When Ye-Ye falls ill back home, Grace (雅安) fights with the hard truths that flood to the surface. Tide Waits For No Man: Episode Grace is a non-verbal show featuring powerhouse performers battling with cultural patriarchy as modern Asian women. We talked to the work's creator, Nikita 雅涵 Tu-Bryant. Have a read!
WHAT SPARKED THE IDEA FOR THIS WORK?
My Taiwanese great uncle passed away a few years ago, which inspired my song TIDE WAITS FOR NO MAN, which I play with my band Nikita & the Spooky ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYdo3O1ff-M). It was through his passing that I realised I spent most of my adolescence ashamed of being Taiwanese, out of a want to fit in. It was then that I felt the 'cultural tug' to go back to Taiwan and reconnect, relearn - it led to the inception of the series TIDE WAITS FOR NO MAN. This story is not about my Great Uncle, but it is what led to me reclaiming my cultural identity with my Taiwanese side.
WHAT HAS THE COLLABORATING AND DEVISING PROCESS BEEN LIKE?
It has taken four years for this episode to hit the stage. In the very early stages I was involved with Fuse Circus and had wanted this show to be a circus piece. Since then it has been through three vigorous workshops. After the first workshop, I rewrote the whole script. The first script was much too abstract. I am interested in the emotional journey of a character, and when too abstract with nothing literal for my intended audience to hold onto - well, it led to me changing the whole thing, and creating more of a literal narrative. While I was in Japan collaborating on a non-verbal theatre piece in Tokyo, I also had help with this script from Ellison Tan (SINGAPORE), and she ended up being our script advisor/Dramaturg.
On the floor, Benjamin Teh, Marianne Infante and Chye-Ling Huang have been incredibly generous with their time and their creativity through our workshops. Both in challenging my ideas as well as helping to shape them. I feel incredibly blessed that they have been my whānau through all of this. I look up to them for their ability to be actors/producers/writers/dancers/puppeteers in the Big Smoke here. They move at a different pace to me, I am slow. But from my perspective, it has been a wonderful Yin and Yang.
If my upbringing has taught me anything, it is the need for us to exist more universally.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO DO AN ENTIRELY MOVEMENT/PUPPET BASED PIECE?
Growing up watching films with my mother, I was always stop-starting to explain the narrative to her. I never realised the frustrations of how that may be, until my mid-twenties. Though she is an excellent English speaker now, I wanted a show that did not discriminate against people of different languages. If my upbringing has taught me anything, it is the need for us to exist more universally.
Movement has never been my forte, never having dance lessons growing up - though I envy the ability of dancers. The ability to evoke intense emotion purely with the body. When dancing in an incredibly abstract fashion, it can still be intensely evocative.
The reason for puppets, is a big one. Wanting to make our own props out of trash as well as repurposed items easily lent itself to shadow puppetry. Thematically it goes hand-in-hand with traditional Asian ideals such as 'what appears on the surface is not necessarily what lurks beneath'. Also, that something beautiful can be created out of something considered unpleasant. I am a HUGE environmentalist, and wish to encourage as many artists to create less crap and plastic waste (especially) from a show. As creatives, I believe it is our responsibility!
When researching for my show, I went to Japan (non-verbal theatre), New York (Chinese Theatre works), and even as far as Vermont to do an apprenticeship with Bread & Puppet under the direction of Peter Schumann. All of their performances are puppet-based from recycled materials, or from the clay from the riverbed which they reuse time and time again. All of their performances have something powerful to say. Activism through Art. It was an incredibly inspiring, hard and relentless experience. I definitely took a lot of all of the above back with me to Aotearoa. And - I have always loved personifying inanimate objects as a kid, and doing so onstage allows boundless scenarios. Surrealism from the literal. An element of surprise that brings the child out of us all.
The show travels from the literal to the surreal, so we've had some very interesting and different feedback.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF TELLING A STORY WITH NO SPOKEN WORD?
Simplifying. Trusting that simplifying does not mean 'not clever enough'. It allows the watcher to draw lines of their own. I have a very similar approach to music compositions. Just because it has only three chords, or three notes does not take away the WEIGHT of the song if the intention carries and expresses the same heaviness. The show travels from the literal to the surreal, so we've had some very interesting and different feedback. Some people have just totally got it. Others have created quite different narratives in their own imaginations. This can be seen as a challenge, but also it is a blessing. If the emotional journey of Grace is understood, then I think I feel we are successful in our performance.
WHAT WOULD YOU HOPE THE AUDIENCE TAKES AWAY FROM THIS WORK?
It depends who they are. If they are a young Asian woman growing up in Aotearoa, I hope they find friendship in Grace. If they are an elderly member of the family who sticks with more traditional values, I hope they find understanding in the 'Graces' they know. And generally - I think just a reminder that connection and human relationships are complex. Even who we believe to be 'villains' in our lives; be it strangers or family members - somewhere, they all have love in their hearts.
Tide Waits For No Man: Episode Grace is part of Auckland Fringe 2019 and on at Basement Theatre from 19 - 23 Feb. Book tickets or find out more here.