It was about this time last year, as I was doing one of many marketing pushes for my solo show No More Lotus Flower!, that a suggested event randomly came up on my Facebook feed: another woman, Yang-May Ooi (a completely new face to me and intriguing in the extreme because, being slightly more mature than most artists I see in solo shows, especially East Asian ones, she was clearly a rarity), was also doing a solo show, Bound Feet Blues. Described as a show which “explores themes of female desirability, identity and empowerment in this personal story told through the shoes in her life”, I was hooked. I know I was hooked because I clicked “attending”, something which I rarely, if ever, do. Then, to my suprise, Yang-May got in touch herself to say she had heard about my show and had plans to see No More Lotus Flower! as well.
I first met Yang-May (and director Jessica Higgs) on the second performance of No More Lotus Flower! and, tempting though it is to say the rest is history, this blog post and Butterfly in Blue Jeans would be better served by a short description as to my involvement in this project and why I was so enthusiastic to work with Yang-May.
On the one hand, Yang-May and I both share similar backgrounds and passions. First, we both created solo shows with similar names (the three-inch golden lotus was the name given to feet so ‘perfectly’ bound as to be only three inches) and with similar themes (identity, race, feminist perspectives). We also both felt strongly that all too often East Asian women were relegated to the lotus flower stereotype and that there was a tangible lack of empowered East Asian women shown in the media (the closest we would get, of course, is the dragon lady – yet another stereotype and hardly a motivational one at that). The backgrounds and experience of not just ourselves but many East Asian women were not visible and this was something we both felt we wanted to change.
On the other hand, we are also different enough that our skills and specialities create a comprehensive approach to the project. Yang-May is a writer and Bound Feet Blues was the first show she had ever performed. I am an actor and No More Lotus Flower! was the first show I had ever written. When she first suggested working together – her in her primary capacity as writer, and me in mine as actor – I knew it would be a great opportunity for both of us to create something fresh, something we would both be passionate about and yet also something we could really flex our muscles in. Furthermore, being from different fields, the audiences for Bound Feet Blues and No More Lotus Flower! were different, so we knew that we would each be speaking to new people with the project.
So, a year on from first meeting each other, it’s exciting to be collaborating with Yang-May on Butterfly in Blue Jeans, and it feels like we’ve already come a long way. Where will we be this time next year…?