[Video] When Imaginary Characters Come to Life on Stage

What is it like for a writer to see her imaginary characters come to life on stage? What are an actor’s thoughts when portraying a new character? Writer Yang-May Ooi and actor Julie Cheung-Inhin reflect on the rehearsed reading and panel discussion at the China Exchange in Soho on 06 April 2017.

A few weeks after the first public showcase of Yang-May’s new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans, she has recorded this video diary of her experiences of that evening, along with an interlude from Julie who also shares her thoughts.


This video is part of Butterfly Diary, Yang-May’s video diary following the creative process of Butterfly in Blue Jeans from first idea to full production. | www.ButterflyInBlueJeans.co.uk


Be the first to see an extract from Butterfly in Blue Jeans – China Exchange exclusive!

NEWSFLASH! A First Look at Yang-May Ooi’s new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans – details below…

Yang-May writes:

We are delighted to announce the first public outing for my new play, Butterfly in Blue Jeans, at the prestigious China Exchange in Soho. This is an exclusive one-off event to showcase the work in progress – and your feedback may help to shape the final play!

The event will take place on Thursday 06 April 2017 at 7pm at China Exchange in the heart of Soho.

The evening starts with a rehearsed reading of a 20 minute extract from Butterfly in Blue Jeans, with Julie Cheung-Inhin in the title role and Andrew Candish as Ben. The casting of Kate is to be announced. The play is directed by Jessica Higgs and produced by Papergang Theatre.

I will then lead a panel discussion on the themes of the play alongside China and cultural experts. We will be taking comments and questions from the audience so it should be a lively event!

Read the blurb for the event below:

“Have you ever travelled to a new place filled with anticipation for the romance of a foreign land only to discover it’s far from what is in your mind? Expected to be soaked in history, tradition, customs and community only to find that your destination is modern, fast paced and not so different from home?

Explore the themes of our romantic notions of a country versus reality through an evening that combines performance with discussion through a new theatrical piece Butterfly in Blue Jeans, a play inspired by Madame Butterfly written by Yang-May Ooi.

The night will consist of a 20-minute excerpt of the play performed by actors followed by a panel conversation focused on how our imagined versions of other countries and cultures shapes our perception.

Panellists to be announced.”

There’ll be a cash bar and a chance to chat with me informally and meet the cast and creative team afterwards.

We hope to see you there!


DATE & TIME: Thursday 06 April 2017, 7pm (1.5 hours)
VENUE: China Exchange, 32a Gerrard St, London W1D 6JA – map
TICKETS: £5 (plus VAT and a small booking fee) – BUY TICKETS NOW

Butterfly in Blue Jeans is new play by writer Yang-May Ooi, featuring Julie Cheung-Inhin. It is directed by Jessica Higgs and produced by Papergang Theatre. We are currently seeking funding. This blog follows the progress of the development of the play from first idea to full production. 


[video] Meet Julie Cheung-Inhin, the talented East Asian lead in Butterfly in Blue Jeans [Butterfly Diary]

Actor Julie Cheung-Inhin talks about breaking stereotypes and  her dual roles of Butterfly and Siu-Mei in Butterfly in Blue Jeans, the new East Asian play by Yang-May Ooi.


This video is part of Butterfly Diary, writer Yang-May Ooi’s video diary following the creative process of Butterfly in Blue Jeans from first idea to full production. 

[video] Writer Yang-May Ooi talks about the first draft of Butterfly in Blue Jeans – Butterfly Diary

Writer Yang-May Ooi talks about writing the first draft of her new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans – and the challenge of sending it out for feedback.

Butterfly Diary is an occasional video diary by writer Yang-May Ooi, charting the progress of her new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans from first idea to full production.

Butterfly in Blue Jeans is new play by writer Yang-May Ooi, featuring Julie Cheung-Inhin. It is directed by Jessica Higgs and produced by Papergang Theatre. We are currently seeking funding. This blog follows the progress of the development of the play from first idea to full production. 

[video] Why Madame Butterfly inspired playwright Yang-May Ooi to write Butterfly In Blue Jeans – Butterfly Diary

In this video, writer Yang-May Ooi explains why Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly inspired – or provoked – her to write her new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans.


Butterfly in Blue Jeans is new play by writer Yang-May Ooi, featuring Julie Cheung-Inhin. It is directed by Jessica Higgs and produced by Papergang Theatre. We are currently seeking funding. Butterfly Diary is a video blog  that follows the progress of the development of the play from first idea to full production. 

Butterfly in Blue Jeans has a YouTube channel – and a teaser trailer!

We are delighted to share our new YouTube channel where we have posted our first trailer for the play – a mini teaser to spark your curiosity…



Butterfly in Blue Jeans is new play by writer Yang-May Ooi, featuring Julie Cheung-Inhin. It is directed by Jessica Higgs and produced by Papergang Theatre. We are currently seeking funding. This blog follows the progress of the development of the play from first idea to full production. 



