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“I realised our differences are to be celebrated. And where you come from, your culture and its history, are incredibly important." Nikita Tu-Bryant talks to STUFF

Embracing the ‘uncool’ - Nikita Tu-Bryant is taking back her roots through performance

Following the launch of Tide Waits for No Man, creative and theatre maker Nikita Tu-Bryant talks to STUFF about her musical journey as a Taiwanese kiwi.

Read the full interview below or follow the link here!

Nikita performing in her band FLITE.

Nikita performing in her band FLITE.

'Made in Taiwan' may be a label attached to most electronics but it's also a phrase one Wellington performing artist proudly associates with.

Nikita Tu-Bryant's melodious voice has a haunting timbre akin to Kiwi chart topper Bic Runga and acoustics which have heads swaying . She's heading south for three intimate shows, including a stop in Golden Bay with Christchurch based singer-songwriter, Monique Aiken.

Tu-Bryant's main aim with her music is to make people "feel", she said.

"People will interpret your music through whatever lens or experience that are going through at the time.  A song about travelling, could be interpreted as a break-up song.  I believe feeling all feelings are important, be it sadness or joy."

Tu-Bryant's most recent single release was with her band 'Flite', producing music she described as an "atmospheric-funk/electro-pop hybrid". She has also released an album and EP with folk band, Spooky, while producing music as a solo artist.

Born in Taiwan and raised in Auckland by her Kiwi dad and Taiwanese mum, Tu-Bryant has been immersed in everything music since she was five-years-old when she began playing the violin. She said being a "little Asian kid wanting to fit in", she couldn't relate to the violin's classical music. 

"It was, to me at the time, very uncool."

At 12-years-old, her father bought her a guitar which brought with it the inspiration to write songs.

Nikita performing with FLITE.

Nikita performing with FLITE.

"It was the cool thing I got to do growing up in a pretty strict environment."

From there, her thirst for performing grew. The guitar allowed her to play in shows and at 16, she was playing in bars, followed closely behind by her parents. It later led her to study music in Wellington. Tu-Bryant struggled with her cultural diversity growing up, wanting to be more like her "white friends", but she said, now she embraced her oriental background.

"It wasn't until my twenties that I started using my Mandarin-Chinese name in my performing life (雅涵 - pronounced Ya-Han), and it wasn't until then that I started to show interest in music from the Orient.

"I realised our differences are to be celebrated. And where you come from, your culture and its history, are incredibly important." 

Tu-Bryant is taking her music back on the road after a four-year break, but those years weren't spent far from her passion - collaborating and performing with other artists while travelling overseas.

This time her travels are taking her closer to home and with one of her biggest inspirations and supporters in tow - her dad. 

"He's responsible for all the good music I used to listen to as a teen."

She said people who go to her shows should expect an "intimate event" and talking between songs. And when she's not performing her music, she's taking her talents to the theatre. Tu-Bryant has an upcoming debut show which she wrote, directed and is acting in called, Tide Waits for No Man: Episode Grace. 

"I call myself a performing artist because I tend to do everything. I write music, I write stories, I write poetry, I act, I paint ..."

And in between her creative projects, she takes to the sea to surf.

Get tickets to Tide Waits for no Man here:

PAT Chats: PINAY Playwright Marianne Infante

”I want people to feel love, to be hurt, uplifted and inspired.”

Marianne Infante is on the edge of the new - the first bilingual Filipino play to be written in New Zealand, and her first full length work. PAT’s challenge to write for Fresh off the Page is part of a new initiative to support Asian writers to create new works and step outside their creative fields.

Marianne, who began as PAT’s producer for Fresh off the Page, is a proud Filipino who moved to Christchurch at age 11, before moving to Auckland in 2014. Marianne gained a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts degree graduating from Unitec in 2016 and has since multiplied her skills in the creative industry. Her theatre experiences include the Auckland Summer Shakespeare 2017's As You Like It, Emotional Creature (The Others Club) and Rumination (Simple Truth Theatre). As a stage manager she worked on BOYS with Auckland Theatre Company and TEMPO Dance Festival in 2017/2018.


PAT sat down with Marianne to talk about her experience before unleashing PINAY on the world.

Catch PINAY October 17th at The Basement Studio, 8.30pm!

What inspired you to write this play?

