Yellow Face 😀
BlueLotus invited me to the preview of a play — Yellow Face, she says.
We didn’t read up on it as we had both been busy but yearned for an evening out and with zero expectations, we met at 5:00pm on a crisp April evening for a 12,000km meander from Circular Quay through the Botanical Park, past eager La Traviata opera-goers with the matte grey HMAS Supply giving a grand backdrop.
We walked through the streets of Woolloomooloo, found the butt-crunching steep steps at the very top of one of Sydney’s prettiest tree-lined Victoria Street before arriving at Kings Cross Theatre, KXT located inside a pub. What a beautiful setup to a play we hardly knew anything about.
NIDA-trained actor and lawyer by day Shan-Ree Tan plays David Henry Hwang or DHH as he’s fondly known. A flamboyant personality who made his Broadway debut in 1988 with M. Butterfly — a deconstruction of Puccini’s Madama B. That, won him a Tony Award, making him the first Asian to win. That same play also picked up the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I was so fascinated I just had to find out more about this fascinating DHH person…
So who is this illustrious American playwright David Henry Hwang?
Here’s David, speaking about a time when he was stabbed in the neck while returning home from buying groceries, marked because of his colour yet mistaken as he wasn’t that accented Asian delivery guy the attacker thought he was.
"Good fortune will follow if we somehow survive"
I liked David as soon as I heard him speak in the video above. So I searched for more videos on him and found this gem! A FREE Master Class lasting over 100-minutes, so grab a cuppa. What I found most interesting were his ideas about tapping into your unconscious mind, and weaving words between craft and impulse.
“I tend to succeed when I write stuff that I care about. If I decide I’m going to write something commercial, it doesn’t work out,” he said. And because of that, it reminds him to hold theatre in a very sacred place.
“It’s important to learn how to filter criticism. Ultimately it’s your script. You’re the one who gets to decide,” said David. The Master Class goes on with an exercise, inviting your participation to write a two-character scene. It’s a Master Class after all.
In the Yellow Face production by team Dinosaurus, first-time director Tasnim Hossain goes all out, no holds barred, as does front-man Shan-Ree Tan and the actors in depicting the mimicry of David Henry Hwang or DHH’s real-life experience in casting a non-Asian, thinking he was, for the play Face Value — I shall tell no more, no spoilers here! What I can do, is leave you this sketch made that very night as the emotions were gently stirred up by the passionate actors. Gently because while seated in the intimate theatre in King’s Cross, I was so drawn in, listening and watching every minute splash of saliva while the actors delivered the text — a first time in this country, and at the back of my mind, I thought about the assurance that KXT is a Covid safe place and a condition of entry was that we all had to have our China-made masks strapped on. I feared for the actors, but the show had to go on! On the way home, the pre-show cider I sipped earlier left a bitter after taste at the base of my tongue, and that brought to mind the relevance of the text inspired by an incident in 1993, premiered in 2007, and performed today in 2021. The strained Sino-Australian relations have resulted in so much bitterness between the two countries. It’s not easy to live in the skin of a Chinese person during these pandemic times. Once safely home, I had nothing but this symbol in my mind — the Chinese character ‘zhong’, meaning ‘middle’, one half of two symbols that would make up the name China, 中 (zhong) , 国 (guo), Middle Kingdom. Hold on to that thought while I playfully throw in the word 口 (kŏu) meaning ‘mouth’, the orifice to a brand new world — a generation that demands not asks for equality, nouns and pronouns. A generation that won’t stay mum on issues, vocal about equality, the environment, start hashtag causes and claim their space. I think they call them Xennials. And it is via that same orifice that text is delivered through speech at play or viruses inhaled during the day.
At the end of the night, I couldn’t help but think about legendary singer Kamahl and how he got literally white faced with flour slapping pranks by those Hey Hey It’s Saturday fellas some 20 years ago and only spoke out about it now. That Somers and Blackman duo sure thought they were funny as hell (link). Anyway, let’s not indulge that and let that culture remain cancelled.
Yellow Face, however is still ongoing and with the world now looking to the Southeast Asia region for more content, the question is, are Asian audiences ready to accept watching people of their own peachy skin on screen and in plays? Note how I refuse to be typecast yellow although I have no issues selecting emojis of the yellow default. Are we Asians at that tipping point of finally accepting ourselves? I truly believe we are.
Yellow Face ran from April 23 — May 8, 2021.
Emcee reminds us all, that @KXT is self-funded and the production relies solely on ticket sales. So if you’d like support them, you could purchase an empty seat SUPPORT KXT.
About Yellow Face, the play
After taking a stand against the whitewashing of an Asian role in an upcoming Broadway musical, famous playwright David Henry Hwang becomes a role model for the Asian community. But when he accidentally casts a white man as the Asian lead in his new play, he rushes to cover up his mistake. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, this semi-biographical comedy tackles cultural identity in the western world. How much of it do we put on for show and how much is truly who we are? Source: KXT
Director Tasnim Hossain; With Jonathan Chan, Helen Kim, Adam Marks, Kian Pitman, Idam Sondhi, Whitney Richards, Shan-Ree Tan; Production Designer: Ruru Zhu Lighting Designer: Lucia Haddad Sound Designer: Prema Yin Set Builder: Amanda Torrisi; Intimacy Coordinator: Shondelle Pratt Accent & Dialect Coach: Linda Nicholls-Gidley Assistant Director: Brooke Lee Stage Manager: Lillian Lee; Producers: Jasper Lee-Lindsay & Janine Lau.
- Kamahl opens up about hurtful Hey Hey It’s Saturday segments https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/flashback/kamahl-opens-up-about-hurtful-hey-hey-its-saturday-segments-on-studio-10/news-story/12069a7d5e70d52ac41c42aab701a158
- Yellowface! — The History of Racist Asian Stereotypes https://www.yellow-face.com/
- Absolutely Fabulous movie Yellowface https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/absolutely-fabulous-movie-yellowface-why-offensive-racial-stereotyping-still-blights-hollywood-1533640
- Examples of Yellow Face in film:
Originally published on the website: https://www.jasminelow.com.