Julie Interviews Vera Chok on “The Good Immigrant” and East Asian Stereotypes

Vera Chok is an actress, writer and performance maker.  She recently contributed to The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays by writers of colour exploring what it means to live in the UK today, which topped the Guardian and Amazon bestseller lists (and won the Books are my bag Readers Award) and has been making waves throughout the media since its publication a few months ago. She kindly carved some time vera-chokout of her busy schedule to chew the cud with me….

Julie: Congratulations of the success of The Good Immigrant! It’s not for nothing that J.K. Rowling called it “an important, timely read”. How did it feel to write about your experience of being “a small, yellow-skinned female and one hundred per cent ethnically Chinese”?

Vera: I learned so much in the process of writing the chapter. I was shocked and disturbed to learn that East Asians are considered so insignificant in the UK, despite making up a proportion of the population not materially smaller than that of black British. For example, our census doesn’t tell us the total number of East Asians in the U.K. but only captures data on those who are Chinese. Crime against East Asians goes unrecorded and thus is unreported.  On a personal level, I realised that the word “immigrant” applies to me – I have never self-defined as that. It was distressing and empowering to collect and articulate my thoughts on my position in UK society and have this incredible platform to share my thoughts with readers. Discussing the book at literature events is a privilege and a joy, but it also costs me to keep talking about the racism and bias we haven’t yet and cannot “solve.”

Julie: One of the elements in your piece for The Good Immigrant that stood out to me was the idea of labels – the difficulty of defining, for example, East Asian, and the label “yellow” which you use to describe people like you and me. What do you think are the dangers and benefits of labels, and what would you say we should be wary of when using them?

Vera: Human beings label and categorise in order to make sense of the world. This is a practical and necessary thing. We’re on dangerous territory when we attach value judgements arbitrarily e.g. “All tall people are evil” and do not 1. adjust them even if we gather more data e.g. tests show only half of tall people are evil, 2. implement seperatist action based on unfounded value judgements e.g. All tall people must live in separate houses to normal people and will be killed if not. When I use silly examples like this, it seems ridiculous, but this isn’t too many miles away from genocides in history i.e. based on arbitrary features, a group of people are killed.

Julie: I found your experience of being an ethnically Chinese Malaysian to be very similar to mine. In fact, being ethnically Chinese with Mauritian-born parents, people will often even hear Malaysian when I tell them I’m Mauritian! Like you, I feel tension between my various indentities, that is, my Chinese ethnicity, my British-ness and my Mauritian-ness, and sometimes wonder whether surrendering myself to the neater Chinese role would be easier. How do you deal with the tension? Are there advantages in being able to put on the mantle of different identities in different situations?

Vera: My current strategy is to keep things complicated. In this fast-paced, soundbite-driven world where we don’t really see each other, I relish any opportunity I get to engage with another person as my whole, complex self. I used to simplify my narrative to be accepted. It does make things  easier in the short term but I am no longer interested in that as a life strategy. Of course, we all of us do what we need to to survive and get on in life and I think we should always remember that we are free to make choices every single day. We have more freedom than we use. Mistakes are great opportunities to learn and grow. Live as well as you can.

Julie: There is a preponderence in Western culture of the hypersexualised yet pliable East Asian woman juxtaposed with the emasculated East Asian male. How would you like to change this status quo? I practically fist-pumped when I saw Master of None‘s Dev and The Walking Dead‘s Glenn have sexual relationships (with white women, no less!). What would your ideal, non-stereotyped East Asian female and male be like on stage/screen?

Vera: There isn’t one. In the “west”, a white person is the norm so the opposite and ideal would be when a person’s skin colour doesn’t immediately and clearly signify character traits or physical abilities. The easiest way to do this quickly is to have more than one person from the said marginalised group. In Luke Cage, most of the characters are black so you have black people of different classes and of varying wealth and education, you have goodies and baddies and questionable people in between. In Sense 8, you have several gay people, everyone is “foreign”. In both programmes, there are as many women as men and they are as complex as the male characters. Normalising the existence of people traditionally objectified is the way forward.

Julie: You describe experiences of an old white English man shuffling up to you and shouting “Chinese!”, and a young black man murmuring Chinese words to you. These incidents of people publicly projecting Chineseness onto us appears to be an unfortunate yet not infrequent occurrence for a lot of us yellow people living in the UK. What is your reaction or response when this happens?

Vera: I often react too late as I am usually too surprised when people display such stupidity. But I am training myself to be better at responding. I’d like to be able to assess whether or not to counter this violence – and yes, I do classify it as a violence, – with violence e.g. to yell something like “Fuck you!” or to have an open discussion with the person about the silliness of their actions. I think if we were more connected with our selves, we would recognise our selves in others.

Julie: Another thing that became clear from your essay is the difficulty in finding data on East Asians in the UK (having often been relegated to the catch-all label of “other” in race-monitoring exercises). This seems to be a further manifestation of East Asian invisibility. Would you say it’s different in the US?

Vera: I don’t know for sure but it seems so. There is a longer history to the social justice movement in the US and Asian-Americans seem more visible there.

