Life is Easy - new series focussed on Asian and Queer characters funded by NZOA

“They thought they were woke…until they woke up in each other’s bodies.”

Chye-Ling Huang, Cole Jenkins and Ruby Reihana Wilson

Chye-Ling Huang, Cole Jenkins and Ruby Reihana Wilson

Congratulations to Chye-Ling Huang and Cole Jenkins, who are part of a series of new funded shows that push the boundaries of storytelling in 2019. Life is Easy, written by the pair, will feature an inclusive cast and crew of POC and diverse sexualities.

The media release from funding body NZ On Air released the good news this week, saying:

Life Is Easy, comes from the TVNZ New Blood initiative to support new storytellers. This body-swap comedy/drama series explores ideas of race, privilege and sexuality and is aimed at millennials. The lead characters are an Asian female and a gay male, bringing more diversity to our screens.

Writers Cole Jenkins and Chye-Ling Huang say they created the work to talk about race, sexuality and gender in a light hearted way. “In a nutshell, she’s Chinese, straight and female; he’s white, gay and male. Though they always thought they shared everything, their ideas about race, privilege and sexuality are challenged as they find themselves living each other’s lives with no way to escape.”

8 x 15minute episodes are expected to come out in late 2019.

Read the full release here!

"Orientation is a hugely significant work: sexy, smart, and not putting up with your shit." - New reviews!

"This play could not have cared less about perfectly crafted impeccable representations. On the contrary, the use of cultural symbols is trivial and bleak, seeking to blow mono-dimensional representations into pieces.” - Hainamana


Thanks to Theatrescenes, Hainamana and Appetite for the Arts for their sizzling reviews of Orientation. Check em out below!



Appetite for the Arts

Orientation is on for two more nights at Q Theatre. Don’t miss it!

"Brash, sensual work a landmark for NZ stage" - two reviews for Orientation

"In the words of Orientation’s Thomas Pang, Asians are like vampires, their representations are never reflected in the media. However with the increasing visibility of Asian representation in the media right now, aided by projects such as Orientation, there really is no better time than now that you should be proud to be Asian."

Kyle Chuen in Orientation

Kyle Chuen in Orientation

Thank to the NZ Herald and Craccum for the first killer reviews of Orientation!

Check them out here:

NZ Herald


Orientation is on this week until September 15th at Q Theatre.


Kickarts podcast - a poet, a playwright and a musician talk process and presentation

'We don't have to fight the fight, we're just telling a story” 

Dan Goodwin, Zoe Larsen Cumming, Chye-Ling Huang and host Richard Green

Dan Goodwin, Zoe Larsen Cumming, Chye-Ling Huang and host Richard Green

Musician and actor Zoe Larsen Cumming, poet and playwright Dan Goodwin and PAT's Chye-Ling Huang chat with Richard Green from Kickarts podcast about their art-making inspirations and process. Have a listen to the arty gossip here!



"You can’t expect every person of colour to be your spiritual guide." - VICE interview with Chye-Ling Huang

VICE chatted to Chye-Ling Huang about creating Orientation, a bombastic show about sex, race and love. 

Check out the full interview here or below!

Kiwi Playwright Chye-Ling Huang Lets Her Asian Characters Be Problematic

Chye-Ling Huang wants you to think about Asians and sex. Or, more accurately, to think about how you think about Asians and sex. The writer and director, whose documentary Asian Men Talk About Sex confronted sexual stereotypes surrounding Asian men, was sitting over a pot of tea in the lobby of Q Theatre, where her latest play, Orientation, opens tonight. It follows Mei, a Chinese-Pākehā woman, as she embarks on a psychosexual journey to deconstruct her sexual-racial prejudices. “To do this and to find love, she sets out on a quest to bang as many Asian men as she can to get a new perspective,” Huang says.

Natasha Daniel and Eugene Yao in Orientation

Natasha Daniel and Eugene Yao in Orientation

Huang was full of opening-night energy as she talked about the play, her nerves about the reactions it might provoke, and broader observations on the state of Asian representation in contemporary culture. And whether, as the play’s tagline asks, it's possible to root yourself back to your roots.

VICE: Hi Chye-Ling. Does Mei’s journey have resonance with your own? 
Chye-Ling Huang: Mei is like a villainess version of myself, like an extremely problematic past version of me. Kind of mashed together with extremely problematic people that I encountered at the time. These two factors coming together creates this lovely mash of an extremely flawed character. There’s definitely a large element of truth in the show, in terms of my experience of moving through the world. A more fun, un-woke version of me.

You’ve spoken before about how Pākehā audiences might find this play confronting. 
I realised what I’d been doing to mitigate that, and to try and make non-Asian people feel comfortable enough to come to the show. Like, man, I’m doing so much work around this, when has Auckland Theatre Company ever like reached out to me and been like, ‘Hey I know we’re doing a show that’s like a white American classic with like no people of colour in it, but it’s safe for you to come, you’re not going to be attacked and just because there’s no [people of colour] in it doesn’t mean we’re anti-people of colour’? No one has ever done that work for me as an audience member, so why I am trying so hard for white people especially?


It’s not enough for me to just exist as an artist and make work, it’s kind of like I’m constantly reminded of all those other political layers, like who I am as a person, my identity is political. Anything I do is like a ‘move’, as opposed to just existing as an artist.

But in the show Mei is also really flawed?
When people are writing for characters of colour, they want to get it right and they don’t want to offend, so obviously they’re going to be writing these characters that are often kind of like the benchmark of racial awareness and social awareness around race. But that’s so often not the case. When you’re the only person of colour in a room you’re supposed to be that person, and you feel the pressure to carry the flag and be the example for all the white people. But I mean we’re all on our own journeys and 90 percent of the time I have no idea what’s right or wrong, it’s just opinion. There are so many problematic attitudes—heaps of internalised racism and just socialised bullshit that you can’t expect every person of colour to be your spiritual guide in the realm of how to act or think or do in dating, or any aspect of life really. And we don’t get the freedom to be messy and problematic because we’re fighting against so much already that if you’re not there, you’re just fucked. It’s just hard.

Is this work a continuation of your earlier work on Asian sexuality?
Asian Men Talk About Sex presented more questions than it did answers really… It came down to three minutes. We kind of have plans to make more of that project, but definitely a lot of it informed this work.

How so?
Often Asian narratives can get condensed down to one thing or two things, the accepted or the understood narrative that often white people are perpetrating and it’s easy to tell those stories based on tropes and stereotypes. Asian Men Talk About Sex was very much an ensemble piece to try and show the diversity within diversity, so I used the same structure for the play.

Are you aiming to do the same things for Asian women in this play?
I think that’s a part of the play that I don’t actually think about a lot. But it’s inherent in the structure of it. Mei is on a mission to tap'n'gap as many people as possible, but it’s never really part of the discussion of the way she’s going about what she’s doing. She’s using sex as a vessel for her learning, essentially. It’s never really deconstructed, it just is, which I think is quite powerful when you just do something without commenting on how different or how interesting it is. That’s my life, that’s how I operate. I’m very in control of my own sexual life and open about my sexuality so I guess in that way it’s the part of it I question the least. I’m in a polyamourous open relationship. I’m also pansexual so, like, just everything.


