About Christine Twite

Theatre academic, producer and project manager

A play about Chinese migrants with no Asian actors …

A play about Chinese migrants with no Asian actors? Controversial?
By Ramin Gray, Artistic Director, Actors Touring Company

 

Not at all. Roland Schimmelpfennnig’s THE GOLDEN DRAGON has been a huge
success in its native Germany and around the world. But the English-language
premiere will have to surmount our expectation that social realism, the dominant theatrical aesthetic of these isles, is the only way for us to represent these characters and situations. Our theatre, in its obsession with social mapping and naturalism, creates expectations that we will cast actors as closely as possible to the real biography of the people they portray: if you have the character of a young Asian chef, then find a young Asian actor and let that community be represented on stage. Because if you represent them, then audiences from that community will come to the theatre and hey presto, we’ll have an integrated and harmonious society.

However Schimmelpfennig’s play goes wonderfully against all that, reclaiming a lost world of imagination and playfulness: here actors will play anything but themselves, stretching to occupy biographies, genders, ethnicities and even, on occasion, species that are distant to them and also to us, the audience. And here lies the genius of the play: these acts of imagination and empathy are how all theatre works but by emphasising and stressing the leap required for say, a 78 year old British actress to portray an Ant, Schimmelpfennig brings into focus what we all have to do every day in
order to attain and maintain a healthy openness to the other. Through imagination, through watching the struggle of actors to occupy difficult, distant and implausible positions, we all are encouraged to attempt, in our lives, to feel the pain and possibility of other lives. And that may truly help to nurture and sustain a sense of social harmony.

This article first appeared in What’s On Stage.

RE: Re-rehearsals

Taken from The Golden Dragon actor Adam Best’s Personal Blog, http://mentalbulletins.blogspot.com/

I dont own any furniture.I have stuff like. I have a playstation, a laptop, a motor car, a framed picture of Laurel and Hardy, a couple of signed photos of  celebrities (Gaby Roslin, Neil Buchanan, Michael Barrymore and, my favourite,  Maggie Jones, the late Blanche off of Coronation Street) and some pots and pans  and other kitchen paraphernalia. I dont know if any of that counts as furniture,  as such. The Lady (for those who may be new to Mental Bulletins, “the Lady” is  the name I have for my girlfriend) has, over the course of our cohabitation,  bought some soft furnishings, and we have acquired some ornamental pieces and a  particularly nice Edwardian lampstand. But I dont know if any of this counts  really as proper furniture owned by us.

Dont get me wrong now, we arent  barbarians. We dont sit on the floor whilst playing playstation or simply stand  around casting handsome shadow puppets onto the walls that arent adorned by  celebrity autographs. We have chairs and a sofa and that. We sit on them and  watch telly like everyone else. We just dont own these things. We dont own the  wardrobe in which the Lady’s clothes hang and against which I throw my ragged  vestments. The table we eat our tea off (via plates we do own, but which were
given to us) isnt ours. The Lady and I, we live in “furnished rented  accomodation”. In the near future, we very much hope this situation will change.  We hope that soon we will pay money to acquire an unfurnished property, which we  will have to fill with the kind of stuff that has, up to now, already been there  when we arrived. This is excellent news, as we will find sofas and tables and  wardrobes to suit our taste. Or rather, we will find stuff that a) we can afford  and b) is to the Lady’s taste.

These are exciting developments. We will  use this furniture we will have bought or inherited in this new house and add to  it over time and become attached to it and begin to know and value its place in  our home. You know when you get up for a wee in the middle of the night, it’s  pitch black, you’re a bit unsteady on your feet, you’re probably in some form of  undress, it’s not easy to get around. However, after you have lived amongst your  furniture in your own space for a bit, it becomes increasingly easy to
negotiate, almost to the point at which you could comfortably pogo, drunk, with both eyes closed and carrying a litre of flourescent paint in an open container, around your home without fear of banging your knee or making your walls hi-vis.