Julie: A few weeks ago you initiated a Devoted and Disgruntled discussion about East Asians being trapped as portraying the other, which provided a space to openly discuss the issue. It became clear that, though times are changing, we still have a long way to go. How much more change, and what kind of change, do you think we will see over the coming years?

Vera: Hard to say, but I know it does depend both on how much effort East Asians connect with each other and the greater world. How much will we put in and how much are we open to. Do we support other marginalised groups? Are we educating ourselves, taking risks, asking questions and rocking the boat? Visibility and opportunities aren’t going to be handed to us on a platter.

Julie: Last but not least, you refer to Said’s text Orientalism in The Good Immigrant, where he describes ‘The East’ as a place set apart ‘geographically, morally, culturally’ alongside the idea that ‘it is our distance to it that fuels our desire to know it’. How does one go about researching such a vast topic as ‘The East’, or China, if they were to write a play about it?

Vera: What do we mean by ‘the East’? It is only a place in relation to somewhere else. Our maps do not show the objective centre of the world. If you’d like to explore the ideas surrounding the concept of ‘the East’, I’d look at where this place is supposed to be, how the boundaries were drawn up and how they’ve shifted through time, how it’s been described, and what it is held up in contrast to. With regards to China, I’d be interested in the artist’s relationship to China, their ideas of China, and what they think Chineseness means to others and what it means to them. These questions should keep you busy.

Julie: Thanks Vera!

Madame Butterfly and the Bunny Boiler

As part of her research for Butterfly in Blue Jeans, writer Yang-May Ooi is exploring re-interpretations of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly story across various media and cultures. Here she reflects on the despairing abandoned woman trope of this tragic opera as it is re-imagined  in the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction, which recasts Butterfly as a femme fatale and vengeful “bunny boiler”… 

Fatal Attraction was the movie that gave us the phrase “bunny boiler” – used to describe a vengeful, scorned woman who is prepared to get her own back by any means necessary.

Loving him

Dan, played by Michael Douglas, has an affair with Alex, played by Glenn Close, one weekend while his wife and six year old daughter are away. To him, it is just a bit of fun, and he is soon back with his family planning a move from the city to the suburbs. For her, she longs for something more and sees in him the man she might have made a life with.

Losing him

Over the course of the next few weeks, she tries to rekindle the affair, make him love her as she loves him, get his his attention – anything but to be left alone and abandoned. The harder she tries, the more he pulls away and soon, her desperation turned sinister…

One day, he goes out with his family and when they return, his wife discovers a pot boiling on the stove. Who has broken into the house? She cautiously approaches the bubbling pot… And when she lifts the lid, we see Continue reading “Madame Butterfly and the Bunny Boiler”

Lotus Flowers, Bound Feet and Butterflies

It was about this time last year, as I was doing one of many marketing pushes for my solo show No NML Flyer ReverseMore 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 Continue reading “Lotus Flowers, Bound Feet and Butterflies”

First steps in creating a character – Butterfly in Blue Jeans Photoshoot

One of the first things in creating a character in a drama is exploring what she looks like. Author Yang-May Ooi reports from the first Photoshoot for her new theatre project Butterfly in Blue Jeans, working with actor Julie Cheung-Inhin and photographer Alison Romaczuk to portray the eponymous Butterfly, the protagonist of this new play, in a single image.

As a novelist, the heroine of my books comes to me in my imagination. I know in my imagination exactly what she looks like in the way that I would know in my memory what my partner or my friends look like. The challenge then is to describe her in writing so that the reader can also see her and know her like I do. And in that wordy portrayal, who she is comes through not just in her physical description eg of her face and height and build but also in what she wears and how she moves. You also learn about her through her actions and what she says and how she relates to others.

In my latest theatre project, a play, the lead role of the eponymous Butterfly in Blue Jeans will be taken by actor Julie Cheung-Inhin. I know her as a working colleague, collaborator and a friend. I don’t have to conjure up an imaginary woman in my mind in that we all know that the heroine of the piece will look like her. The challenge however is to create the character of Butterfly as distinct from the actor Julie. For me, that will be part of the writing process. For Julie, it will be part of her acting process as she portrays the character that I will have written.

Actor Julie Cheung-Inhin posing for photographer Alison Romanczuk at the photoshoot for Yang-May Ooi’s new play Butterfly in Blue Jeans

Right now, we are at very early stages in the development of the play. We have an idea that Butterfly will be a strong, independent woman and we have an idea of what her story arc might be but nothing is certain until I sit down to write the play next year. So it was an interesting and thought provoking challenge to try and create an image of her for the play’s website at the Photoshoot this weekend with photographer Alison Romanczuk.

A driving principle of my collaboration with Julie is to challenge the stereotype of the East Asian woman as portrayed in Western culture – epitomised by Madama Butterfly, the docile, passive, delicate tragic East Asian girl who kills herself for the love of a white man. The image for our theatre project needs to play with the popular eroticised images of Continue reading “First steps in creating a character – Butterfly in Blue Jeans Photoshoot”