Why was it important to have an all-Asian cast?
When I’ve worked with all-Asian casts in the past something happened in that process that I was super mind-blown by. It was like an invisible wall disappeared and we were on the same page. Even though we were all children of diaspora in different ways—a South African Indian guy, a Singaporean dude, a Taiwanese Kiwi and then me, Pākehā-Chinese—all from different levels of assimilation and backgrounds but we all had that diaspora Asian-ness in common and it just made the work so easy to slip into. There’s no sense of apology to anything you’re doing in the room. In this piece, unearthing things around sex and stereotypes and how those exist together, it’s a very personal realm to dive into to confront your own internalised racism around sex and dating and to confront the way people have been treating you. It’s not really what you want to be doing, scanning over the past week how many sexualised comments have been thrown at me because of my Asian-ness, or not, vice versa, with men—how many dates I got turned down for because I’m Asian. It just makes it a safer space to have an all-Asian cast and I knew that if we had a white person in the room it would be hard for them and it’d be hard for us.

Much has been made of Crazy Rich Asians as a turning point in Asian representation in popular culture. Does it feel like that? 
Over the past five years running Proudly Asian Theatre I’ve definitely seen a rise in Asian works that weren’t just me. When I came out into the industry, honestly I could look at the New Zealand works that were on display and just see nothing. There was just nothing that wasn’t problematic. Since then I’ve definitely seen a rise, and it’s definitely our generation. No one is changing at the top level. I do think it is getting better but I don’t think it’s happening as fast as maybe Crazy Rich Asians is suggesting.

Would the next step be casting more Asians in roles where their Asian-ness isn’t necessarily the point of their inclusion?
I live in a Facebook bubble, you know. Like everyone I’m friends with are liberal arts people and then I just see on my timeline popping up another web series with an all-white cast, another web series with an all-white cast, another theatre show with an all-white cast. If you know me, why does this not matter to you? You’re the right demographic to care about this right now, but outside of that, personally, you know me. And you know that I have a database of like hundreds of Asian people waiting for these opportunities. Like, where are you? It’s so gutting. That’s another big veil-lift moment. Just because white people are your friends, it doesn’t mean they care or they get it or that they are true allies in the sense that what they do matters. I just want to shake all my white friends, like do better: you know me, and you have no excuse.

And finally, is it possible to root yourself back to your roots?
I don’t know. It’s a really funny question that I’ve never considered seriously until now. Um, I would say no. I would say no, but it might help.

Orientation, the third work in Q Theatre's MATCHBOX 2018 season, opens tonight at Q's Loft and runs until September 15.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Loose Cannons feature with Chye-Ling Huang

"The reason I make work with Asian casts is to continue giving myself and others their Mulan moment."

Check out theatre maker Chye-Ling Huang's feature in Loose Cannons, Pantograph Punch's feature on artists and what drives them. Read more here or below!

Loose Canons: Chye-Ling Huang

By Chye-Ling Huang

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.

18 06 16 ORIENTATIONS BTS-8564 (1).jpg

Chye-Ling Huang is a Chinese-Pākehā director, writer and actress, and co-founder (in 2013 with James Roque) of Proudly Asian Theatre Company (PAT), which is dedicated to showcasing and empowering Asian storytellers in Aotearoa New Zealand. PAT’s productions include LanternRoots, the New Zealand premiere of FOB, and her own original scripts Call of the Sparrows and Orientation ­– the latter of which she is also directing for a season at Q Theatre (5-15 September).

Chye-Ling is the director of Asian Men Talk About Sex, a Loading Docs short documentary, as well as Like Sex, Nathan Joe’s award-winning B425 play. Through PAT, she runs a series of monthly play readings called Fresh off the Page which showcases Asian scripts, directors and actors, and provides mentorship with the NZ Film Commission.

Chye-Ling created The Han Chronicles, a two-episode TVNZ webseries based on her immigrant father in 70s New Zealand, and continues to work as an actor in theatre and film. Her recent acting credits include Te Waka HuiaWar Stories and Ao-terror-oa’s Road Trip.


Disney's Mulan

Disney's Mulan


I was nine years old when Mulan graced us with her gender-bending presence. Mulan was the first Asian woman I’d ever seen on screen. She spoke English, she wasn’t a damsel in distress, and I was in love. I think Mulan counts for 80 percent of my personality and informs at least 50 percent of my artistic choices. I played with a Mulan figurine from McDonalds with my sisters for years, which is probably why I’m into puppetry. Mulan allowed me to embrace being a tomboy, made me love being Chinese and probably turned me gay. There’s a lot of Mulan in everything I am and do. Representation matters. It matters that she was my true heroine for way too many years. I should have had more options than Mulan, more characters I could connect with who reflected how I looked and who my family was. The reason I make work with Asian casts is to continue giving myself and others their Mulan moment.

Poster for Like Sex by Nathan joe, which Chye-Ling directed

Poster for Like Sex by Nathan joe, which Chye-Ling directed


Weirdly, my first work was devoid of sex or relationships. It was a deliberate play-against, as I had a female protagonist and didn’t want the thematic waters muddied. But since, I’ve directed and created works mostly about sex and sexual politics. I’m in an non-monogamous relationship and I’m pansexual. I get to connect with and see perspectives from multiple people from many backgrounds, genders, expressions. I’m fascinated with how sex is used and how we are used by it, and especially how the New Zealand psyche makes us prudish but clueless at the same time. Taboos around sex exist in both my cultures, Kiwi and Chinese. There’s a lot to deal with if you’re a Chinese Kiwi woman who likes sex, and the politics of sex are endlessly interesting to me.



James Roque and PAT

James Roque was in my very first audition for drama school in 2008. We both share the middle child syndrome, crammed in a bunch of three sisters. We both liked lame jokes and dumb gags. We both equally annoyed and inspired each other. And we were both the Asian kids in the class – along with Saraid De Silva and Jason Wu. We formed PAT to survive when there was no apparent career path for two Asian actors graduating drama school. We kept PAT going when we realised that this was bigger than us, and that our community was our biggest strength. I’m constantly inspired and humbled by the Asian theatre and film community and its resilience, generosity and downright talent. James is becoming famous as a comedian, and I’ve taken leadership of PAT now, but we still tight as bros that made something beautiful together that we could never have made happen alone.


0501 by The Finger Players

0501 by The Finger Players

Singaporean theatre

When I was 19 I saw a show called Temple, by the Singaporean company Cake Theatrical Productions. It had punk rock, a live band of school kids that swarmed onto the stage, and the most terrifying SFX and projection I’ve ever seen. Having been back to Singapore and worked with The Finger Players, the coolest contemporary puppetry-based theatre company, I felt a strange sense of belonging. Asian actors performing in English and sometimes Malay and Chinese, surtitles (subtitles in the theatre) on everything, and puppetry and wild dramatic themes playing out within an hour felt like the Eastern and Western elements of my influences combining seamlessly in front of me. Though we are worlds apart there is a huge affinity with Singapore that I found as a diaspora Chinese maker. And simply seeing Asian faces for the first time on stage as full casts and layered characters was enough to make me enamored with Singaporean theatre forever. My fav plays of theirs are The Book of Living and DyingPoop!Roots and Furthest North Deepest South.  

Left: Still from The Han Chronicles, Chye-Ling's two-part webseries about her dad in the 1970s.

Left: Still from The Han Chronicles, Chye-Ling's two-part webseries about her dad in the 1970s.

