SEEN : : Other [Chinese]

The product of a series of workshops over the last few months, Alice Canton’s Other [Chinese] opened last week at Auckland’s Q Theatre.

Evolving from her solo work White (Other), Canton’s latest show is promoted as a live documentary. Featuring a large cast all of Chinese background; Other [Chinese] is an important look at what it is to be Asian in New Zealand.

Other [Chinese]’s presentation is simple yet striking. Before entering the loft of Q Theatre, audience members are advised to remove their shoes. A simple red stage takes up half the theatre, with one-level seating taking up the rest. The stage is slightly elevated, though maybe not quite enough to stop me from craning my neck throughout the show. Despite facilitating quite a big audience, Other [Chinese] manages to be rather intimate through the personal stories, answers and confessions that are presented over the course of the show.

Throughout the show videos are displayed on screens behind the stage, which are surprisingly emotive. The show opens with a montage, showcasing and twisting Chinese figures and words in the media. As footage from YouTube is displayed (I recognise an embarrassing amount), fun makeup videos turn slightly sinister when apologies for slanted and hooded eyes are made. These screens are later used to show interviews that range from empowering – a girl who is an 8th Chinese talks about her connection to her ancestors, to confronting – a couple of elderly Chinese individuals insist on the need for assimilation.

Other [Chinese] is made up of both performance pieces and quick fire questions. While the moments of performance are powerful and enjoyable - performance artist and poet Vanessa Crofskey is a standout - it’s the opposing questions Canton asks the cast that seem to reveal the most. In these moments Canton is literally conducting her workshop on stage. She asks the cast a range of questions – from “sweet or savoury” to “should the minimum wage be raised”? The cast members move to either the left or right of the stage, or even in the middle, depending on their stance. It’s easy to judge the people who stand on the side of the stage you disagree with, and I caught myself doing so on multiple occasions. However, Canton then asks them why they feel that way, and their answers, sometimes routed in their Chinese experiences, have me reassessing my own thinking.

Despite its serious topic, Other [Chinese] is rather humorous. Particularly entertaining performers worth noting are Paul Teo, an older member of the cast who offered multiple anecdotes, and Aiwa Pooamorn, a Thai mother whose articulation is bold and explicit.

My favourite part of Other [Chinese] was actually discovered after the show, while chatting to Canton. As I waited to say hello, I listened to a Chinese mother and daughter say how much the show meant to them and ask if they could get involved. It turns out this is a response Canton has received a few times, and one she welcomes. While Other [Chinese] consists of a core ensemble, other Chinese participants are welcome to join in for a night or two and take part in the opening dance and onstage questions. I feel like this solidifies the community vibe of Other [Chinese] and really highlights its importance.

As a (very) white person this show meant an unanticipated amount to me. I would urge New Zealanders of any ethnicity to see it.

Other [Chinese] shows at Q Theatre until this Saturday. Tickets are available here.

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