making connections to disparate transnational contexts, different forms and histories of black oppression were melded together. There is a danger of diminishing these differently located struggles when using them as generic signifiers of racial inequality. As McKittrick (2006: xiii) argues, black lives have often been rendered “ungeographic” or undeveloped in order to erase them. Pulling together different black identities and protest histories by deliberately evoking particular locations created a transnational relational field that drew attention to this specific space and context, making BEAs visible. There was a political opening within a multicultural politics of representation forged through cross-connections, yet these flows also resurrected bounded spaces and communities. As a result, it is possible to question whether and how relational spaces “shaped by left political solidarities opens up political possibilities” (Featherstone 2012: 10).

PRACTICING SPACES OF DIFFERENCE Massey (2005) highlights that relations may take different geographical forms as encounters, connections and disconnections occur. Similarly, Brown and Yaffe (2013) argue that practices of solidarity produce spaces, attending to how action is multidirectional and reciprocal, rather than diff used from one context to another. Here I delve further into how the practices surrounding the protests reinforced particular geographies. There were attempts to replicate specific actions, discourses, events, and even emotions from an American to a British context. In trying to transnationally transpose practice, the differences between Asian Americans and Asian Canadians compared to BEAs were asserted, particularly along place-based or national lines. However, this distancing effect was also politically useful as Asian Americans and Asian Canadians could apply pressure with fewer fears of reprisal. The most notable instance of how a transnational relational field created geographically specific action was through AAPAC’s actions in New York. AAPAC used The Orphan of Zhao controversy to question the diversity of schools programs run by the RSC, asking whether “this British theatre company values diversity based on their track record.”45 The RSC’s global brand is focussed on “wooing the American dollar in particular” (Kidnie 2009: 54) and this meant that “the RSC is not just a British problem.”46 AAPAC strategically used the RSC’s global brand and creative operations in New York to create pressure. When they released a statement, AAPAC asked Asian American practitioners to take action in two ways: to write to the RSC and comment on their Facebook page;

Relational Spaces of Protest 181 and to write to “Dennis Walcott, Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education to say you do not support the RSC’s casting decisions of The Orphan of Zhao and will not tolerate predominantly white casts for NYC school productions.”47 AAPAC also questioned whether the cast of Matilda would be racially diverse when it transferred to Broadway and they talked to institutions planning co-productions with the RSC, such as The Public Theatre. Although these actions did not lose the RSC contracts or artistic relationships, they increased pressure by scrutinising the practice of diversity. AAPAC used the economic value of the RSC’s reputation abroad to “hit these companies where it hurts” whilst simultaneously mobilising an anti-racist agenda.48 In so doing, AAPAC drew geographical distinctions between a British company and production, and activities that may be locally affected in New York. Even though such differences disintegrated online, they highlighted the divergent spaces produced by the practice of solidarity. AAPAC activities occurred without any input by BEA practitioners, with the practice of protest driven as much by those from abroad as by BEAs. Yet how actions were undertaken and framed differed greatly, and this was often split along national lines. Americans posting open letters or comments on the RSC Facebook page were more likely to write emotively in order to “publicly shame the RSC.”49 This emotiveness was explicitly tied to the language of racial discrimination, with the RSC’s position as a global brand used to convey disgust and sadness: You’re not hearing the pain of a community of artists that continue to be marginalized because of its skin color. You’re not feeling the heartache of listening to one of the most esteemed theatres in the world say, you’re not good enough.50 You are the great RSC who bears such social capital that it permeates the world and holds such influence to those who follow you [ . . . ] You make me not wish to act in the theatre anymore, not wish to dream anymore because why should I dream so high when man can only achieve so little as what your play is: a cancer to the world that rather than spawn openness, closed-mindedness; a show belonging to thespians of highly educated minds yet poorly educated hearts [ . . . ] A minority kid who goes to see your show will learn to breed self-hate by the skilfully crafted art of your racism.51 Such language is shaming in its disappointment and shifted the RSC’s image from a world leader to a retrograde institution. A post called ‘Is the Royal Shakespeare Company Racist?’ on the New York blog Letters from the Mezzanine, alongside Asian Canadian academic Broderick Chow’s blog post ‘Two Dogs and a Maid’ were the fi rst to openly call the casting racist, both appearing on 19 October 2012.52 However, British reactions viewed


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

the casting as “an error of judgement”, as blinkered, rather than as racist or displaying intentional hatred. 53 The tone of open letters by BEA practitioners articulated feelings of frustration, but were more pragmatic: Having been a BEA actor of mixed origin for a number of years now, I have found it increasingly frustrating how limiting the casting opportunities for BEA actors in mainstream television and theatre are. On numerous occasions I have experienced good characters that have initially been written for BEA actors change to other ethnicities in order to “open up a wider casting pool.” Other times, major roles have merely been the stereotypical token “Oriental” roles. 54 British responses therefore positioned the RSC as part of a wider problem of unequal power relations within theatre and entertainment. They were also less likely to discuss race per se or to call the RSC or Doran racist, perhaps also owing to concerns around the potential impacts on their careers. This difference is also unsurprising given that race is often perceived as the preeminent identity through which American society is ordered (Omi and Winant 1994). American discourses of multiculturalism are more likely to use the language of race, rather than culture, particularly as they are grounded in histories of racial protest linked to the Civil Rights Era. However, Pao (2010: 6) suggests that debates around casting in America often take place on the terrain of culture rather than race, conveying a neutralised and apolitical tone that appeals to “the sensibilities of [ . . . ] traditional subscription audiences who have been and remain predominantly [ . . . ] white and middle class.” This dynamic characterised British discussions that were often couched in the language of culture and imperialism. Anna Chen’s Guardian article asked why yellowface was still acceptable but suggested that Doran “might have trodden more sensitively instead of crashing in like a 19th century colonialist after our tea and silks”, a side-reference to British involvement in the Opium Wars. 55 A number of academics, including myself, similarly analysed the production as a form of cultural “appropriation.”56 The RSC’s description of its casting practice as non-culturally specifi c removes the potency and discomfort surrounding racial crossing in performance, instead blurring into the fuzzy domain of culture as Pao (2010) suggests. Yet distinctions in the framing of debates were inevitable given the diff erent contextual histories of British and American relations with China, as well as Britain’s broader post-colonial malaise (cf. Palumbo-Liu 1999; Auerbach 2009). The transnational connections and relational field established also revealed further differences that mapped onto the production of national spheres. In creating solidarity and guiding some practices of protest, AAPAC made regular contact with BEAs, encouraging them to “reach out to allies in other demographic groups [ . . . ] generate media coverage.”57

Relational Spaces of Protest 183 Similarly, Victor Wong and the CCNC “urged artists to organize a committee and also to organize BEA activists who could work ‘outside of the system’” in order to apply pressure. 58 This was one impetus for the formation of British East Asian Artists (BEAA), but this group was also forged by “a group of 11 individuals who just had enough, who were brought together by these events and wanted to stand up and say ‘this is wrong.’”59 Asian Americans and Asian Canadians were quick to make contacts that widened the relational field of protest, with Wong writing to, and often obtaining responses from Maria Miller (Minister for the Department of Culture, Media and the Arts) and Arts Council England (ACE) before BEAs, although this impetus shifted as British Equity became involved. However, the emergence of BEAA as an organisation was fluid and ad hoc; it was unlike AAPAC, which prior to The Nightingale controversy had a background of ethnic monitoring, statistic gathering and lobbying. BEAA was therefore not as well placed to successfully reinforce the arguments and concerns of BEAs in the mainstream media. For instance, a statement issued by BEAA was reported as a ramshackle bunch of actors and academics demanding an apology. Although this was requested, the statement focussed on The Orphan of Zhao as part of an “industry wide problem” and suggested a public forum like The Nightingale, ethnic monitoring of auditionees, a clear strategy for engaging with BEAs and a desire for no professional reprisals.60 The idea was for the RSC to “lead the way for the rest of the industry” but these ideas became overshadowed as more powerful institutions, such as British Equity and ACE, directed the protest’s outcomes.61 In contrast, AAPAC was central in being invited to the talkback at La Jolla, being seen as a key organisational player in promoting Asian American interests and harnessing media support to their cause. Indeed, when the creative team of The Nightingale initially refused to attend a talkback, so did AAPAC, before the two groups came to a resolution. The Nightingale public talkback during which the Director, Moises Kaufman, and the Artistic Director of La Jolla, Christopher Ashley, apologized for the casting was a touchstone for BEAs desiring a similar event. However, the practice again diff ered, creating territories from the wider flows and connections that instilled the idea of hosting a public event. Daniel York’s position as Vice-Chair of the Equity Minority Ethnic Members’ Committee enabled him to obtain the direct involvement of British Equity and ACE in discussions with the RSC. The result was not a public forum but an ‘open space’ event called Opening the Door: East Asians in British Theatre held at the Young Vic Theatre on 11 February 2013 in partnership with ACE, the Casting Directors’ Guild, Equity, the Independent Theatre Council, the Society of London Theatre/Theatre Management Association and facilitated by the theatre company Devoted and Disgruntled. BEA artists presented topics for discussion that participants then debated. The involvement of British Equity and ACE encouraged the participation of mainstream and regional theatres such as the National Theatre and Manchester Royal Exchange, as well


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

as West End casting directors. Five members of RSC staff also attended, although not Doran, but the structure made it safe for all theatre practitioners to be involved, as open space deliberately avoids confrontation. As a result, there was no apology but, in general, this was less desired by BEAs. Unlike the La Jolla controversy where Facebook postings, open letters and media reports nearly always demanded an apology, many BEAs instead desired more practical mechanisms to advance equality. Indeed, only Anna Chen, BEAA and Erin Quill pushed for it on the basis that “they are leaders in their fi eld and there is a defi nite ‘trickle down’ [ . . . ] it gives license to smaller companies to follow their lead.”62 One could argue that the lack of apology signals the RSC’s lack of understanding or the reinforcing of their powerful position, yet the company’s global brand means that an apology would have different connotations. As Bandhu suggested: “Would it have led to Doran’s immediate resignation? [ . . . ] For him to say I was not successful and we discriminated against them [ . . . ] that would stick.”63 Once again, the contextual differences between America and Britain, between La Jolla and the RSC, between a respected regional company and one with audiences and contracts across the world, produced practical variations in the protest’s performance and outcomes.

NON-RELATIONS OR DISCONNECTIONS So far, this account of The Orphan of Zhao protests has discussed the relational spaces produced by the connections between different groups, particularly minority East Asians. Although these trajectories converged to create solidarity, they also exposed differences between contexts, approaches, locations and ultimately national spaces. Nevertheless, the wider field appears quite harmonious, a space of connection that enabled different geographies to materialise. In reality this was not the case. Relational spaces emphasise heterogeneity in order to side-step essentialism in the analysis of position and identity, but if these spaces are partly composed of “loose ends” as Massey (2005: 12) suggests, then non-relationality is also a concern. As Harrison (2007) argues, there are always absences and disconnections within a relational politics, and in this instance this related to a more conventional account of the “confl ict ridden” production of community (England 2011: 92). There are therefore disjunctures, a more partial production of spatial fields, in the practice and performance of protest than has hitherto been suggested. Not all BEAs agreed with the protest, or with Asian American involvement in it and, as discussed earlier, BEAs struggled to harness the potential of wider and deeper connections across multicultural groups. Although questionnaire responses suggested that most respondents (around 94%) felt a very strong or strong sense of community both at home and abroad when participating in events online, there were many who did not participate.

Relational Spaces of Protest 185 One of the main reasons for this was career reprisals, which was most commonly cited as the reason why individuals refused to openly lend their support. Some actors were also not members of Actors’ Equity, and felt it was “inappropriate” to comment because they did not have professional ownership over the debate and wanted union backing before standing up to an institution such as the RSC.64 One commented that now they were part of Equity, “I would be much more inclined to comment.”65 There was a feeling, therefore, of relational connection without participation that resulted from felt differences in power between actors and companies with national and transnational influence. However, the BEA community was fractured, and not everyone posted comments or wrote letters. Some perceived this silence as self-interested: “Some members of the community were deathly silent. My concern is that self-serving attitude will remain and they’ll only speak out when it serves a purpose for themselves not others.”66 The motivations around silence therefore appeared, or were interpreted, in contradictory ways that reflect divisions among BEA theatre practitioners. The protest tried to foster the idea that ‘we are all in this together’ but struggled to realise it, reinforcing how the practice of harnessing and creating community “privileges unity over difference [ . . . ] [and] generates social exclusion” (Valentine 2001: 106). Communities often exhibit diversity but overlook internal differences in creating collectivity. Indeed, some individuals described the BEAs leading the protests as a “clique”, rather than being open to all perspectives.67 Other actors simply did not want to be labelled as part of a racial-ethnic community. In a profi le in British newspaper The Independent, the actor Benedict Wong was described as wanting to attend events held in the aftermath of the controversy, but: “He’s no strident campaigner, however, shunning the likes of the British East Asian Artists group. ‘I’m in the loners’ society. I don’t want to classify myself as anything.’”68 The terms of debate were therefore important, as being associated with the protest could potentially reinforce industry expectations and racial tokenism. Much of Mesure’s profi le on Wong addresses these issues and the limited opportunities for BEA actors, although Wong has carved out a position as the ‘go-to’ actor for male Chinese parts, playing lead roles in hit plays such as #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (2013) and Chimerica (2013). The silence and non-relation in some quarters evoked the classic model minority stereotype, where BEAs are seen as well-educated, hardworking, intelligent, successful and quiet. Not voicing dissent reinforces the perception that there is no discrimination, but as some participants pointed out, the cultural attitudes of many British Chinese also pervaded their silence. In this regard the RSC protest felt simplistically framed: I felt it was not useful to focus exclusively on the casting of Orphan [ . . . ] I would have been more interested in investigating why there were so few experienced East Asian actors in the fi rst place. Is it lack of


Performing Asian Transnationalisms opportunity? Or cultural? (The majority of British East Asian actors I meet have either not been to drama school, or done one-year postgraduate programmes rather than three years—is this down to parental pressure to do a ‘proper’ university degree?) It’s easy to assume the issue is racism, but I felt that was reductive of a more complex situation.69

There is a danger again of placing responsibility on BEAs, rather than addressing potential institutional inequalities. Nevertheless, the respondent drew attention to the many influences behind marginalisation, including the cultural backgrounds of professional BEA theatre practitioners. These nuances and the inability to discuss them was a key reason that some BEAs felt ostracised from the protest. Yet many also openly responded against this silent, obedient and passive stereotype, and indeed the protest countered this image: “My father used to say the British Chinese never kicked up a fuss, just kept their heads down and worked hard. That’s all well and good but if we don’t ever speak up, nothing will ever change.”70 There was, therefore, no cohesive British multicultural community partaking in and driving the protests, reinforcing the artificiality of the borders that multicultural discourses place around racial-ethnic groups. Massey’s (2008: 339) idea of “constellations” is therefore more appropriate, with clusters of individuals producing both transnationally de- and re-territorialised spaces from their relational connections. The non-relations outlined above reinforced these spaces but for different reasons. Several individuals disputed the involvement of Asian Americans, suggesting that whilst it was great to show solidarity, “some of [their responses] tipped into ‘I haven’t seen this show but I’m going to be angry about it anyway’ territory.”71 In this regard, transnational distance helped pressurise the RSC but, in the process, seemed to delegitimise certain opinions. Physical dislocation, the inability to actually see the production, indicated that despite the relational field created, some BEAs viewed The Orphan of Zhao as a fundamentally British concern.

