She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

It has been a full two months since I left the day job to pursue the dream once again.

Why not. Might as well. She says.

Over the last few weeks, I reflected a lot to see which direction to take. I have consulted mentors and talked with many friends. I noted that with my female peers a pattern in our conversations was appearing: stress levels, anxiety and the pressure we put on ourselves. Our society seems to have certain values and on top of that we struggle with our own goals.

We are women of a certain age, children of the 2008 recession, unexpectedly lesser progressed in our careers despite our upbringing and educational expectations.
We are women on a cross-road, unable to see the consequences that our choices may bring: motherhood and ambition, will it be compatible? Money making or art following? What if we miss the boat? Which boat are we trying to board in the first place? How to pay the rent? Are we allowed to lean on people – does that diminish our drilled-in declaration of independence? What if we cannot do it on our own?
To quote the great Maya Rudolph in the film Away We Go: “Burt, are we fuck-ups?”

“We are infantilised.”someone said today and I liked the phrase. What does it mean to be an adult? Financial independence, home ownership, parenthood? What we have learned we should have/be/want as an adult, does not line up with reality. Perhaps that is why we don’t give ourselves the credit of being adults and we are trapped in uncertain limbo.

Tonight I watched “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” on Netflix about the Women’s Lib movement. It was enlightening. I was blown away to realise how radical the changes were that made on issues we now too often take for granted. The movement wasn’t perfect, mistakes were made, yet its journey has changed many lives and it is still ongoing.Screen-Shot-2014-12-05-at-10.48.18-AM-e1417805381734

If anything, it inspired me to be fearless: I saw women marching with children on their backs for jobs, for equal pay, for birth control, for day care. I heard testimonies about women performing illegal abortions on other women who were desperate to not become mothers.

Images of women disrupting men in meetings about female health care issues, men who laughed at the idea of Women’s Lib, women who agreed that a women’s place was in the home. Notions that are alien to me and the ones I associate with.

My fear subsided. I am an adult. My choices will be mine. The path I take my own. Thank goodness for the freedom and the opportunity to keep on pursuing that dream.


Money to mouth, time to step up

Monday, let’s start the new week by putting money where ones mouth is…

put your money where your mouth is
› to show by your actions and not just your words that you support or believe in something


Last week, I had the pleasure to attend two Open Forum discussions on inclusion in theatre: the first one was the D&D by Improbable on the inclusion of race and diversity and the second discussion was held by Tamasha, after their scratch night to address the gender-imbalance on stage: and dealt with the question how to create more permanent change in the theatre to include women.

Dear Reader, I can feel half of you switching off here: please don’t. I promise you this won’t be a political feminist rant. In fact, this is exactly what this blog is about, that feeling of “Yeah, yeah I know but do we have to make such a song and dance about it? Do we have to talk about it, can’t we just do it?” Last week, I met people who would answer/scream: “No, we can’t because they won’t let us!”  We being defined here by the minority discussed and They by the powers-that-be.

I am still not sure where I stand on this: I have only relatively recently joined the theatre forces and so I am not convinced yet that my current lack of published plays is an oppression issue –  I would like to think that I just need more time to hone the craft. Also, I had a very happy childhood, thank you very much mum and dad, and I don’t feel the passion/anger that comes from feeling wronged.

However, I am also a woman of ethnic minority trying to craft in Western theatre and I cannot deny that I do not see a lot of us working in ‘the industry’. This is just a cold, hard fact. One can argue that the minorities are just not available but here is another fact: I am here and though not many, others are with me. Even if not all of us have had the experiences that let us fight with the conviction, volume and the vigour as some can; when asked, we have to – at the very least – silence the thrice-crowing cockerel, and step up.

papergang_logo_100pxWFor that reason (and this is the point of this whole essay – thanks for bearing with me), when I was asked by Banana Writers to contribute a piece about our company Papergang Theatre, a new writing platform for British East Asians, I couldn’t say no. It is very daunting to share this with you, as I feel that there are more eloquent voices out there and for whom I have a lot of admiration. Yet if I am to scared to do it, how can I even dare to suggest others have a valid voice that deserves to be heard?

So if you are interested, please read the article “Writers wake up!”

Hidden heartaches

As the world focusses on the incredible story of the three women who were freed in Ohio after ten years, there is another little story of heartache going on back home. In the Netherlands two little boys are missing in Zeist, their parents are divorced and the brothers were spending the weekend with their father. The father was found near a wood after having committed suicide and the boys had disappeared.

Disco jesusA friend of mine shared the mother’s agony felt through her status update on Facebook: “to keep an eye out for her two little fellas who have been missing since this morning.”  After shortly stopping the search last night, police has had enough tips to continue later today.

