Wit Incorporated are thrilled to be bringing the first English translation and production of Stan Lai’s script, I ME SHE HIM | 你和我和她和他 to the stage this month. It’s a premiere season of the English version with the Chinese version first being published in 1998 in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Director Ren Ruidi was drawn into the project with the exciting prospect of being able to work on a play that is written by a “truly masterful Taiwanese playwright” and have the opportunity to explore it with an all-Asian cast.
“It’s not often Asian performers get to delve into great material like this in Australia,” says Ruidi who has Chinese heritage. “Material that is penned with a lived experience that truly represents our culture, with nuance and historical context. I personally felt compelled to direct this because I knew it had to have someone who understood the social and political undertones and themes beneath the surface. Lai’s powerfully evocative writing can be both subtle yet provocative and it’s been material I’ve dreamed of working on, so getting chosen to direct this truly felt like a wish come true.”
The work cleverly uses a compelling love story to talk about the history and political situation between Taiwan and China.
“The play does a really great job of having plenty of nuance for those who understand the political history between China and Taiwan, whilst also introducing audiences who aren’t as familiar to some key historical events,” says Ruidi. “We’ve spent a lot of time workshopping and exploring the subtext of the two powers and the loss and betrayal of love between the two. The prospect of reconciliation is the question for the audience to discuss.”
Ruidi explains that the interplay between the young lovers and their decade older selves serves as a great function in providing an anchor for the audience to draw context to specific time periods and historical relevance. “The lovers paint the picture of a love lost between two parties and through their lived experience they preserve events that must not be forgotten. Their decade older selves pose the question: can we ever go back to how things were?”
Ruidi believes a lot of people are unaware of the relationship and history between China and Taiwan and her hope is that this play can spark interest and conversation in educating Australian audiences more on the geopolitics of our neighbouring eastern countries.
“I also hope that audiences can also appreciate the talent of our Asian actors and appreciate the parts of our culture explored – an example is a wonderful scene that includes some Chinese Peking Opera. I hope the audience will thoroughly enjoy that and be curious to discover more!”
The cast of eight in this production are comprised of actors from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Australia. For Ruidi, more authentic representation of Asian actors on our stages is vital.
“Having actors who are Expats or “immigrants” mean that a career in the arts poses a lot more financial risk and there is a lot more pressure to undertake careers that are deemed more economically viable.
With less Asian actors in the general population in Australia this also means there can be less social support available to Asian actors, as well as career support in the form of mentorship and opportunities. There can be a higher degree of social separation from those that may have the adequate experience or even know of existing opportunities.
Independent companies like Wit Incorporated are a vital place for actors at varying levels to mix, connect and transfer skills – supporting the growth of the community. Even through the auditions it was a great way for the company to see talent of different levels and stages, and workshop the material then so that the audition itself was also a learning opportunity.
More work also needs to be put into finding writers who have a lived experience that contributes to realising a “Chinese” character. Or character of Asian ethnicity. Often the big challenge for actors is coming across material that puts their ethnicity as the feature and centrepiece of their character, rather than something that adds an additional layer of complexity and nuance to how this character interacts with the world. That is why this play had such an overwhelmingly positive response from the East Asian community – they thanked us simply for getting the opportunity to audition for a character that had a substantial back-story.
What I gathered was that these actors finally felt seen and proud of the material they were working on, as it accurately represented who they are. Authentic representation matters.”
Ruidi says one of the major challenges has been presenting the material and themes in a way that does not alienate our Asian community and audience, whilst also driving through the themes and references they want to talk about. “There are sensitive topics mentioned and we were faced with the reality of having to monitor very carefully how we portrayed these with dignity and humanity.”
Some of the most joyous moments for Ruidi have been seeing the growth of the cast and how much they have bonded to become a little theatre family. Ruidi says she has pushed the actors technically and acknowledges they’ve worked so hard on this production that has been supported by an incredible design and creative/consultation team.
This, her directorial debut, is Ruidi’s first collaboration with Wit Incorporated, who are an independent artist-led company with Lansy Feng as the current Artistic Director.
They have successfully been running for nine years and 2024 sees them celebrate their 10th year since launching, which is so rare to see these days. The Bowery Theatre has been instrumental to the success of this production by having consistent rehearsal space available as part of the residency program, as well as immense support from their team in collaboration with Wit.
Running for seven shows only from the 22nd of November to the 2nd of December (with a Relaxed and Auslan Interpreted show on Saturday the 25th at 3pm) this compelling Australian first promises to be a highlight on the end-of-year Arts calendar! Tickets now selling.
Says Ruidi,” If you’re interested in a cross-cultural experience that truly has something for everyone – whether it be history, a love story told with humour, and relevancy in the current global atmosphere – come support our fantastic theatre production.”
The English language world premiere of I ME SHE HIM written by Stan Lai, directed by Ren Ruidi and produced by Wit Incorporated.