CONCLUSION: TOWARDS AN OUTCOME? Although not everyone agreed with how the RSC protest was conducted, its motivations, inclusiveness, or the involvement of East Asian minorities from abroad, it was significant as the fi rst major protest involving British East Asian theatre practitioners. However, if the fluid, viral nature of relational space opens up the possibility for resistance, then this can be co-opted because institutions take control and re-order it into familiar patterns. As British Equity became involved, some participants felt that the protest lost its force as they were “not as strong as they could have been” in pushing an equal opportunities agenda.72 Opening the Door helped foster dialogue but the extent to which power relations were altered was minimised because the protest was channelled into discrete outcomes and the debate became

Relational Spaces of Protest 187 framed in terms of domination and resistance. The subsequent audition day for East Asian actors organised by British Equity, and involving the RSC and the National Theatre, did not include all BEAs as originally suggested. Recent productions of #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei (2013) at London’s Hampstead Theatre, Chimerica (2013) at the Almeida and West End and The World of Extreme Happiness (2013) at the National Theatre all include BEAs playing Chinese characters. Yet these roles reinforce stereotypes of BEAs as foreigners. Many of the same actors have been used across these productions and there has been very little cross-racial casting of BEAs in the wake of the controversy, reinforcing that the issue of equal opportunities has not gone away. In this regard, perhaps some BEAs were right in feeling that the RSC “knows our arguments and they don’t care”, being the “same problem, same arguments” as have been articulated before.73 Despite the defeatist tone, there are notes of optimism, not least that many BEAs now feel more united by a common agenda, as there is “so much camaraderie. People are aware that we actually do demand equality.”74 As I have highlighted in Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 of this volume, this agenda is not unique to the UK but similar to many other East Asian communities fighting racial marginalisation, with many BEAs describing how “it was good to see that we weren’t alone”75 even as they recognized the “long haul”76 that gaining equality would be. The RSC controversy was empowering and this filtered into other settings, with some actors questioning the yellowface and stereotypical performances in the Edinburgh Fringe production Beijing Cake, directly approaching venue managers, the director and the cast about the production’s choices: “I do think the protests over The Orphan of Zhao made a big difference to the field—I certainly feel much more empowered to raise my own voice when I feel we are being treated unfairly.”77 For a younger generation of artists, these protests contained immense potential to shape the future dynamics of Britain’s theatre industry. There is, therefore, an attempt to take ownership and to be proactive in making a difference, perhaps the real legacy of the RSC controversy and the relational politics it articulated. The Orphan of Zhao protests were the fi rst time connections between East Asians were mobilised at a transnational scale, with these connections producing a relational space that allowed ideas, discourses and practices to be shared. Connections between minority groups (both within and beyond Asian identity) operated transnationally to create a space of political contestation that challenged dominant institutions (Lionnet and Shih 2005). The power harnessed by diverse individuals and groups, and the activities that they collectively engaged in, were performative in that the geographies created by coming together were emergent, in process, and helped place the RSC’s practices, language and decisions under scrutiny. These cross-border relational fields created solidarity and were the most effective part of the protests. However, in seeking to advance equal opportunities


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

for BEAs, there was an inevitable shift to re-establish territories regarding particular cities (such as New York), organisations and national spheres (Massey 2008). Transnationality in this context once again worked to dissolve and reassert borders of difference. Elusive transnational and crossracial connections bombarded the RSC but ultimately these were shut down in offline spaces where events could be more directly controlled. As a result, it is possible to view the “activist imagination becoming atrophied”, highlighting the limits of a relational and performative account in this instance (Routledge 2012: 448; Featherstone 2008). However, if solidarity can reconfigure relationships between places, if it can rework, or in this instance produce, relations, as Featherstone (2008) suggests, then the fluid transnational connections discussed above may be lying dormant for future, ready to be reignited to further rework the place of East Asian minorities in an interconnected world.


Translocal Circulation From M. Butterfly to Mu-Lan

M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang is the most internationally successful play by an Asian American writer. Based on the true story of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Chinese Opera performer Shi Pei Pu, the play explores how Rene Gallimard (Boursicot), a diplomat in China, falls in love with Song Liling (Shi), not realising that ‘she’ is a man. Song is a Communist spy and extracts French security secrets from Gallimard by acting as a stereotypical Oriental1 woman. Gallimard believes so completely in this image that he makes an error of judgement about the Vietnam War and returns to France. After serving time in a re-education camp, Song follows Gallimard to Paris, complete with a child procured by Communist Party officials. They resume their relationship for fi fteen years, after which Song’s identity is revealed and Gallimard is imprisoned for treason. During Gallimard’s trial, Song gives evidence as a man but he removes his suit and is left nude in order to make Gallimard see his masculinity and the fantasy they have lived. Gallimard refuses to recognise Song’s ‘true’ identity, donning a kimono and committing seppuku to the refrains of Madama Butterfly. Hwang’s play is often analysed for its representation of racial, gendered and sexual identity (see Kondo 1990; Shimakawa 1993; Eng 1994). These accounts focus on the play itself, interpreting its significance for Asian American theatre. In this chapter, I reposition M. Butterfly to argue that this is not its only legacy. Focussing on the translocal mobility of this play illuminates its role in stimulating networks between Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatres. Although over twenty years old, this play epitomises the interweaving of translocal geographies and the chapter initially explores this by examining M. Butterfly’s reception in New York, Singapore and London. However, by tracing the play’s effects, the chapter details a much broader story about the development of theatre in Singapore and London. My research attends to how performances and practitioners open up creative possibilities as they become part of translocal fields, as they move and re-settle between places. To illustrate this, I examine the translocal connections created by M. Butterfly in London because the play cannot be considered in isolation. Rather, its influences, particularly regarding the British Chinese theatre company Mu-Lan, draw

190 Performing Asian Transnationalisms together two other plays: Henry Ong’s (1989) Madame Mao’s Memories and Chay Yew’s (1992) Porcelain. These plays rival M. Butterfly in their success at being produced across the three contexts covered in this book. Yet from a British perspective, these three works are interconnected and together reveal the importance of translocal circulation to a transnational theatrical geography.

TRANSLOCAL CIRCULATION Translocality recognises that migrants experience and imagine connections across locales in ways that are not bound by the nation-state (Appadurai 1996). Although this immediately suggests an emphasis on de-territorialised flows, literatures on translocalism are concerned with locating mobility through embodied practices (Smith 2001, 2005). Translocalism therefore expresses the “distanciated, yet situated possibilities for constituting and reconstituting social relations”, highlighting how socio-economic processes coincide in place in ways that include, but stretch beyond, an immediate environ (Smith 2005: 237). Translocalities are places that gather relations, with connections between multiple places occurring both vertically (within the nation-state) and horizontally (across the nation-state) (Smith 2001: 5). Place-to-place connections thus capture complex spatial relationships, drawing “our focus to local scales of activity while not losing sight of [ . . . ] broader scales of interaction” (Oakes and Schein 2006: 10). Performance can therefore be seen as created in place and through the movement between places, with such mobility central to the meaning and form that performance takes in different locations (Appadurai 1996). Such a perspective opens up the geographical investigation of performance and transnationalism by situating theatre practitioners within networks of people and ideas from different contexts whilst retaining an analytical focus on place specificity. The relationship between place, mobility and performance is therefore central to this chapter. As such, it follows recent research examining how to conceptualize situated performances as mobile and the challenges surrounding how performance can address the politics of encounter in places of flow (see the 2007 special issue of Performance Research on ‘Traveling Performance’). Literatures on mobility explicitly attend to these questions, examining the connection between stasis and movement, and the different configurations of power that result (Urry 2000). The combination of movement, representation and practice inherent within mobility has led more creative accounts to focus on the micro-level of the body, highlighting how spaces are formed through movement, or examining how mobile practices of performance are value-laden (Cresswell 2006; Merriman 2010). However, performances are also enmeshed in wider geographies that impact upon these emplaced activities. When productions such as M. Butterfly

Translocal Circulation


become translocally mobile, the emphasis on theatrical praxis shifts between places. As a result, this chapter follows research in the visual and performing arts that examines the impact of transnational mobility on artists, on the aesthetics and forms that their works take, and on how multi-locationality influences meaning (see Mercer 2008; Cohen 2010). In developing a geographical account of circulation, I suggest that the local-local networks of translocalism provide routes along which people, ideas and fi nance can travel, shaping theatrical production and reception. More specifically, the movement of plays and practitioners creates and reconfigures translocal networks. This productivity defi nes translocal mobility as circulation. Circulation itself is loosely defi ned in literatures on transnational culture, being equated with the “movement of people, ideas and commodities from one culture to another” (Lee and LiPuma 2002: 192). This understanding of circulation as a form of flow between two or more locations permeates writings on transnationalism, but the difference between circulation and basic movement is implicit, as are the geographies involved. However, circulation is often linked to transnational networks, as explored in Chapter 1 of this volume, to “the overlapping and contested material, cultural and political circuits and flows that bind different places together through differentiated relations of power” (Featherstone et al 2007: 386). Networks are therefore a geographical form of connection between places; circulation is the actual non-linear, dynamic movement between them that underpins network formation. A “place lens” highlights how networks relate to one another and demonstrates that the relations forged through mobility can create networks, as much as use existing ones (Gielis 2009: 271). Circulation has a generative quality that transnational literatures emphasise in analysing how activities become linked across sites to create new transnational orderings, identities and forms (Rouse 1991). Yet circulation is often viewed as temporary, with individuals returning to a homeland or emplaced for a short period before moving on again (Dahinden 2010). Such ideas suggest that performance practice is always constructed in relation to multiple places and that the movement of plays and practitioners encompasses varied mobilities, including rest and reception. Translocalism captures this dialectic, demonstrating how performances are locally emplaced and differentiated, whilst simultaneously being connected and mobile (Brickell and Datta 2011).

M. BUTTERFLY AND TRANSLOCAL CIRCULATION M. Butterfly’s production sparked and consolidated new networks between the translocalities in which it was performed, both undergoing and influencing the circulation of plays and practitioners. In attending to these dynamics, the fi rst part of the chapter examines its staging in New York, Singapore and London, highlighting the shifting emphasis on theatrical

192 Performing Asian Transnationalisms practice through the play’s mobility (from writing, to staging, to casting). The chapter then opens up to consider the subsequent influences of this play on British East Asian theatre, and the translocal circulatory activities that helped forge theatrical developments in and across London.

New York City: Writing M. Butterfly deconstructs Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, notably in the titular ‘M.’ that reflects the play’s gender ambiguity. M. Butterfly parallels the operatic narrative of the delicate, humble Japanese woman who commits suicide after marrying, and being abandoned by, Pinkerton, an American naval officer. However, the play manipulates the opera vis-à-vis the Boursicot/Shi affair. It subverts the opera’s Orientalist perceptions of identity and culture because Song performs the stereotype of Asian femininity in order to dupe Gallimard. Gallimard cannot relinquish his Orientalist desires and becomes Madama Butterfly literally and metaphorically through the play. Madama Butterfly is therefore inverted through gender, sexuality and cultural location in order to caricature stereotypes of Asians and force audiences to question social categories. M. Butterfly revels in the gendered, sexual and racial ambiguity of its protagonists, exposing operatic imagery as a powerful fantasy (Skloot 1990; Kondo 1997). Opening on Broadway on 20 March 1988, the play was a sensation and was subsequently produced across the world. M. Butterfly’s genesis occurred translocally, emerging through different connections that linked to, and congregated in, New York City. The news item that inspired M. Butterfly came from Paris but it resonated with Hwang’s experiences of producing plays Off-Broadway. Hwang learned about the trial of Boursicot and Shi at a dinner party in New York when he was already an award-winning playwright whose plays dealt largely with the immigrant roots of the Asian American experience, such as F.O.B. (1980) and The Dance and The Railroad (1981). However, Rich Relations, his fi rst play that bore no relation to Asian American identity, and his fi rst failure, had just closed, and he became concerned that “it was no longer that I was a playwright per se, but that I was an Asian American playwright and my Asian Americanness [ . . . ] defined me to the public.”2 His successful plays were those containing exotic elements and he was “bothered” by the fact that audiences read his work as “Orientalia for the intelligentsia.”3 Hwang was intrigued by the idea that Boursicot had purportedly never seen Shi naked, believing modesty to be a Chinese custom (Hwang 1988). In recognising the diplomat’s stereotypical reasoning, Hwang connected the Parisian news item to his interest in Kabuki and the concept of onnagata, where “a woman can only be a woman, whereas a man can [perform] the idealization of a woman” (Hwang in DiGaetani 1989: 146). The story offered Hwang the ability to challenge assumptions about gender and to criticise misperceptions between East and West, reworking the story in

Translocal Circulation


relation to Japanese art forms and American social relations. Having found a premise, Hwang struggled to find a framing concept. As he drove past a record shop in Los Angeles, where he then lived, he “hit on the idea of deconstructing Madama Butterfly and popped in on impulse. As soon as I looked at the libretto, I knew it would be fi ne.”4 Hwang remembered his time at Stanford, where his friends would “refer derisively to any female peer who seemed overly deferential [ . . . ] as ‘doing a Butterfly.’”5 He pulled these locatable experiences together and deployed the exoticism of the opera to furnish his critique, subverting expectations of white American audiences by “talking about exactly why it is that [they] are attracted to this material at the time that they are being attracted to it”, thereby responding to his artistic dilemma.6 M. Butterfly opened on Broadway with John Lithgow as Gallimard and B. D. Wong as Song but the play was written translocally because the imagination and experience of differently located events were brought together and re-worked. This process created place-to-place connections at different scales (local, national, transnational) reflecting that “the translocal imaginary [ . . . ] agentively links one locality to another” (Oakes and Schein 2006: 20). It was through these place connections that the play and its critique were furnished (ibid. 12). As these links were articulated, M. Butterfly also became place-based in relation to the social milieu of New York City. The social and political critique proffered by M. Butterfly reflects the location of Hwang’s critical reception because most of his works premiered at the Public Theatre. His concern over catering to white middle-class audiences and being labelled as an ethnic writer was therefore grounded in a context where this group comprised his primary theatre-going public. The city therefore actively shaped how ideas were used, reinforcing the idea that translocalism examines the relationship between local contexts and their wider geographies (Smith 2001). At the time, Hwang was a bi-coastal playwright but M. Butterfly’s translocal authorship also included Washington D. C. where it was staged before transferring to Broadway. This established trend to preview productions in East Coast cities allows them to be refi ned to reach their artistic and commercial potential. Divisions over the writing emerged during the play’s Washington run, something accentuated by M. Butterfly’s cost of US$1.5 million. Stuart Ostrow’s memoirs highlight how his co-producer, David Geffen, was concerned with pleasing theatre critic Frank Rich. Geffen told Hwang to “take out the political references, the ‘Brechtian bullshit’ about Mao [ . . . ] ‘Frank Rich will think it’s pretentious’” (Ostrow 2006: 94). The focus on New York critics is unsurprising as their cultural capital gives them power in determining a production’s success. Hwang, supported by Ostrow, rewrote two scenes and cut others to add clarity but this was a response to local reviews that found the script “digressive” and the story “improbable.”7 The development process therefore did not compromise Hwang’s artistic vision but confl icts over the re-writes reflected


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

different translocal imaginations of Broadway from a Washington context. The relationship between theatrical practice and place therefore questioned whether theatre should challenge Broadway audiences or reflect their cultural expectations. M. Butterfly’s creative genesis was therefore underpinned by translocal relationships, particularly between Los Angeles, Washington D. C. and New York City. The play received mixed reviews but ran for over two years and won three Tony Awards. Angela Pao (1992) has critically analysed the Broadway reception of M. Butterfly, arguing that negative reviews were unable to recognise the play’s cultural narrative and interpreted Hwang’s work in terms of psychological realism rather than accepting its theatricality and unwillingness to offer a plot-resolving truth. Geographically speaking, reviews wanted a clear-cut representation of place and culture, as reflected in suggestions that Hwang used a “modern American vernacular (there’s no attempt to suggest that anyone is either French or Chinese . . .).”8 Similarly, one critic commented that: “Perhaps it doesn’t matter that Song is Chinese and that Madama Butterfly was Japanese [ . . . ] [This] blurring of the boundaries contributes [ . . . ] to a pervasive sense of muddle.”9 Some reviewers failed to recognise that the play’s varied influences critiqued American social perceptions, that crossing locations of identity challenged stereotypes (Kondo 1997). Reviews that appreciated this critique recognised that M. Butterfly morphed its cultural reference points into something original: As we follow the [ . . . ] lovers’ affair, it is being refracted through [ . . . ] burlesque deconstructions of Madama Butterfly. As Puccini’s music collides throughout with a percussive Eastern score [ . . . ] so Western storytelling and sassy humour intermingle with flourishes of martial arts ritual, Chinese opera [ . . . ] and Kabuki. Now and then, the entire mix is turned inside out, Genet and Pirandello style, to remind us that fantasy isn’t always distinguishable from reality.10 M. Butterfly’s translocality, its ability to re-work cultural stories, traditions and ideas from different locations, was its defi ning creative feature. Reviewers located this creativity in Hwang’s writing, rather than in the performance, something emphasised by the tendency to emphasise individual practitioners and Hwang in particular. Early publicity focussed on Hwang’s ethnic, immigrant heritage and its relationship to his writing but the play’s success enabled him to move beyond this.11 Critics praised Hwang’s writing skill and “distinctive talent”, placing him in an American artistic sphere.12 Emblematic was the verdict in Time Magazine that “he has the potential to become the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller, and maybe the best of them all.”13 Although this might suggest that Hwang’s racial identity was re-worked through his art, he never negated his background and he

Translocal Circulation


continues to write works that are for Asian Americans alongside works that bear no relation to this identity. M. Butterfly enabled Hwang to cross into the mainstream but it cemented his artistic credibility, opening up opportunities for him to write operas, musicals and screenplays. M. Butterfly pushed Asian American theatre into a national consciousness. It was the fi rst Broadway play to have an Asian American writer and actor and the production’s subsequent American tour further raised the profi le of Asian American artists; B. D. Wong commented that the play “create[d] great community pride and support” because it promoted Asian American visibility.14 Although M. Butterfly did not immediately create openings for other Asian American writers—there was no sudden raft of Asian American theatrical production—it still encourages Asian American practitioners, as its success remains something to emulate. The play’s impact was to create a mainstream presence whilst spotlighting a wider Asian American history of using art to battle discrimination (Lee 2006).

