Since the mid-1990s, Asian Heritage Month has been celebrated nationally every May. As this month draws to a close, it brings an opportunity to reflect on the many contributions and achievements of Canadians of Asian origin in all facets of society. In the areas of film and theatre, many scholars, academics, and artists from our department champion their work in Asian and Asian Canadian art. Their work, and the work of many other Canadians of Asian descent, helps us to understand and relate to the events of past and present that shape Asian Canadian identity today. The diversity in their work makes for art that is rich, poignant, and provoking.
Some of our faculty, students, and alumni have interwoven their work with their Asian heritage and experiences and we celebrate them!
Associate Professor Siyuan Liu
MA & PhD Theatre Studies Program Advisor
My research focuses on Chinese theatre since the beginning of the twentieth century, a period when interaction with Western theatre has resulted in significant changes to traditional song and dance theatre and in the birth of the modern, Western-oriented spoken drama. My first book, Performing Hybridity in Colonial-Modern China (2013), examines spoken drama’s hybrid beginning, and my forthcoming book, Reforming “Old Theatre”: The Transformation of Traditional Chinese Theatre in the 1950s and Early 1960s, studies the government-mandated reform of traditional theatre in the mid–twentieth century.
I’m interested in the past century because of the transformative interactions between Asian and Western theatres that have resulted in exhilarating new forms, conventions, and techniques that have greatly enriched world theatre. I’m excited to bring these changes to my classes, such as Intercultural Theatre and Modern Asian Theatre, where students read and watch, for example, Shakespeare’s King Lear reimagined by artists from a variety of Asian theatrical forms and Asian spoken drama plays inspired by Western realist or modernist theatre, such as China’s Sunrise by Cao Yu, or by traditional Asian forms, such as India’s Hayavadana by Girish Karnad.
In addition, I have also worked with Canadian artists on Asian Canadian theatrical pieces, including Jade in the Coal (2011) with Vancouver’s Pangaea Arts, which used spoken drama and Cantonese opera to tell the story of a traveling Cantonese opera troupe in Cumberland, BC around 1900, and with Toronto-based playwright Marjorie Chan to update Cao Yu’s Sunrise, set in 1930s China, to Lady Sunrise (2020), set in contemporary Vancouver and Richmond.
Dr. Siyuan Liu Profile: https://theatrefilm.ubc.ca/profile/siyuan-liu/
Theatre Studies PhD Candidate
I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Theatre and Film, and my forthcoming doctoral dissertation traces the history of Asian Canadian theatre. I think this field (Asian Canadian theatre) is fascinating because it offers a unique and full representation of Canadian society. I have been studying this field for close to a decade now and have seen it grow and contribute to the professional theatre scene, especially in Vancouver and Toronto. That said, pockets of work can be seen in other cities such as Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, etc.
As part of my research, I speak with artists working across the country, uncovering the many ways that Asian Canadian stories are now coming to the surface. Asian Heritage Month is an ideal time to reflect upon the many contributions being made by those in the creative and cultural sectors.
UBC is a leader in Asian Canadian Studies, and as a UBC Public Scholar, I also make my research widely accessible, and often contribute to websites and blogs whenever possible.
Unraveling the History of Asian Canadian Theatre:
Film Production MFA Alum
I am always curious about how our sense of belonging fits with where we call home. Often, the decision to immigrate is a matter of survival. I often wonder, if given a choice, would immigrants go back to their original homeland?
Asian Canadian art is relevant because it is an invitation for discovery into how members of Asian diaspora communities took control of their narratives, overcame intimidation, and reconcile their old versus new world values/beliefs.
Some Asian Canadian films to watch:
Double Happiness, directed by Mina Shum (Film Production Alum)
Meditation Park, directed by Mina Shum
Eve and The Fire Horse, directed by Julia Kwan (Phil Lind Artist in Residence 2019)
Everything Will Be, directed by Julia Kwan
The Zoo, directed by Julia Kwan
All Our Father’s Relations, directed by Alejandro Yoshizawa (Adjunct Professor, UBC Theatre and Film)
BFA Acting Alum
When I first came to Vancouver, I gained a great deal of perspective on the local art scene, but saw nothing in the work that represented me or my world view. There was nothing that I could show my friends that could give them a teeny, tiny perspective of the world that I grew up in.
I had my first experience of South Asian arts in a play reading organized by the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT). VACT opened my eyes to a whole community in Vancouver dedicated to representing hundreds of thousands of people like me.
Ask yourself, how many people from Asia live in Vancouver and compared to that, how much art do you see representing them? If we want Canada to be a multicultural community, we need to champion multicultural art, so that Canadians see the world through a multi–coloured lens and not just the white lens that they grew up with.
I still remember the look on people’s faces, the day that I did a performance about colonization on India’s Independence Day (August 15). It was in a site-specific performance space, out in the open, and I had to act as if I was running from the police. The sound of sirens flooded my ears as I ran for my life with adrenaline surging through my body. I knew there was a large portion of the audience to whom those sirens were just sirens without the tone of racism, injustice, and fear that I heard. It was my job to have them understand that and they did; it was a powerful moment.
We need to continue to create and support art that tells stories via that multicultural lens to encourage understanding of what it’s like to live outside the borders that we draw around ourselves.
Theatre Studies PhD Candidate
As an integral part of a multicultural community, Asian Canadian theatre offers a window into uncertain identities, intra-cultural struggles, and inter-cultural understandings experienced by generations of Canadians of Asian descent. As a Chinese studying and living in Canada, I have been paying close attention to the increasing exposure and influence of Asian Canadian art, as well as its ever-growing focus on prevalent issues disregarding race and ethnicity. For example, Minh Ly’s Ga Ting, by telling a story happening in an Asian family, questions the gender norm and addresses the generation gap along with acculturation conflicts. In this case, Asian Canadian theatre contributes to not only an entitativity for Asian Canadians, but also cross-cultural values for a larger audience.
Rui Zhang Profile: https://theatrefilm.ubc.ca/profile/rui-zhang/
More Work by our Students and Alumni:
Breakaway, directed by Jenny Lee-Gilmore (Film Production Alum)
Monkey See, Monkey Do, directed by Joshua Lam
Asian Canadian Theatre: An Emerging Field in the 21st Century, by Eury Chang (Academic article published in Anglistik: International Journal of English Studies)
Oh Sandra! (Art, Love and Other Reckless Pursuits) by June Pang
Produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre
June 16, 2020 at 7pm PST via zoom
Facebook Event: https://bit.ly/2M1fHWa
For invite, RSVP: email@example.com