i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) is bringing the Chinese queer experience to the stage 🎭
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS
i will still be whole… is a lyrical interlinking of monologues devoted to blood ties and the things that we inherit from our parents. The unique storyline follows a mother and daughter coping with their cultural differences, acceptance and isolation.
The mother and daughter (Jay and EJ) are preparing for their first meeting in 22 years and there’s plenty at stake. How honest can they be with one another about the separate lives they’ve lived? How can they accept who the other person has become?
The play is written by Ava Wong Davies, who is no stranger to the theatre world. Her work has been showcased at The Yard, The Bunker and VAULTS Festival, and she is also part of the Soho Theatre Writers Lab and Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers.
Tuyen Do stars as Joy and is also a DIVA fave as she appears in lez/bi web series Different For Girls, available now on DIVA Box Office.
However, it’s not common to see the story of a queer woman of colour on the stage. Especially a queer Chinese woman. It’s a groundbreaking play, which is already inspiring members of the LGBTQI community.
We caught up with Ava during rehearsals for the play to find out what to expect!
DIVA: Can you tell us a bit about the play and where the idea for it came from?
AVA WONG DAVIES: It’s a play about a mother and a daughter, and the story that leads them to their first meeting in 22 years.
I wanted to represent some version of myself on stage and it’s developed over the last two years. It became about identity and feeling lost and adrift. It questions how that sits inside someone when they haven’t had one of their parents around. On top of that whole idea, it’s a very confusing situation – not having a mother in your life. There’s quite a bit about myself and my own identity in the play, but it’s not completely autobiographical.
How was the writing process?
It started out as a one person show. It was much more explicitly about racial identity. Then as it developed, I had different ideas and different readings of it. Every time it didn’t feel quite right and I tried lots of different forms. Finally, it felt correct when it was these two monologues which are meeting.
Why did it feel so wrong up until that point?
That first version, which was just one person, felt too one-sided. It felt like an idea that needed to be challenged and it developed. There needed to be something that was pushing these ideas along and that was in conversation with them. It took a while to feel that out and feel what worked.
Have you played around with the themes of queer identity and racial identity in your writing before?
In the beginning, I found it quite difficult to write about because it feels more difficult to worry about that stuff. When you are writing something that is about your personal identity, it’s hard not to make it all about your own personal experience. It was sort of like doing therapy and taking it on the stage. It needs to be that way when you’re doing it for the right reasons. You want to tell the right stories and tell them in the right way. You don’t want to be like, “I’m just figuring something out and you have to watch”.
How important is it to you to see queer people and people of colour represented in theatre?
I really can’t remember the last time I saw anything like it. The language for it doesn’t really exist. It makes it hard to write because you don’t have any starting point. The fact that people are going to look at it and be like, “This is a queer Chinese play” means it’s going to be held up as a representative of that whole community, which of course, it’s not, but there are so few stories about people of colour on the stage.
The ones that do make it to the stage are really scrutinised. Whereas a play about a white, straight man is just taken for its humanity and generalised. If you really zero in on the fact that you’re representing a community, it’s a bit hard.
What are you most looking forward to about bringing it to the stage?
It’s when British East Asian people message me and tell me that they’re coming and bringing all of their friends. When an old version of the play was performed a year and a half ago, there was a Q&A afterwards and someone said that it really affected them to see that experience on stage. I started thinking that, more than anything, I want people to come and see themselves if they don’t often get to see themselves represented.
What’s the importance of the parental relationship in the play?
These two characters go into this meeting knowing it’s never going to be enough. But then there is still, so much tenderness and love. There’s a line in it where the mother says, “Love doesn’t always look like what you think it looks like”. That’s particularly relatable with Chinese families. Love isn’t expressed in the same way it is for Western people. It’s with touches or with food, you never really say, “I love you.” It’s pretty intricate. It’s a really different way of exploring a human connection.
What would you like the future of theatre to look like for queer people of colour?
I want diversity and I want to embrace it onstage and offstage. The people who are making the decisions are just as important. If it is to embrace all of that, it has to be inclusive. It has to be expansive and make room for all of those voices. There has to be more going on underneath.
Make sure you grab your tickets for i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) here to support queer theatre and the wonderful work of Ava Wong Davies.
i will still be whole (when you rip me half) will run at Bunker Theatre 12 – 23 November 2019.
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