February 11th 2013 one of those dates that I will always remember where I was and more importantly how I got there.
In 2010 I had been on the verge throwing in the towel, walking away to find the least uncomfortable niche in corporate 9-5. Then out of the blue I found myself cast in the first theatre role for over fifteen years! A new play written and directed by Tim Luscombe, Hungry Ghosts, starring Benedict Wong and myself.
Benedict Wong as Zhu Hui and Lucy Sheen as Pin-de in Hungry Ghosts
Both Benedict and I were nominated for OFFIEs (The Off West End Theatre Awards). After fifteen years I was back treading the boards. From Hungry Ghosts I went on to work with Thea Sharrock in her production of Plenty at the Sheffield Crucible. From David Hare to award-winning Hong Kong playwright Yat Yau, a production of his 73a at The New Diorama for True Heart Theatre. From there I went on to write and perform my own solo theatre piece THERE ARE TWO PERFECTLY GOOD ME’S:One dead, the other unborn. WAITING a new ten minute short, which I wrote and performed in. This piece was picked out for The REDfest 2012. I filmed my independent documentary, Abandoned, Adopted, Here. The film looks at what it means to be British as well as a transracial adoptee. So it went on, I was back to being a full-time freelance actor, writer, filmmaker and transracial adoptee speaker. But I was having to construct, to produce, to write and create my own work.
The Royal Shakespeare Company announced the cast for The Orphan of Zhao in 2012. A play commonly referred to as “The Chinese Hamlet.” Out of a company of seventeen only three East Asian actors had been cast. A fact immortalised by Anna Chen on her blog which you can read here
I boiled over. The chatter, well the anger started, but it wasn’t just me, it was ten other people equally incensed, offended, affronted, disgusted and yes, DAM RIGHT ANGRY. None of us willing to stay silent. You can read the time line of events as catalogued by Anna Chen (also a founding member of The British East Asian Artists) by clicking here
Some of The British East Asian Artists at Opening The Door February 11th 2013
We came together and on the 17th of October we formed The British East Asian Artists, we protested. We blogged, we tweeted, we facebooked, we commented, we emailed, we went viral, we went global, thanks to the support of our fellow creative professionals in the US, such as David Henry Hwang the award-winning Asian American playwright, AAPAC (Asian American Performers Action Coalition) and Victor Wong Executive Director at Chinese Canadian National Council. As well as individual support from across the globe.
We frightened some conventional established organisations, coincidently also some who declined to support us. You see East Asians aren’t supposed to protest. We weren’t supposed to take umbrage when offended. We were supposed to stick to the stereotype, remain silent and invisible. We were supposed to be the easy to ignore, to side bar, walk over minority of minorities. Well no longer.
We proved different. We proved that as a group we can come together, stand up and fight for our rights, for equality and for equanimity. It was also surprising that certain BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic) organisation, who for reasons known only to themselves, declined to lend their support.
But we are still here. The British East Asian Artists group has not crumbled or disappeared. It fights on for every East Asian Artists. We are not afraid to speak out about the institutionalised racism within the arts. Neither are we afraid of speaking out about the racism that exists within the East Asian community itself. We are not afraid to stand up and speak out about Yellow Face. We are not afraid of standing our ground and making a noise. If we had not stood up and spoken out about the casting controversy with the Royal Shakespeare Company then OPENING THE DOOR might not have happened in the way that it did.
The British East Asian Artists Group and all those brave people who supported us, by re-tweeting, by posting comments, by standing up to be counted made OPENING THE DOOR possible.
Never forget people it was YOU along with The British East Asian Artists. We protested, the world did not end. We were not struck down by lightning (though I am sure that there were some who would have wished that we had been). We rocked the status quo, but we remained, life continued on. No one appears to have been “black listed” but only time will tell if that is or is not the case. As a founding member of The British East Asian Artists I am proud and privileged to be able to stand beside such amazing artists and academics.
The perception, portrayal and lack of support for East Asians in British society working in the media or on stage, over a period of time began to culturally isolate, ghettoise and imprison us. Restricting us to a very narrow band of portrayal. It was about time the curtains were pulled down, the doors thrown open.
I’d like to think that through the combined efforts of the British East Asian Artists and our supporters, that we will never return to the bad old days where our identity, history, culture and place in this country is defined for us by those that have their own self-serving agendas. Or those who have no understanding or appreciation of what it means to be an East Asian, living and working in Britain today. That we are never taken advantage of again in such a manner that disables us from being who we are. Or that we deny the diversity, rich variety and wealth of talent, that can be found amongst the East Asians living and working in Britain today.
Lucy Sheen in rehearsal for her solo theatre piece
photograph taken by Daniel York
Perhaps now I will be able to continue to work in the profession that I trained for over a quarter of a century ago! Will I start being seen as an actor first and foremost who is also British East Asian?
Is that too much to ask? I’d like to think not.
You can find out more about me by visiting my website