A back-alley and a chicken shop inspire playwright

Derek Chan, co-artistic director of rice & beans theatre. | Photo courtesy of Brenda Nicole Kent and Jules Le Masson

fantastical show with a setting that is both otherworldly and very personal, Chicken Girl is the newest production from rice & beans theatre.

The show will run from May 24–June 7 at the Orpheum Annex.

A personal connection

Chicken Girl is written and directed by Derek Chan, co-artistic director of rice & beans theatre. It contains three different storylines, all revolving around a back-alley Chinese fried chicken shop. That shop was not a random addition: it is directly inspired by a similar place in Hong Kong where Chan grew up.

“When I was young,” he says, “my parents would drop me off at my grandmother’s to babysit me until they got off work. Normally, my dad would pick me up in the afternoon when he was done teaching, and we would take the double-decker bus and sit in silence. But once in a while he would take me to this kind of shack, I suppose, underneath a bridge near the bus stop.”

There, Chan’s father – described as stoic and strict but caring – would tell him to pick whatever he wanted. In his childhood memory, the shop was a wonderful place that provided not just chicken but also comfort.

“The reason why I’ve placed it at the centre of this vibrant, surreal story is that I want the characters in the show – and also the audience – to have a warm and safe place to depart from and return to after the adventure of the play,” says Chan.

Chicken Girl is heavily influenced by Chan’s own cultural identity and memory. There is the chicken shop, and on top of that, a lot of the images and ideas included in the play are sourced from movies he watched as a child in Hong Kong, or from stories he’s read since leaving his first home. Chan sees this implementation of his personal experiences as necessary to create a more resonant piece.

“It’s a way for me to navigate through these questions I have about where we come from and where we are going…I really believe that to create meaningful and relevant art for the audience, I think there needs to be a very strong sense of honesty in the way we create work,” explains Chan.

A magical collage

The questions Chan ponders through Chicken Girl surround the idea of home – both geographical and spiritual – as well as identities and existence in general. The show draws from Chan’s own life, but also draws on cultural influences that can be found in Vancouver. One example is the incorporation of Cantonese and Korean into the language of the show on top of English.

“I really want to create shows that look, sound and feel like Vancouver in a sense,” says Chan. “We hear so many different languages in different neighbourhoods, why shouldn’t we incorporate them into performance?”

The show is lively, filled with colour, music and some magical whimsy, but also intertwined with some very human, darker aspects.

“Underneath that very vibrant, colourful, magical realism, there’s an undercurrent of despair and struggle to hang on to that colour, that joy in life that we all crave,” says Chan. “I feel it’s important to have that colourful hope in the universe of this play, so that this magic, this colour can act as an anchor for us when we look into more serious ideas that we all contemplate at one point or another in our lives.”

Chicken Girl is the culmination of a long creative process. The “workshopping” stage of the production began nearly two years ago, with the initial writing of the script happening before that.

The show is a look at how Chan arrived at where he is today. “It’s a bit of a magical space collage, if you will. Live, visual and narrative collage,” he says. “I’ve lived in many places and been influenced by many cultures and many stories from very vibrant people I’ve met and know, and I want to share it all with the audience.”

Chan is eager to share his creation. He hopes Vancouverites of all backgrounds will be able to find something in the show that reflects directly back at them.

For more information visit www.riceandbeanstheatre.com

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