Inevitably, however, the time will come when you wish to move on  from this home. It may be you are moving to a bigger property. It may be that  you are moving to a similar size property. It may even be that you’re moving  somewhere smaller. Regardless, the place you end up in will no doubt be of  different dimensions to the place you’re moving from. And, given the financial  constraints and the infeasible sentimental attachment you have developed to your  furniture, you will want to bring it with you to your new property. You will  paint walls to tie-in with the sofa you bought, which you originally bought to
tie-in with the walls in the old place. You will remove a window to crane in the
chest of drawers that you found in a car boot sale, even though your new place
has adequate built-in storage. In short, you will spend ages trying to recreate the comfort and familiarity and sense of possession in the new home that you had
in the last. And, over time, those old possessions will become part of the new
place as much as they were part of the old place. And you’ll struggle to
remember them how they were when they first became important to you.

When  we did the Golden Dragon in Plymouth, that was the culmination of a fairly
intense rehearsal period, in which we worked hard to connect to the “things”
that became part of the set, the characters and, without a doubt, became the
fabric of the production we were creating. And now, in readiness for our move
into our new home at the Traverse 2 in Edinburgh, we are having to take those
old possessions, those integral parts of the piece, and try to weave them as
seamlessly into the new space as they had existed in the old. It’s tough.
Because we had grown so comfortable with things as they were. We had, after a
lot of work, gained confidence in knowing where everything was- we were
negotiating obstacles as happily as the drunk, naked pogo-er going for a piss in
the middle of the night in the comfortable familiarity of his own home. We have
the same things, we are just having to find new places for them.

Unfortunately, we dont have a couple of months to get used to  it.

See yis in Holt.

Gearing Up For The Road

Zenghui Qiu rehearses with Adam Best

By Ramin Gray

So, we finally move from playing the Drum Theatre Plymouth, where we were happily ensconced for three weeks, to the open road. This is a new venture for me but, of course, as old as the hills, part of the romantic DNA of the theatre. ‘The actors are come my liege’, says Polonius, knowing they’ll whet Hamlet’s jaded appetite, bringing variety of form but also, the latest news and content from the city. And that’s an aspect of the theatre that’s still relevant today. The playwright David Hare often talks of the young writer as a rebuke to the staid ways of the older generation and that when he or she bursts into the room, they bring ‘news from the street’.

I like to think that news can assume many shapes and perhaps that’s what characterizes Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play best of all: its formal invention. From its concurrent running of several plotlines, to its refusal to let the actors use their own gender, age and ethnicity all in one go, the play always makes the argument for imagination. And this week in rehearsals, as we try to get our heads around the different sizes and dimensions of the spaces coming up, we are beginning to realize just how beautifully flexible and malleable the play is. It’s lovely to see the actors again after their short break and the easy intimacy of the company makes the rehearsals a pleasure: irreverent, thoughtful and efficient, gently probing the play and digging up more possibility.

We’re playing the Holt Festival this Friday in the sort of end on world we had in Plymouth but from next week we are on the three sided planet of the Traverse in Edinburgh: right now, that’s looking like a great way to experience the play.

