Sunday, June 29, 2008

Montana Poetry Slam

Yes, it's that time of the year again.....time to get out the leather bodice....

Friday, June 27, 2008

On Asian Male Stereotypes

A friend just posted a link to this video which seems to have taken off on Youtube, and I can see why. It's an appealing homemade take on a question that constantly gets raised in 'Asian' forums. There seems to be two main responses to the issue of why Asian girls 'prefer' white guys: anger, or humour.

It took me ages to understand just what my guy friends were getting so het up about. Surely it was an overreaction to what is, after all, a matter of personal choice? But then after talking to a few of my friends I realised that it went deeper than that. It's not about Asian or white girls, romance, or even about rivalry. It's about identity and self esteem.

I mean, being an 'Asian chick' has its drawbacks for sure - the whole stereotype of being both innocent and good in bed. (arggh! what kind of sense does that make?) But at least those are, in the warped way of the world, seen as 'desirable' qualities. Whereas Asian men have had to put up for years with the (untrue)stereotype of being weak, nerdy, and small where it counts. This is simplifying things, of course - it's just the tip of the iceberG, and as anyone who has read my poetry will know, I tend to get a bit pissed off whenever people make assumptions based purely on appearance..... rah, rah. Anyway, back to Asian guys - no wonder they get defensive and angry and unsure of themselves.

Disclaimer: I realise I'm wading into very deep water here and risk getting shot down by someone who takes what I'm saying the wrong way. So I'll say that this is NOT a blanket statement, it's just a general comment, and I know quite a few Asian guys dating non-Asian girls...and there are definitely some Asian guys I find hot. And yes, I further agree that not all Asians can be lumped together and that it's derogatory to refer to girls as chicks....but I'm ditching PC in favour of clarity on this post. Happy?

Anyway, where I'm going with all this is that after having these conversations with my friends, and realising belatedly what they had been dealing with, I wanted to write something about it. This was one of the seeds of Lantern.

So, in answer to the video, I thought I'd post a section of dialogue from Lantern which segues into this whole discussion. BTW, this is the only bit of the play where I indulge in dick jokes.....

JEN: yeah, parents….just the whole Confucian thing, you know? Like my dad. We weren’t even allowed to argue, he’d just tell us he was right, just because he was my dad. My mum used to make us listen to him, how ironic is that?

STEVE: Saving face? (handing her a plate)

JEN: Yeah. Thanks, I’m getting full.

STEVE: But it wasn’t easy for him either, was it?

JEN: Huh?

STEVE: Well, being a yellow guy.

JEN: What do you mean?

STEVE: To have people look at you and assume that not only are you weak, but you also have less balls, in fact that your whole – apparatus is undersized.

JEN: So what? It’s not size that matters. It’s techn-

STEVE: You’re missing the point. The point is that we don’t have small dicks at all –

Hey I didn’t –

- that’s just in people’s minds! Some of us are actually quite large –

JEN: Whatever –

STEVE: Anyway, we fit the normal distribution of – of, you know, and we’re not weak, and just because we’re not hairy doesn’t mean that we –

- can’t act like cavemen when the occasion demands?

STEVE: Okay, yeah, point taken.

Pause. They stare at each other.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some more thoughts on rehearsals

I've been luckier than most new writers, I think, in that so far I've had the opportunity to watch three experienced directors at work, two of them with something I've written. It's a great lesson to me on how people interpret the written word. I write (ideally) in a sort of creative cloud, immersed for the moment in an imagined world or a character's mind. At other times I feel like an omniscient god, observing my characters and simply writing down their actions and thoughts. Whatever the process, it's hard to reenter exactly the same space I was in when I wrote it, so when I'm asked "why is your character doing this?" I sometimes have no idea.

Yet my main task as writer is to communicate those scenes in my head to the page so that someone reading it will be able to see what I see. And yet I can't just describe it exactly as I see it. Having dialogue that is too "on the nose" is one of the greatest sins of dramatic writing, and one which I (as a novice) am frequently guilty of.

Watching Tony, Andy and Li-Ming work on my play has been a largely humbling experience. One because they take such care with my ideas and words. And two because they often find meaning in my writing that I wasn't aware was there, but with their interpretation, I see was there all along. Did I put it in there because I intuitively knew how to, as a writer? Or was it just a fluke? I'm hardly ever sure.

Tony has been explaining some things that are probably just as good for a writer to know as an actor: when an actor speaks a line, they have to think about three things:

1. what the surface meaning of the words are. eg. "I need to go to bed" means the character is tired and needs to sleep.

