"What lengths do people go to save face, and how important is it?"
Award-winning playwright Nathan Joe takes some time out from his busy schedule to chat with PAT’s producer, Kelly Gilbride about love, writing for theatre and the first play he ever wrote, Losing Face. Losing Face will be making its debut this Wednesday 13 September at The Basement Theatre at 8.30pm! For more information visit our Facebook page.
Fun fact about Nathan - he is also one of eight leading men in Asian Men Talk About Sex - an intimate short documentary created by Proudly Asian Theatre and Loading Docs. Watch it here!
Kelly: This is the first play you ever wrote and you really took the plunge into quite an epic and sad love story. Was there anything specific, an event, a train of thought, that drove you to write Losing Face?
Nathan: Anyone familiar with gay relationship dynamics will tell you the younger Asian male and older white male is a notable one. It's a pairing that is also easy to be a bit cynical about too. One that I know people can often look down on and even sometimes scorn. So, then, it seemed natural to try and resist the impulse to judge and write something from the perspective of understanding.
Kelly: You’ve presented a relationship that is complex in more ways than one and that seems to be affected by some major external forces - different races, a wide age gap, the coming out of an older widowed man, societal norm. Can you speak to this - do you see these forces as barriers? What are you exploring with this relationship?
Nathan: Prejudice is at the heart of the play. Whether it's to do with race or age or what is simply expected of you. But I'm also interested in how prejudice can bring people together, as well as tear them apart. The notion of face is important here too. The idea of preserving your name or your social status. What lengths do people go to save face and how important is it?
Kelly: It seems rare to to see a play that explores an interracial relationship. How much do you think race plays a factor when choosing a sexual partner?
Nathan: I don't want to make too many bold claims, but race definitely has a major effect on how we judge or perceive potential sexual partners. Just like anything else. Admittedly this can be unconscious, but it's usually unconscious because it's a bias that has been left unchallenged.
If you believe the personal is the political, then it should naturally extend to the bedroom too. That's not to say you should feel obligated to have sex with every race. That's silly. But if you have an aversion to any particular race then that definitely says a lot about you.
Kelly: Do you believe that love can transcend against even the greatest odds?
Nathan: Oh God. I don't know. I don't know. I'd like to think so. But I guess that's why love is so alluring, because we believe in it even when it seems like the odds are not in its favour.
Sorry if that doesn't answer your question.
Kelly: What do you hope audiences will take away or learn from Losing Face?
Nathan: Just leaving with a greater sense of empathy for the characters and people in general.
Kelly: What is the driving force behind your writing?
Nathan: Curiosity - if I can understand what makes a character tick that's really satisfying. And exploring the notion of right versus right. Where nobody is necessarily in the wrong. Where everyone has their reasons.
Kelly: What do you find most frustrating about the theatre you see staged in Auckland?
Nathan: Lack of scope or ambition can be frustrating. But that's less about the makers and more about a lack of resources. Also I feel that we don't have a strong culture of really nurturing directors. Luckily we have plenty of talented actors who are willing to rise to the challenge.
Kelly: What are the most exciting things you’re seeing in theatre and film at the moment?
Nathan: Julia Croft's If There's No Dancing at the Revolution, Then I'm Not Coming. I saw it for the second time just to take some friends. But I didn't expect to love it even more on the rewatch. Victor Rodger's Ranterstantrum felt vital to me too. The stakes and tension felt very real. Very pertinent. And so so so angry. A necessary anger.
And I'm not seeing it till this Friday, but I'm incredibly excited for Alice Canton's OTHER [chinese].
Kelly: What advice would you give to first time playwrights?
Nathan: Read and see a lot of plays.