Report – By Anna Majavu
Auckland’s performing arts scene is experiencing an exciting new development – the emergence of new initiatives aimed at bringing Pasifika and Asian stories to the stage and small screen.
Recently, actors Fasitua Amosa (of Auckland Daze fame), Beulah Koale (who was on Harry and Shortland Street just a few weeks ago) and Max Palamo (Massive Company trainer of emerging artists) founded, with actor/director Shadon Meredith, the Pacific Theatre Laboratory, or PLab.
PLab has since put on two shows in Auckland. Hypothesis One depicted the lives of New Zealanders of Samoan origin and the experiences of the different generations within one family, with the notorious, racist Dawn Raids by the New Zealand police clearly affecting the elderly patriarch of the family.
PLab’s second show, Le Tonu (The Decision) expanded on this theme.
According to the collective, PLab was formed out of a desire to create contemporary Pacific works that are engaging, meaningful and challenging to the Pacific theatre status quo.
“Our emphasis is on experimentation with theatrical devices and form, and really extend not only what stories we tell as contemporary Pacific practitioners, but also how we tell these stories,” the collective said.
Following hot on their heels came the all-women collective who produced the Flat 3 web series. The lack of diverse roles for Asian New Zealanders inspired the show which featured Perlina Lau, Hweiling Ow, JJ Fong (of the latest season of Go Girls) and Ally Xue, and was written by Roseanne Liang.
“We got together and thought: there aren’t enough diverse roles for us. It’s either the shy one or the dragon lady or the prostitute” Xue told The Press newspaper.
And this week, the newly formed PAT Theatre Company makes its stage debut at The Basement theatre in central Auckland, performing an Obie award winning David Henry Hwang play, FOB.
The PAT Theatre Company was formed by actors Chye-Ling Huang (of Chinese origin) and James Roque (from the Philippines) with the aim of bringing more Asian stories to the New Zealand stage.
Huang says she wants be involved with the growth of fresh new Kiwi-Asian theatre, and is also currently collaborating on Renee Liang’s Paper Boats which focuses on young Kiwi-Asian women.
Diversity in casting is clearly still a concept that has to take off in New Zealand. In the rest of the world, there have been many campaigns against the outdated practice of giving most mainstream roles to white actors, with indigenous actors or actors of colour left to audition for only those roles that perpetuate racial stereotypes.
But as Hollywood star Lucy Liu told the Colorlines news site recently, even she has found it difficult to get roles because producers would rather cast Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy.
“When she finds herself cast as part of a major plot line she’s usually some sort of supernatural action hero or villain character who’s mastered the martial arts,” the article stated.
“I wish people wouldn’t just see me as the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion” Liu said in the interview.
In an interview this week with arts website, The Big Idea, Roque explained too that “being Asian, it is much harder to find roles in the industry as Asian characters in plays and shows are often scarce.”
The importance of screen and theatre productions that talk about racism and xenophobia should be obvious.
As Roque pointed out to The Big Idea “while our racial tensions don’t quite equate to that of L.A. in the 1980’s, I think it’s still safe to say that it exists. New Zealand likes to pride itself on its multiculturalism when I know personally that it is not rainbows and happiness for all immigrants here. Racial tension is not a thing of the past and I think this play is universal in the way that it makes you question your own morals when it comes to immigrants.”
FOB stands for ‘fresh off the boat’ and although it features Chinese immigrants living in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, the story is very relevant for New Zealand current-day audiences too.
Taking a look at the “harsh modern realities” for immigrants, PAT theatre company says the show will “leave us with questions about New Zealand’s own beloved multicultural society.”
Anna Majavu is a journalist and a postgraduate researcher with the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology.