Just had a chat with David Nguyen (Cuong is his stage name) as part of my thesis work. The non part of my thesis conversation concerned Australian mainstream and Vietnamese community audiences. When designing theatre about the Vietnamese community how does the work get interpreted? Dave asked some interesting questions to pose like whether the stories are universal enough to reach both audiences and that meanings will be ascribed differently by each audience. This would affect the outcome of the piece. Children of the Dragon is mostly in English. The stories in it are ones that would be familiar to the Vietnamese community I think almost to the point of cliche. But I don’t know how an Australian audience unfamiliar with the Viet community and its issues would view it. I think anyone who sees the show would already be a little bit familiar of common perceptions of it anyway. The overarching myth is a great device that way. He does think about the Vietnamese audience more than the other artists I have interviewed so far. I don’t think of audience in my novel writing but community theatre I think you have to.
As you can tell from the time of this blog I have been hit by restlessness and inspiration has struck. Pearl a novel I have been working on since 2000 and the last draft is dated 2003 is up to about draft 3 and still hasn’t quite worked. I’ve hit on a way to rewrite it from scratch to include my reflections on asylum seekers and how Australia’s asylum seeker policy and attitude towards international students etc with the punitive stance of DIMIA is a repeat of history from the late 1800s (as far as the Chinese-Australian diaspora goes). It’s taken me a long time to come up with this reframing and rewrite (2 years to be precise) and that’s without working on it. The catalyst has been me reading up on fairy tales and myths and trying to tell stories that way using the heroine’s journey amongst other things. This bolt of lightning gives me faith in the creative process I needed the gestation time and now I need the patience to redraft it all- which I’ve never done before. (Vixen was a series of short stories and I only needed to revise the stories and add a narrative backbone to it to morph into a novel).
Having read Tom Cho’s blog on the creative process I have now realised that I have been gestating what I teach in writing process as well. I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin and a biography of Phillip K Dick and its been helping me formulate how to teach writing in a way which emphasises telling story and is more organic than just the tools teaching I’ve been doing at CAE.
I’ve been wanting to return to fantasy writing for a long while and have been unable to because of my health. I have been writing but stuff that relates more to my experiences rather than the flights of fantasy I used to have. But it’s all grist for the mill as they say and maybe I needed the hiatus as part of my development as a writer.
Last night had another Asian Australian meet up. Myself, Tseen, Tom, Chi Vu and Susan Lee were there. More stimulating conversation including a question from Suze- how can we get Asian Australians to mobilise? I half jokingly said bring on another Pauline Hanson. Suze wondered why there wasn’t an asian-australian rights movement like in the US. Maybe another comparison would be in NZ where the government apologised to Chinese Kiwis for deporting them in the 19th century. The response was mixed, I read about people who thought they should just move on (they were Chinese Kiwis) and others who thought it was great. The climate in NZ is good for that sort of thing whilst here not even the basic sorry to indigenous people could happen.
The conversations about Peril are becoming more concrete. Our first issue is going to be about nerds- inspired by the fact that all three of us played dungeons and dragons!
I personally think that if there is enough momentum a movement will be born…
Just watched Viet Boys Down Under another Huu Tran and Tony Le Nguyen production from a few years back. Dominic Golding’s character ponders “am I 90% Australian and 10% Vietnamese or 90% Vietnamese and 10% Australian”? Rad Rudd’s character ponders “why can’t I be just Australian? Or can I become full blooded Vietnamese and become more pure?” (Rad is half Vietnamese Half Australian). Huu Tran once asked me whether I was going to become more Vietnamese in the future. The answer is I don’t know. Learning the language is one thing, then choosing which culture influences me is another. I am a hybrid and being a banana split means these things can change.
My on line journal idea is growing legs and I’m meeting with Tom Cho and Tseen Khoo on Sunday with my partner who is doing the IT work. It’s now called “peril” and it’s motif the tsunami wave. Why the wave? Because of the mometum and build up I feel that is out there in Asian Australia networks and artists. Soon we will have an impact of our own accord. I like bouncing my ideas off Tom and Tseen they are both amazing thinkers.
My interviews for my thesis are proceeding nicely. I’ve interviewed Tony Le Nguyen and Chi Vu who haven’t approved their interview transcripts yet so I can’t comment on them. But the 1.5 generation artists I’m interviewing have a different view from what Mandy Thomas’ sample has provided her with- however her work is now 5 years old and the constant that I’m getting with the interviews is that identity and relationships with Vietnam change over time and is something that people revisit. Like Trinh T Minh Ha (a Vietnamese academic and film maker I’m reading up on at the moment) says “Identity is a way of re departing. The return to a denied heritage allows one to start again with different re departures, different pauses, different re arrivals.” (When the moon waxes red p.14) She writes so beautifully I wonder whether I could write as poetically about such topics.
Last night had feedback from a forum about the Children of the Dragon script we’ve been working on. Again there was pressure to be representative this time that the project reflect all the issues that face generation 2 of Vietnamese-Australians. Almost impossible I say. There was some very good feedback about through lines and what the 2nd generation wants to say to the 1st generation. But I’m very aware that we are again being asked to sugar coat it a little, some in the audience wanted to see healing (which is a point but healing may be a long time in coming and not covered in a 2 hour production!) We do have to watch stereotyping which is an issue that has come up in the drafting process. I had a chat with Tony Le Nguyen who told me that Community Cultural Development is heavily contested and challenged and I can see why. Is it more truthful to leave things open ended and not given closure or for the sake of artistic representation to close things and give a positive spin?