Rick Tae: “Asian Americans and Asian Canadians are completely different.” – Guillaume Debaene

What does it mean to be Asian in North America? This is the question raised by The Theory of Everything, a quirky, comical and philosophical play by award-winning Thai-American playwright, Prince Gomolvilas. The play will Canadian premiere will be shown at the Roundhouse from January 9th to 12th. The production centres on three generations from North America, the Philippines, Japan, China and Thailand, who all struggle to find their identities as immigrants. This pan-Asian creation will be performed by a cast of emerging and established Asian-Canadian actors, under the mentorship of the prominent Asian-Canadian artist, Rick Tae. Born in Hong Kong, Tae has first-hand experience of what it is like to be an immigrant in North American, and the production is an opportunity for him to explain how Asians around the world experience and adapt to different cultures.

Rick Tae | Photo courtesy of Rick Tae

Source Newspaper: This production integrates cultures that are prominent in Vancouver (Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Thai). According to you, what are the Asian immigrant identity issues that people may face in Vancouver?

Rick Tae: For an older generation of immigrants, it’s really about coming to terms with a likely different set of everydayness.  In addition to possible language barriers and obvious law, government and citizenship responsibilities, how North Americans deal with simple daily customer service and complaints, driving, interactions between people… are only some of the many differences to note. For a younger generation, there are perhaps pop culture differences that might surface more immediately. Where and how they party, dine and shop.  A different sense of humour, North American sarcasm beyond just the English language, slang created from allusions to pop culture movies, tv shows, music etc… And of course, the all important “dating”, if it’s getting to know North American counterparts or breaking down those cultural differences to come together in love — expectations can be worlds apart sometimes.

S.N.: The existential implications are at the heart of this philosophical play. Do you think that many Canadian Asians struggle with their self-identity?

R.T.: Not as much, I think. Culturally, Asians (Canadian or not) tend to view questioning existence as somewhat foolish and irrelevant to more practical everyday issues at hand.  Only amongst more of the creative professionals do I generally find that sense of wonder.  Maybe I’m biased as I do passionately believe in the excitement of questioning the status quo as a creative person myself, but my opinion is this: We’ve been blessed with an opportunity to have this wonderful life — we owe something/someone the responsibility of living it to the fullest — rather than just “phoning it in” with a life less extraordinary.  And so naturally, the question of ‘why’ will always pop up to keep us striving for reasons to explore and go on, all until the day we die. What’s the point of doing just what’s immediately in front of us?

S.N.: Before you live in Vancouver, you studied in U.S. As a North American Asian, how would you compare your experience in the U.S. to Vancouver? Do you think that Asian immigrants face the same issues in both countries?

R.T.: Asian Americans and Asian Canadians are completely different.  There is a much louder expression of race and culture in the USA, likely all the way down to branding and marketing for lack of a better way to explain it.  Asians in America are also sandwiched between ‘black’ and ‘white’ and are sometimes lost in identity between those two extremes.  Asian Canadians, I find, are more integrated within the workplace and more independent in their personal lives — less of a soapbox mentality of trying to get people to understand, just so we can be treated equally.

S.N.: Have you found the American perspective from Prince Gomolvilas surprising, with regards to the doubts of Asians in North American societies?

R.T. Not surprising at all.  As mentioned, the American perspective is quite different.  As I had only moved to the USA after having spent many years growing up in Asia, I already had a relatively solid foundation of self and was quite creative in incorporating additional ‘American’ facets to my life and personality.  But not all American-born and/or new immigrants are able to do so.  Most have a tendency to think of it as having to ‘belong’ or having to ‘change’, rather than to simply see it as ‘adding to’ or ‘complementing’ who they already are.  I can’t speak for those born in the US, but my guess is that growing up in such a racially ‘in-your-face’ environment might really force one to constantly examine identity and to justify oneself on a regular basis.

S.N.: You collaborate with VACT (Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre) and helped them to create the inaugural Master Class workshop to better reflect Vancouver audiences. Is it still difficult nowadays for an Asian to perform in Canada, especially in Vancouver?

R.T.: It’s difficult for anyone to perform in Canada, especially Vancouver.  Theatre is a limited business as there’s not enough spare entertainment dollars from everyone to go around.  Add to the fact that the culture of local live theatre is relatively uniform to help maintain a core theatre-going audience, a lack of creativity and diversity sometimes can hardly be blamed. When it comes to Asian actors working in the industry, I’d like to believe all theatre companies in Vancouver are colour-blind.  I’d like to believe that actors, regardless of being Asian or not, just need to be good.   I don’t mind sharing what I’ve accumulated in my years of experience so as emerging actors can give back the quality of work and respect for craft that I think audiences deserve.  That should be the reason for VACT to bring in Vancouver audiences, it’s not just because we’re Asian.


Roundhouse Performance Centre: Jan 10 – 11, 8pm & Jan 12, 2pm & 8pm
Pay-What-You-Can Preview: Jan 9, 8pm
Tickets $15 adult/$10 student & senior in advance from www.vact.ca or at door for $20