Having just visited a new-born niece I cannot, refuse to imagine the pain. Literally witnessing a new generation of my family come to life, makes me realise that life will go on, even when I am no longer here. Not having any children of my own yet, I see the future in my nieces and my nephew. Not even my own, they are my hope.

I am not even able to write down my fears out of silly superstition but I feel for the mother who is waiting for her sons. It might just be one story, which doesn’t even make the global news. It is one of many in the world and nothing to do with me at all but if we stop caring for people’s crises, hope is truly lost.

School for Scandal

Richard Sheridan’s comedy School for Scandal has been revived at the Barbican by Deborah Warner, the Barbican’s artistic associate.

Set in 1777, the play concerns group of well-to-do in society who enjoy getting together and gossiping about their friends who aren’t present. Some just enjoy the telling of the story, others have an ulterior motive: Lady Sneerwell plants gossip about Charles Surface so he will  lose his girl Maria, and his brother Joseph Surface helps Lady Sneerwell to win Maria. When the Surface’s wealthy uncle turns up from the East- Indies, he goes undercover to discover who of the two brother should be his heir. Soon he unravels reputation and exposes genuine character.

The subject of gossip is still relevant, as demonstrated just before the play starts: the audience is watched by the cast, pointed at and at occassions snapped by a camera on mobile phones.

Warner has chosen for modern staging: the set is a variation on a blackbox theatre, mixed with a modern take on the traditional backdrops. The backdrops are black and white drawings, that are pulled up and/or suspended in air when appropriate. The concept is played with: most memorably the entrance of the wealthy uncle that is highlighted by a huge drawn arrow.  Every ” Location, Act and Scene” is also written on posters and displayed to the audience.

Scene-changes are done while loud modern music blasts and words are projected. Unfortunately the music was so thunderingly loud  in comparison to the dialogue, that it made the scene-changes almost an event in itself. Perhaps that was the aim, though it seemed a little distracting.

Some scenes were solely lit by multiple side-lights, that created that open blackbox theatre feel. Yet as not the whole stage is lit, position becomes key and some actors delivered their lines with their face in darkness: this is where the older actors showed their experience and found the light in each scene.

Costume is alternatively in traditional 18th century costume and modern clothing. The opening scene sees Lady Sneerwell getting changed from modern clothing into her gorgeous dress: symbolism of what is behind the facade? Perhaps. Like Charles Surface, a hard-partying socialite who is dressed in jeans, trainers and just a nice 18th Century jacket: he doesn’t seem to care much about appearances.

The only thing that grated a little, is the main reason the play has been troublesome in the past: the character of Moses, the friendly Jew. Jews aren’t portrayed favourably and the difference it makes with say Avenue Q, which is really un-PC, is the fact that this comedy wasn’t written as a (modern) parody. Personally I was also a little disappointed by the lack of racial diversity amongst the main characters in this modern setting, which could have perhaps counterbalanced this issue. This production has tried to solved it by making Moses a very comedic character, so kudos to the actor who gets the laughs of the tentative audience.

Still the company worked with the existing material and bar some staging issues that can be tweaked ( we sat next to a man with a notebook and a pass around his neck, presumably making notes.) have made an entertaining production to watch.

Life is a roller coaster

It happened  last week, just as I was minding my own business in a bookstore: suddenly I was overwhelmed by the realisation that it would all be over soon.

Eight weeks have flown by. For a moment I was standing there, like a lemon, in front of the journal section, eyes tearing up with unexpected heart-ache like emotion.

Complete nonsense of course as there is nothing to cry about: New York has been amazing to me. I don’t even feel  like I’ll be leaving it soon, it actually feels like I have made a new friend who I’ll be able to visit.

I feel the same about my less metaphorical new friends; experience has shown that you don’t have to see each other everyday to still feel connected.

The fact that we did see each other (nearly) every day over the last few months, has made these eight weeks super-intense. Everyone came to this city as an individual and became part of this international group of people with similar interests, looking for the same thing. No wonder friendships were built in mere days.

Emotions were intense, disagreements/miscommunications, everything that would usually just be shrugged off, now almost became something of an event. When you are by yourself, without your usual social network to fall back on or flee to, or even without a familiar social context, the impact of an emotion can be huge.

This is the case for all emotions of course and indeed, a few liaisons have developed over the last few weeks.  Poor souls, if I fear the pain of separation from my friends, their agony must be a hundred-times worse. They might curse themselves for having gotten into something that could have a potential messy outcome.(Pints of Haagen-Dazs at the ready, washed away with soul-numbing vodka-shots.)