The Golden Dragon July Facebook and Twitter Feed

@CulturalWatch @ATCLondon – yes people! go see #thegoldendragon . Unusual, brilliant play. Caught a day of rehearsals and looks amazing
russ_pb
July 21, 2011
@PennedintheM @KalagoraHQ :) I will now shamlessly plug @atclondon’s #thegoldendragon too. Would love to hear your thoughts!
CulturalWatch
July 21, 2011
The smuggest thing I can ever tweet- I’m looking forward to going back to work on Monday #thegoldendragon
MesserBest
July 21, 2011
RT @ATCLondon *exciting news* #thegoldendragon first show @traversetheatre is sold out. Book now to avoid disappointment ;) CHT
jacktarlton
July 20, 2011
Can’t wait to see it RT @ATCLondon: *exciting news* #thegoldendragon 1st show @traversetheatre is sold out. Book now to avoid disappointment
OberonBooks
July 20, 2011
#thegoldendragon 1st performance @traversetheatre at the festival is SOLD OUT! If you’re coming to the Fringe opening weekend, book soon!
ATCLondon
July 19, 2011
Counting down the days until the Edinburgh Festival and our Holt Festival arrival. Have just added a few bits to our microsite on Schimmelpfennig in preparation:
ATC Theatre
July 19, 2011
Lovely party @OberonBooks! They published #thegoldendragon. At the show, online, & at good bookshops!
nick_i_williams
July 17, 2011
How does theatre in Germany compare with here? What are its obsessions? Who are its stars? For the Guardian’s New Europe series, Michael Billington hits Berlin
ATC Theatre
July 13, 2011
I”ve just been to a “show and tell” at TR2 to meet the designer working on our forthcoming co-production with ATC of The Golden Dragon. Roughly four times a year the Drum Theatre produces work, often in collaboration with another theatre company, which will then go on tour across the UK. (Four such
ATC Theatre
July 11, 2011
Looking forward to @ATClondon #thegoldendragon rehearsals @out_of_joint next week.Watch this space:may be a chance for tweeps to watch too!
CulturalWatch
July 20, 2011
Holt Festival | Main Programme | The Golden Dragon

Sponsored by Back to the Garden The Golden Dragon is a funny and theatrical fable of modern life and migration, whisking you from your local takeaway to East Asia and back, revealing what really goes into that bowl of spicy soup. Are you hungry yet?
First Rehearsal of ATC”s new show The Golden Dragon | Cultures of Spectatorship

This Monday was the first day of rehearsals for Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon. After a busy meet and greet and read-through of the play, Ramin (Gray), our director, introduced a special guest to the company: Zenghui Qui.

A set made of toilet paper (and other ideas that arise in the creative process) (via Backstage at the Theatre Royal Plymouth)

A blog from our friends at the Drum, Plymouth about the unusual set for The Golden Dragon!

I’ve just been to a ‘show and tell’ at TR2 to meet the designer working on our forthcoming co-production with ATC of The Golden Dragon.  Roughly four times a year the Drum Theatre produces work, often in collaboration with another theatre company, which will then go on tour across the UK. (Four such productions are on tour at the moment, click here for info on them .)  The Golden Dragon is going into rehearsal in London next week and opens in the … Read More

via Backstage at the Theatre Royal Plymouth

Vietnamese delights at Loong Kee Restaurant

Our blurb for the up-coming tour of The Golden Dragon reads as follows:

On a typical evening, anywhere in Europe, you walk into your local Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant, and the whole world is there. Everyone connected to everyone else, through this one place…

The Golden Dragon is a funny and theatrical fable of modern life and migration, whisking you from your local takeaway to East Asia and back, revealing what really goes into that bowl of spicy soup.


So the natural thing was to take a trip to a restaurant in the name of research.  The cast and company took a little jaunt yesterday to the rather delicious Loong Kee Vietnamese restaurant in Bethnal Green, where our publicity photo for the production was taken.

Choosing publicity shots and marketing for any new production is always challenging, as invariably the show will not have started rehearsals yet, and the design and look of the show gets finalised much later on in the production process.  So you are in a sense ‘working blind': there is a need to recreate the vision the production team articulate about the show, without making it too stylised.  There is a real risk of creating something which ends up being out of tone with the final production.   There are also a number of practical issues you need to consider, such as the placement of text on the picture, and whether your information and logos will fit around the images chosen etc etc.  It’s a tricky business.

Ramin sent ATC HQ out to take photographs of restaurants in the local area to see if we could find inspiration.  Kendall (O’Neill), our Administrator and Events Manager, came up with the winning shot to the left.  Despite having no people within shot, there is a sense of dynamism: the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.