Singapore: Staging M. Butterfly was subsequently produced across the world as a ‘must-see’ Tony award-winning play. In some respects, it became a standardised economic product, a megaplay (for a discussion of megamusicals see Rebellato 2010). Many performances replicated the New York production design (for instance, London, Bangalore, Bombay, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney) but others, such as Russia and Singapore, created new versions. TheatreWorks staged M. Butterfly as the closing performance of the 1990 Singapore Arts Festival but Hwang already had established ties with the company. In 1982 TheatreWorks produced his play F.O.B., and in the run up to M. Butterfly they also staged The Dance and The Railroad and Sound of a Voice. These transnational social networks led Hwang to recommend Singaporean actors for foreign productions, particularly as he always insisted that Song be a ‘Chinese’ actor. This was one factor that enabled Ivan Heng to play Song in the 1989 Indian and 1990 Singaporean productions of M. Butterfly.15 Interpersonal networks therefore enabled the play to circulate in multiple directions. However, M. Butterfly’s translocal circulation to Singapore was hugely anticipated, with reports demonstrating that the play was seen as lending cultural capital to the city-state. Lim Yu Beng, then the Associate Director of TheatreWorks, commented that: “this marks the world class viability of our theatre companies in staging works which are widely acclaimed.”16 Reports also listed the cities M. Butterfly was playing in (London, Tokyo, Paris), and thus its local production placed Singapore within the ranks of the world’s leading cultural centres.17 Newspapers also emphasised Singaporean links to productions across the world, such that the translocal circulation of practitioners also ascribed cultural capital to Singapore. Around a third of the overall published material tracks Ivan Heng’s performances


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

in India and Glen Goei’s performance in London. Repeated references to their acting, such as, they “charmed a hard-nosed fi rst night audience”18 or “received standing ovations every night”19 conveyed their theatrical skill. Combined, these articles suggest a sense of national pride, with Singapore seen as an artistic leader because these actors were “tipped for stardom.”20 Reports also concentrated on the relationship between Hwang and TheatreWorks, noting that Hwang had worked with them before. The company, and by extension the city-state, was thus lent prestige because they had worked with the playwright-of-the-moment over a period of time.21 When it was staged, M. Butterfly resonated with its Singaporean context owing to its political commentary on cultural misperceptions. The play struck a chord in a country that prides itself on its integration of different cultures: “How we perceive others is the reflection of our own prejudices, stereotypes, obsessions and fantasies [ . . . ] we too have struggled to reconcile problems that inevitably arise between people of various cultures.”22 Whilst linking to a national multicultural agenda, artistically, the play appealed to Singaporean theatre practitioners exploring post-colonial identity on stage. The desire to perform a Singaporean identity that was not structured through British eyes was emerging strongly: Hwang’s play deals with race and racism through the lens of two lovers creating an exotic fiction of each other. It was the fi rst time [Singaporean] audiences experienced a play that framed this idea in the context of a person’s delusions—the core confl ict arises from a person performing race for a white man: I can be as Chinese as you want me to be. In our work, we were starting to shake off the shackles of our colonial past and look for our own voice in the theatre. So that play came at a very exciting time, a very pertinent time in Singapore—when we were trying to fi nd our theatre and express our own identity.23 Hwang’s critique of western perceptions of Asians resonated with Singaporean practitioners who were representing identity in a nascent post-colonial theatre scene. M. Butterfly was part of a process of creative experimentation in representation and language that was occurring at this time, particularly with the work of Kuo Pao Kun, whose plays used Singlish and critiqued Singaporean society and government. Heng also highlighted that M. Butterfly addressed the power relationships surrounding race, a topic banned from explicit discussion owing to the emphasis on multicultural harmony. M. Butterfly’s critique therefore transferred translocally to open a discussion about Singaporean identity. M. Butterfly also tested the boundaries of social acceptability, being the fi rst play to be staged in Singapore with full nudity. The Media Development Authority wanted to censor the scene where Song removes his clothes, but Hwang insisted that the play be performed as written, otherwise he would pull production rights. The censorship was discussed in parliament but the

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production had sold out, presenting the government with a fait accompli. M. Butterfly went ahead as Singaporean officials wanted the city-state to be seen as a world-leading creative centre. Ultimately it was this embodied performance of nudity on stage, rather than the play’s intellectual critique, that captured the public imagination with the embodied act of “stripping” onstage creating debate over Singaporean cultural values. 24 During auditions, journalists interviewed actors about their feelings on being naked, with practitioners framing the debate in terms of artistic integrity; they would do “whatever’s required for the role.”25 On one hand, nudity was viewed as an artistic expression that revealed the development of a “maturing”26 society, but it was also seen more conservatively as lacking “class.”27 As Hwang is Asian American, M. Butterfly was perceived as a play by an Asian man in an American cultural context, making nudity a signifier of lapse western morals that could degrade Singaporean culture.28 The relaxation in censorship necessitated by M. Butterfly’s production thus created a public discussion about Singaporean society, with debates focussing on how westernised Singapore could or should be. M. Butterfly also led to a fissure of social change regarding the depiction of homosexuality and transvestism on stage. In 1988 three plays on these themes were banned by censors: Eleanor Wong’s Jackson on a Jaunt, Chay Yew’s As If He Hears and Russell Heng’s Lest the Demons Get to Me. TheatreWorks staged the fi rst two in 1989 after adaptations made characters less identifiably homosexual in the script (but not in the performance). This “ludic quality” of theatrical performance, the ability to shift between reality and play, was central to M. Butterfly’s subversive potential (Pratt and Kirby 2003: 24). As Heng suggested, the fi nal line where Song says, ‘Butterfly? Butterfly?’ after Gallimard’s suicide, is open to a range of deliveries that affect how audiences interpret the relationship between the men: “The ending is very interesting. There could be something sinister. Is it relief? Is it stress? Is it pity? Is it pain, or loss, or despair—anguish? How do you say it? That [line delivery] is everything.”29 M. Butterfly’s ambiguity allowed for readings that could deny or confi rm homosexuality, something accentuated by performance (see also Peterson 2001). The play’s ambivalence generated an energy that developed a more permissive environment, and Singaporean artists maintained attempts to “test the limits of acceptability” (ibid. 142). A raft of plays about lesbian, gay and transvestite identities were produced, and this period of relative freedom was aided by government thinking, which also temporarily shifted towards the liberalisation of the arts. The translocal circulations surrounding M. Butterfly were therefore linked to its agentive work in a socio-cultural arena. In particular, the mobility of Singaporean practitioners and their links to productions abroad was interpreted as a marker of cultural and creative capital for the city-state. Yet the negotiations around performance and its values established the foreignness of the play even as it resonated with a Singaporean context. The circulatory combination of movement and settlement meant that when the play was


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

performed, it generated, and intervened in, debates around Singaporean culture and identity.

London: Casting M. Butterfly’s success made it a logical transfer to London’s West End, allowing the producers to capitalise on the buzz surrounding the play and to maximise returns on their investment. The script, direction, set and costumes of M. Butterfly were reproduced in London, circulating translocally along a well-established network between the two cities. As it was playing in New York, M. Butterfly was re-cast in London with Anthony Hopkins as Gallimard and Glen Goei as Song. However the acting dulled the play’s critique, meaning that the production travelled to London but the conceptual battleground marked out by the play did not. M. Butterfly closed after six months but its effects did not die with the production as the casting of Goei stimulated shifts in the city’s theatrical landscape for British Chinese practitioners. In analysing the relationship between translocal circulation and performance, it is notable that British newspapers lacked fanfare about the unfamiliar Hwang. Instead, reviewers focussed on the acting. The casting operated translocally, particularly with Singaporean actor Glen Goei. Goei originally moved to London to train on a one-year postgraduate course at Mountview Academy of Dramatic Arts, but the city was central to his artistic and post-colonial imagination, as he associated the capital with theatre since watching British expatriate productions in Singapore as a child.30 After his graduate showcase, Goei signed with a London agent who remembered him when auditions were announced, and although he had moved to Hong Kong to work in fi lm, he returned to London to audition. The casting of M. Butterfly therefore combined the established British star Hopkins with Goei’s movement between different cities, connecting their life histories together in place. M. Butterfly’s West End reception was as mixed as on Broadway. However, many critics compared the two productions, describing the different interpretations of the roles. 31 In opening up a translocal imagination by reminding readers of the connection between the London and New York productions, the London actors came across as inferior: “Anthony Hopkins [ . . . ] has a butch heartiness that makes the plot a little harder to accept [ . . . ] than on Broadway, where I saw David Dukes32 give a performance of intriguing ambi-sexuality [ . . . ] [the play is] oddly coarsened by its Atlantic crossing.”33 Similar reviews highlighted that “something has gone missing en route” during translocal circulation. 34 Critics generally praised Goei’s nuanced debut, even if he did not “disturb the extraordinary impact of B. D. Wong.”35 However Hopkins was repeatedly criticised as he failed to suggest any “latent homosexuality”36 and thus sexual ambiguity, providing a “roguish”37 performance. In making his performance at

Translocal Circulation


odds with the script’s ambiguity, Hopkins allowed the “disturbing questions to slip clean away.”38 The play’s translocal circulation shifted the constitution of the performance with its critique of East-West sexual and social politics failing to materialise. As a result, only a few critics viewed M. Butterfly as a deconstruction of racism, sexism and imperialism and none transposed this reading to British Chinese communities.39 The sole reference to the British Chinese community was in Punch and is telling: “M. Butterfly is cocktail party drama [ . . . ] and definitely catered by the Chinese: one hour later you’re hungry for a play.”40 The remark highlights the British Chinese experience of the takeaway and reveals their artistic and cultural invisibility beyond this setting (Benton and Gomez 2008). Mainstream critics therefore struggled to locate M. Butterfly but the play helped kick-start experiments in the development of British Chinese theatre as many cast members became involved in new theatrical ventures. As one critic adroitly observed: “The loudest noise in the British theatre comes from the ever swelling band of ethnic and other minority interest groups [ . . . ] Until now, the Chinese [ . . . ] have stayed aloof from the scrum.”41 M. Butterfly stimulated a wave of British Chinese productions and attempts were made at establishing a British Chinese, or East Asian, theatre community. These undertakings can be traced through the subsequent activities of M. Butterfly’s cast. David Tse, for instance, helped set up The British Chinese Theatre with Susan Leong, Toshie Ogura and John Shin (an Asian American actor involved with the Asian American Theatre company in San Francisco who had performed in London in Anything Goes). They staged The Changeling in January 1991, directed by Mark Rylance and updated to a Chinese restaurant. Critics received the production positively but its groundbreaking nature was noted by Billington (1991) who stated that: “whatever the flaws, an important principle has been established: that Chinese actors born or based in Britain have a legitimate claim on the classics.”42 The involvement of two of the group (Tse and Shin) in Asian American theatre production, albeit in a different manner, perhaps signals a political consciousness that was channelled into a British context. One strand of Asian American theatre, for instance, is concerned with staging classics as part of an agenda to offer Asian American actors greater access to roles. M. Butterfly also provided a West End leading role for a ‘Chinese’ actor, which was encouraging, and combined, these influences helped to inspire the first attempt to stage classical repertoire with British Chinese actors. However, this political consciousness operated not only regarding Asian America but also China. M. Butterfly’s London run occurred at the same time as the Tiananmen Square massacre and the cast had regularly performed a minute’s silence of remembrance. As a result, Tse felt that “the East Asian sector ought to have some kind of voice” about political issues regarding China, including the Dalai Lama’s visit to the UK in 1993.43 Tse wrote pieces in response to these issues that were staged as rehearsed readings and thus started the road to gaining Arts Council England funding

200 Performing Asian Transnationalisms for the establishment of Yellow Earth Theatre in 1995. This early suite of performances included further productions of Hwang’s work, notably The House of Sleeping Beauties in 1996. M. Butterfly was therefore performed at a nexus of translocal political events that coalesced, sparking the development of British East Asian theatre in London. Meanwhile, Tse’s M. Butterfly counterpart, Glen Goei, had shifted from acting to directing. Goei felt that M. Butterfly was the pinnacle of what he would achieve as an actor in Britain, especially given the play’s production location: I knew there was never going to be another role for a Chinese actor like that in the UK. I wasn’t prepared to go through the colour casting, the stereotyping [ . . . ] after six months on the West End with Anthony Hopkins! [ . . . ] I thought, “I’ve done the West End, I don’t need to go through that.”44 The power of racial-ethnic minoritization meant that Goei’s success (including an Olivier Award nomination) did not catapult him into a mainstream arena. When this context was combined with the experience of working on M. Butterfly, Goei turned to directing, a choice that reformed him, as he remains a director today. Goei’s artistic and political leanings led him to stay in London and direct theatre, using his social networks from M. Butterfly, alongside his transnational ones with Singapore, to do so. During M. Butterfly, the stage manager introduced Goei to a producer called Sacha Brooks (who went on to produce The Graduate and The Full Monty in the West End and on Broadway). They became good friends and took over a British Chinese community theatre established by Meeling Ng called Mu-Lan.45 Both Brooks and Goei emphasised that this was a joint venture and that the company allowed them to practice theatre whilst fulfilling a political agenda to address cultural invisibility. A special feature in The Times entitled ‘Red Dragons Need Not Apply’ reflected the company’s ethos to reject stereotypes, with Goei highlighting the desire to “provide a voice for the Chinese community.”46 He desperately wanted to “create new writing for East Asian actors in the UK and I did, giving people a lot more opportunities.”47 Mu-Lan’s remit of creating new work chimed with contemporary developments in British theatre where there was a “new writing wave” with an increased appetite for sharp, political writing.48 However, there were few plays by British Chinese writers, so when Goei returned to Singapore after M. Butterfly to visit family, he scouted for new work to stage.

FROM M. BUTTERFLY TO MU-LAN M. Butterfly, and the interpersonal networks it created, therefore invigorated the development of British East Asian (BEA) theatre. Yet Henry Ong’s

Translocal Circulation


(1989) play, Madame Mao’s Memories cemented these developments. The emergence of BEA theatre thus interwove those living and working in London with the circulation of plays and practitioners to Singapore and China. As a result, there was a translocal gathering of physical and imaginative relationships in place that were underpinned by mobility (Smith 2001). Although Ong is now a veteran of the Los Angeles theatre scene, at the time he was a Singaporean journalist who had only recently moved to the city. His one-woman play about Jiang Qing was a modest hit, being performed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Singapore. Goei found out about the play in Singapore and decided to stage it as his first MuLan production, actively extending its translocal circulation. The timing and intersection of M. Butterfly and Madame Mao’s Memories in London had a lasting effect, as the latter play pushed Mu-Lan into the public eye, despite its modest staging in the Latchmere pub theatre. Although the play is not about, or from, a British Chinese perspective, Goei cast Tsai Chin, his co-star from M. Butterfly, in the lead role. In M. Butterfly, Chin had parodied Communist Party officials as the character Comrade Chin, but now she was playing the orchestrator of the Cultural Revolution. Born in Shanghai, Chin came to London when she was 17 to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and she became a British star, an actress lauded as the China doll darling of the 1960s from her appearance on stage in The World of Suzie Wong (1959), as well as her film and television work. Chin is also the daughter of legendary Beijing Opera performer Zhou Xingfang, a high-profile target of the Cultural Revolution. This personal history added interest to the production as Chin played the woman who had openly persecuted her parents and siblings. The publicity was enhanced by Jiang Qing’s death in May 1991, before the production’s November staging. Special features on Chin litter newspapers and magazines, far outweighing the production’s size, budget and fringe-theatre status. Reporters were fascinated by Chin’s portrayal of Qing, whether she felt any resentment or bitterness, and how she coped with the demands of the role. Chin had stock answers to these questions that deflected any sentimentality and focussed on the task at hand: “I’m a professional and we have a clinical side, like a surgeon in war operating on an enemy. We still have to do a job.”49 Such comments suggest the removal of personal feeling from performance, something also evidenced when Chin described “trying to understand” Madame Mao’s motivations as a part of her character creation.50 Reporters seemed disappointed by the fact that there was “no extraordinary display of emotion.”51 Nevertheless, their writing focussed on Chin’s performance as Madame Mao, particularly in special features on rehearsals: A small Chinese woman [ . . . ] is speaking quietly. [ . . . ] As she says the words, her face, a moment ago hard and lined with angry bombast is soft with sadness and vulnerability. The portrayal of fury and malevolence that came before was chilling but not so disturbing as this.52


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Emotional shifts and subtleties emphasised Chin’s acting ability. They also marketed the play by quoting the script and giving an impression of Chin’s delivery. Her performance stands out in reviews as the defining feature of the production, being praised as “truly startling”53 and “accomplished.” 54 Chin was the star attraction and the fascination with her performance was augmented by its interweaving with her life history and Chinese connections. Most backstage reports mentioned her chain smoking, green tea, petite figure and leather jacket, setting her famous exotic glamour against a sharp toughness.55 This production was the beginning of Mu-Lan’s success as they developed a profi le of award-winning and fi nancially successful plays, including Porcelain (1992), The Magic Fundoshi (1993), Suzy Wrong Human Cannon (1994) and Takeaway (1996). In London, British Chinese theatre was characterised by a dynamism and energy unrivalled before or since, with different approaches and aesthetics being discernible. Mu-Lan’s focus on new writing combined plays set in East Asia with a British sensibility (The Magic Fundoshi is set in feudal Japan but draws on Restoration Comedy) with plays about the British Chinese experience. This approach contrasted with Yellow Earth’s focus on using East Asian performance techniques in plays based on Chinese or Japanese mythology (such as The Magic Paintbrush (1997) and Rashomon (2001)), and a rivalry grew up between the companies. I would argue that M. Butterfly catalysed artists to undertake these theatrical explorations. The play’s translocal circulation, staging, and casting highlighted the cultural invisibility of British Chinese, whilst allowing people with different cultural trajectories to connect. These relationships were then channelled into activities that relied upon the further translocal circulation of plays and practitioners, but galvanised both British-born and naturalised artists to raise the profi le of BEA theatre. In suggesting this, I do not mean that M. Butterfly created this impetus as these ideas were starting to emerge, but that it accelerated and consolidated efforts. The remainder of this section follows Goei and the early life of Mu-Lan by focussing on its most famous and acclaimed production: Chay Yew’s Porcelain. It is here that the translocal circulation of people and plays becomes most apparent, but also multi-faceted in terms of the geography and quality of mobility involved. The story behind the play’s creation, as well as what Porcelain stimulated, demonstrates that translocal circulation is a productive, but also tenuous form of mobility that builds networks between places. In this context, Goei’s own translocal circulation to and from Singapore established lateral networks and, in turn, allowed practitioners to develop their theatrical skills. Following Goei’s trajectory demonstrates that he was the characteristic transnational migrant; he did not simply return ‘home’, rather he retained ties to Singapore whilst actively shaping the cultural life of London through Mu-Lan (Basch et al 1994). Chay Yew’s 1992 play Porcelain tells the story of John Lee, a British Chinese man who shoots his white lover Will in a public toilet in Bethnal

