Single Asian Female is a landmark piece about to hit New Zealand’s theatre scene for the first time. Acclaimed playwright Michelle Law is a Chinese-Australian writer and actor, who has become a hit sensation across the Tasman. Single Asian Female has played sold-out seasons in Australia, and has received commendatory reviews for its blend of comedy, heart-wrenching drama, and lived authenticity. This fresh, authentic and incisive comedy will premiere at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in April.
Single Asian Female was originally commissioned and produced at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre by La Boite Theatre Company in 2017. It follows the story of Pearl Wong, a first-generation Chinese immigrant, single mother and restaurateur living in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. She is the archetypal Asian mother, balancing her family, Golden Phoenix business, and her passion for karaoke. Her daughter Zoe battles major life decisions, and teenage daughter Mei is grappling with her sense of belonging in a Western society.
This heart-warming comedy and drama tackles different themes with a light tone, following a somewhat universal story of mothers, daughters and sisters. This production explores important topics such as family struggles, violence, racism and cultural identity.
In an interview with Asia Media Centre NZ, Law shared that the characters in this production were inspired by stories of lived experiences from Asian women historically, Asian women in her life and herself. Director of Single Asian Female, Cassandra Tse, has been able to work closely with Law to adapt this story for our context within New Zealand.
This play features three Chinese New Zealand women as leads and is directed by a Chinese New Zealander – this is a true landmark within the Auckland Theatre Company’s programming. The production also marks the first time ATC has collaborated with the Proudly Asian Theatre Company. This important milestone marks ATC’s commitment to supporting inclusive and contemporary pieces that share the stories of all people in Aotearoa.
What challenges have you faced in the process of bringing this script to the stage in New Zealand?
In its original incarnation, Single Asian Female is very much a Chinese-Australian show, and so we needed to make some changes to the script to make sure that the play felt firmly New Zealand. That went beyond simply changing the names of locations and involved re-writing political and pop-cultural references and musical choices.
Is there a particular moment in the development of the show or within rehearsals that has stuck with you?
I’ve been really moved and inspired by the generosity of the cast, who have been so open with sharing personal experiences and family stories in the rehearsal room as we discussed the themes of the play, and, in particular, ways that we identified with or felt different from each character.
What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
For Asian audiences, hope they see themselves and their whānau reflected onstage. Asian representation in the theatre is still disproportionately lacking and staging this play is just one step in the move to address that imbalance. For non-Asian audiences, I hope that this play challenges some of the misconceptions that they may have about who a Chinese woman can be. For every audience member: I hope you laugh, and maybe shed a few tears too.
How has your work with Single Asian Female differed from other pieces?
The biggest difference has been working with Auckland Theatre Company, and having access to the huge amount of resources that comes with collaborating with one of NZ’s premier companies.
What have you enjoyed most about your journey with Single Asian Female?
My favourite thing about directing theatre is the moments in the rehearsal room when the actors come up with something brilliant that you would never have thought of yourself; whether that’s a gesture, a line delivery, a facial expression.
Craccum’s interview with SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE cast members Bridget Wong (The Prodigal Son, Shortland Street, Mother) and Olivia Parker (Before Karma Gets Us, Black Hands, Canary in the Cradle). Bridget stars as ‘Mei’ and Olivia stars as ‘Katie’.
What challenges have you faced when taking on your character?
Bridget: I didn’t anticipate how tough it would be to go back to being a very self-conscious teenager with low self-esteem. I definitely felt that way as I was growing up but tried very hard to shed that part of me and it’s almost like I am rebuilding that wall up again.
Olivia: Honestly Katie has been such a joy to play. She is such an energetic and fun role, and so bringing her to life has been a real hoot. The challenge has probably been playing the other small roles in the show alongside her, making sure they each are as distinctive and fun as the others.
Do you bring any aspects of yourself into the character you play?
Bridget: We have a lot of similarities. My Chinese name is also Mei, but a different character. We both quit the violin – I found it too hard and felt like I’d sort of hit a wall where I couldn’t improve any longer. I am the youngest sibling in my family. I also grappled with my Asian identity growing up.
What have you enjoyed most about the process of bringing this show to life?
Olivia: This show is made up of a bunch of extremely wonderful and generous humans. I feel really thankful to be working alongside and learning from them every day. Also, there is a strong female presence on this project which I am loving.
What sort of person will be able to relate to Mei?
Bridget: I think any POC that has grown up in a western country will be able to relate to Mei very well but also any social outcast will be able to understand Mei’s journey. We’ve all had moments in our lives especially when we were younger where we’ve made decisions that we’re not proud of in order to fit in.
What might audiences learn from the character Katie?
Olivia: In a dream world, I hope they would learn from Katie the importance of leading life with compassion and kindness to others.
What do you hope audiences take away from Single Asian Female?
Bridget: I hope everyone will be able to empathise with the characters and realise that Asian characters and Asian stories deserve to be told on a big stage too. We are more than just stereotypes. We are complex and we each have hopes, aspirations and dreams.
Olivia: I hope it continues to encourage the urgency and desire to see and hear more of these stories on our main stages. I hope it continues to reinforce the gravity of how racism is very much alive and prevalent in Aotearoa.
Auckland Theatre Company’s season of Single Asian Female by Michelle Law plays at the ASB Waterfront Theatre 27th April to 15th May. Tickets are on sale now!