A Chinese Pākehā love affair

My parents, my family, my universe really. Everything I am and make is somehow connected to being biracial. I come from two supremely loving, wild, loud and dramatic families who are culturally so different but share so much. My Chinese dad from Malaysia taught us the food culture, acceptance of others and badminton, but never taught us the language. My Pākehā mum from Christchurch made traditional Chinese recipes using pasta, had craft skills for days and kept the name Huang even after they seperated, to maintain a connection to her Chinese kids and experiences. The juxtaposing histories of my two families will never not be wonderful and fascinating to me.



"You're pretty hot...for an Asian" - NZ Herald interviews the cast for Theatre Week

Check out Natasha Daniel and Mayen Mehta from the cast of Orientation talk about the twists and turns of dating as diaspora with director Chye-Ling Huang and Dionne Christian from The Herald.

Redefining what are our stories

Dionne Christian talks to theatremakers about their contributions to NZ Theatre Month and how the stories we tell are changing

  • Weekend Herald
  • 1 Sep 2018
Mayen Mehta, actor

Mayen Mehta, actor

Today marks the start of the first New Zealand Theatre Month, started by playwright Roger Hall to “celebrate and elevate” local plays and playwriting. It sees some 600 performances and 100 events staged by more than 70 organisations, including professional theatre companies, community theatre groups and schools.


It was a first date and drinks were going well — until Chye-Ling Huang's date uttered those six words loaded with generations of social conditioning, racist attitudes and pre-conceived ideas.

Huang, who co-founded Auckland-based Proudly Asian Theatre with comedian James Roque, admits to feeling confused.

After all, the person blurting out the backhanded compliment was herself bi-racial with Asian heritage but had just said she only ever dated white people.

“I said, ‘If you were white, I probably would have thrown my drink at you and just left,' '' Huang says.

“It would have been game over but, because they were Chinese, I was so conflicted because I've been there with this internalised racism toward your own people.

“I just felt a huge empathy toward her because I know that, as diaspora, you do grow up learning that white people are the goal, white people are the prize. I stayed to talk about what she said but, in the end, I decided I didn't have time to be anyone's learning curve.''

The timing of the experience was uncanny given Huang has written and is directing the play Orientation. It's a social satire that follows a young Chinese-Pa¯ keha¯ woman, Mei, in a brazen “sexploration” of Asian love and sexuality in contemporary New Zealand.

With an all-Asian cast, Orientation digs deep at social attitudes towards Asian people as lovers and considers what part race plays in decisions made around love and sex. Natasha Bunkall plays Mei, the young woman working through some identity issues.

“She feels that she's only ever dated white men in the past; she's working out why that is, her personal and identity issues around being biracial, so she's decided to date Asian men and see how she goes to get to a point that she's not seeing race.''

Natasha Daniel, Kiwi-Asian actress

Natasha Daniel, Kiwi-Asian actress

Huang says many of us think attraction is inherently biological but she believes it comes down to socialisation too: “If you're raised to think white people are better than your own race . . . and let's not forget there are white men who fetishise Asian women. No one is born thinking like that.''

Huang and Proudly Asian Theatre's work centres around identity politics but she acknowledges its last play, Call of the Sparrows, was far removed from modern-day New Zealand. She says Orientation is “close to the bone” because it's set in the here and now and she wanted it to reflect the Auckland diaspora experience in 2018.

Ask Bunkall and fellow actor Mayen Mehta if Huang's script rings true and they'll tell you they recognise the characters and the situations they find themselves in. They're both familiar with the term “no rice, no spice” on dating websites, which indicates no one Asian or Indian should bother “swiping right”.

They're quick to add that it's only one Asian story in a region teeming with tales waiting to be told, but they're pleased Huang and PAT are challenging stereotypes and moving Asian voices into the mainstream.


Playwright Albert Belz, who's written about everything from life in a village at the foot of the Urewera Ranges, a Ma¯ ori showband touring during the Vietnam War and Jack the Ripper, is reflecting on his latest play.

Called Cradle Songs, it's produced by Te Re¯ hia Theatre and will continue re-defining what we think of as “New Zealand plays”, in particular work by Ma¯ ori playwrights. Belz won the 2018 Adam Award for Best Play by a Ma¯ ori Playwright for the story, which is set in the southwest of Ireland in 1999, at a nunnery near the fictitious village of Sibeal (County Kerry). Here, two young women — one Ma¯ ori, one Australian — are on their big OE when they come face-to-face with the supernatural force of Briar Faith.

Belz says it's a horror that follows Yours Truly, his thriller about Jack the Ripper. Partly inspired by seeing the production Horror at last year's Auckland Arts Festival, he and Cradle Songs’ director Tainui Tukiwaho have taken some of the tricks and tropes they saw to create a story about a vengeful spirit seeking utu.

“Getting to explore the horror and thriller genres of this show on the stage is something I'm really looking forward to,'' says Belz. “I want to put up a damn good ghost story that is both intriguing in the real-world setting and has real moments of fear and tension for our audiences.''

The story has its genesis in a real-life tragedy. Belz was so saddened and angry when he found out about Ireland’s Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, that he wanted to write about it.

The home, run by Roman Catholic nuns, ran from 1925-61 ostensibly to care for unmarried mothers and their children. It offered anything but care. In 2012, it was revealed that up to 1000 children had, without their mothers' consent, been illegally adopted and sent to the United States and amateur historians published evidence about widespread infanticide at Bon Secours. The Irish Government responded by setting up the ongoing Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. It's now believed at least 800 babies and toddlers died there.

“I think any sane person who's heard about this will feel angry,'' says Belz. “I think there's something very human about wanting to take

those emotions and tell a story. Although I want my story to be entertaining, I don’t want to step on anybody’s dignity when I do that. It’s about acknowledging that these things happened and starting to tell the stories.”

He says Cradle Songs asks questions about blame and responsibility and reckons it would be extremely boring and limiting if, as a Ma¯ ori playwright, he was expected to stick to the script of telling stories set in New Zealand, of New Zealand and about New Zealand.

The production itself is led by a Ma¯ ori theatre company, director and writer who are dedicated to embedding tikanga Ma¯ ori into the way they work.

“The diversity of the voices that the man [Belz] puts out there is good for New Zealand writers but also for audiences to see the breadth of some of the story-telling,” says Tukiwaho, who believes Cradle Songs will break new ground in our thriller and horror theatre.

It’s the first premiere of the year for Belz, who also debuts Astroman this year with simultaneous productions by the Melbourne Theatre Company and The Court Theatre, featuring full indigenous casts on both sides of the Tasman.

The Cradle Songs cast includes sisters Donogh and Amanda Rees, Nicol Munro, Briar Collard, Anna-Maree Thomas and newcomer Ariana Osborne. Belz says getting the tone of his story right, devising the special effects and starting rehearsals went well but the most challenging aspect was finding a young Ma¯ ori actress to play one of the lead roles.

“They were all busy. Everyone had something else on, which is a great thing because it shows there’s work out there.”

Cradle Songs is presented in association with Ko¯ anga Festival and Going West at Corban Estate Arts Centre from Tuesday, Sept 5 to Saturday, Sept 8, and in collaboration with Q Theatre from Tuesday, Sept 18 to Saturday, Sept 22. Te Pou Theatre’s Ko¯ anga Festival is a fortnight-long celebration that also marks the theatre’s move to the Corban Estate Arts Centre. As its contribution to NZ Theatre Month, Te Pou continues its focus on works in development.