I don’t think I can pin it to one inspiration. Many things inspired and motivated me to write this play. It’s been brewing for 2 years and then when all the WHY-DO-I-WANT-TO-WRITE-THIS reasons stacked up together, I got to a point this year when I knew I just HAD to get it out of my chest. Those reasons being: personal lessons and conflicts, appreciation for my culture, for my family, my parents hard-work and love, PAT fighting for representation, sheer lack of Filipino voice in all sector of NZ Arts community, and the fact that I knew I had a genuine story I was so passionate to share and communicate.


What were the challenges you faced during the process?

Expressing and forming feelings into words, specifically scenarios that are so close to home. Writing out the pains and mistakes and fully realising those on the pages of my script; I avoided writing the hardest scenes till I just knew I had to, to finish the script. Another challenge for me was trusting myself as a writer. Trusting myself that the truth and story I have to share mattered.

What do you think makes a good story?

A story of truths. A story that explores the ugly and the complex. A story that activates the space and the people within it and engages people to think, question, maybe challenge and wonder.

How do you want people to feel at the end of your play?

I want people to feel love, to be hurt, uplifted and inspired by it. I want people to feel and understand one’s *malasakit at pagmamahal sa kapwa’t pamilya*

*Loose translation- selflessness/sacrifice/devotion/concern and love for fellow people and family.

‘Who’ did you write your play for?

I wrote this for any young adult who is having to; re-identify with themselves, dissect their multi-layered culture and re-evaluate the real importance and value of ‘love’ and ‘family’. I wrote this for the person I was last year and the year before.

What character was the easiest to write?

Mama. I have so much gratitude for her complexities and immense capability to love that I really enjoyed exploring her energy and essence.

Can you explain the ‘theatrical’ ideas/concepts utilized in the play that you describe?

I wanted to explore and stretch my story past dialogue and I have delved into movement, sound and music. Featuring my awe for Kapa Haka, Tinikling and love for Filipinos karaoke culture. Movement gives me the freedom to express what words can’t hold and moulds together the 3 different languages the character Alex engages with; English, Tagalog and Te Reo. It’s hard to fully translate from one language to another and to actually keep the essence and actual definition of the word just like the word ‘malasakit’ in the question above.  Regarding the musicality of the piece, for me music and singing is used when the emotions being communicated surpasses the dialogue; speaking no longer suffices.

Dead Lucky - Kiwi actor Yoson An talks about his role on a new SBS series and sharing the screen with Rachel Griffiths

"I believe filmmakers and storytellers have the power to either unite or divide humanity, and we need to be aware of that."

Yoson is fast becoming Aotearoa's next big thing.

Calm, collected but fiercely driven, Chinese-Kiwi Yoson An has been acting since 2012 and already has an impressive list of credits to his name. Locally, you might know him from Flat 3,  Mega Time Squad and cult classic Ghost Bride. A skilled martial artist and speaker of Cantonese and Mandarin, Yoson's natural charm on camera has landed him roles on international features Meg, Mortal Engines, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2 and the HBO Asia mini-series Grace.


Speaking with him about his career so far, what is most remarkable is that Yoson has consistently broken the tired stereotypes that Asian actors are often cast in, having the chance instead to play leading romantic roles, action heroes and nuanced characters that are far from the nerdy, one dimensional tropes, something he focuses on when writing and directing his own film projects, as well as curating his new media site for short films called 'SkyRise', something the driven actor works on when he's not on set.

Yoson recently landed a leading role, Charlie Fung, in the new SBS crime-thriller series Dead Lucky, acting alongside Rachel Griffiths. After arriving back in Auckland from the shoot in Sydney, Chye-Ling, co-founder of PAT, caught up with Yoson about the experience.


Firstly, congratulations on shooting Dead Lucky! Tell us about the series.

DEAD LUCKY is a gripping crime thriller told from multiple perspectives. Detective Grace Gibbs (Rachel Griffiths) is obsessed with catching the armed robber who killed her junior officer. Charlie Fung (Yoson An) her new trainee, blames Grace for the death of his best friend.

Meanwhile a share house of international students think that they have found paradise, until one of their housemates disappears. A couple of greedy convenience store owners resort to deadly measures to defend their business. While on the outskirts of the city, a violent fugitive is hiding.

Over one week, the paths of these characters collide, leaving Grace and Charlie to find the killer, the missing girl ... and a way to rebuild their lives.

What was the casting brief for Charlie Fung - did it specify race?

Yes, they specifically wanted a Chinese male. SBS shows are quite consistently multi-culturally accurate in terms of casting, I believe they accurately represent Australia on screen.