Still I hope they will give themselves credit for their courage. Courage being defined as:

 the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc.

Yes, anyone in their right mind knows the risks of an eight-week affair. The key to this obviously,  is that these things are never a mind-matter, it is the heart’s. It takes some courage and strength to willingly step into an emotional rollercoaster without knowing what will happen when you get to the end of the ride.

The ride might make you sick or might even hurt you, but there is the thrill of the attraction! If you are lucky, you end up with a beautiful picture of you and your object of affection, beaming with happiness in one of the rollercoaster-carts (which you can pick up from the store for the bargain-price of $12.99 or $14.99 for a key ring.)

What I’m trying to say is, what is the price of happiness – be it fleeting, momentarily? So take a breath and hang on tight my friends: go a little crazy in the land of the free and make your mark in the home of the brave!

The Boat

On the subway there was a big burly man, dressed in a casual T-shirt and a cap,folding small crosses from palm leaves: Palm Sunday. It arrives even in New York, touching even the most unexpected.

Struggling with the concept of God myself, I like the joke of the man who after a flood, got stranded on his rooftop while the water was still rising. Some sources say he was drowning in the ocean. In any case there was a lot of water.

The man started praying to be saved.

A boat arrived to help him, but the man refused. “God will save me.” The boat left.

Another boat arrived but again the man refused.” God will save me.” The boat left.

And because all things come in three , a third boat arrived to help him ( Boats are like busses really – especially when you are drowning.) Again the man refused.

Then he died. Obviously.

When he got to the gates of Heaven and was given time for his one complimentary question to God himself, the man asked: “Why didn’t you save me?”

God answered: ” I sent you three boats.”

Moral of the story kids: you can’t always pin it on the Big Man, so you if you don’t like them boats, you’d better learn to swim!

The Rivals

On Saturday I met up with my sister and my former flatmate to see the play The Rivals at the Haymarket. I knew nothing about this play directed by Peter Hall and I have to admit us three took the average age of the matinée audience down a notch.

The play is written in 1775 by Richard Sheridan (He of School of Scandal fame) and set in Bath. It’s a fairly simple comedy of errors. The young and wealthy Lydia is being courted by Captain Jack Absolute who pretends to be ‘Ensign Beverley’ to please Lydia’s romantic notions of being with a poor man against her guardian, her aunt’s will.

Her aunt brilliantly played by Penelope Keith is a brilliant character: Mrs Malaprop. She uses certain words in her speech that only sound like the intended words but with different meaning: this is the character where the word malapropism stems from.

One day Jack’s father Sir Anthony Baronet  (Peter Bowles) comes to Bath to suggest Lydia and Jack should be wed. Mrs Malaprop thinks this is a much better match than the poor Ensign – also because she fears Lydia knows too much about the love-affair Mrs M is having with a certain Sir Lucius O’ Trigger.

As these were the days before email and text messaging, communication was mostly done through letters delivered by maids and servants. (For our younger readers: letters are these pieces of paper that people have written messages on, usually in pen.) The maid in this play earns a good wage delivering the messages for both couples and takes joy in creating a little confusion: she told Sir O’ Trigger that he’s communicating with the young Lydia rather than her aunt…

Confusion starts when Jack first refuses to marry the woman his father has chosen, conveniently enough his dad refuses to tell him who it is until he agrees, as his heart belongs to Lydia. Then Lydia finds out who she is to marry and is upset about Jack’s lie about being Beverly. This part I found really annoying: so she gets to be with the one she loves but then has a sulk. It also did not help that the actress playing Lydia was pretty wooden in her speech. For the foreign speaker, old-fashioned English is much easier to understand when it is spoken the way it was meant: the context becomes clearer. (In the same way that Shakespeare is to be watched/ listened to, not read.)

An excellent actress was the girl who played Jo, Lydia’s cousin and whose name I cannot find anywhere. She and her boyfriend Falkland fight along as a satire on romantic dramas at the time. He continuously doubts and tests her true love until she finally has enough and walks away…so they both realise they belong together: Ahhh true love.

Meanwhile O’Trigger and another comedic character of Bob Acers are disturbed by the news Lydia is to marry as both claim her love, though the latter secretly (otherwise they would have to fight each other). O’Trigger eggs Acers on to challenge his rival to a duel and he will do the same. So Jack/Beverly, his second man Falkland, O’Trigger and Acers all turn up to duel.

In the final scene all the women rock up to forgive their erring men before they all start fighting each other and suddenly it becomes clear who is who and who is in love with who. Poor Mrs Malaprop gets put down for being old by O’Trigger -ageism is ageless. But happy endings all around? Of course!