“It’s definitely gotten better now, but growing up, it was… There was just nothing.” - Chye-Ling Huang on the SpinOff

“When people think about dialogue around race, they always think it’s angsty, it’s messy and yuck. Yes, it’s all those things, but it can also be joyful and funny and weird and interesting in other ways.”

- Chye-Ling Huang


Asian representation in New Zealand in the age of Crazy Rich Asians

River Lin from the Spinoff interviews Alice Canton, JJ Fong and PAT's own Chye-Ling Huang about representation and the media in Aotearoa. 

Check out the full interview here or below.

Crazy Rich Asians has been lauded for its groundbreaking representation of Asian-Americans – but how is Asian representation looking in our own country?

“Why would you actively try and get into a space where no spaces exist for you?” says Alice Canton, an Auckland-based actress and theatre artist. “If I wasn’t creating my own opportunities, those opportunities would just not exist.”

While ‘yellowface’ has long since disappeared from Hollywood, the erasure of Asian stories from our cinema and televisions screen has been far more enduring. Often cast as bespectacled nerds or the exotic “other”, there has been little respite from the dominant narrative of whiteness as the norm, with Asian faces the rare exception – even when the character is explicitly written as Asian.

A recent example of this was the whitewashing controversy surrounding the movie version of the anime series Ghost in the Shell. Screenwriter Max Landis defended the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi, arguing that there were no “A-list female Asian celebrities” whose star power could translate into high box office numbers.

This is reflected in UCLA’s 2018 diversity report, which found that minorities made up 13.9% of lead film roles in the 2015-16 season, compared to its peak of 16.7% in 2013.

The report also found that, of the scripted TV shows debuting in 2017-18 across all platforms, only 28% of its leads were minorities, and 24% debuted with a largely minority cast.

That isn’t to say things haven’t improved for Asian representation in recent years, with films and shows such as Killing EveFresh off the BoatMaster of NoneKim’s Convenience, The Big Sick and, most recently, Crazy Rich Asians and Netflix cult hit To All the Boys I Loved Before all gaining both critical and commercial success.

Crazy Rich Asians, in particular, is a rare show of force for Asian-American visibility on screen – not only due to its strong US box office (it opens here in New Zealand on Thursday), but also as the first film since The Joy Luck Club in 1993 to feature an Asian-majority cast. The film, about an Asian-American woman meeting her boyfriend’s wealthy Singapore family for the first time, far from perfectly represents the Asian experience (its erasure of South Asian faces has been noted elsewhere), but it does pave a way forward for more nuanced Asian-American representations on screen. It also proves that minority-led films can translate into success at the box office.

The issue of systematic erasure of East Asian faces and stories within the film and television industry hasn’t just rampant in Hollywood but at home, too.

According to New Zealand’s 2013 census, 11.8% of the population identified themselves as Asian. On screen, however, the numbers tell a different story.

Half-Chinese and half-white, Alice Canton often struggled with coming to terms with her cultural identity growing up in the lily-whiteness of the South Island (she was born on the West Coast and grew up in Canterbury).

While her Hakka mother was obsessed with The Beatles and cricket, Canton’s idols growing up were local stars like Shortland Street‘s formidable Dr Grace Kwan, played by Lynette Forday.

“My sisters and I were obsessed with her as kids because she had danced with the Royal Ballet. I grew up idolising her, right through high school to my early 20s, where I was sure I would be cast as her Eurasian bastard daughter.

“She was the only Asian New Zealander on my screen. Her and Jane Yee, who I also used to fangirl over. When I was in sixth form I wrote her an email, which was a big deal because no one emailed back then, telling her I’d written about her in my school speech.”

Opportunities for people of colour have continued to be in short supply, Canton says – the roles reduced to cardboard cut-outs like that of the bumbling sidekick or the ferocious ‘dragon lady’ popularised by the first Asian-American film star, Anna May Wong, in the 1930s.

JJ Fong, who plays Filipina nurse Ruby Flores on Shortland Street, says growing up with Asian media only helped to heighten her sense of difference from an early age.

“It made me think more deeply [about race] because I was in the thick of it and experiencing it, whether that was at auditions using Asian accents or just growing up as a Chinese-Kiwi among a lot of white kids who made fun of my eyes.

“I wasn’t observing the issue – I was the issue.”

Unlike Canton and Fong, the first time Proudly Asian Theatre co-founder Chye-Ling Huang saw an East Asian face and story reflected on screen was Disney’s animated feature film Mulan (1998).

“[Fa Mulan was] really revolutionary when I first saw her as a kid. I was, like, 10 or something and it just changed my life, which is sad when you think about it. It was a cartoon, but it was pretty much the only thing I saw on screen.”

It was years later, in 2009, when Huang experienced a play featuring real Asian faces and stories: Chinese New Zealand director and playwright Renee Liang’s Lantern. The play, which follows a Chinese family struggling with identity after immigrating to New Zealand, would later become Huang’s first play to be performed under the Proudly Asian Theatre banner.

“It’s definitely gotten better now, but growing up, it was… There was just nothing.”

Canton says the problem lies in the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes on stage and screen – compounded further by an already lacking number of roles to be filled.

“When there is a character or casting for someone who is Asian – it’s always Asian, it’s never specified – sometimes, it’s the most broad-stroke, bullshit characterisations imaginable. There are such limited opportunities that when you are the only person, you have to be all those things.”

Huang says part of the problem lies in Hollywood’s whitewashing of Asian stories – and the white actors who perpetuate it by agreeing to portray them.

“There are enough white actors and enough white stories out there to inspire and motivate white people. We don’t need more white stories – we need more Asian stories, we need more brown stories. Anyone who’s looking to take those opportunities away from us has got to be extremely short-sighted to think that it doesn’t matter.”

However, Canton says the characters on screen are merely a product of what goes on behind the scenes, in the writer’s room.

“You’ve got no one to call out on it when her name is Mei-Ling and she’s a lawyer in her 20s, her parents are strict and she just wants to fit in. No one is there to do that in the writing room, behind the camera, in the crew – let alone the visible, on-screen [characters].”

Nathan Joe, an Auckland-based playwright, says the drive to write nuanced Asian characters and stories is often born out of the recognition of its absence.

“The pin-drop moment usually is when you start asking yourself, ‘Where am I on screen? Nowhere, so do I wait or do I produce something?’ You’re driven by that need and that lack.”

For Canton, the “pin-drop moment” was when she started studying drama at high school. Over the years, the theatre artist has written and starred in shows like White/Other and Orangutan, which explores feelings of difference and belonging through performance art.

As well as performing in her own shows, Alice has collaborated with others who share her desire to change narratives of race, such as the makers of Proudly Asian Theatre’s 2016 show, Call of the Sparrows. The show borrowed heavily from elements of Chinese history, values and superstitions, and featured an all-Asian cast.

Perlina Lau starred in the comedy web series Flat3 and its TVNZ spin-off Friday Night Bites. Written and directed by Roseanne Liang, Flat3 (2013-14) came about after Lau and fellow actresses Ally Xue and JJ Fong created a theatre show, before eventually finding their way to the web.