Translocal Circulation


Green. The story is told in flashbacks through John’s questioning by a criminal psychologist, gradually revealing how his racial and emotional isolation lead him to cottaging and ultimately murder. Porcelain was written specifically for Mu-Lan at Goei’s invitation. When Goei visited Singapore after M. Butterfly, he met Yew who had returned from America having completed a MA at Boston University. Although they knew one another from school, during this period they became friends and Goei encouraged Yew to visit London and write a play. Yew accepted the offer as he already had the idea for Porcelain and wanted an opportunity to reflect on the direction of his career: “Basically I went to London because Glen invited me to come over to write a play for this company. [ . . . ] Glen took a risk, as he could have said, ‘Oh I don’t know, we’ll see.’”56 Yew highlighted the element of risk in staging Porcelain as Mu-Lan was establishing itself. As a result, the production’s development was founded on social networks of trust and friendship formed in Singapore that were then transposed to London. Yew’s experience of living in London was very different to Goei’s. His time in the city was a passing through, what he called “a stop gap”, a moment of settlement in his circulation back to America and his movement to Los Angeles from Boston. 57 Yet it was artistically productive, and directly shaped the style, rhythm and substance of Porcelain, demonstrating how performance is created translocally in place whilst including elements of mobility. In interview, Yew described his working class friends, clubbing and how this impacted on his writing: I had a lot of British friends, they were working class, they had stalls at Kensington market and we went clubbing every night. Eventually I picked up their ways. They used these colloquial idioms which I loved hearing and I used them. When I was writing the play, these expressions poured onto the page. There is a rhythm to the speech and it is almost musical. [ . . . ] As Mu-Lan was a British Chinese Theatre Company I wanted to set Porcelain in London [ . . . ] I would come home from clubbing and I would write the play. 58 The language of Porcelain and the stage directions for East London accents sets the play distinctly in the city. Yew’s experiences of his life there, of what he described as feeling isolated on the tube, of not making eye contact in an urban environment, of feeling more of a minority in London than in America, led him to write a play about marginalisation through the intersection of race, class and sexuality. His experiences were reflected in the staging, which comprised five actors sat on stools in a line, delivering the play directly to the audience (see Figure 8.1). The actors never interacted and rarely touched, spatially removed from one another in imaginative toilet cubicles that reinforced the sense of alienation, and made “any contact [ . . . ] purely sexual” (see Figure 8.2).59


Performing Asian Transnationalisms

Figure 8.1 From left to right: David Tysall, Adam Matalon, Daniel York, Julien Ball and Mark Aiken in Chay Yew’s Porcelain at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1992. ©Gregory Krijgsman, photo courtesy of Gregory Krijgsman.

Figure 8.2 Daniel York and Mark Aiken in Chay Yew’s Porcelain at the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1992. ©Gregory Krijgsman, photo courtesy of Gregory Krijgsman.

Translocal Circulation


Like Goei, it was only through translocal mobility that Yew became overtly minoritized as British Chinese, and after six months he decided to move to Los Angeles and try working as a writer in Hollywood. 60 However, Porcelain developed not only through the translocal circulation of people between Singapore and London, but also through the translocal circulation of writing between London and Los Angeles as Yew and Goei re-drafted the play. The process was materially difficult as they faxed changes to each other and discussed them by telephone.61 Yet the act of writing also highlights the layered mobilities behind Porcelain’s production, between Goei as the more settled translocal migrant building connections to his host society and Yew as the (at that point) more mobile writer who had recently moved to Los Angeles. Developing the play created a frantic shuttling to and fro between translocalities and as Yew settled in LA, he in turn extended the play’s circulatory production through performances at the Celebration Theatre and East West Players. As a result, Porcelain helped cement networks between Asian American, BEA and Singaporean theatres. In examining the translocal circulations through which the play developed, it is easy to overlook how it was grounded in London and the venue of the Royal Court Theatre in particular. Translocalism entails paying attention to this duality: to how localities are embroiled in much wider geographies (Oakes and Schein 2006). Porcelain opened in London’s fringe at the Etcetera Theatre on May 12 1992 where it was seen by Royal Court scouts. It became the fi rst play ever to transfer to the Royal Court and fitted the theatre’s established brief of producing cutting-edge new writing. However, Royal Court archives show that another motivation for staging Porcelain was that it would appeal to British Asian audiences. A report produced in January 1991 suggested that the Royal Court needed to do more to reach out and cater to people from Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities (Baines 1991). Porcelain therefore directly responded to the Royal Court’s diversity initiatives, and Goei reinforced this fit in press reports through comments such as, “We’re all trying to fi nd our own ways of belonging in a multicultural society—Porcelain speaks to that.”62 The play did attract an ethnically and sexually diverse audience, with many being viscerally aff ected by the story. Daniel York, who played John Lee, remembered how he would say his lines to people sitting close to him and they would “lose it, they would sit there and start crying.”63 Reviews were unanimously positive, suggesting that “there is not a crack to be seen”64 in this “intense and absorbing drama.”65 Porcelain captured the British public’s imagination and became a hit during its three-week Royal Court run with people queuing around the block for return tickets. Its success was reinforced when it won Mu-Lan best play, best actor and best ensemble awards at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards the following year, establishing the company as a pioneer for British Chinese practitioners.

206 Performing Asian Transnationalisms CONCLUSION: CIRCULATING TO THE BEGINNING Despite Mu-Lan’s success, Goei was unable to be anything other than an ethnic director and he felt increasingly ghettoized by race, nationality and class. Ultimately, Goei thought that he was perceived as not having the right background, not only because he was not British or white, but also because he was not ex-public school or from Cambridge’s “Footlights old boy’s network”—a group he felt had a grip on British theatre at the time. 66 Despite the diversity of London’s theatre scene, and his company’s critical and commercial success, Goei did not receive or obtain additional offers of work. He found himself stagnating as a director because he could only afford to produce one play a year with Mu-Lan. Rather Goei needed to “hone my craft [ . . . ] I needed to be doing a play every three, four or six months, not every year, and I wasn’t getting opportunities to do that.”67 Eventually, Goei started returning to Singapore, particularly to SRT, which was furnishing those opportunities. He conducted a form of circular migration where he would return to Singapore once or twice a year to work for 5-week slots in order to rehearse and mount productions, before returning to London and Mu-Lan. Accounts of transnational circulation in migration studies are generally interpreted as short-term movements that are directed away from a homeland but which remain oriented towards returning to a place of belonging (see Dahinden 2010; Parreñas-Salazar 2010). Goei’s mobility complicates these assumptions and descriptions. Firstly, his motivations were more artistic than emotional. He was driven by the need to practice and develop his craft and his opportunities felt limited by his racial and class identities in the UK. Secondly, conventional accounts of circulatory migration would suggest that Singapore was where Goei wanted to return. However, the fact that he spent so much time returning to London highlights his transmigrancy, as he loved the city’s cultural and theatrical scene and was unwilling to simply give it up (Basch et al 1994). His circulation between London and Singapore was thus initially tenuous and provisional. Yet ultimately, he found that living in London was engendering a loss of creative inspiration: “It was difficult. We weren’t getting support in terms of [Arts Council England] funding and the Chinese community. [ . . . ] The energy and the creativity got sapped, because we were dealing with bureaucracy and looking for money the whole time.”68 The difficulty of effecting social change combined with a lack of support, impacted on his imagination such that “I no longer had something to say.”69 He gradually travelled more to Singapore to develop his directing and eventually returned permanently. In Singapore Goei feels he has that artistic voice despite the censorship that Wild Rice experiences, the artistically and commercially successful theatre company he runs with Ivan Heng. The social context of Singapore makes him take risks that disrupt government and audience expectations. In short, Singapore enables Goei to be creative, but his was a gradual shift

Translocal Circulation


in circulatory activity, rather than a straightforward geographically directional choice. This snapshot of the relations and motivations behind Mu-Lan in its early years highlights that theatrical production operates through, and stimulates, circulation. M. Butterfly not only had a translocal genesis and a series of translocal stagings, but in London helped produce physical and imaginative translocal geographies that centred on the capital. This play, particularly via the social and professional networks of its cast, was connected to an emerging British Chinese or British East Asian theatre scene, especially through Mu-Lan. Yet when these connections are held together in a chain reaction with Madame Mao’s Memories and Porcelain, it is possible to see how translocalism emerges from a specific place (London) whilst simultaneously stretching beyond it to situate that place in broader networks (Smith 2005). The circulation of practitioners led to the creation and circulation of plays that, in time, established translocal networks between New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and London. These lateral networks were not pre-established, but forged and cemented through mobilities driven by artistic risk, friendship and the desire for political change. Yet they also helped accelerate the establishment of a British Chinese theatrical presence in place at a particular moment. The productions and activities discussed here also enabled other circulations and networks to develop. When Goei returned to Singapore, he employed British actors in productions owing to their acting abilities and friendships; for instance, Daniel York most recently appeared in his awardwinning production of The Importance of Being Earnest (2013) as part of an all-male cast. As Goei migrated back, he pulled people with him, sustaining circular migration between London and Singapore. As British Chinese and Singaporean actors based in London worked with Mu-Lan and then with Goei in Singapore, they were sometimes offered additional work on modern classics alongside Asian American actors, such as in The Glass Menagerie (1996). These circulations, alongside those discussed throughout the chapter, provided the basis for the transnational networks analysed at the start of this book in Chapter 1, dovetailing with an emerging Singaporean arts scene and the need for Singaporean practitioners to gain experience. As the epicentre of these networks shifted from M. Butterfly’s Los Angeles-New York genesis, to London’s Mu-Lan, to Singaporean theatre and back again, the mobility of plays, practitioners and performance eventually came full circle.

Conclusion A Slice of Transnationalism, Performance and Asian Identity

Interdisciplinary exchanges between geography and theatre studies constitute a growing fi eld of enquiry. Performing Asian Transnationalisms speaks to this fi eld and directly contributes to it through its analysis of the transnational spaces created by, performed in, and consumed through, theatre. Geographers have turned to performance as part of a suite of artistic activities that address the making of creative worlds, especially as disciplinary developments have become focussed on embodiment and praxis (see Hawkins 2014). Dance, theatre and performance art provide tantalising insights into the experiential, embodied qualities of geographies-in-the-making, as well as their political and ethical challenges. Simultaneously, academics in theatre and performance studies have looked towards human geography as part of a broader ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities, examining performance’s relationship to geographical formations such as landscapes and cities, but also to the construction of meaning through spatial arrangements on stage (see Rogers 2012b for an overview). Indeed, as McAuley (2000: 1) reminds us, theatre and geography are co-constitutive, with theatre being the only art where “the name given to the place where the artistic event occurs is the same as that of the art form itself.” However, existing interdisciplinary exchanges are often focussed on performances that occur in place, addressing the micropolitics of practice and its specifi c locations. In extending this fi eld of enquiry, this book has taken a broader purview, examining the variegated relationship between transnational geographies and theatrical practice. In so doing, my research has developed an analytical perspective that pulls together spaces of theatre production, spaces articulated in and through performance and spaces created by theatrical circulation and reception, producing a layered, geographical account of transnationalism in performance. I have pursued this agenda through a focus on Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatres, also developing our understanding of these contexts by demonstrating that they are not solely framed by nationality, particularly those that may be conventionally described as ‘ethnic minority’ performance.



DEVELOPING TRANSNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIES OF PERFORMANCE More specifically, this volume has brought geographical ideas around the multiplicity of transnational space to the analysis of theatre. In one sense this is driven by the empirical imperative of “bringing geography back in” to the study and discourse of transnationalism more widely (Mitchell 1997: 102). Rather than view transnationalism as a field of flows, or as a series of activities that simply occur ‘in space’ or ‘across space’, attention is paid to the different geographical formations and modes of spatiality produced through transnational activity. Transnational space is constantly being reconfigured, opening up our understanding of how cross-border activity is “an increasingly important part of everyday life both within and beyond processes of migration” (Collins 2009: 438). Geographers use transnationalism as an ‘optic’, as a way of analysing the spatial specifics of processes that simultaneously stretch within, across and beyond the nation-state (Smith 2001). In this respect, discourses on transnationalism share a concern with those of globalisation but they are differentiated by their geographical underpinnings. As Jackson et al (2004: 4) argue, “transnationality is a geographical term, centrally concerned with reconfigurations in relations with place, landscape and space.” This study has analysed such reconfigurations and their relationship to, and influence on, theatrical imaginations, activities and processes. My research and approach here therefore chimes with, and develops, contemporary work in theatre and performance studies that analyses the relationship between theatre and globalisation. For instance, Lei’s (2011) study of contemporary Chinese Opera examines the cross-border circulation of performances through a core-periphery model of relations (where mainland China is the ‘core’, and territories such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and the wider diaspora are the ‘peripheries’). This volume extends such an analysis in its attention to different modes of spatiality, to the specifics of cross-border relations and how these relations illuminate our understanding of the practices and politics in which theatre is embroiled. As well as viewing performances as a “product of globalisation” or as depicting its effects, a transnational optic also reveals how theatre produces and orders these cross-border spatialities (ibid. 7). Capturing this dialogic interplay is crucial in establishing a transnational analysis of the geographies of theatre, one that fully accounts for theatre’s imbrication in cross-border fields. In its focus on process and flow, globalisation also tends to assume that the world is constantly changing, with locally rooted places either sitting still and resisting this change, adapting to it or being erased by it (Escobar 2001). Theatrical forms, practitioners and practices can embody this fluidity and mobility, with studies of itinerant performers and the cross-cultural encounters they create providing “perspective on ethical and professional conundrums faced in today’s global acumen by those moving continuously

210 Performing Asian Transnationalisms between cultures and continents” (Cohen 2010: 3; see also Ng 2005). However, in a geographical understanding, transnationalism does not simply consider movement, stasis or the “false opposition” between them (Jackson et al 2004: 8). Rather, it captures their dialectical relationship in order to illustrate how cultural forms, such as theatre, “sit in place” to enable a series of attachments, interactions and spatialities to emerge (Escobar 2001: 142). This study has been inspired by these ideas in its analysis of the relationship between transnationalism and performance. The opening section of the book set a broader context for examining the interrelationships between Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean theatres. It traced the transnational networks between these contexts, examining how and why such interconnections have been established, the negotiations that artists face in attempts to traverse these different theatrical worlds and some of the barriers to movement that they may encounter. It also examined the contradictory impacts and politics of movement on the production of identity through a focus on intersectionality. These chapters therefore highlighted how theatre allows different identities to be expressed, reinforced, explored and reconfigured. The section ‘Transnationalism in Context’ examined how transnational imaginations, processes and cultural forms are reworked in each of the three theatrical contexts covered by this book. Each chapter explored the production and negotiation of a different geography, including the spatial reshuffling of scale, different modalities of displacement and cross-cultural engagement in and across place. In so doing, it opened up each empirical setting, highlighting the range of transnational forces that they encompass. The section ‘Transnationalism across Contexts’ examined different facets of interconnection on each side of the Asian American, British East Asian and Singaporean triangle. The lateral dynamics of transnationalism were again configured differently in each chapter, from the asymmetrical relationships between Scottish and Singaporean practitioners and the shifting spaces that framed their interactions, to the relational spaces, flows and territories between Asian American, British East Asian and other performers in creating a protest, to the translocal circulation of performances, plays and practitioners that helped catalyse the development of East Asian theatre in the UK. A common theme across these empirical chapters is the tension between national and transnational formations, whether in their resurgence, reconstruction or unravelling. Many commentators have drawn attention to the fact that transnationality contains within it that which it negates, and this study is no exception. However, in framing and ordering the book, my intention has not been to simply oppose settlement and grounding against movement and flow, the national against the transnational. Rather, when thinking across the chapters, the two are seen as existing in dialogue, coming into focus at different moments. If anything, taking an approach that emphasises the construction of transnationalism by and through theatre breaks these oppositions down to illustrate the constant reconfiguration—and indeed multiplicity—of transnational geographies. This book has started to provide an insight



into these complexities, highlighting that there are “differing levels, forms and practices of investment” in transnationality (Jackson et al 2004: 21).

