Interview: Jingan Young on new writing at Arcola Theatre and in print by British East Asian Artists
We caught up with Jingan Young to talk about the latest showcase of East Asian theatre writing at Arcola Theatre, and the publication of Foreign Goods: A Selection of Writing by British East Asian Artists by Oberon books.
Tell us about the Foreign Goods 3 event coming up at Arcola Theatre in Dalston. What can an audience expect to see?
At the 3rd Foreign Goods showcase (following the sold out smash successes of our past two at Theatre503 from 2016 – 2017), we are showcasing 10 new short pieces on British Chinese themes from a mix of diverse writers and some incredible directors! We are also celebrating the January publication of our collection of British Chinese plays ‘Foreign Goods’ by Oberon Books (Jan 19 2018). Copies are available here and at the event.
The plays featured – from an unsolicited script call-out – touch upon numerous themes such as the Hong Kong occupy protest movement, ‘Leftover women’, censorship in China, life as an expat and a musical comedy about growing up…
The plays and directors are:
- Finding Jose by Amal Chatterjee & Germline by Ness Lyons | Director: Mingyu Lin
- Lost Laowais by David East | Director: Madison Maylin
- Kouhao by Simon Farnham and Numbers by Naomi Sumner | Director: Grace Joseph
- Leftovers by Clare Reddaway | Directed by the company
- Frogs by Christian Graham | Director: Nastazja Somers
- Spin by Stephanie Martin (words) and Calista Kazuko (Music) | Director: Jeff Daniels
- Love in Newsprint by Caleb Yap and Charlotte Chiew | Director: Davide Vox
- How to Master the Art of Chinese Cooking in 5 easy steps by Alissa Anne Jeun Yi Cooper | Director: Nikhil Vyas
What are the wider impacts you hope to achieve by publishing the works in the Foreign Goods: A Selection of Writing by British East Asian Artists collection?
Pokfulam Rd Productions began at first for selfish reasons, but soon I discovered Pokfulam Rd could do more. It swiftly evolved into something that was celebratory of not only East Asian voices but of live theatre and its artists. I had no money and was rejected for public funding. I came up with a plan. The price of hiring the venue and technical fees would be taken out of the total box office. Anything left we could put into expenses and into hiring the next show. I took my proposal to Theatre503. They wonderfully agreed to help me.
Despite setbacks, these modest showcases were commercially and critically successful. I never would have imagined all those years ago that these guerrilla performances, achieved only through collaborative efforts, would lead to a publication or that I would become the curator and editor of that collection, featuring new work from relatively unknown British East Asian playwrights whose work I commissioned in showcases produced during the two-year period at Theatre503. These showcases were produced under my company Pokfulam Rd Productions which, many would be surprised to learn, is unfunded, holds non-charity status and is unregistered. This, of course, is not deliberate. We continue to apply for public funding (though are rejected) and we continue to seek that of the elusive figure of the theatre investor (we continue to fail). This aspect for the future of this company remains uncertain but for now, we make do. The artists who have been involved and continue to be involved in Pokfulam since it began in 2013 are unwavering in their dedication to telling stories. Together we struggle and persevere and confront unique and complex stories in order to show others that there is an audience for them and a future.
The published collection of 8 plays from the ‘Foreign Goods’ showcases was a result of two years of debate, argument, compromise and ultimately, my decision to tailor a rhetoric which, to my great joy – convinced an established member the British theatre community that British East Asian voices deserve to be recognized, celebrated, published.
Published January 19, 2018 by Oberon Books, ‘Foreign Goods: A Selection of Writing by British East Asian Artists’ is seminal and an essential introduction. Its function is not to provide a survey of existing EA work for the plays within the book were developed, workshopped and produced by the company. The writers of this landmark collection, who, alongside their directors and actors went unpaid for their work during our “guerrilla” showcases, are Amber Hsu, Cathy Lam, Kathryn Golding, Julie Cheung-Inhin, Lucy Sheen, Stephen Hoo and Suet Tan. Their stories are unique, relatable, unbounded by clichés, and fearless in their resistance to stereotypical East Asian representation. Their work speaks to everyone and it is an honour to include them in this seminal step for British East Asian artists. My mentor David Henry Hwan, one of the pioneers of Asian-American Theatre, wrote the foreword, a strong and inspiring reflective essay that evokes pathos and strength from across the pond.
Tell us about the your main interests that fuel your own writing. What or who are your influences for your own work?
As I have been curating and producing these last few years I haven’t been able to devote time to writing but my work is largely political, and largely about power – who holds it, controls it, exploits it…However, most of my plays to date have been satirical and as a graduate of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme (back in the day, 2011!) I was exposed to some of the greatest playwrights who have become household names (Mike Bartlett…) As I grow older I feel I am gravitating towards writing something more personal – perhaps a play about my father and his family’s emigration from China during the Cultural Revolution, or a comedy about London. Who knows!
What advice would you give to actors, writers and directors from an East Asian or other underrepresented group, who are just starting out in the industry?
Do not be afraid to enter this industry and do not be afraid to make your own work. The representation of the EA community on British stages is developing, albeit slower than we’d like but it is moving towards something really positive and dare I say it, part of the mainstream. It’s a matter of making work that is diverse and is not afraid to take risks or be ‘alternative’ or non-stereotypical.
As it is for everyone in every industry, it takes time but if believe in your voice, persevere, and more importantly – respect those you work with – everything is possible through positive collaboration.
What are your favourite places in London?
Drink: The Pineapple Pub in Kentish Town is my local. It’s a great mix of people and a wonderful place to unwind with a glass of wine or a pint.
Relax: As I’m currently in my last year of my PhD, you will find me at Senate House, silently reading (weeping) in the British history stacks in the library. It’s a beautiful building and a good place to get work done.
Eat: Yipin China in Islington is affordable Hunanese cuisine and always does a great Ma Po Tofu…! Always remember to order the ‘gai-lan’ off menu!