“The whole Asian thing was kind of just a bonus. We didn’t intentionally set out to do that, but at the same time, it gave us a point of difference. From the get-go, we looked different – you didn’t see many all-female casts doing comedy. It didn’t get much more ‘minority’ than that.”

Like Canton, Lau says the women didn’t “see ourselves out there or in any context”.

“We thought, ‘Let’s be a version of ourselves. Let’s appeal to people like us – all the 20-year-old Kiwis that we see, let’s put them on screen with an Asian face.'”

Indeed, part of Flat3‘s appeal is its authentic portrayal of young adults navigating grown-up life, helped by its diverse array of writers behind the scenes.

“Fair enough that you write what you know – but get diverse writers in, because they’ll be writing what they know and that’ll be diversity. It’s a conscious decision because it’s not a level playing field.”

Chye-Ling Huang and James Roque co-founded Proudly Asian Theatre as a way of levelling the playing field without relying on the strained budgets of film and television.

“We didn’t have anywhere else to go,” says Huang. “We had no path to follow; there was no one we could really attach ourselves to that could help us get that leg up in the industry. In the end, we connected with Renee Liang after we did our first show and she really helped us.

Their more recent projects, Asian Men Talk About Sex, was made after receiving funding from Loading Docs, a platform which helps producers launch short documentaries.

The documentary, which features Yoson An who is set to star in the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan, came about as a means of self-reclamation for Asian men’s sexuality in a way that wasn’t confrontational but “celebratory and empowering” in its conversations about race.

“There’s a lack of representation in New Zealand for Asian men of any kind,” says Huang. “It’s slim pickings out there and we really wanted to make something that was tipping the scales back in Asian men’s favour.”

Her work – from the Chinese opera-inspired Call of the Sparrows to the melodrama of David Henry Hwang’s FOB – addresses the messiness and dissonance of identity politics without being confrontational.

“When people think about dialogue around race, they always think it’s angsty, it’s messy and yuck. Yes, it’s all those things, but it can also be joyful and funny and weird and interesting in other ways.”

They’re still difficult conversations to have, but the dialogue around race has improved in recent years, says JJ Fong, who co-starred with Lau in Flat3.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot better in the last five years with casting, being open to other ethnicities and seeing them in a different light, rather than ‘That’s just an Asian or Māori role.'”

However, despite her early experience with racism and what may be seen as its continuation through stereotypical casting practices, the actress isn’t quick to lay blame on the writers and producers alone.

“We can write articles about it, we can whine about it on Facebook – but the fact of the matter is, if you’re not in there doing it, creating it for yourself, then things won’t change because people won’t see it”.

“It’s about fostering and mentoring talent as well,” adds Huang. “Often people will say, ‘I just don’t know any people of colour, women writers or Asian writers,’ but you have the responsibility as a person in a position of power to turn the tide. It’s not going to happen on its own and the work will be better for it.”

"At this point, there are no excuses." - Podcast with Saraid De Silva and Chye-Ling Huang

"Who the F*** knows how to get it right?"

Q Theatre brings you a podcast series called Meet the Makers - where interviewers get inside the minds of the Matchbox creatives for 2018. Playwrights, actors and directors get into the gnarly questions about what drives their work.

Have a listen here to Chye-Ling Huang, director and writer of Orientation, chatting to Saraid De Silva about sex, love, and relationships, and how they intrinsically intersect with race and identity.

Photo: Nahyeon Lee

Photo: Nahyeon Lee

"Nobody is the wokefied paragon of sex and race and dating. So, I hope that people don't feel intimidated by the work, because they'll see very clearly and very quickly that the people of colour are super flawed in this discussion as well."

Catch Orientation from September 5th at Q Loft! Tickets available here

Tickets are LIVE for Orientation!

PAT's steamy new show ORIENTATION is on sale NOW!

A hot mess where love and race clash in Aotearoa, Chye-Ling Huang's Adam Award shortlisted play will premiere at Q Loft this September.  

Huang says, "I wanted to explore how sexualized and desexualised tropes of Asian people in western cultures impacts on sex, love and dating. It's an irreverent way of diving into the confronting questions I often encounter in my own dating experience."

Check out the first trailer below!

Tickets here:

Workshops kick off for Orientation

Creating worlds is one way Jahra 'Rager' Wasasala describes her movement practice, and PAT were lucky enough to work with her to get a taste of what our world looks like for Orientation, our latest show.

Our central question for our Asian cast - how do we perform whiteness? What is whiteness? How does living as an Asian person in a western country change you, your voice, your body, your outlook? 

Chye-Ling Huang and Jahra Wasasala.

Chye-Ling Huang and Jahra Wasasala.

Catch Orientation from September 5th at Q Loft.



PAT Chats: Pretty Butch - Interview with Singaporean playwright Tan Liting

Pretty Butch - creating stories that break the binaries


"We make expectations based on gender so often that we don’t stop to consider why we think an effeminate man is weak, and why a masculine woman is less attractive. Would we have less sweeping judgements of people if we took time to understand their struggles?"


Tan Liting's 'Pretty Butch' is a binary-bending new play and the latest work to feature in our Fresh off the Page playreading series, bringing brand new Asian works from around the globe to the Basement Theatre in Auckland. A Singaporean playwright, Liting works full time as a theatre practitioner with an interest in devising performance from personal stories. Liting’s past directorial credits include Pretty Butch (M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2017), The Truth About Lying: Heresy and Common Sense for the Theatre (The Finger Players), Taking The Subs (The Substation Director’s Lab), (When I’m) Sixty Four (Ageless Theatre), Re: Almost Left Behind (Singapore Arts Festival 2011), Almost Left Behind (NUS Thespis). Liting also teaches drama in schools, and has trained her students in both performance and backstage work, in the hopes of providing a more balanced experience in theatre training and performance. Liting likes conversation, hearing and telling a good story. (Liting also likes guitars, sneakers and referring to Liting in third person.) 

Marianne Infante, producer of Fresh Off the Page, interviews Tan Liting on their journey of creating 'Pretty Butch' and the motivations behind their work concentrating on femininity and masculinity rather than the scope of sexuality.

Tan Liting, playwright

Tan Liting, playwright


What was the inspiration behind Pretty Butch, or how did the story of Pretty Butch spark up for you?

Initially I wanted to write a documentary play about being butch in Singapore. This was in early 2015, when there was an open call for the M1 Singapore Fringe festival 2016. The theme back then was Art and the Animal, and there was this sense that a masculine presenting woman was looked at as if she was an animal: not nearly man enough, and not feminine enough to be considered beautiful or pretty. But it turned out that the work was more suited for the theme of 2017: Art and Skin, and so the development process began. I found myself with more time to develop the work, which I was very grateful for.

I started writing the play with the intention of interviewing people who identified as butch and using the transcripts as material. However, people were not ready to accept ‘butch’ as a label on themselves, so I only managed to get 4 people who responded. At the same time, I was also keen to deal with some personal demons, and so I began to look inwards. The play began to take its current shape about 9 months into the writing process, and I just rolled with it. This is 28 different drafts later, and I am still finding things to improve. I suppose when you deal with an intensely personal subject matter, you will never be fully satisfied with its expression.

How does the story resonate with you?

All these characters are a part of me, imagined or otherwise. They are a reflection of me, at least at the point of writing. I have grown much since the first time this play was performed, but there is still a lot of the play in me.

