If You’re Single, Asian Or Female, This Play Is Essential Viewing
Michelle Law's play, 'Single Asian Female' is a love letter to the people both everything and nothing like her.
One of Australia’s most celebrated and acclaimed theatre companies, based in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
Mulan. Lee Lin Chin. Dr Cindy Pan. Regurgitator’s Quan Yeomans.
These are the only Asian people Michelle Law remembers seeing on screen or in public life, growing up as a Chinese girl on the Sunshine Coast throughout the ‘90s and 2000s. They were either fictional with totally unbelievable lives, or famous – out of reach to the everyday teenager. Representations of young people like her were nowhere to be found, or if they existed, they were “token characters that didn’t have a story – they were just there, or being made fun of”.
Single Asian Female
Law is changing the way Asian Australians’ lives are represented in media with her play, Single Asian Female – a love letter to the people both everything and nothing like her. It’s a frank, funny and relatable look at the different stages of a woman’s life, told through the eyes of a mother and her daughters.
From high school woes, to the late-twenties trials and tribulations of careers and dating, to navigating cultural and generational gaps with your kids, Law’s show runs the gamut of emotions experienced in the lives of many Australian women. These women just happen to be Asian, too.
After a sellout debut in Brisbane last year, the show is coming to Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, just in time for Chinese New Year. It’s been a hit with critics and audiences, but Law’s loudest, most appreciative supporters have been fellow Asian Australians who’ve come to see the show, and seen themselves in the characters she’s created. Many of them are first-time theatregoers.
Law’s loudest, most appreciative supporters have been fellow Asian Australians who’ve come to see the show, and seen themselves in the characters she’s created.
“It was a revelation to them,” she recounts of the show’s initial run. “It’s pretty shocking that it’s taken this long, but it’s so worth it when you see people in the audience elbowing their mums and being like ‘yeah, that’s what you do’ or looking at each other in recognition, like, ‘this happened to us’.
“I love watching audiences, and I’ve never gotten to experience that myself – I’m always just watching white people laughing or crying or speaking to each other like, ‘remember when this happened?’ And I’m like, ‘that’s never happened to me.’ I was really envious of that.”
Such is the joy of theatre as a medium – the satisfaction of seeing live reactions, of knowing that no one show is exactly the same. Single Asian Female is a living, breathing artwork, feeding off the energy of its spectators to create a different experience every night.
“I really love how theatre engages all of your senses. It’s such an intimate experience… I really wanted people to have that experience where they’re completely engaged and sharing that with other people in the room,” Law shares.
“Theatre is so open and as a writer, you have a lot more agency, whereas in other processes you finish the product and you don’t see it again.”
Putting A Spotlight On The Asian Australian Experience
A first-time playwright, Law created Single Asian Female as a part of the Lotus playwriting project: a joint initiative between Playwriting Australia and Contemporary Asian Australian Performance.
While fictional, the dynamic show puts the Asian Australian experience front and centre. It reflects many of the micro-aggressions minorities face in everyday life, and integrates concepts that second-generation Australians of most backgrounds will be familiar with, like the feeling of being caught between cultures, and the jumbling of mother and native tongues – one of Law’s characters speaks “Chinglish” in the show.
It also tackles tough topics like domestic violence, and cultural taboos, such as sex. It’s subversive and revolutionary for women of colour, but also relatable, necessary viewing for all Australians.
“It’s about the kinds of labels and identities that we project onto others as well as ourselves, and the pressure to find some sort of authentic self, but not having the space to do that,” she says. “I really wanted to explore what it means to be a single Asian woman in pivotal points in your life, and what experiences are unique at those points.”
Projects like Single Asian Female, and Law’s brother Benjamin’s book and subsequent television series The Family Law, are pushing Asian Australian narratives into the mainstream, as well as proving that our lives both are and aren’t so different to those of the average Australian.
Hopefully this play is a small step towards more works from people of colour, and we get to a stage where there isn’t that pressure on a select few.
It was an Asian woman, Michele Lee, who recently won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for a play (Rice), and Osamah Sami’s Good Muslim Boy has gone from page to screen to stage. Diverse stories, and their makers, are finally beginning to gain the recognition they’ve deserved for years – but Law says there’s still a way to go, and it’s not only to do with race.
“Hopefully this play is a small step towards more works from people of colour, and we get to a stage where there isn’t that pressure on a select few – where we have the space to make mistakes or make average work, and just have the same liberties that other people have had,” she says.
“I hope theatre companies in Australia start to be brave in not just commissioning work, but being committed to developing the voices of emerging artists from all types of backgrounds, whether that’s people of colour, the LGBTQIA community, people living with disabilities… There are so many communities with untapped stories that are out there.”
(All images: Single Asian Female/Supplied)
Single Asian Female is showing at Belvoir St Theatre from 16 February – 25 March. Grab tickets here.