Our publicity image is perfect for the show, but cannot begin to capture the feeling of the kitchen at its busiest.  The staff at Loong Kee kindly let the whole team into the kitchen and watch their preparations as they opened up for the evening.  The actors were quick to respond to the sensory experiences of being in the kitchen: the noise, the heat and the feel of the floor beneath your feet.  Also fascinating was the way in which the movements of the chefs were choreographed. Behind the main cooking area were rows and rows of different spices, herbs and ingredients.  Apparently the placement of these items is fixed, so the chefs can reach behind and grab what they need while cooking without event looking.  The whole kitchen had a structure and rhythm to its process which was beautiful to watch.  We took a few videos of people’s immediate reactions to the space, which will be put up on the ATC website soon.

So rather than the design and layout of the kitchen, it was the movement and feel of the space which was of particular inspiration to the cast.  And these reactions seem to marry well with the representation of location in The Golden Dragon itself.  The stage location is something intangible: not a specific restaurant, but a ‘Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant’ which is only recognisable by its anonymity.   The play’s themes explore the way stories and locations are intimately connected, despite geographical and cultural distance.  Location, as well as characterisation, is mutable and ever-changing.  This sophisticated and playful use of location echoes the structure of the stories being told within the play.  Without giving too much away about the script, (this production will be the English premiere and the first performance of the play in English, ably translated by David Tushingham), there is a continual dialectic going on between global and local issues.  The play’s location spins across the world whilst at all times being confined to the stage space.

As one blogger describes here, the food was scrumptious.  As a non-meat eater, I do tend to judge restaurants on the quality of their vegetarian options, and here the tofu they cooked for me was melt-in-the-mouth.  And somehow it tasted even better knowing that Jack (Tarlton) had watched and also got involved with the cooking of the mini-feast we all enjoyed.  Here’s to a few more research trips of this sort …

The First Reshearsal for The Golden Dragon …

This Monday was the first day of rehearsals for Roland Schimmelpfennig’s The Golden Dragon.  After a busy meet and greet and read-through of the play, Ramin (Gray), our director, introduced a special guest to the company: Zenghui Qui.  Zenghui is a professional musician who specialises traditional Chinese music, and bought into the rehearsal a veritable coterie of different instruments for the company to play with.  She seemed a dab-hand at everything she demonstrated: from the gorgeous clay ocarina-like ‘Xun’ to the more familiar Chinese flute.

The company’s hushed appreciation of Zenghui’s calm, masterful playing was soon broken by loud crashes and general uproar from the cast, each trying to copy what she’d shown (see some brilliant footage of them here).  What was great about this, and what was perhaps purposefully intended by Ramin in this session, was how the company became affected by this demonstration.  As the cast tried to imitate the sounds Zenghui produced, and were confronted by the technical difficulty, everyone instinctively switched back into techniques of playing from their own backgrounds, creating a tangible and at times amusing, cultural clash.  Internalised cultural behaviours we do not notice on a daily basis were suddenly exposed.  Kathryn (O’Reilly) picked up the flute and managed some gorgeous sounds, but sounded and looked more like she was playing the recorder.  She looked so concentrated but a bit ill-at-ease as she strained to find the perfect pitch and timbre.  Give them a little time I think they’ll all sound superb!

But it was this feeling of slight cultural embarrassment which made the afternoon a perfect way of starting rehearsals.  Ideas of cultural inclusivity and identity strike at the heart of The Golden Dragon.  The five actors do not just play a single role in the production, but a series of different characters with different genders, ethnicities and widely different ages.  Ann (Firbank), royalty of ATC having appeared in a wide range of productions before this one, has the unimaginable task of playing “The Granddaughter, Asian Woman, The Ant and The Shopkeeper”!  The play constantly confronts expectations of identity and sense of self: how far are cultural or differences of age insurmountable?  Are there areas of experience which will inevitably create understanding between even the most unlikely of people?  How far is personal identity fixed in the first place?

The eponymous restaurant itself is continually called a ‘Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast food’ joint in the script, like the characters in the play is never pinned to one coherent identity.  I am really looking forward to seeing how things progress (and whether the Chinese instruments will become a feature of the performance – I certainly hope so).  Whatever, I wish the cast good luck on the venture and look forward to following them!