(Top row, from far left) Fadhil Daud, Deonn Yang and Henrik Cheng, (bottom, from far left), Farah Ong and Shannen Tan at the premier of Pretty Butch, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival at the Black Box, Centre 42 in 2017   PHOTO: THROBBINGPIXELS

(Top row, from far left) Fadhil Daud, Deonn Yang and Henrik Cheng, (bottom, from far left), Farah Ong and Shannen Tan at the premier of Pretty Butch, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival at the Black Box, Centre 42 in 2017


You've mentioned in interviews that you didn't want the focus of the play to be on sexuality, but rather on the topic of masculinity and femininity. Why did you choose this as your focus? 

I guess when you write a queer play, there is a lot more focus on coming out, on being different, on having power over your own sexuality (or not). I didn’t feel like that was my fight. I wanted to discuss something that was a lot more universal, and not just a ‘queer’ thing.

In the writing process, I also wanted to discuss ‘masculinity’. It felt like one of those subjects that people were afraid to touch. A lot of people asked me why in a play about being butch, there are 2 straight male characters. Someone even said that they felt that straight men had all the airtime in a lot of artistic work, and that I should have given more space to ‘butch’ characters. My response was this: men find it the hardest to talk about masculinity. This self reflection is often seen as weakness.

Straight men may dominate social discourse, but this is an area they find difficult to talk about: I simply wanted to open those doors and let some light in.

We are living in an age where we have a broader and more diverse understanding of sexuality: but the conversation we are finding difficult to have was more about gender: what standards do we hold biologically male or female persons to? What does it actually mean to be male or female? Gender and sexuality are completely separate, and yet we can’t seem to talk about gender without thinking about sexuality.

What kind of conversation are you hoping to begin through 'Pretty Butch'

I hope the play challenges your preconceived notions of gender and leads you to question what you believe to be male and female. A lot of these things are taken for granted: we make expectations based on gender so often that we don’t stop to consider why we think an effeminate man is weak, and why a masculine woman is less attractive. Would we have less sweeping judgements of people if we took time to understand their struggles?

How has the development process and the journey of creating this play been for you, and what's next for the play?

It’s an ongoing process that is still unfolding right now. I am constantly surprised by how little I still know about the topic. I am learning new things everyday, and challenging my own perceptions the more I work on this play.

I hope it keeps growing, keeps getting translated, and keeps finding spaces in different cultural contexts. We are taking the text to Taipei and we are finding an interesting dynamic between the characters in the play and the cultural context of Taiwan as the LGBTQIA capital of East Asia. I hope Pretty Butch keeps asking questions in different places, and grows together with the conversation about gender and identity we are currently having: until one day, we will read the play and discover how irrelevant it has become. When that day comes, the world would be a lot more accepting, and I hope the play can finally be laid to rest.


Check out Pretty Butch as part of our playreading series, Fresh off the Page, Wednesday 27th June at 8.30pm, Basement Theatre Studio!




New Asian Writers screenplays chosen for ongoing mentoring

Asian Writer's take the stage and come out in full force

This month, three New Asian Writers were chosen by PAT and the New Zealand Film Commission to take part in ongoing mentoring for their latest screenplays in development.

As part of Fresh off the Page monthly playreadings, three scripts from almost 30 submissions from Asian writers were announced at the playreading live at The Basement.

We are proud to announce:

Nahyeon Lee, Mayen Mehta and Hweiling Ow

as the recipients for the ongoing mentorship programme!

Nahyeon Lee and Marianne Infante (host/producer)

Nahyeon Lee and Marianne Infante (host/producer)

Mayen Mehta

Mayen Mehta

We were so impressed with the amount of submissions and the diversity in form, style and theme! PAT will be reaching out to the writers who submitted in the coming months for feedback to help further these amazing projects. Stay tuned!

Thanks to the Basement Theatre, NZFC and Albert Eden Community Trust.






Gird your loins - Orientation, PAT's new show is coming in September

Pat is proud to announce our latest show:


Presented by Q Theatre and Proudly Asian Theatre as part of MATCHBOX 2018

Orientation q banner.png

What do Jackie Chan, Steven Yuen, and Raybon Kan have in common? 

They’re all on Mei’s list of eligible men to tap, gap, or tie down.

A hot mess of sexual stereotypes, no Asian man is left un-turned in Mei’s quest to root herself back to her roots. When a shock event leaves her questioning everything about love, Chinese-Pakeha Mei dives ferociously back into the dating game. A film star from Singapore, an Indian Taika Waititi and the Asian answer to Channing Tatum lift the sheets on how sex and race collide in little old New Zealand, where Asianess is both fetishized and feared.

Written as a response to dating, love and sex as a Chinese Kiwi, Chye-Ling Huang's script was nominated for the Adam play award (Playmarket) in 2018 and won the Asian Ink workshop for 2017. 

Huang on the set of the promo trailer for Orientation

Huang on the set of the promo trailer for Orientation

"As a Kiwi-Asian I've experienced a lot of racial bias in the dating world - from the inside and out," says Huang. "I'm excited to be writing flawed characters who are trying to find love in the messy, human way we all do, making mistakes and pushing things way too far. Race cannot be separated from any experience I've had, and dating and love and sex is something that can be heavily influenced by race in ways we don't realize."

Tickets are on sale next month.

Thanks to Creative New ZealandFoundation NorthUnitec and the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust Fund.




PAT partners with NZFC!

Proudly Asian Theatre has partnered with the New Zealand Film Commission for an exciting new initiative as part of their 'Fresh off the Page' monthly playreadings. 

The initiative sees three emerging Asian playwrights chosen for a year of mentoring with NZFC writers on projects for screen. This incredible opportunity is to encourage the growth of Asian playwrights with the freedom to write any story, any style outside any restrictions.

New Asian Writer's Night encouraged new writers to come forward with their development scripts in one epic night of readings.

New Asian Writer's Night encouraged new writers to come forward with their development scripts in one epic night of readings.

"We wanted Asian playwrights to shake the idea of what an 'Asian' story is," says creative director Chye-Ling Huang, "Often our works get chosen and fostered with an added pressure, an unspoken bias, which favours stereotyped stories about what it means to be Asian. It is my hope that Asian writers can just be writers, and also have the chance to hone their craft and make their script as strong as possible for future funding rounds. We need more of our stories out there to come from us, and there are so many perspectives that we rarely see."

The NZFC hosted an Asian film night at The Basement in 2017.

The NZFC hosted an Asian film night at The Basement in 2017.

"The film commission have been wonderfully supportive - we are a theatre based company but we have branched out in 2017 to film projects and scripts. We realize there is a lot of crossover for talent in the theatre and film industries and this is our way of connecting our resources to give those artists an opportunity for growth in an area they may not have considered. We both want more Asian talent to have their voices heard which is an awesome goal."

The first event featuring screen based scripts will be at The Basement, May 30th. More info here!

Adam play awards - 'Orientation' makes the shortlist

Writer of 'Orientation' Chye-Ling Huang 

Writer of 'Orientation' Chye-Ling Huang 

Playmarket presents the Adam play award annually for the best new New Zealand play. Formerly the Playmarket New Play Award, has been offered since 2008 and is the only one of its kind for new writing and encourages writers to banish all self censoring, all worries about what theatres want, what is affordable and what they think audiences want to see.

