Artists looking for a launching pad to display their theatre work may have a hard time telling certain stories.
While mainstream theatres, such as the locally-based Arts Club, are starting to showcase Canadian Asian stories (such as Kim’s Convenience, which will run at The Arts Club April 24 to May 24, 2014), there’s still a certain niche that needs to be filled when telling stories by and for Asian-Canadians, according to Donna Yamamoto, artistic director of the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT).
The theatre hopes to create vibrant energy and entice emerging artists by delving into taboo issues.
Yamamoto initially got involved with the Richmond theatre group in the Steveston’s 2011 production, Salmon Row.
“I wanted to see more colour on stage,” says Yamamoto.
Yamamoto, who has worked as a professional actor for the past 25 years, knows the importance of connecting performers with the audience through storytelling.
“We hope to be bringing some of the stories that mean something for the Asian community,” says Yamamoto.
Reconnect to Culture
VACT was co-founded by Leroy Chin and Joyce Lam, in 2000. VACT was created because the Asian-Canadian community was underrepresented – both in stories and actors – in the theatre community.
Tetsuro Shigematsu, VACT president of the board, first got involved with the organization through a sketch comedy project.
“I think for a lot of people, including myself, VACT represented a doorway through [which] emerging artists would enter and individuals [could] find themselves in a nurturing environment,” says Shigematsu.
Shigematsu recalls seeing a lack of Asian actors, writers or artists when VACT was first formed.
“VACT’s goal is to have more Asians on stage, to better reflect that pool of talent,” says Shigematsu.
Lam and Yamamoto don’t think their audience sees enough of Asian actors and stories on stage. Lam points out when people relate to stories and actors who are just like them, they want to go to the theatre.
“We also felt as second-generation Chinese Canadian, we lost our language and we wanted to get connected with our culture,” says Lam.
Not only is VACT focusing on developing new Asian talent in acting and writing, but Shigematsu says they want to develop, from stage readings all the way to production, a canon of Asian-Canadian plays.
“We’re hoping that VACT will not only develop into an entity, but also become more of a destination where artists will see VACT as a launching pad where they can get noticed, as well as attracting cultural decision makers,” Shigematsu says.
Yamamoto wants to continue to bring a high level of quality to their shows. To showcase plays with relevance to the Asian-Canadian community is the desired goal, and to soon be able to pay the artists, actors and playwrights.
Upcoming production focuses on “taboo” issue
Ga Ting, Cantonese for “Family,” is a new play dealing with an issue not dealt with in Chinese communities: homosexuality. Minh Ly, a Toronto-based playwright, wrote this piece about Chinese immigrant parents who find out after their son was gay after he dies and they meet his boyfriend.“Ga Ting tells a great story that needs to be told. In terms of discrimination, it could be racial or sexual. Lots of things that happen that shouldn’t be happening. It’s a very sweet story with lots of layers,” says Yamamoto.
Delving into Canadian Chinese history for inspiration
VACT’s historical themed production of Red Letters was based on the Redress Apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the head tax imposed on Chinese Canadian citizens in 1885.
“The point was not to drill a history lesson into people’s heads, but to help people feel the pain of the law. There was a lot of sobbing in the audience,” recalls Lam.
Even though the play was a fictitious account, people connected with it. That moment became VACT’s turning point in the plays they wanted to produce.
“People came up to me and said, ‘That’s my story. That’s my grandfather’s story. It was so real,” says Lam.
Ga Ting, co-produced by VACT and Frank Productions,
will run through March 22 to 30, 2014.
Preview March 20 and 21.