CREATIVE TRANSNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIES When thinking in reverse, an artistic focus also provides new insights into geographical work on transnational culture. Theatre provides a way to consider transnational imaginations and practices in tandem with one another, and, quite literally, to explore such connections through live bodies. Indeed, geographers have already started to use theatre as a way not only to represent transnationalism and its conflicting and contradictory politics, but also to investigate, challenge and debate these forces in subtle ways (Johnston and Pratt 2010). However, there is a danger of only using theatre as a mode of public engagement or outreach, whereas here I argue that attending to theatre itself can provide insights into how people imagine and negotiate their place in the world. Indeed, this volume has highlighted that theatre is a creative and nuanced medium for exploring ideas, identities and processes across borders, because making work in one place always occurs in relation to the real or imagined experience of another. The very nature of theatre as combining representation and more liminal or elusive dynamics means that although its creative practices can reinforce existing ideologies and forces, there is also the potential to be reflective, subversive and utopian, reimagining the transnational as much as representing it. Theatre as a creative cultural product is therefore both the agent and medium for expressing and forging transnational geographies. As a result, it also contributes to a geographical understanding of transnationalism as a variegated, proliferating spatiality, particularly beyond quite codified understandings of transnational communities that focus solely on migrants (Crang et al 2003). This volume has illustrated that theatre involves multiple components (ideas, practitioners, scripts, fi nance—but also dances or costumes) each of which differentially travels, is differently imagined, and, therefore, is differently related to transnational fields. This means that to think about theatre as a cultural product means attending to its multiple layers of spatiality. It is not simply that theatre may represent a transnational geography in its narrative or imagery, but that it is also composed of multiple transnational geographies that come together through embodied practice. As a result, the spatial aesthetic and form of theatre, particularly as it travels, is always under construction; it never simply moves ‘from one place to another’ in an unshifting, uniform manner (Kwon 2004). Rather it is highly specific, bringing together different flows, places, practitioners and audiences as it responds to, and constantly makes, cross-border activity. Such a realisation requires an attention to the multiple spaces of creative process, production and reception. My account here extends existing cultural geographical analyses of creative practice because its transnational

212 Performing Asian Transnationalisms purview brings together different spaces. It develops an understanding of creative production as not simply occurring in a space, or reflecting that space, but situating it in relation to others at different scales because transnationalism works across, or along, these geographies at the same time. This volume builds on research that considers the relationship between art and place, but that simultaneously views creative production in a broader spatial frame. For instance, as Alison Bain (2013) has demonstrated, being able to make art in a studio may be linked to that studio’s position in a suburb, which itself embodies certain understandings of creative practice and lifestyle that in turn are forged in relation to experiences of a city centre. Similarly here, examining the shifting spatialities of the Singapore Arts Festival entailed understanding the movement of practitioners and performances transnationally, exploring how these may be deployed to promote Singapore’s position trans-regionally regarding its Asian neighbours, as well as the city-state’s own national image, whilst also recognising that the involvement of Singaporean citizens in performance may work in and through particular urban spaces. Although current analyses focus on creative production in quite variegated spaces, few examine cross-border influences (but see Morris 2005; Gibson et al 2010; Rogers 2011) and even fewer consider how transnationality connects different spaces together, making this volume a significant contribution to geographical analyses of artistic practice. To elucidate these dynamics, Performing Asian Transnationalisms has analysed theatrical performance ‘in the round’, displaying a shifting focus on the performance world. Sometimes my analysis emphasises the script, at other times the production, elsewhere, practitioners, rehearsals and training come to the fore, or the organisations and events that forge transnational geographies. As a result, this study is not simply concerned with the aesthetics of performance but also with theatrical process and reception, with the work that performance can do in different cultural and political contexts (see also Cohen 2010; Lei 2011). It also examines the imaginative and social forces that drive the movement (or lack thereof) of practitioners and plays (see also Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). The book therefore attends to theatre-making in its broadest sense in considering how performance relates to the promotion or reconstruction of transnational geographies, connecting production, performance and reception together in a geographical study. In this regard, ‘transnational performance’ or ‘transnational theatre’ is not a singular coherent entity, but a multiply inflected field that is unpicked by attending to the different spaces being produced or imagined as well as their interrelationship with different elements of theatre praxis.

PERFORMING ASIAN TRANSNATIONALISMS This book provides one prism, therefore, on a very complex series of engagements. It does so by focussing on different English language ‘Asian’



theatre communities. Asian American and British East Asian theatres are often analysed as minority theatres under the rubric of national multiculturalism. Such a focus lies on analysing the politics of representation (particularly regarding race) and on the desire to promote equal opportunities, to be seen as a fully functioning part of American or British society. In these narratives, to be viewed as transnational seems to suggest either a lack of belonging or a lack of commitment to the project of fighting marginalisation. In challenging defi nitions of ‘transnational communities’ as migrants who establish sustained bi-national ties, this book concomitantly challenges assumptions regarding ‘minorities’ as only being nationally orientated (see also Lo et al 2010; Carruthers 2013). Rather, these two fields often overlap in more complex and interesting ways. In this study, I have examined how the transnational movement of plays and practitioners can help forge a collective minor identity in ways that are politically empowering. This occurs imaginatively as well as physically, and can escape the easy assumption that to partake in transnational culture automatically equates with attempts to connect with one’s heritage in Asia. Instead, connecting with theatres from Asia and from other diasporic or Asian minority communities can create new dialogues and reinforce the production of identity. My research here has also highlighted how agendas around representation and equal opportunity are shared, and indeed, how transnational alliances can be harnessed to create new political openings. This occurred not only regarding The Orphan of Zhao controversy, but also through creating works about identities in one context that could then be used to challenge the marginalisation of those identities in another (such as trans identities or homosexual identities in Singapore through plays such as An Occasional Orchid and M. Butterfly, or stereotypical expectations about Asians in plays such as wAve). As Yan (2005: 242) suggests, in situations marked by transnationalism “the dialectic between the performer and the spectator is brought forth as a focus for imagining a complex shifting of the socially given positionality of all those present and involved.” This volume addresses how marginalisation along a range of axes relates to transnationality in ways that may, or may not, be politically progressive. In so doing, it considers how theatre not only practices diversity, but also, through its transnational orientations, can potentially reconfigure it. My research therefore speaks to, and extends, investigations of the transnational circulation of Asian theatres. Much of this work is framed in terms of diaspora, globalisation, and the tension between tradition and modernity, examining how theatre articulates notions of home, belonging and identity, but also addressing how contemporary cross-border flows are intensifying adaptations in traditional Asian theatre forms. Younger generations of artists are less concerned with undertaking decades of training but are rather establishing transnational dialogues at the inception of their creative practice and careers. Cohen and Noszlopy (2010) draw attention to the historical lineages of mutual borrowing in South East Asian theatres, as

214 Performing Asian Transnationalisms well as the regional politics underpinning such exchanges. Indeed, in Chapter 3 I have highlighted how Singapore positioned itself as a pre-eminent regional cultural centre through theatre, through the confluence of tradition and modernity. Yet the politics of transnationalism regarding Asia extends throughout the diaspora and filters into so-called ‘multicultural’ communities—especially as global economic power shifts East. As discussed in Chapter 2, this is the terrain of Damon Chua’s A Book by Its Cover, which addresses Asian American relationships to Asia in these terms. It is also part of the impetus behind Refugee Nation discussed in Chapter 4, where the legacies of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War are being negotiated in the production of Lao American communities. More widely, the increasing power of East and South East Asia economically and politically renews attempts to fi nd emplacement abroad, increases feelings of security as part of a diaspora, and provides a mechanism for exploring the reconstruction of identity through transnationalism. In theatre, these processes occur as much among second-generation Asian minorities as transnational migrants. This book therefore opens up the transnational webs and threads connecting contexts that may otherwise be simplistically characterised as ‘majority’ or ‘minority.’ However, by no means does this study exhaust the possibilities of an Asian field of transnationalism and performance. Even within the contexts discussed, there is a range of unexamined dynamics, geographies and encounters that are created by practitioners as they explore opportunities for theatre-making at home and abroad. For instance, David Yip and Kevin Wong’s Gold Mountain (2010) explores the migrant lives of British Chinese sailors through a focus on Yip’s father, but the production was created through minor to minor networks inflected not only by race, but also language and culture, as transnational collaboration occurred between Liverpool’s Unity Theatre and Québécois company Les Deux Mondes. Bilingual theatre productions in Mandarin and English (such as Yellow Earth Theatre’s Lear in 2006) open up a broader consideration of the relationship between translation and transnationalism, as do the translated readings of works by Singaporean Chinese playwright Chong Tze Chien that occurred as part of a ‘Pop Up Singapore House’ in London in 2012. These latter performances remained ethnically and diasporically orientated, allowing Singaporeans studying and living abroad to keep abreast of cultural works ‘at home’, even as the performers reflected the diversity of the British East Asian community. The global Asian American film star from the 1920s and 1930s, Anna May Wong, has inspired a number of theatrical pieces that parallel her own transnational trajectory as she garnered fame in America, Europe and China. These include Asian American playwright Elizabeth Wong’s (2005) biopic China Doll: The imagined life of an American actress, to British Chinese productions such as Anna Chen’s (2009) Anna May Wong Must Die!—a piece that includes Chen’s satirical performance poetry about Wong’s life. Chinatown Arts Space’s (2010)



production Piccadilly Revisited showed Wong’s (1929) British silent fi lm Piccadilly with a Chinese orchestra playing a specially commissioned score, alongside videos, dances and performances inspired by the film. This multimedia production also drew parallels between Wong’s experience of racial discrimination in the US and that faced by British East Asian artists. However, the piece was not only shown in the UK because it became inserted into transnational touring circuits, being performed at the Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Macau Arts Festival. As it toured, it also changed form to involve fewer live performances and became more digitised, being reminiscent of Ferrari’s (2008) emphasis on the trans in transnationalism. These examples, which come simply from a British perspective, display the layering of transnationalism both in performance and of performance, but they also demonstrate the multiple circuits (physical and imaginative) within which Asian performances are embroiled. This book has therefore attempted to capture one slice of the interconnections between theatres in Singapore, the UK and the US, whilst also conveying a sense of the messy and excessive nature of transnationality in each context. In so doing, it points towards how Asian identities and our understandings of multicultural diversity are being both renegotiated and reinforced in the context of cross-border activity. However, I have argued that transnationalism is not simply a series of disembodied flows but involves an ever-shifting negotiation and reconfiguration of spatiality. In turn, this process influences, and is influenced by, the practice of theatremaking. This study recognises that practitioners’ social, cultural and creative networks extend beyond place, beyond the nation, beyond regions, but also that theatre helps “actively imagine and perform” these spatialities into existence through the constant interplay between flow and friction, de- and re-territorialisation (Cohen and Noszlopy 2010: 2). A focus on transnational geographies therefore breaks down a simplistic dichotomy between the local and the global, but it also cannot just be equated to an analysis of cross-border networks. Rather, theatre enacts transnationalism as a more variable, complex and contradictory spatial phenomenon. In so doing, this book productively extends existing interchanges between geography and theatre studies through its spatially extensive focus. Performing Asian Transnationalisms explores the multiplicity of transnational spaces, and of Asian theatrical entanglements with these spaces, as practitioners grapple with an intensely interconnected world.

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NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION 1. T. Dang and L. Chan, ‘Welcome Message.’ The 3rd National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival Programme. 2011. p.1. 2. Personal correspondence with David Tse, actor and former Artistic Director of Yellow Earth Theatre. (9 March 2012).

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1 1. Personal interview with Tim Dang, Producing Artistic Director of East West Players, Los Angeles. (25 June 2011). 2. Personal interview with Chay Yew, writer and director, Minneapolis. (5 June 2008). 3. Personal interview with Ryun Yu, actor, Los Angeles. (July 2008). 4. Personal interview with Daniel York, actor, writer and director. (19 December 2008). 5. Personal interview with Adrian Pang, actor and director, Singapore. (24 October 2008). 6. Personal interview with Marilyn Tokuda, actress, Los Angeles. (29 June 2011). 7. Marcus Tan, ‘The Theory of Everything.’ The Flying Inkpot Reviews [online]. Available at: Posted: 22 October 2000. Accessed: 19 March 2011. 8. Personal interview with Emily Kuroda, actress, Los Angeles. (20 June 2011). 9. Personal interview with David Yip, actor, London. (25 June 2009). 10. Personal interview, Yu (July 2008). 11. Personal interview, Lim Kay Siu, actor, Singapore. (27 October 2008). 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Personal interview, Jean Tay, playwright, London. (23 October 2009). 15. Personal interview, Noorlinah Mohammed, actress, Warwick. (12 January 2010). 16. Personal interview, Tina Chiang, actress, London. (16 January 2009). 17. Personal interview, Jennifer Lim, actress, London. (13 March 2009). 18. Personal interview, Velina Hasu Houston, playwright, Los Angeles. (1 July 2011). 19. Personal interview, David Henry Hwang, playwright, New York. (31 March 2011).

218 Notes 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

Ibid. Personal interview, Ashley Alymann, actor, London. (2 February 2010). Personal interview, actor, London. (Name and date withheld). Personal interview, Jeremy Tiang, playwright, Los Angeles. (24 June 2011). Personal interview, Dang (25 June 2011). Personal interview, Kuroda (20 June 2011). Personal interview, Francois Chou, actor, Los Angeles. (29 June 2011). Personal correspondence, C. Amanda Maud, actress, London. (15 January 2013). Personal correspondence, Kevin Shen, actor, London. (15 January 2013). Personal correspondence, Maud (15 January 2013). Philip W. Chung, ‘An Asian American Artist in London.’ AsianWeek [online]. Available at: Posted: 25 July 2008. Accessed: 30 July 2008. Personal correspondence, Shen (15 January 2013). This production then transferred to The Shed at the National Theatre, where it ran from 5–24 May 2014. Lyn Gardner, ‘Yellow Face—review.’ The Guardian Online. Available at:

Posted: 29 May 2013. Accessed: 1 June 2013. Matt Trueman, ‘Yellow Face.’ Time Out London [online]. Available at: Posted: 24 May. Accessed: 1 June 2013. Personal interview, Tisa Chang, Artistic Director Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, New York. (7 April 2011). Personal interview, Yip (25 June 2009). Personal interview, J. Lim (13 March 2009). Ibid. Ibid. Personal interview, K. S. Lim (27 October 2008). Personal interview, Deborah Png, actress, Los Angeles. (30 June 2011). Personal interview, Kuo Jian Hong, Artistic Director, The Theatre Practice, Singapore. (18 October 2008). Ong is now a US citizen. Personal interview, Damon Chua, playwright, Los Angeles. (21 June 2011). Ibid.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 2 1. Personal interview with Chowee Leow, actor, London. (30 April 2013). 2. Ibid. 3. Personal interview with Ivan Heng, Founding Artistic Director of Wild Rice, Singapore. (October 2008). 4. Personal interview, Leow. (30 April 2013). 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Personal interview with Rosaline Ting, playwright, London. (17 January 2012). 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Personal interview with Damon Chua, playwright, Los Angeles. (21 June 2011). 11. Ibid. 12. Personal correspondence with Damon Chua, playwright, New York. (3 May 2013).



13. Interview with Damon Chua and Janet Song. LA Arts Stream [online]. Available at: Posted: 30 June 2011. Accessed: 2 September 2011. 14. Personal interview, Chua. (21 June 2011).

NOTES TO CHAPTER 3 1. Personal interview with Goh, Ching Lee, formerly Director of the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (16 June 2010). 2. National Arts Council (NAC), 2010. Making Connections. Press statement. Available at: Posted: 3 March 2010. Accessed: 10 June 2012. 3. Anonymous interview. (name and date withheld). 4. Personal interview with Alvin Tan, Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage, Singapore. (13 May 2010). 5. Personal interview with Low, Kee Hong, then General Manager of the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (12 May 2010). 6. Quoted in Adeline Chia, ‘Asia under One Roof.’ The Straits Times, 14 May 2010. p.C4. 7. Personal interview, Low. (12 May 2010). 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Personal interview, Tan. (13 May 2010). 13. Quoted in Adeline Chia, ‘Flirty, Feisty and Now Nasty.’ The Straits Times, 20 May 2010. p.C9. 14. K. K. Seet quoted in ibid. 15. Mayo Martin, M. ‘Singapore Arts Fest! The original Little Nyonya! Emily over the Hill?’ For Art’s Sake! Blog [blog]. Available at: Posted: 12 June 2010. Accessed: 15 June 2010. 16. Personal interview, Tan. (13 May 2010). 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Anonymous audience member. (19 May 2010). 20. Dax (online name), ‘“Those Who Can’t, Teach” by The Necessary Stage.’ Singapore Arts Festival [blog comment]. Available at: Posted: 31 May 2010, 4.27pm. Accessed: 15 June 2010. 21. In Singapore, the Media Development Authority censors representations that run counter to government discourses on nationhood. Yeo’s plays chart the relationships between a group of students, using friendship as a veil for challenging Singaporean politics, particularly the single party system. Similarly, homosexuality remains illegal in Singapore and although Wild Rice Theatre Company staged Wong’s trilogy in 2003, to stage them in the SAF would be to condone the lifestyles portrayed. 22. Personal interview, Tan. (13 May 2010). 23. Personal interview, Low. (12 May 2010). 24. Ibid.