We are so excited that Orientation, co-founder Chye-Ling Huang's newest play, was shortlisted for the award for 2018.

A bombastic hot mess exploring race and sex and the sexual stereotypes as an Asian person living in New Zealand, Orientation will premiere in September 2018 at Q Loft after winning the Asian Ink workshop in 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for more info on this exciting new show and check out the winners below:


2018 - Shane Bosher for Everything After

Best Play by a Māori Playwright: Albert Belz for Cradle Song and Jason Te Mete for Little Black Bitch

Best Play by a Pasifika Playwright: Suli Moa for Tales of A Princess

Best Play by a Woman Playwright: Angie Farrow for Before the Birds

Also on the shortlist were: Claire Ahuriri-DunningDraculaAroha AwarauProvocationSam BrooksTurn Off the Lights and Twenty Eight MillimetresJames CainMoversEmily DuncanIn Our Shoes; Chye-Ling HuangOrientationJustin Lewis and Jacob RajanWelcome to the Murder HouseVela ManusauteTropical LovebirdsArthur MeekLand of the MoaJoe MusaphiaChutzpahDean ParkerTutankhamunBruce Clyde ThomsonStuck Pigs; James van DykThe Lazarus Lottery and Roy WardThe Bright Side of my Condition.

The winners were announced at a function at Circa Theatre on 7 April 2018.




Tearaway Interview: Chye-Ling Huang on finding our roots

"Asian identities in NZ are so diverse, as are our stories and origins. This is just one version, and New Zealanders and their roots are vastly varied too. I hope this works to build a curiosity of other’s stories as opposed to othering, which can often happen when you don’t look ‘kiwi’ (white)." - Chye-Ling Huang

Chye-Ling Huang

Chye-Ling Huang

Nidha Khan from Tearaway Mag interviews Chye-Ling Huang, director of Roots by Oliver Chong, on identity and her quest to bridge the gaps of understanding in our multicultural Aotearoa. Read on here or below!


FEBRUARY 18, 2018


Identity, who we are at our very core, is a feature that is so central to our existence. Yet, we live in a society that doesn’t always accept us, with some identities seemingly more acceptable than others. People are often denied their identities, being told they’re “too this or too that”, or they truly “belong there and not here”.

Trying to figure out our place in the world, where our roots lie and where we are growing, can be a painful, beautiful, and funny experience, sometimes all at the same time. It’s a journey that many people have gone, and are still going through, everywhere including right here in Aotearoa.

This year, director Chye-Ling Huang is bringing the award-winning Singaporean solo play, Roots [根] by Oliver Chong, to the Auckland Lantern Festival and Auckland Fringe Festival.

Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Roots [根] traces the journey of “one woman’s quest to find her familial identity in the cultural confusion of Singapore. Digging up forgotten ghosts, Hush Hsien arrives in China to reclaim her past, but ends up stumbling upon more questions than answers”.

This is the first time Chong has allowed another actor to play his role and for the gender of the main character to be changed, with Singaporean-Kiwi actress Amanda Grace-Leo taking the stage. I caught up with Huang to gain some further insight into the production.


When did you first come across Roots  [根] and what was that experience like?

In Singapore, I was helping The Finger Players, a theatre company over there, on a collaborative show. I met the playwright through them and ended up reading his play after Singapore – landing in China to find my own ancestral roots. It was a surreal read, as his journey mirrored mine so closely.

The play is centred on a character who is “determined to shake her status as a cultural orphan”. For those who haven’t experienced something along these lines, can you explain what it means in the context of everyday life?

Cultural Orphan is something I heard in Singapore but I think it relates to the feeling of anyone who feels out of place culturally, or doesn’t have a ‘cultural home’. Young countries like Singapore and NZ grapple with this, as our histories are short and loaded with colonisation and immigration. It’s hard to get a grasp on how you identify and where your influences are from. Multiracial people deal with this a lot – being from two cultures but not really fitting in with either, for me it’s often that I’m perceived as too white to be Chinese and too Chinese to be white, where in reality the two exist alongside.

What kind of cultural dialogue are you hoping to create with Roots [根] here in NZ?

A curiosity of one’s own roots, and how they perceive others. Asian identities in NZ are so diverse, as are our stories and origins. This is just one version, and New Zealanders and their roots are vastly varied too. I hope this works to build a curiosity of other’s stories as opposed to othering, which can often happen when you don’t look ‘kiwi’ (white).


What in particular do you think makes Roots [根] so successful in emotionally connecting with audiences?

It’s written as if talking to a friend, something Oliver mentioned in an interview. It’s everyday, and so reflective of messy family dynamics, that you find it so relatable to watch. It’s an autobiography and it wears its heart on its sleeve, and doesn’t wrap things up in a nice bow.

How much discussion have you had with Oliver Chong about reproducing his play here in NZ? What was that discussion like?

We’ve been in email contact since Oliver allowed us to stage a reading of it in our playreading series ‘Fresh off the Page” (starting up again in March at The Basement Theatre). I mentioned to him how similar it was to my own experience, and when I asked to stage it for real he was stoked. He’s been really relaxed about the whole thing, which is surprising as it’s never been performed by anyone but himself, and it now being played by a Singaporean-Kiwi woman in New Zealand!

You’ve mentioned that many shows in Singapore are surtitled (translated and displayed above the stage) and have made the decision for Roots to be performed and surtitled in English and Mandarin in order to make the show more inclusive and accessible. Why do you think NZ is not as inclusive and accessible in this regard?

Multiculturalism is fine as long as people think, speak and act like ‘Kiwis’. We are not as accepting of difference as we like to think, and celebrating or even normalising other languages, even our own Te Reo, is a step that accepts difference and welcomes it.

To celebrate language is to celebrate an identity, so although there are TV channels in Mandarin, (away from the general public), bilingual shows are definitely an anomaly. New Zealand’s education system isn’t encouraging of languages from an early age compared to places like Europe for example, so it’s not culturally ingrained that we might need to broaden our thinking to include or even simply tolerate languages that aren’t ours.

It would be exciting to see more surtitled shows being made the norm, for hearing impaired as well as non-English language speakers. It would open up a whole raft of overseas media to the theatre scene, which is an exciting possibility if Roots goes well.

Times Online: Roots presented by Oliver Chong

Thanks for the shoutout Times Online! Read on below or here

Find your Roots at Uxbridge

 Kelly Teed, January 31, 2018

It’s not often you see a play subtitled in Auckland — much less one that’s subtitled in Mandarin but Proudly Asian Theatre is leading the way.

In its first show of the year, Proudly Asian Theatre is bringing Roots to Howick — the first time its brought a show outside of central city suburbs.

In association with the Auckland Lantern Festival and the Auckland Fringe Festival, Roots is written by Oliver Chong is directed by Chye-Ling Huang and stars Amanda Grace-Leo.

The performance, at Uxbridge Arts & Culture will be the first time the solo play has been performed by someone other than writer Oliver Chong. It’s also the first time Chong has given permission for the play to be performed by someone other than himself – and for the gender of the main character to be changed to reflect Singaporean-Kiwi actress Amanda Grace-Leo.

It follows the journey of one woman’s quest to find her familial identity in the cultural confusion of Singapore. She arrives in China to reclaim her past, but ends up stumbling upon more questions than answers.

Huang says the high Chinese population of Howick made it a good choice to branch out to with the hope of giving them an opportunity to relate.