Yoson and the cast of HBO's 'Grace'

Yoson and the cast of HBO's 'Grace'

How did you get the role - what was the audition process like?

It was through a self-tape audition. I sent the tape, they liked what I did and booked me (with no call back - which was extremely lucky and unusual at the same time).

What surprised you about working with Rachel Griffiths and the team on Dead Lucky?

I don’t think I was surprised about anything because I went in with no expectations. I really enjoyed working with Rachel, and the whole team was amazing. Rachel and I got along quite well - I think she’s an awesome person. It was a real honour for me to be co-starring with an academy award nominated actress; being around her and observing her process has taught me so much, and have also inspired me to go deeper into the craft. She was also really generous with providing me with some constructive guidance every now and again on set.

What’s been the most fun shoot day you’ve had so far?

This entire shoot has been a dream come true. The cast was stellar and the crew was amazing. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose the plot too much.. But one of the most memorable days of filming was when Rachel and I did our big confrontational scene (of the show) on the rooftop - it really reflected the depth of Charlie as well as Grace (Rachel’s character).


Do you find the Australian screen industry much different to New Zealand, and if so what are the main differences? Do you think there are more opportunities for non-white or Asian representation in Australia compared to New Zealand?

In terms of cultural diversity (accuracy) on screen, I feel like Australia has more opportunities for non-white actors to break into the film industry than we do in New Zealand (since they’re constantly making new shows - creating more content than NZ). In saying that though, I also believe Australia has a lot more actors in general than we do in New Zealand. I was lucky to be involved in a SBS original series; they’re known for having accurate multicultural representation of Australia on screen.

Yoson on set of Dead Lucky - wearing Rory McCann's (The Hound in Game of Thrones) jacket to keep warm

Yoson on set of Dead Lucky - wearing Rory McCann's (The Hound in Game of Thrones) jacket to keep warm

As an actor I’m aware of the amount of auditions you have to go through before you book a role. Previous to this role, what kind of casting briefs were you getting through, and from what countries?

I’ve been quite fortunate with my auditions. There have been a few stereotypical Asian characters, but a lot of my briefs have been from US productions and most of the characters’ personalities have been quite multi-layered.  

What would you like to see more of on New Zealand screens?

More original content and a more truthful representation of multi-cultural casting to reflect the real world (if the story is based in our geographical reality).

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What were the barriers you faced in becoming an actor and a filmmaker?

I’m a big believer/experiencer of “what you put out, is what you get back”. The only barriers I’ve faced were the barriers I’ve imposed on myself. In my experience, this goes for anything and everything in life. Our personal beliefs can either accelerate us or hold us back. There have been many times where I’ve felt anxious on going into an audition or taking on a role (which may be seemingly too big - there’s really no such thing), but I’ve realised it always stems from a lack of self-worth. So I consciously do my best to let go of limiting beliefs that doesn’t serve me.

Charlie Fung is part of the new wave of POC characters breaking away from screen based stereotypes. Do you feel a certain pressure taking on this role?

I’ve certainly felt a pressure to do the best I can for this role - but it was more from the fact that the script itself is so amazing, and the cast members are all so talented, I just really wanted to do the best I can for the series. I was really excited about playing Charlie because he had so many layers to him; it definitely penetrated much deeper than the usual Asian stereotype - that’s also one of the reasons why I absolutely loved about being a part of this show.

Yoson on the set of 'Asian Men Talk About Sex'

Yoson on the set of 'Asian Men Talk About Sex'

What role do you see yourself playing in changing the way that Asian men are perceived on and off the screen?

I don’t have a particular plan as to how I can change the way Asian men are perceived, but I’d like to be of service by being the most truthful version of myself and create from that space. I feel like film and TV is a beautiful medium that can inspire and influence us to gain a deeper perspective of our surroundings. If ideas and cultures are represented falsely on screen - this may influence a false reality into viewer’s mind and create an illusion of separation in our world. I believe filmmakers and storytellers have the power to either unite or divide humanity, and we need to be aware of that.

In Asian Men Talk About Sex (a Loading Docs documentary), you speak candidly about sex from an Asian male perspective. What makes a good date, and have you been on any good ones lately?

A good date to me is when two people are attracted to each other (in whatever way they wish to define attraction), and at the same time, both totally comfortable with each other (where they can just fully be themselves). Unfortunately, I haven’t been on any lately..I’ve been too busy!

Check out Yoson in Asian Men Talk About Sex here

Photos by Jen Huang.