25. Personal interview with Jeff rey Tan, Education and Outreach officer of the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (18 June 2010). 26. Personal interview, Low. (12 May 2010). 27. Anonymous participant, Singapore. (13 June 2010). 28. Rui An, ‘Cargo Travellin’ Thru.’ Singapore Arts Festival [blog]. Available at: Posted: 1 June 2010. Accessed: 22 June 2010. 29. Bryan Tan, ‘Cargo Kuala Kumpur—Singapore.’ Singapore Arts Festival [blog]. Available at: Posted: 13 May 2010. Accessed: 22 June 2010. 30. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (28 May 2010). 31. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (28 May 2010). 32. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (28 May 2010). 33. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (28 May 2010). 34. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (27 May 2010). 35. Anonymous workshop participant, Singapore. (6 June 2010). 36. Stephanie Burridge, ‘Monster Mayhem.’ The Flying Inkpot [website]. Available at: Posted: 8 June 2010. Accessed: 22 June 2010. 37. See Yi-Sheng Ng, ‘Second Language.’ The Flying Inkpot [website]. Available at: Posted: 20 May 2012. Accessed: 7 Aug 2013. 38. NAC, 2012. Singapore Arts Festival. Press statement. Available at: Posted: 5 June 2012. Accessed: 10 June 2012. 39. Ibid. 40. Lawrence Wong, ‘Budget 2013: Singapore Arts Festival to return in 2014.’ The Straits Times [online]. Available at: Posted: 15 March 2013. Accessed: 8 August 2013.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 4 1. The 1965 law abolished the exclusion of Asian, African and Latin American migration to the US, and moved from a quota system based on national origin to one linked to skills and family relationships. See Lowe 1996 for further details. 2. Personal interview with Liz Casasola, actress, New York. (31 March 2011). 3. Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld. 4. Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld. 5. Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld. 6. Personal interview with Antoine Reynaldo Diel, actor, Los Angeles. (June 2005). 7. Personal interview with Giovanni Ortega, actor, Los Angeles. (May 2005). 8. Personal interview with Mel Maghuyop, actor, New York. (29 March 2011). 9. Personal interview with Jaygee Macapugay, actress, New York. (10 April 2011). 10. Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld. 11. Personal interview with Liza Del Mundo, actress, Los Angeles. (June 2005). 12. Ibid. 13. Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld.

Notes 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.


Personal interview, Macapugay. (10 April 2011). Ibid. Personal interview, Del Mundo. (June 2005). Personal interview, Tim Dang, Producing Artistic Director, East West Players, Los Angeles. (June 2005). Observation diary. (6 April 2005). Personal interview, Aaron Coleman, lyricist, Los Angeles. (May 2005). Personal interview, Maghuyop. (29 March 2011). Personal interview, Del Mundo. (June 2005). Personal interview, Louise Cornillez, actress, Los Angeles. (May 2005). Anonymous interview, actor, name and date withheld. Personal interview with Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng, Artistic Director and Associate Producer of TeAda Productions, Los Angeles. (1 July 2011). Ibid. (Chan)

NOTES TO CHAPTER 5 1. An en bloc sale entails owners of old apartment blocks being collectively bought out by property developers to create profitable luxury high-rise apartments. Only 80% of owners need to agree for the sale to go ahead, but collectively they can negotiate a higher price. 2. The 2009 tour was Man and Cherbonnier’s only production, as, for reasons that remain unclear, they both left YET the following year. With the company in a breach, Kumiko Mendl was appointed as Artistic Director and has steered YET through a turbulent period, including its loss of revenue funding from Arts Council England in 2011. 3. BEA playwrights are now developing, particularly through the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices programme that was targeted at East and South East Asian writers in 2011 and 2012. Three writers then moved into the Royal Court’s Studio Group (Tuyen Do, Simon Ly and Daniel York) where they are developing work for production. These activities led to the formation of Papergang Theatre, and the staging of Daniel York’s The Fu Manchu Complex at the Ovalhouse Theatre, London, in 2013. 4. Personal interview, Philippe Cherbonnier, former co-Artistic Director of Yellow Earth Theatre, London. (13 October 2009). 5. Ibid. 6. Personal interview, Jonathan Man, former co-Artistic Director of Yellow Earth Theatre, London. (7 December 2009). 7. Ibid. 8. Personal interview, Sung Rno, playwright, New York. (6 April 2011). 9. Personal interview, Jean Tay, playwright, London. (23 October 2009). 10. Personal interview, Rno. (6 April 2011). 11. Personal interview, Cherbonnier. (13 October 2009). 12. Personal interview, Man. (7 December 2009). 13. Personal interview, Rno. (6 April 2011). 14. Personal interview with Ashley Alymann, actor, London. (2 February 2010). 15. Personal interview with Tina Chiang, actress, London. (16 January 2010). 16. Ibid. 17. Personal interview, Cherbonnier. (13 October 2009). 18. Personal interview with Jay Oliver Yip, actor, London. (27 February 2010). 19. Personal interview with Louise Mai Newberry, actress, London. (4 February 2010).

222 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49.

Notes Personal interview, Yip. (27 February 2010). Personal interview, Chiang. (16 January 2010). Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Personal interview, Chiang. (16 January 2010). Personal interview with Jonathan Chan-Pensley, actor, London. (31 March 2010). Ibid. Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Ibid. Personal interview, Alymann. (2 February 2010). Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Personal interview, Yip. (27 February 2010). Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Personal interview, Yip. (27 February 2010). Personal interview, Chiang. (16 January 2010). Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Personal interview, Chiang. (16 January 2010). Personal interview, Chan-Pensley. (31 March 2010). Ibid. Personal interview, Man. (7 December 2009). Personal response, anonymous audience member, Riverside Studios, London. (13 November 2009). Personal interview, Tay. (23 October 2009). Personal response, anonymous audience member, Riverside Studios, London. (13 November 2009). Personal interview, Newberry. (4 February 2010). Dave Cunningham, ‘wAve review.’ The Public Reviews [website]. Available at: Posted: 9 November 2009. Accessed: 18 December 2009. See also Gareth Ellis, ‘wAve—Greenwich Theatre (Tour).’ The Public Reviews [website]. Available at: Posted: 26 October 2009. Accessed: 18 December 2009. Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009). Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009). Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009). Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009). Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009). Anonymous response to Yellow Earth Theatre questionnaire. (6 November 2009).

NOTES TO CHAPTER 6 1. Personal interview with Ching Lee Goh, formerly Director of the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (16 June 2010). 2. Personal interview with Lim, Kay Siu, actor, Singapore. (October 2008). 3. (accessed 24 November 2013) 4. The ‘Singapore Seasons’ in London (2005), Beijing and Shanghai (2007) explicitly showcased Singaporean performance in high-profi le settings, whilst also using the arts as a ‘soft sell’ for developing business and trade.



5. Personal interview with Lena St George-Sweet, formerly at the British Council, Singapore. (23 May 2010). 6. Ibid. 7. Reported in The Dance and the Railroad programme, p.2. 8. Tony Rennie, ‘Singapore Arts Project Report.’ 12 July 1990. Strathclyde Regional Council Correspondence Files 01/90 to 07/90. ODU/PRO/012. Glasgow: Glasgow City Archives. 9. Alen Webster, ‘Proposal for Cultural Collaboration between Singapore and the Glasgow/Strathclyde Region.’ 12 January 1990. Strathclyde Regional Council Correspondence Files 01/90 to 07/90. ODU/PRO/012. Glasgow: Glasgow City Archives. 10. Tony Rennie, Undated and untitled memo. Strathclyde Regional Council Correspondence Files 01/90 to 07/90. ODU/PRO/012. Glasgow: Glasgow City Archives. 11. Tony Andrews, Letter to Sir Robert Calderwood (Chief Executive of SRC). 13 August 1990. Strathclyde Regional Council Correspondence Files 08/90 to 12/90. ODU/PRO/012. Glasgow: Glasgow City Archives. 12. Article IV. Memorandum of Understanding between the National Arts Council and the Scottish Arts Council and the Strathclyde Regional Council on the Singapore-Scotland Cultural Co-operation Programme. 29 January 1992. Singapore Signing Files Class no 6000. IRN 163/12. Covering dates 11/91–8/98. Dept File Ref No CP/DM/ARC. Consignment 4067. Location M4853. Glasgow: Glasgow City Archives. 13. Alan Lyddiard, Letter to Koh, Boon Pin. 5 December 1991. Box TAG 197. Glasgow: Scottish Theatre Archives. 14. M. Stewart, Note: British based Chinese Performers. December 1991. Box TAG 196. Glasgow: Scottish Theatre Archives. 15. Personal interview, St George-Sweet. (23 May 2010). 16. Personal interview with Josephine Ronan, actor and academic, Glasgow. (27 February 2012). 17. Personal interview with Ivan Heng, Founding Artistic Director of Wild Rice, Singapore. (October 2008). 18. Personal interview with Haresh Sharma, playwright, Singapore. (19 May 2010). 19. Personal correspondence with John Faulkner, Singapore. (19 October 2011). Emphasis in original. 20. Ibid. 21. Personal interview, Heng. (October 2008). 22. Personal interview, Lim. (October 2008). 23. Personal interview, Sharma. (19 May 2010). 24. Scottish Arts Council, ‘Scotland and Singapore seal their cultural ties.’ Press release. Available at: Posted: 4 June 2007. Accessed: 1 November 2011. 25. Personal interview, Sharma. (19 May 2010). 26. Personal interview, Goh. (16 June 2010). 27. Jonathan Mills, in Tara Tan, ‘Journey to the East.’ The Straits Times, 28 May 2009. p.D4. 28. Personal interview with Kee Hong Low, then General Manager of the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (12 May 2010). 29. Personal interview with Sylvia Low, then Manager of Programming and Operations at the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore. (12 May 2010). 30. Personal interview, Goh. (16 June 2010). 31. Personal interview with Leslie Tan, cellist of T’ang Quartet, Singapore. (22 June 2010). 32. Personal interview with Joey Chan, Director and Producer at Reel Loco Productions, Singapore. (4 June 2010).



33. Personal interview with Jason Ong, furniture designer, Singapore. (13 May 2010). 34. Personal interview with Cathie Boyd, Artistic Director, Cryptic, Glasgow. (28 February 2012). 35. Personal interview, Chan. (4 June 2010). 36. Personal interview, Ong. (13 May 2010). 37. See (accessed 15 September 2009). 38. Kate Bassett, ‘Diaspora review.’ The Independent. Available at: Posted: 23 August 2009. Accessed: 24 November 2013. 39. Lyn Gardner, ‘Diaspora review.’ The Guardian. Available at: Posted: 18 August 2009. Accessed: 24 November 2013. 40. Ong, Keng Seng in Adeline Chia, ‘Diaspora Disappoints.’ The Straits Times. 19 August 2009. p.C6. 41. Gaurav Kripalani and Desmond Sim, respectively, in Neil Behrmann, ‘Everybody’s a Critic.’ The Business Times, 4 September 2009. p.31. 42. Ching Lee Goh, in Deepika Shetty, ‘Defending Diaspora.’ The Straits Times. 25 August 2009. p.C7. 43. Personal interview, S. Low. (12 May 2010). 44. Personal interview with Jeremy Monteiro, pianist, Singapore. (2 June 2010). 45. Personal interview with Daniel Kok, performer, Singapore. (7 June 2010). 46. Personal interview, S. Low. (12 May 2010). 47. Personal interview with Suchen Christine Lim, author, Singapore. (17 May 2010). 48. Unknown author. ‘Singapore at the Edinburgh Festivals.’ The Scotsman. Available at: Posted: 8 August 2009. Accessed: 9 September 2009. 49. Personal interview, Goh. (16 June 2010). 50. Personal interview, Kok. (7 June 2010).

NOTES TO CHAPTER 7 1. See Anna Chen, ‘The Orphan of Zhao: RSC casts Asians as dogs and maid in Chinese classic.’ Madam Miaow Says [blog]. Available at: Posted: 17 October 2012. Accessed: 19 October 2012; Anna Chen, ‘Memo to the RSC: East Asians can be more than just dogs and maids.’ The Guardian: Comment is Free. Available at: Posted: 22 October 2012. Accessed: 22 October 2012. 2. Broderick Chow, ‘Two Dogs and A Maid: Theatricality, visibility, and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Orphan of Zhao.’ Broderick Chow [blog]. Available at: Posted: 19 October 2012. Accessed: 20 October 2012. 3. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Untitled Statement. Available at: Posted: 18 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013.



4. Gregory Doran, ‘In Search of the Orphan.’ Royal Shakespeare Company [blog]. Available at: Posted: 24 July–20 August 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 5. Chen, ‘Memo to the RSC.’ 6. Gregory Doran and Catherine Mallyon. ‘RSC statement.’ Available at: Posted: 22 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 7. Gregory Doran in Matt Trueman, ‘Royal Shakespeare Company under Fire for not Casting Enough Asian Actors.’ The Guardian. Available at: Posted: 19 October 2012. Accessed: 20 October 2012. 8. It is still unclear exactly how many BEA actors have been employed by the RSC and no clarification has been provided. 9. Adrian Lochhead, ‘RSC Untitled Statement’ [Comment thread]. Posted: 21 October 2012, 18:37. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 10. Gregory Doran, in Matt Trueman, ‘Under Fire.’ 11. RSC, ‘Untitled Statement.’ 12. Daniel York, ‘RSC statement’ [Comment thread]. Posted: 22 October 2012, 23.47. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 13. Gregory Doran, in Matt Trueman, ‘Under Fire.’ 14. Ibid. 15. Personal interview with Daniel York, actor, London. (24 May 2013). Since then, York has appeared in The World of Extreme Happiness (2013) at the National Theatre, as well as Blind (2014) at the Courtyard Theatre, London. 16. Lalayn Baluch, ‘British East Asian artists lambast ‘racist’ British theatre for lack of acting roles.’ The Stage. Available at: Posted: 9 June 2009. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 17. Doran and Mallyon, ‘RSC statement.’ 18. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.7), 2013. 19. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.24), 2013. 20. Anna Chen, ‘American Actors Call for Action over RSC in New York.’ Madam Miaow Says [blog]. Available at: Posted: 23 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013. 21. Personal interview with Pun Bandhu, actor and steering committee of AAPAC, San Francisco (Skype). (19 September 2013). 22. Personal correspondence with Erin Quill, actress and writer, New York. (29 August 2013). Following her immensely influential piece on The Nightingale, Quill also wrote one of the wittiest and most circulated critical blog posts on The Orphan of Zhao, ‘Pucker UP #RSC, cuz I am bending over . . .’ Available at: Posted: 18 October 2012. Accessed: 19 October 2012. 23. Personal interview, Bandhu (19 September 2013); Personal correspondence with Victor Wong, Executive Director CCNC, Toronto. (27 August 2013). 24. Personal interview with Jennifer Lim, actress, London. (24 May 2013). 25. See for instance, Mike Skupin, ‘RSC Untitled Statement’ [Comment thread]. Posted: 20 October 2012, 13.36. Accessed: 11 September 2013.

226 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36.

37. 38. 39. 40.

41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47.

48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

Notes Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no. 2), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no. 22), 2013. Melody Brown, Questionnaire response 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no. 33), 2013. Andy Lowe, Questionnaire response, 2013. Ralph B. Peña, Questionnaire response, 2013. Frances Jue, Questionnaire response, 2013. Andy Lowe, Questionnaire response, 2013. Personal correspondence, Wong. (27 August 2013). Mémé Thorne, ‘RSC Untitled Statement’ [Comment thread]. Posted: 21 October 2012, 14.29. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Daniel York, ‘Daniel York on The Orphan of Zhao controversy.’ What’s on Stage [blog]. Available at: Posted: 8 November 2012. Accessed: 10 November 2012. Personal interview, Bandhu. (19 September 2013) Yasmin Khan, Questionnaire response, 2013. Danny Lee Wynter, ‘Can a Black Actor Ever Be Just an Actor?’ The Stage. Available at: Posted: 18 October 2012. Accessed: 5 November 2012. Andrew Haydon, ‘Let’s not knee-jerk our way through the ‘blacking up’ debate.’ The Stage. Available at: Posted: 5 November 2012. Accessed: 5 November 2012. Edward Hong, RSC Untitled Statement [Comment thread]. Posted: 18 October 2012, 20.20. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Adrian Lochhead, RSC Untitled Statement [Comment thread]. Posted: 19 October 2012, 16.00. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Paul Hyu, RSC Untitled Statement [Comment thread]. Posted: 18 October 2012, 20.31. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Daniel York, RSC Untitled Statement [Comment thread]. Posted: 20 October 2012, 09.08. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Personal interview, Bandhu. (19 September 2013). Ibid. Asian American Performers Action Coalition, ‘AAPAC protests the RSC. Action needed!’ Available at: Posted: 23 October 2012. Accessed: 25 October 2012. Personal interview, Bandhu. (19 September 2013). Personal correspondence, Quill. (29 August 2013). Ralph B. Peña, ‘Open letter to the RSC.’ Available at: Posted: 22 October 2012, 21.18. Accessed: 24 October 2012. Janice Park, ‘Open letter to the RSC.’ Available at: Posted: 24 October 2012, 07.03. Accessed: 24 October 2012. Kate (no other name supplied), ‘Is the Royal Shakespeare Company Racist?’ Letters to the Mezzanine [blog]. Available at:


53. 54. 55. 56.

