"I saw a soup being made. That’s right, I saw a moment of fire in each and every one of you. And we are going build that fire. We’re going to build that fire and we’re going to cook that soup and we are going to serve that soup."
Playwright and actor Sam Wang spoke to PAT's Chye-Ling Huang about his latest play, Asian Arts Engagement Crew. Referencing TV's 'Community', this social satire plays with race, 'diversity' and the sincerity and motives behind inclusion.
CL: What was the inspiration behind writing AAEC?
SAM: For a while, I’ve been wanting to write a contemporary sit-com about a bunch of eccentrics trying to run their own online “let’s change the world” kind of organisation. It felt very now and very this generation. Then I met a wonderful group of Asian Australian actors and artists last year and that’s when I thought, maybe I could put an Asian / arts related spin on this idea and perhaps even ask some of them to be in it.
CL: Is it based on real life incidents at all?
SAM: Sort of, although I think a lot of the characters and their perspectives are based on exaggerated versions of my alter-egos rather than real life. I’m a little cautious about using real life sources as AAEC pretty much tries to take the piss out of everyone and everything so it’s much safer to stick with make believe.
CL: What are you hoping the audience will take away from watching AAEC?
SAM: On one level, all I really want is for the audience to have a really good time during the show and laugh a lot…I’m pretty cheap like that. If both Asian and non-Asian audiences laugh at the same Asian jokes in AAEC, then I think I’ve done my job. That said, I do hope that some also go away thinking that it was clever and has a bit of heart to it. I guess my entire philosophy is that sometimes we can afford to take ourselves a little less seriously and have a laugh at ourselves. Hopefully AAEC makes them feel a little bit of that too.
CL: There seems to be a growing awareness of 'diversity' in the arts recently. What are your views on 'engaging Asians in the arts'?
SAM: It’s funny because a lot of my views about engaging Asians in the arts come from engaging with my parents. They’re 60, from mainland China, have math and science backgrounds and moved to Australia in the early nineties. Consequentially, I think a lot of my views on the subject are skewed towards the cynical side of the spectrum. That said, my dad is now probably one of my biggest fans, partly because I’m an only child so he doesn’t have any other horses to back – thanks Chairman Mao. I guess what I’m trying to say is that at least for my parent’s generation, sometimes you can’t engage them in the arts. It’ll simply be forced upon them when one of their kids decides to run off with the circus. And looking around me, there are definitely more and more of us so times are definitely changing.
CL: What would you like to see change in the industry right now?
SAM: I’m really hoping there’ll be a time when the emphasis is less on “Asian works” and more on “works with Asians in it” or any other currently under-represented demographic of people. Some of my favourite shows like Community, Silicon Valley, The Thick of It etc. aren’t about “white people” even though they predominately feature white people. They’re about people trying to survive the world’s worst community college ever or beating Google at their own game or managing a government’s PR nightmare in a world of spin. Pretty cool, right? It would be pretty amazing when there are more works about Asians doing those kind of things (or insert any other under-represented demographic).
CL: Do you always write comedy?
SAM: It’s definitely my default starting position and I currently don’t feel a huge urge to venture too far away from it. I like rom-com, that has moments of seriousness in it right?
CL: Have you always made your own works?
SAM: Trying to, mainly so I can get away with just being myself and not having to do any “acting”.
CL: What else are you working on?
SAM: A Chinese spy comedy and an extended version of the AAEC. The concept for AAEC was that it would be a TV pilot adapted for the stage. I guess now I have to write the entire first season (deep breathe)…my next episode ideas are Asian Keyboard Warriors & Asians Lost in Space.
CL: What's your favourite play?
SAM: Pretty much anything by Robert Lepage and Martin McDonagh.
Asian Arts Engagement Crew is part of Fresh off the Page, PAT's monthly playreadings.