2. the underlying meaning that the character is conscious of, eg "I need to go to bed" means they want to get out of a boring dinner party.

3. the underlying meaning that the character is unconscious of, eg "I need to go to bed" means they want to leave the dinner party because they are attracted to the host but don't want to acknowledge this to themselves yet.


Been writing, rewriting and attending rehearsals. I am obsessed it seems! Watching a play come to life - and hearing other people's interpretations of a world which I have constructed in the privacy of my own head - is a huge buzz. It's also scary given that it feels like I'm exposing some private and not-quite-sure-is-kosher side of myself, and anyway I'm never sure whether people will find my jokes funny.

The other really scary bit is that I'm still fiddling with the script, we open in 2.5weeks, and the actors are trying very hard to learn the lines while working full time on jobs and other shows. Testament to their professionalism and that of the director, Tony!

Anyway here are the details:
Summer, 2008. As the rest of Auckland is getting down to long days by the beach, the Chen family get ready for Chinese New Year's Eve – a time by which all debts must be settled, the house swept clean of issues, and families reconciled. Jen is 30 going on 40, caught between worrying about her depressed father and wondering if she's ever going to find the right man. Her younger brother Ken is a loose cannon, unsure of his direction in life. Their father Henry is a broken man. And then his wife Rose, who walked out of their lives a year ago, waltzes back in….

A play about finding out who you really are. And who you really love.

TWO NIGHTS ONLY July 10th and 17th, 8 pm at Smackbang Theatre 208 K'Rd. Workshop performance followed by Q+A, $8/$10.

Written by Renee Liang * Directed by Tony Forster* with Andy Wong and Li-Ming Hu.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to redraft a play

Have been redrafting my play Lantern, which is precious because it's my first real child (a full-length play, as opposed to the many shorter plays I've written). It's scary because the time has crept up on me and now there's less than a month to go before we're actually performing it in front of a paying audience.

The play has moved very quickly through two new drafts, in part due to some excellent advice from Gary Henderson, who's helping as a dramaturg. I wanted to share some of his advice, because I think that it's really helped me, as a writer, to see more clearly how to shape a longer narrative. Not just plays, but also things like novels or poetry collections. (I hope that my current obsession with theatre will have a payoff in other areas of my writing life - at least that's how I'm justifying it. If I need to, that is.)

Anyway, Gary suggests doing three things when moving from a first draft to subsequent drafts:

1. Summarise the play in a single paragraph. This is not the play blurb or teaser, but what actually happens in the play.

2. Say what is the play about in a single word. Like, "solitude" or "desire" or "family". This is the theme of the play.

3. Using that word, state what you are trying to say, as short and pithy as possible. eg "Desire will kill you". This is the dramatic premise, which you must know why you believe in order to write the play.

I think this is great advice for any piece of long-form writing, not just plays, and I hope Gary won't mind me repeating them here. Anyway, I've included some links to the articles on his website:

What to write about, by Gary Henderson

Advice to Young Writers, by Gary Henderson

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A pointless rant about Soup.

Yesterday over lunch, my Dad said that he'd spent the night dreaming about soup. He didn't specify what flavour of soup, but with my dad the flavour of soup doesn't really matter, so long as it's soup. Of the Asian kind that is. None of your heavy, creamy Western concoctions with all the bones taken out and the rest processed to some sort of indistinguishable mush. No, Chinese soup always has lots of animal body parts, some of it still identifiable.

He went on to expound his new theory about soup: according to him, soup evolved in the warm countries. Cold countries don't have soup because it's too cold to go outside to pee after drinking all that hot yummy liquid. Which (I thought) kind of goes against the whole Western idea of soup being an ideal cold-weather treat, but then Western soup is quite thick, so maybe it doesn't count as 'real' soup.

I said that I thought soup addiction might be a pan-Asian thing, because in the Asian play series I'm involved in at least three of the seven plays talk about soup. And each play is only ten minutes long, so to make it in, love of soup would have to lurk just under the surface of the collective Asian subconscious.

This little bit of name-dropping about my pro-Asian artistic activities didn't stop my mum at all. She called my dad a soup weirdo. My mum has a theory that this craving for soup (let's call it soupophilia) is the result of mutant genes on the Liang side (ie, not her side of the family.) She reckons that demanding soup to drink every day is akin to a hardened drug addiction. As an intermediary step to getting him to quit she has restricted my Dad's soup intake. In desperation, my dad sneak-cooks soup on the sly, especially when my mum is away or before she gets home from work. Sometimes I find him hiding downstairs still slurping the last of it or hiding the rest in the freezer.

See, told you it was a pointless rant.....