57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68.

69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77.


Posted: 19 October 2012. Accessed: 24 October 2012; Chow, ‘Two Dogs and a Maid.’ York, ‘Daniel York on The Orphan of Zhao controversy.’ Jay Oliver Yip, ‘Open letter to the RSC.’ Available at: Posted: 1 November 2012, 16.44. Accessed: 13 November 2012. Chen, ‘Memo to the RSC.’ Chow, ‘Two Dogs and a Maid’; see also Amanda Rogers, ‘The Orphan of Zhao: Inequality, Interculturalism and National Abjection in Casting.’ Theatrical Geographies [blog]. Available at: Posted: 22 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013.; Saff ron Walkling, ‘Madam Miaow makes mincemeat of the RSC over nonChinese casting.’ Shakespeare Travels [blog]. Available at: Posted: 24 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Personal interview, Bandhu. (19 September 2013). Personal correspondence, Wong. (27 August 2013). Personal interview with Lucy Sheen, actor, London. (23 May 2013). British East Asian Artists, 2012. Press release. Available at: Posted: 30 October 2012. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Ibid. Personal correspondence, Quill. (29 August 2013). Personal interview, Bandhu. (19 September 2013). Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.21), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.20), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.8), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.13), 2013. Benedict Wong, in Susie Mesure, ‘Benedict Wong: I’m the go-to guy for victims of torture.’ The Independent. Available at: < http://www.independent. les/benedict-wong-im-the-goto-guy-for-victims-oftorture-8735044.html> Posted: 28 July 2013. Accessed: 30 July 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.23), 2013. Gemma Chan, ‘RSC Untitled Statement’ [Comment thread]. Posted: 23 October 2012, 01.01. Accessed: 11 September 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.23), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.33), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.5), 2013. Emily Siu-see Hung, Questionnaire response, 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.11), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.35), 2013. Anonymous questionnaire respondent (no.11), 2013.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 8 1. The term ‘Oriental’ is deliberately used in the play to reinforce the Orientalist and colonial stereotypes held by the character of Gallimard, reflecting his arrogance and essentialist imagination. 2. David Henry Hwang in Jeremy Gerard, ‘David Hwang: Riding on the hyphen.’ New York Times Magazine, 13 March 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 15 January 2010. In S. Drake, ‘Hwang’s metamorphosis.’ Los Angeles Times, Calendar. 30 October 1988 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. David Henry Hwang in William A. Henry, ‘David Henry Hwang: When East and West collide.’ Time Magazine, 14 August 1989 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 15 January 2010. Ibid. In Drake, ‘Hwang’s metamorphosis.’ David Richards, ‘Chinese Puzzle at the National, a Curious M. Butterfly.’ Washington Post, 11 February 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 15 January 2010. Markland Taylor, ‘Vulgarisms, Shallowness mar Campy M. Butterfly.’ New Haven Register, 22 March 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 16 January 2010. John Gross, ‘A ‘Butterfly’ That Hovers Over the Issues of Racism, Sexism and Imperialism.’ The New York Times, 10 April 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: January 16 2010. Frank Rich, ‘M. Butterfly: A story of a strange love, conflict and betrayal.’ The New York Times, 21 March 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed 15: January 2010. See Joe Brown, ‘On Wings of a Butterfly.’ Washington Post, 10 February 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 16 January 2010; Anne Marie Welsh, ‘Flights of Culture: Hwang’s plays probe deeply into the heart of his heritage.’ San Diego Union, 30 October 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 16 January 2010. R. Feldberg, ‘Lure of an Illusive Butterfly: Cultural sexual roles tested.’ The Record, 21 March 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 16 January 2010; see also Rich, ‘Strange love, confl ict, betrayal.’ Henry, ‘When East and West collide.’ In D. Hulbert, ‘B. D. Wong’s Deft Sexual Disguise Lifts M. Butterfly.’ The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, 18 December 1988 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 15 January 2010. Mary Rose Gasmier, ‘Role that Caused a Theatrical Flutter.’ The Straits Times, 5 January 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. Unknown author, ‘M. Butterfly to be Staged, Nude Scene and All.’ The Straits Times, 21 March 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive.



17. IPS (Initials of journalist), ‘He’s no Lady, He’s a Spy.’ The Straits Times, 18 February 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 18. John De Souza, ‘Hopkins’ Choice.’ Source unknown, 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 19. Gasmier, ‘Role that caused a flutter.’ 20. Alan Hubbard, ‘Singaporean actor’s West End debut.’ Source unknown, 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive; see also Serena Toh, ‘Singapore Butterfly at the West End.’ The Sunday Times, 9 April 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive; Jacqueline Wong, 1989. I-van to play M. Butterfly too. The Sunday Times, 10 September. [Newspaper cutting] Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 21. Adeline Woon, ‘M. Butterfly Man to Fly Here.’ The New Paper, 19 July 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 22. Krishnan Jit and Christine Lim, M. Butterfly [Playbill]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 23. Personal interview with Ivan Heng, Founding Artistic Director of Wild Rice, Singapore. (October 2008). 24. Mary Rose Gasmier, ‘Butterfly Flits Hither.’ The Straits Times, 20 July 1989 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 25. Lee in Soh Chin Ong, ‘M. Butterfly Role: We wouldn’t mind the nudity, say hopefuls.’ The Straits Times, 24 March 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 26. Mary Rose Gasmier, ‘Nude Attitudes.’ The Straits Times, 6 July 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 27. Wan Ching Ng, ‘Nudity on Stage gets an Airing.’ The New Paper, 11 June 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 28. See Gasmier, ‘Butterfly fl its hither’; Alfred Zhu, ‘Adult Theatre Anyone?’ The New Paper, 11 June 1990 [Newspaper cutting]. Singapore: TheatreWorks performance archive. 29. Personal interview, Heng. (October 2008). 30. Personal interview, Glen Goei, Associate Artistic Director, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Singapore. (October 2008). 31. See Michael Billington, ‘M. Butterfly.’ The Guardian, 22 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. pp.498–499; Michael Coveney, ‘Review of M. Butterfly.’ Financial Times, 21 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. p.502. 32. Dukes took over from Lithgow as Gallimard after six months. 33. Sheridan Morley, ‘M. Butterfly.’ Herald Tribune, 26 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. pp.497–498. 34. Coveney, ‘Review.’ 35. Ibid. See also John Gross, ‘M. Butterfly.’ Sunday Telegraph, 23 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. p.501. 36. Michael Ratcliffe, ‘M. Butterfly.’ The Observer, 23 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. pp.499–500. (p.500). 37. Gross, ‘M. Butterfly.’ 38. Ratcliffe, ‘M. Butterfly.’ p.500. 39. See Billington, ‘M. Butterfly’; Ratcliffe, ‘M.Butterfly’; Milton Shulman, ‘Review of M. Butterfly.’ Evening Standard, 21 April 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. p.500. 40. Rhoda Eoenig, ‘M. Butterfly.’ Punch, 5 May 1989. Reprinted in London Theatre Record, 9–22 April. p.499. 41. Irvine Wardle, ‘Dramatic Escape from the Chinese Labyrinth.’ Independent on Sunday, 20 January 1991. p.26.

230 Notes 42. Michael Billington, ‘Chop Chop Suey.’ The Guardian, 22 January 1991 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 12 December 2013. 43. Interview with David Tse, assistant director for Typhoon Live: Getting Married and Dogs, specific date unknown but 2007 [online]. Available at: Accessed 20 August 2011. 44. Personal interview, Goei. (October 2008). 45. Personal interview, Sacha Brooks, Producer, London. (15 July 2010). 46. In Jeremy Kingston, ‘Red Dragons Need Not Apply.’ The Times, 3 August 1992 [online]. Available at: Accessed: 12 December 2013. 47. Personal interview, Goei. (October 2008). 48. Personal interview, Brooks. (15 July 2010). 49. In Niger Rosser, ‘Me: Tsai Chin.’ Unknown source, 1991 [Magazine Article]. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks. 50. In Sandra Barwick, ‘Sharing a Cell with Madam Mao.’ The Independent, 2 November 1991 [Newspaper cutting]. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks. 51. Owen Slot, ‘Madam Mao’s Memories.’ The Independent, 7 November 1991. p.27. 52. Barwick, ‘Sharing a cell.’ 53. Jenni Moore, ‘Madam Mao’s Memories.’ City Limits, date unknown 1991 [Newspaper cutting]. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks. 54. Slot, ‘Madam Mao’s Memories.’ 55. See Jonathan Mirsky, ‘A Long March from Suzie Wong.’ Unknown source 1991 [Magazine Article]. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks; Rosser, ‘Me: Tsai Chin.’ 56. Personal interview with Chay Yew, writer and director, Minneapolis. (5 June 2008). 57. Ibid. 58. Ibid. 59. Personal interview, Goei. (October 2008). 60. Personal interview, Yew. (5 June 2008). 61. Ibid. 62. In C. M. Au-Yeung, ‘Porcelain.’ McGarel, the weekly magazine of the PCLSU [Periodical cutting]. Volume 23, issue 27, 2 June 1991. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks. 63. Personal interview with Daniel York, actor, writer and director. (19 December 2008). 64. Sabine Durrant, ‘Porcelain.’ The Independent, 8 August 1992, p.22. 65. Kirtsy Milne, ‘Chants and Cummerbunds.’ The Sunday Telegraph, 9 August 1992 [Newspaper cutting]. London: Personal Archive of Sacha Brooks. 66. Personal interview, Goei. (October 2008). 67. Ibid. 68. Ibid. 69. Ibid.


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A accents in performance, 19, 38, 50, 56, 125–126, 131, 133–135, 138, 170, 172, 203 Actors’ Equity Association, 153, 172–174, 183, 185–187 #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, 34, 185, 187 Alymann, Ashley, 119, 128–129, 131–132, 134, Anwar, Rydwan, 31 Arts and Culture Strategic Review (Singapore), 75–76, 84 Arts Council England, 3, 32, 122, 171, 173–174, 183, 199, 206 Asia/Asians, 2–3, 14–15, 18, 22, 26–28, 31, 36, 38, 41–43, 48–67, 131–133, 158, 163–164, 173, 196, 197, 202, 212–214 Asian American, 175–186, 195, 205, 207, 208, 210 identity, 2, 14, 16, 26, 29, 38, 60–63, 96–97, 116–118, 131, 192, 197 theatre, 1, 13, 16–17, 20, 28, 33, 37, 40–41, 42, 70, 189–190, 195, 199 theatre and transnationalism, 2, 13, 21, 22, 36–39, 43, 59–65, 70, 96–99, 124, 128–131, 133– 134, 151, 153–154, 176–177, 192–200, 213–214 Theatre Conference and Festival, 1–3 Asian American Performers’ Action Coalition, 40, 176, 180–183

B belonging, 2, 7–8, 11, 13, 21, 24, 47, 62, 65–66, 70, 90, 96–103, 106,

108, 112–118, 119, 124, 128, 131–132, 138, 181, 205, 206, 213 Benton, Gregor, 13, 17, 122, 124, 140, 199 bi-cultural, 39, 63, 97–99, 101, 114–117 biographies (career trajectory), 19–20, 23, 32, 42, 136, 144 black British, 17, 35, 120, 140, 178, 179, 205 Boal, Augusto, 5, 155 Boom, 21, 119–141 Boyd, Cathie, 159, 161 Brah, Avtar, 99–100. See also diaspora space British Asian, 17, 35, 36, 38, 120, 122, 140, 157, 171, 173, 178, 205 British Chinese, 1, 13, 17–18, 29, 32, 39, 55, 70, 122, 123, 125, 129, 131, 133, 136, 137, 138, 139–140, 163, 171, 185–186, 189, 198–203, 205, 207, 214 British Council, The, 21, 143, 149, 150–157, 159, 166, 167–168 British East Asian, 169–188, 205, 208, 210 identity, 2, 14, 17, 21, 30, 34, 43, 49, 120, 122, 124–125, 131–139, 139–141, 175 theatre, 1, 3, 13, 17–18, 20, 32–33, 123–124 192,199–202, 207, and transnationalism, 34–35, 37–40, 70, 119–141, 213–215, British East Asian Artists, 172, 174, 183, 184, 185, 215, Brook, Peter, 78, 171 Brooks, Sacha, 30, 200 Butler, Judith, 4, 46, 50

246 Index C Cargo: KL-Singapore, 87–90 casting/casting directors, 17, 22, 27, 34, 37, 38, 40, 64, 66, 101, 169–173, 177, 179, 181–183, 185, 187, 198–200, 202, Chan, Jacqueline, 30, 35, Chan, Leilani, 1, 110–116 Chang, Richard, 2 Chang, Tisa, 39 Chan-Pensley, Jonathan, 119, 126, 128–129 Chen, Anna, 30, 170, 176, 182, 184, 214 Cherbonnier, Philippe, 123, 132 Chiang, Tina, 119, 127–128, 131, 132–133, 136 Chimerica, 34–35, 185, 187 Chin, Tsai, 176, 201–202 China, 2, 11, 17, 32, 34, 57–63, 123– 124, 125, 154, 170–171, 177, 182, 189, 199, 201, 209, 214 Chinese, 2, 3, 11, 15, 16, 18, 34–39, 48–50, 52–53, 55–59, 59–65, 66–67, 78, 81, 82, 91, 107, 113, 125, 133, 136, 137, 151, 154, 155, 162, 163, 170, 171–173, 176, 177, 185, 187, 189, 192, 194, 195, 196, 199, 201, 202–203, 206, 209, 215. See also British Chinese circulation, 7, 11, 18, 22, 84, 144–145, 189–213 citizenship, 8, 16, 60–63, 65, 108, 110–112, 121, 128 Cohen, Matthew, 11, 18, 19, 144, 191, 210, 212, 213, 215 Coleman, Aaron, 99, 106 collaboration, 6, 21, 73, 143–144, 147–168, 214 convergence space, 175–176, 178 cosmopolitanism, 9–10, 15, 34, 121, 164, 165 countertopographies, 47, 66 Crang, Philip, 4, 8, 12, 18, 140, 211 creativity, 2, 30, 31, 77, 84, 93, 144, 157, 159, 167, 178, 180, 194, 196, 206, 208, 213, 215 creative city economics, 15, 31, 73, 76, 77, 83–84, 93–94, 148, 150, 165, 197 opportunity, 2, 3, 27–30, 41–43, 144, 189

practice, 3, 9, 13, 14, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 29, 38, 45, 78, 83, 148–149, 159–162, 167, 196 and geography, 4, 5, 6–7, 19, 26, 148–149, 159–162, 190, 211–212 Crenshaw, Kimerble, 46, 65 cross-border relationships, 3, 8, 144 cross-cultural dialogue, 39, 105–106, 121, 125–128, 132–135, 137– 139, 140, 163–164, 172, 210 cross-cultural theatre, 74, 91, 154– 155, 209, 163–164 Cryptic, 159–162 cultural capital as city, 33, 73, 152, 158, 164, 195 as value, 11, 26, 31, 39, 157, 164, 193, 195. See also European Capital of Culture; transcultural capital cultural policy, 15, 21, 74, 144, 147– 153, 157–159. See also Memorandum of Understanding

D Dance and the Railroad, The, 151, 153–154, 192, 195 Dang, Tim, 26, 36, 99 de-territorialisation, 7, 8, 9, 10, 50–51, 70, 97, 101, 104, 105–108, 117, 143, 176, 190 Diaspora (performance), 162–164 diaspora, 9, 13, 17, 27, 97, 107, 123, 156, 213, 214 and homeland, 100–101, 101–104, 107–108, 117 as identity, 100, 101, 104, 106, 214 as roots/routes, 100, 102, 105–108, 117–118 space, 99–101, 105–107 and theatre, 97, 99, 100, 213 displacement, 21, 70, 96, 97–99, 99–101, 103, 105–108, 110, 112, 115, 116–118, 119, 163, 210 diversity (racial-ethnic), 21, 32, 34–35, 37, 40–41, 121, 123, 125, 131–132, 171–173, 177–180, 180–181, 185, 205, 206, 213–215 Doran, Gregory, 170, 172, 182, 184 Do, Tuyen, 35 Dream of Red Pavilions, A, 3, 35, 39

E East West Players, 1, 26, 36, 42, 97, 101–108, 205

Index Eclipse, 157–158 Edinburgh International Festival, 158–159, 162–164 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 150, 155, 164, 166–167, 187 embodiment, 4, 5, 10, 28, 46, 75, 92, 107, 173, 190, 208, 211 Emily of Emerald Hill, 78, 79, 80–81, 150 emotion, 4, 6, 12, 55, 57, 59, 77, 102–103, 109, 116, 138, 164, 178, 180, 210–202, 203, 206 emplacement, 21, 70, 97–99, 101–104, 108–109, 115–116, 214 essentialism, 10, 14, 54, 106, 108, 117, 122, 133, 140, 184 ethnic minority theatre, 2, 4, 13, 25, 125 ethnic minorities and transnationalism. See transnationalism European Capital of Culture, 148, 151–152

