No Foreigners: In Search for Cultural Identity at the Mall by Sylvie Webb

Sesaya

Sesaya

Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

A scene from No Foreigners

I was surprised as I scanned the playbill moments before the matinee performance of No Foreigners, when my eyes focused on the Director’s Note that listed the products and people you might see at a Chinese mall.

What? Would this help me better understand the experience of the Chinese diaspora? I hoped so, because though I was intrigued, I didn’t feel prepared.

Armed with this handy cheat sheet, I felt more confident that I could, at least partially, participate in viewing lived experiences of being Chinese in Canada.

As it turned out, I fell right into it because Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre production of No Foreigners is a clever and unique multi-media experience. Directed by Milton Lim and presented by the Theatre Centre, the production is a cohesive set of narratives following the journey of a man in search of his Chinese identity. As he travels through the levels of a Chinese Mall, he encounters various characters who challenge his Chinese-ness. These characters are represented through figurines in a miniature set that is projected on a screen for the audience to view.  The silhouettes and visuals are dramatic, and the accompanied sounds and music help to tell the story.

April Leung and Derek Chan, the two performers, are amazing at representing the different characters and their stories through voice. We first encounter them in darkness. As the story unfolds, they become more visible. Yes, there is a full-on karaoke scene – and throughout, Chan is engaging, comical, and fearless.

But it is the media production that makes this story truly stand out. Thanks to five computer monitors, two cameras and several miniature sets, the performance is a powerful and surprising experience for the audience. Through it, David Yee‘s beautiful text invites us to think about our own cultural identity and how the mediated environment of the mall might help to replenish a sense of self.

Gratifyingly, the humour and seriousness of  the text (not to mention my trusty cheat sheet) helped me to develop an understanding of the Chinese diaspora experience, which includes the Chinese Mall as a safe space where one can foster an identity connected to the ancestral home.

In the playbill, Yee acknowledges that “There is no singular narrative for being Chinese in Canada, or any other country.  There is no one story which can summate the experience of the Chinese diaspora perfectly and unexclusively”. No one story can do all this, but the multiple narratives and multi-media experience of No Foreigners are a worthy and powerful proxy.

A scene from No Foreigners

News You Can Use

What: No Foreigners created by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu, and David Yee | Produced by Hong Kong Exile and fu-GEN Theatre |Text by David Yee | Miniature design by Natalie Tin Yin Gan with April Leung and Derek Chan | Projection and sound design by Milton Lim and Remy Siu |Directed by Milton Lim
Performed and co-created by April Leung and Derek Chan

When: On stage until September 29, 2019 | running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Where: 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: theatrecentre.org or 416-538-0988

© Sylvie Webb, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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