“Parents and kids who may have different first languages can come together and experience the same show, and have their different life experiences acknowledged,” she says.

“I think that New Zealand and Singapore both share a lot in terms of identity crisis journeys. We’re both young countries with a lot of diasporic communities and this story is likely to resonate with a lot of different communities.”

Asia Media Centre: Interview with Chye-Ling Huang, director of Roots

The Asia Media Centre's Francine Chen caught up with Chye-Ling Huang, director of Singaporean play Roots, about PAT's first bilingual show, and the future of Asian storytelling in New Zealand. Read on here or below!

Building bridges with bilingual play

Francine Chen

01 FEBRUARY 2018

Chye-Ling Huang, director of Roots

Chye-Ling Huang, director of Roots

Roots [根] – a bilingual play premiering at the Auckland Fringe festival on 23 February – offers diverse communities an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Mandarin together in a safe space, says Chinese-Pākeha director, actor and writer Chye-Ling Huang.

When Chye-Ling Huang first read the script for Roots, she knew she had to bring the story to New Zealand.

The play, an autobiographical tale that traces Singaporean playwright and actor Oliver Chong’s search for his ancestral roots, hit uncannily close to home for Huang. 

The Chinese-Pākeha director, writer and actor had been investigating her own family history after years of curiosity about her heritage – a quest that led her to China.

“My dad is Chinese-Malaysian, so when we visited his home, it’d be Malaysia,” she says. “But as I got older I started getting confused. Were we Malaysian, or were we Chinese?

“After some digging I found out where my ancestral village was – Xiamen, China. On the way I read Oliver’s play, and the themes were exactly the same as what I was experiencing at that time in my life. 

“I was so struck by it I thought, ‘I've got to put this on one day’.”

Chye-Ling Huang's quest to understand her heritage took her to southeast China. 

More questions than answers

While being a Chinese-New Zealander came with some cultural nuances, Huang learnt there were universal questions of identity shared by diasporic Chinese communities. 

“Why do we want to find our roots? What constitutes our roots? When do we know when we've found it? Why is it important to our everyday life and how much of that shapes who we are?

“Those are questions that have recurred throughout my life.”

Having a Chinese name was one of the reasons she repeatedly faced such questions, Huang says.

“I don’t have the sort of name that blends in with New Zealand-Pākeha.

“I’ve continually been questioned about where I’m from, whether I can speak Mandarin, what being Chinese means to me. And up until last year or the year before, I didn’t really know any of the answers. I had never been to China and investigated for myself what it all means.

“Does it even change anything that I went back? Or am I still the same person?

“It’s a complicated way to look at heritage, and I think the play definitely opens up a lot of questions.”

Amanda Grace Leo plays Hsu Hsien, a Chinese-Singaporean woman who embarks on a trip to China to learn the truth about her family’s history. 

Roots performing at the Uxbridge Arts Centre in Howick. Photo: Julie Zhu Photography

Roots performing at the Uxbridge Arts Centre in Howick. Photo: Julie Zhu Photography

Bringing diverse communities together

Roots reunites Huang with Singaporean-Kiwi actor Amanda Grace Leo, whom she last worked with on Call of the Sparrows.

It’s the first time the play will be performed by an actor other than Oliver Chong. Subtle tweaks were made to the script to reflect the change in performer, but none were as significant as the decision to stage the production in English and Mandarin. 

Huang hopes the bilingual element will bring diverse communities together in mutual appreciation of the language and story.

“The original script is in Mandarin but we’ve made it bilingual,” she says. 

“I hope Roots helps to unite people who can’t speak Mandarin and those who can in one room together, to show that it’s not so scary to co-exist, and to hear Chinese as a really beautiful, interesting, funny language in a safe space.”

The play also offers Chinese diasporic families an opportunity to reflect on issues of heritage in a tongue familiar to each generation.

“I know many Chinese diasporic families where the parents don’t speak English very well, and they don’t speak to their kids in their native language because they don’t want to disadvantage them by having accents or being teased. 

“So there are lots of families who just can’t communicate or be on the same page. They’ve done it out of love, but it’s a massive disconnect. It’s my hope a family of those people will come along, and both understand everything that’s happened.”


Asian talent in New Zealand

The launch of a bilingual play with an Asian female lead is among the latest in a list of encouraging developments in the Asian-Kiwi arts scene since Huang graduated from acting school in 2013.

An anxiety then over the lack of prospects for Asian-New Zealand performers compelled Huang and the only other Asian student in her class, James Roque, to start their own company, Proudly Asian Theatre.

“We started getting jobs, but along the way we met lots of up-and-coming Asian-New Zealand talent who were doing their own work; some successful, some struggling.

“Although we’re not hugely resourced, we decided to make PAT more about engaging with, and discovering, and supporting Asian artists.

“The underlying kaupapa behind everything we do at PAT is inclusivity, and to support people in whatever way we can, with whatever resources we can.”

Huang believes the outlook for Asian-Kiwi stories is a promising one.

“I think we’re becoming braver to put ourselves on stage, and push the boundaries politically, and be a bit more contentious, a bit more outspoken. 

“It’s my belief we’ll get to a point where there’s lots of practitioners doing all levels of [things]. I really want to do Shakespeare with an all-Asian cast one day. Or Chekov, or anything mainstream, but casted inclusive. 

“It’s going to take time, but it’s exciting.”

Eastern Courier write-up: Roots presented by PAT

Thanks Eastern Courier for the great write-up! Read on here or continue below!

Inspiring Solo Show Explores who she is


February 14 2018

Amanda Grace Leo stars in Oliver Chong's epic autobiographical play. Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Amanda Grace Leo stars in Oliver Chong's epic autobiographical play. Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Singaporean-Kiwi actress Amanda Grace-Leo will perform the solo show Roots at Uxbridge Theatre in Howick on February 23-24.

One of Singapore's favourite solo shows Roots is coming to the stage of Howick's Uxbridge Theatre for its New Zealand premiere on February 23-24.

The play, presented by Proudly Asian Theatre (PAT) as part of this year's Auckland Lantern Festival programme, follows a woman's quest to find her family identity in the cultural confusion of the country in South-East Asia.

While setting out on a journey to China to reclaim her past, Hsu Hsien, the main character, ends up stumbling upon more questions.

The story follows a woman's quest to find her family identity in the cultural melting pot of Singapore.

The Roots show was originally written and performed by Singaporean actor-director Oliver Chong, and it's the first time he has given permission for another performer to take on the role.

The NZ version has also changed the gender of the character to suit Singaporean-Kiwi actress Amanda Grace-Leo.

Chye-Ling Huang, director of the new version, says parents and children can come together and have their different lived experiences acknowledged.

"I think that New Zealand and Singapore both share a lot in terms of identity crisis journeys," Huang says.

"We're both young countries with a lot of diasporic communities and this story is likely to resonate with a lot of different communities."

Photo: Andi Crown Photography

Photo: Andi Crown Photography

PAT has adapted the script to make it bilingual for Kiwi audiences, with surtitles in both English and Chinese languages, meaning the show is also accessible for the hearing impaired.

It's also the first time the theatre company is branching out into Auckland's suburbs, which has up until now only showed works in the city.

After the Uxbridge Theatre performances, it will take Roots to play at the Q Theatre in Auckland city.