F Featherstone, David, 8, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 34, 38, 39, 41, 43, 174, 175, 176, 180, 188, 191 Ferrari, Rossella, 10, 11, 144, 215 festival, 1–3, 19, 21, 33, 48, 96, 115, 123, 124, 143, 149, 157–168, 171, 212, 215. See also Edinburgh International Festival; Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Singapore Arts Festival Filipino American, 99, 100, 101, 103–105 and diaspora, 70, 97, 100–107 and performance/theatre, 97, 99

G Gatens, Moira, 46, 47, 56, 57, 58, 62, 63, 66 geography and performance, 4–7, 7–8, 12, 209–212. See also displacement; glocalisation; networks; translocal; transnational geography and transnationalism. See transnationalism Glasgow, 18, 147, 148, 151–157, 159, 161, 162, 164 Glasgow District Council, 152 Glass Menagerie, The, 27, 28, 29, 207 globalisation, 7, 8, 74–77, 79, 82, 94, 143, 209, 213, and performance, 7–9, 22, 95, 209


and transnationalism (see transnationalism) glocalisation, 21, 69, 73–95 Goei, Glen, 27, 29, 30, 32, 156, 196, 198, 200–207 Goff man, Erving, 4 Goh, Ching Lee, 73, 74, 76, 151, 158, 159, 164 Gomolvilas, Prince, 26

H Half Lives, 29 Hall, Stuart, 17, 107, 122, 135, 136, 140 and multicultural drift, 121 and new ethnicities, 122, 125, 128, 131, 140 Hamlet. See Kyle, Barry Hasu Houston, Velina, 33 Hawkins, Harriet, 6, 208 Heng, Ivan, 20, 27, 47, 48–54, 153, 154, 156, 157, 195–197, 206 Hmong American, 108–110. See also Lao American homeland. See diaspora Hong Kong, 3, 32, 48, 55, 62, 70, 78, 92, 124, 154, 157, 158, 198, 209, 215 Hopkins, Antony, 198, 199, 200 hubs, 147–149, 157–159, 162, 164, 167 Hwang, David Henry, 33–34, 40, 151, 176, 200 F.O.B., 192, 195 Dance and the Railroad, The (see Dance and the Railroad, The), 151, 153, 192, 195 M. Butterfly (see M. Butterfly), 193–200, 201, 202, 203, 207 Yellow Face (see Yellow Face), 37, 38 hybridity, 9, 10, 107, 108 Hyu, Paul, 30, 32

I identity, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 18, 20, 22, 65–67, 98, 99, 116, 174–5, 210, 213, 214 as age, 56–59, 128, 137–138 as class, 17, 46, 47, 80, 88, 92, 126, 182, 193, 203, 206 as cultural, 52, 54–59, 59–65, 80, 90–93, 98, 100, 107, 132, 192 as dialogic, 106–107, 121–122, 131–132 as essentialist, 100, 103–104, 108, 117, 118, 131



as gender, 25, 45, 46, 47, 48–54, 54–59, 60–61, 66, 76, 80, 136, 137, 189, 192–193 as nationality, 7, 8, 13, 15, 24, 30–31, 38, 41, 48, 49, 60–65, 74, 79–84, 93–95, 100–104, 112–116, 116–118, 119–141, 148, 159–160, 166, 196–198 as performance, 4–5, 48–54, 57, 64–65, 101 as racial-ethnic, 6, 14–18, 21, 25, 27, 35, 36, 38, 40, 41, 48–54, 59–65, 70, 82, 96–118, 119– 141, 157, 169–188, 189–192, 194–195, 196, 208, 213. See also racialization as sexuality, 45, 46, 48–54, 192, 197–199, 203 as transgender, 48–54. See also Asian American; British East Asian; diaspora; intersectionality; multicultural identity politics, 5, 10, 15, 45, 65–67, 115–116, 116–118, 174, 169–188 Imelda: A New Musical, 97–108, 116–118, 132 immigrant, 2, 15, 16, 45, 61, 62, 96, 98, 112, 120, 121, 124, 134, 137, 139, 192, 194 intercultural, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 28, 30, 39, 74, 77, 78, 91, 92, 95, 97, 101, 105, 121, 123, 154–155, 179 interdisciplinarity, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 19, 208 International Theatre Institute, 3 internet, 7, 174, 176 as social media, 169, 172, 174, 176, 177, 180, 181, 184 intersectionality, 20, 45–67, 210 Invitation to Dream, An, 85–86

J Jackson, Peter, 8, 209, 210, 211 Jackson, Shannon, 84, 89, 90 Jeffers, Alison, 108, 109, 112, 113 Journeys, 3, 20, 47, 54–59, 65, 66

K Kali Theatre Company, 35 Kok, Daniel, 166 Kiss of the Spiderwoman, 27 Kiwan, Nadia, 24, 40, 147, 148, 149, 152, 159, 167, 169, 212

Kuik, Swee Boon, 81–82 Kuo, Pao Kun, 196 Kuroda, Emily, 28, 29 Kyle, Barry, 25, 27, 28, 29, 31

L La Jolla Playhouse, 173, 175, 177, 183, 184. See also Nightingale, The Lao American, 16, 21, 70, 97–98, 108–116, 117, 214 Lee, Reggie, 99, 105, 106 Lei, Daphne, 11, 18, 209, 212 Leow, Chowee, 20, 30, 47, 48–54 Ley, David, 7, 8, 10 Lim, Jennifer, 39, 40, Lim, Kay Siu, 29–31, 40–41, 154, 156 Lim, Kay Tong, 25 Lim, Suchen Christine, 164, 165 Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, 37, 40, 97 Look, Lydia, 42 Low, Kee Hong, 76, 77, 82

M Madame Mao’s Memories, 155, 190, 201–202, 207 Magic Fundoshi, The, 30, 202 Man, Jonathan, 1, 2, 3, 39, 123, 129, 139 Massey, Doreen, 174–175, 176, 178, 180, 184, 186, 188 Ma-Yi Theatre Company, 42, 97, 99 M. Butterfly, 189, 191–200, 201, 207 in Australia, 195 in India, 195, 196 in London, 198–200 in New York City, 192–195 in Russia, 195 in Singapore, 195–198 in Washington, 193–194 McCall, Leslie, 46, 50, 52, 56, 58, 63, 65, 66 Mega Line Dance, 77, 85–87 Meinhof, Ulrika, 24, 26, 33, 36, 40, 43, 147, 148, 149, 152, 159, 167, 169, 212 Memorandum of Understanding, 145–159, 163, 164, 167–168 memory, 5, 102, 107, 120 migrant, 2, 12, 14, 20, 21, 45, 47, 54, 55, 57, 63, 65, 66, 88, 90, 96, 98, 99, 100, 113, 120, 121, 124, 131, 133, 134, 163, 190, 202, 205, 211, 213, 214

Index Mills, Jonathan, 158–159, 162 Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (Singapore), 75 Miss Saigon, 38, 120, 173 Mitchell, Katharyne, 7, 8, 99, 121, 178, 209 Modood, Tariq, 119, 121, 122, 128, 131, 136, 137, 138, 140, 141, 172 Mohammed, Noorlinah, 31 Monteiro, Jeremy, 164, 165 Mu-Lan Theatre Company, 29–30, 32, 35, 189, 200–207 multiculturalism, 2, 4, 12–14, 15, 21, 22, 62, 93, 131, 137, 178, 213 American, 2, 96–97, 98, 108, 113, 115, 117, 130, 182 British, 119, 120–122, 130, 131, 140–141, 154 as dialogic, 108, 121–122, 125, 128, 131, 138, 139, 154 as demarcating groups, 70, 99, 101, 115, 122, 179 as exotica, 107, 113, 121, 154 See also transnationalism multilocational, 7, 70, 98

N Nakahara, Ron, 39 National Arts Council of Singapore, 31, 73, 148, 152, 153, 157, 158, 159, 162, 165, 166 nationality. See identity nation-state, 3, 7, 10, 11, 13, 23, 39, 43, 62, 70, 74, 75, 108, 121, 126, 152, 190, 209 Necessary Stage, The, 76, 78, 79, 80, 94, 154, 155 Neo, Swee Lin, 27, 29–30, 40, 154, 156 networking, 2, 91, 149, 165 networks, 6, 11, 20, 23–44, 69, 92, 149, 153, 189, 191, 198, 210, 215 as asymmetric, 25, 29, 31–32, 43 and economics, 23, 31–2, 40–42, as lateral, 23, 34, 39, 202, 207, 210 as minor-to-minor, 37, 39, 40, 43, 144, 214 and politics, 24, 25, 27, 28–9, 34, 37–38, 44 and racialization, 24–25, 27, 33–38, 40–42 and social network perspective/ interpersonal relationships, 24,


27, 29–30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 158–159, 162, 172, 176, 195, 200, 203, 207 and spatialities, 23–25, 26–27, 33, 41, 43, 148, 168, 190–191, 207 and talent, 24, 25–32, 40 as tenuous, 24, 29, 33–4, 40, 44 and transcultural capital, 24, 26, 33, 36, 40 Newberry, Louise Mai, 119, 126, 129–131, 133–136 New York City, 3, 6, 18, 26, 27, 30, 31, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 62, 91, 97, 99, 104, 106, 109, 156, 164, 180–181, 188, 189, 191, 192–195, 198, 207 Nightingale, The, 173, 176–178, 183 Nijinsky Siam, 78, 92 non-representational theory, 4–5

O Occasional Orchid, An, 20, 30, 47, 48–54, 58, 65, 213 Ong, Henry, 41, 97, 190, 200. See also Madame Mao’s Memories Ong, Keng Sen, 30, 95, 151, 158, 162–164. See also Diaspora and Yang Family, The Optical Identity, 73, 159–162 Orientalism, 35, 51, 54, 61, 125, 171, 192 Orphan of Zhao, The, 22, 37, 28, 144, 169–188, 213 O Sounds, 78, 79, 81–82 Oyama, Sachi, 99

P Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, 3, 39, 97 Pang, Adrian, 27, 28, 30 participatory art and performance, 5, 74, 76, 77, 84–90, 90–93, 115 patriarchy, 52, 55–58, 66, 80 performance and protest, 122, 144, 169–188 performance and identity. See identity performance Peter, Josephine, 154 Peterson, William, 11, 15, 25, 74, 75, 77, 78, 80, 87, 94, 160, 197 Petito, Tony, 25–27 Png, Deborah, 41, 42 policy. See cultural policy Porcelain, 190, 202–205, 207 Portes, Alejandro, 27, 34

250 Index Pries, Ludger, 7, 69 Public Theatre, The, 42, 181, 193

R racial formation, 27, 28, 49, 66 racialization, 3, 13, 24, 28, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 43, 47, 65, 190. See also identity, racial ethnic reception, 7, 9, 18, 119, 128, 137–139, 143, 189, 191, 193, 194, 198–199, 208, 211, 212 refugee, 70, 97–99 and refugee performance, 11, 21, 108–116 Refugee Nation, 97–98, 108–117, 214 region, 7, 21, 31, 69, 75, 76, 78–79, 90–93, 94, 102, 148, 149, 151–152, 154, 158, 159, 167, 183, 184, 212, 214 relational politics/space, 22, 169–188, 210 Renaissance City Plan, 15, 73, 148, 158 rhizome/rhizomatic, 8, 11, 50 Rimini Protokoll, 87–90 Román, David, 45, 66 Royal Court, The, 35, 124, 203, 205 Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, 153–155, 157 Royal Shakespeare Company, 22, 38, 169–188 Rno, Sung, 21, 119, 123, 124, 129, 130. See also wAve

S Saopeng, Ova, 110–116 Scottish Arts Council, 152–153, 154, 158 Secret War, 108–109, 113, 115 Sharma, Haresh, 155, 157, 158 Shen, Kevin, 37–38 Singapore Arts Festival, 15–16, 21, 69, 70, 73–95, 157–162, 195–198, 212 Singapore Repertory Theatre, 25–31, 42, 43, 206 Singapore Showcase, 162, 164–167 Singapore and creative economy, 31, 76, 83–84, 94, 148, 151–152, 156, 167 Singaporean identity, 15–16, 30, 32, 41, 49, 60, 74, 76, 77, 79, 80–83, 84, 94, 126, 132, 134, 138, 164–166, 196–198

Singaporean theatre, 3, 21, 25–31, 42, 49, 73–95, 147–157, 196–198, 208, 210 Singlish, 15, 80, 126, 132, 196 solidarity, 37, 100, 144, 175–180, 180–182, 184, 186–188 stereotypes/stereotyping, 13, 16, 29, 33, 34, 37, 40, 48, 49–50, 51, 52, 61, 96, 123, 125, 133, 136, 139–140, 155, 169–170, 173, 178, 179, 182, 185–187, 189, 192, 194, 196, 200, 213 Strathclyde Regional Council, 151– 153, 156 Swyngedouw, Erik, 69, 74–75, 78–79, 83, 85, 94, 95

T Talawa Theatre Company, 35 Tamasha Theatre Company, 35, 125, 178 Tan, Alvin, 76 Tan, Jeff rey, 84 T’ang Quartet, 159–162 Tay, Jean, 21, 31, 119, 124, 126, 128, 137. See also Boom TeAda Productions, 97, 110–114 Theatre About Glasgow, 151, 153–154, 156 theatre training, 1, 20, 25, 27–28, 31, 91, 144, 148, 150–158, 167, 168, 212, 213 TheatreWorks Singapore, 29, 76, 151, 153, 155, 195–197 Theory of Everything, The, 26, 28 Those Who Can’t, Teach, 78, 79, 80–81 Thrift, Nigel, 4, 5 Tiananmen Square, 35, 199 Tiang, Jeremy, 1, 3, 35–36, 39 Ting, Rosaline, 3, 20, 35, 47, 54–59 transcultural capital, 24, 26, 33, 36, 40 trans identity. See identity translocal, 6, 22, 144–145, 189–207, 210 translocational, 47, 58, 66 transnationalism and belonging, 96, 98. See also bicultural; diaspora and border-crossing, 3, 7, 69, 87, 143–145 and circulation (see circulation) and collaboration (see collaboration)

Index and conceptualization or organisation of space, 3, 6–7, 22, 75, 94, 144, 149, 152, 158, 159–162, 167–168, 180–184, 190–191, 208, 209–11, 211–212 (see also relational space) and cosmopolitanism (see cosmopolitanism) and displacement (see displacement) and economy, 10–11, 15, 23–24, 34, 60–63, 75–6, 78–9, 85–90, 93, 94, 148, 149, 152, 158–9, 167–168, 195, and ethnic minorities, 13, 14, 21, 33–36, 49–50, 96, 131–5, 137, 139, 140, 175–180, 187–188, 212–215 and geographical approaches to, 8–9, 12, 69–71, 143–145, 209–211, 211–212 and globalisation, 8, 9, 75–6 and glocalisation (see glocalisation) and identity, 7, 20–21, 35, 38–39, 47, 49, 99, 133. See also intersectionality and imagination, 3, 71, 100, 215 and intersectionality, 20, 45–67 and migration, 14, 20, 21, 45, 47–50, 55, 69, 94, 131, 133, 175, 202, 211, 214 and movement, 7–8, 10–11, 21–22, 25, 55, 58, 62, 65, 71 124, 128, 143–145, 157–158, 190–191, 210 and multiculturalism, 2, 12–14, 21, 70, 96–97, 100, 108, 117, 119–120, 123, 125, 130–131, 134, 144 and nationality/the nation-state, 11–12, 13, 21, 38, 70, 73, 79, 83, 88, 95–97, 98, 116, 122, 125, 131, 135, 137–141, 144, 152–3, 155, 165, 167, 180–184 and networks (see networks) and politics, 10, 11, 47, 66–67, 113, 115–6, 144


and situatedness, 7–8, 20, 69–72, 36, 124, 210 and social field, 7–8, 12, 21, 169 and theatre/performance, 3, 7, 9, 10–12, 208, 209–11, 211–212 and theatre studies, 6, 7, 9 Trishaw, 155 Tse, David, 32, 199

V Vertovec, Steven, 7, 24, 29, 65, 70, 119, 120

W Wang, Nathan, 99, 106 wAve, 21, 119–141, 213 Werbner, Pnina, 70 Wild Rice Theatre Company, 53, 157, 206 Wild Swans, 34, 35, 39, 176 wishful performative, 112, 113, Woman in a Tree on a Hill, The, 155 Wu, Simon, 3

Y Yang Family, The, 30–31 Yee, Lauren, 39 Yellow Earth Theatre Company, 1, 13, 18, 32, 34, 35–36, 70, 119–141, 171, 173, 178, 200, 202, 214 Yellow Face, 37–38, 43 Yew, Chay, 26, 42, 197, 202 A Beautiful Country, 45 Half Lives (see Half Lives) House of Bernada Alba, 42 A Language of Their Own, 94 Red, 26, 42 Porcelain (see Porcelain) Yip, David, 27, 29, 39–40, 214 Yip, Jay Oliver, 119, 130, 131, 132, 133, 136 York, Daniel, 27, 29, 30, 35, 39, 169, 172, 180, 183, 204, 205, 207 Young Vic, The, 34, 39, 179, 183 Yu, Ryun, 27, 29, 40–41