ASIAN INVASION Plays from the Other Side of Aotearoa

Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science & History, Main Street - the Dark Room, Palmerston North

26/05/2014 - 26/05/2014

The New Place, Waikato University, Hamilton

30/05/2014 - 30/05/2014

WCSCC (Wellington Chinese Sport Cultural Centre) Mount Albert Road, Newtown, Wellington

09/05/2014 - 09/05/2014

Various Schools and Community venues, New Zealand wide

05/05/2014 - 04/07/2014

Q Theatre, The Vault, Auckland

13/06/2014 - 13/06/2014

Production Details



Plays from 11 New Zealand playwrights high light the 2014 EnsembleImpact tour of ASIAN INVASION. 

Featuring a cast of four – all Asian, all young professionals – the Ensemble builds upon its five-year success of touring high schools and regional community centres using only New Zealand material. 

Just as they did with She’ll Be Write, A Baker’s Dozen, Womanz Work and In Spite of Himself, EnsembleImpact has put together a unique programme of New Zealand works in one fifty minute programme. 

“The best of the best” – they say – and this year’s ASIAN INVASION just might be their best effort yet. 

Director Kerryn Palmer and actors Benjamin Teh, Chye-Ling Huang, Mayen Meta and Nikita Tu-Bryant have put together a truly extraordinary collection of NZ material on the subject of being Asian in Aotearoa. 

The Programme: (Sequential Order)

Robot vs Ninja – by Benjamin Teh 

The nature of love and illusions is approached in an original and entertaining manner in Robot vs Ninja. Who do we love? And why? What do we expect from each other? Meet Audrey the Robot and her boyfriend, the Ninja.

Fire Mountain (Foh Sarn) – by Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Set in contemporary Auckland the play focusses on the life of a young Korean university student and explores the uneasy relationship between the Asian community and New Zealand society through the eyes of a TV film crew eager to dig up dirt on Asian crime.

Chopstick #1 – by Jo Holsted & Michelle Ang

A play for anyone who can use chopsticks. We took one actor and turned her into a Samoan teenager, a fifth-generation greengrocer, a Chinese grandmother, and a white guy. It’s an exploration into being Asian. Into being a New Zealander. A woman.

A man. An Asian-New-Zealander-Man-Woman. And anyone in between. With no stereotypes. Just kidding, there are heaps. But we really, really thought about

FAAB – by Renee Laing

It’s not a play about rugby, but more a play that ‘contains’ rubgy. It’s about two boys growing up and their friendship. One’s a new immigrant who’s still deciding where his loyalties lie – the other, also from an immigrant family, who’s keen to show off this true colours (if only he can work them out).

Yellow Brides – by Vincent O’Sullivan

A contemporary New Zealand tragedy with its eye on our relationship to Asia and big business, Yellow Brides is a welcome return to the stage for this outstanding and versatile writer whose previous plays include Shuriken, Billy and Casement. Yellow Brides is a powerful work giving the Medea story a contemporary setting. 

Businessman Jason’s Asian bride Queenie has much from her own culture to offer relatives and friends in her new home of New Zealand. What have they got in return to offer Queenie?

Taro King – by Vela Manusaute

Taro King is set in a local supermarket in South Auckland, prized as being the supermarket with the highest turnover in taro sales.In 2002, the Fijian coup, led by George Speight, and the ban on all trading between Fiji and New Zealand had a major effect on the flow of taro coming into the port of Auckland. To the locals of Otara this sudden shortage of taro was harsh; however none felt the severity of the situation more so than the employees at Taro King supermarket, whose livelihood was unexpectedly put at risk.

Chopstick #2 – by Jo Holsted & Michelle Ang

Neang Neak’s Legacy – by Sarita Keo Kossamak So

Having escaped from the Khmer Rouge regime in their homeland Cambodia, husband Veasna and wife Chantrea, find themselves in Wellington. A decade after their arrival, they are confronted by the ghosts of their past. A story of redemption, NEANG NEAK’S LEGACY asks how do you bury your ghosts?

Two Fish ’n’ A Scoop – by Carl Nixon

Jason comes to work in the fish and chip shop owned by Mr Chan. Ignoring his wishes, Mr Chan’s feisty daughter Rhea and Jason begin a romance, as they both serve up the greasies. It doesn’t take long, however, before some disquieting home truths arerevealed.

The Exchange – by Lauren Jackson

It is the year 1994. Five NZ teenagers are on an exchange year in Germany, a nation in the throes of reunification. Exchange is a funny, moving kiwi quest for personal discovery. The exchange students transform from child to adult as they navigate a new culture and discover what it means to be a New Zealander.

Krishnan’s Diary – by Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis 

Gobi and Zina Krishnan have come to New Zealand in search of a better life for themselves and their child. They work hard and keep their dreams stacked on the shelves of their struggling business. Two New Zealand cliches about Indians – the Taj Mahal and the corner dairy – are fused into an enchanting love story.

Just what does the largest immigrant group to New Zealand have to say about life in Aotearoa? 

Plays from Karl Nixon, Sarita Keo Kossamak So, Lauren Jackson, Lynda Chanwai-Earle, Vincent O’Sullivan, Ben Teh and more! One fifty-minute programme featuring four – all Asian – professional actors.

For all the wonderful reviews EnsembleImpact has received from the past five years, this year’s programme is truly one out of the box. Kerryn Palmer, with Ensemble members Benjamin Teh, Chye-Ling Huang, Mayen Meta and Nikita Tu-Bryant have put together a truly extraordinary collection of NZ material in one fifty-minute showcase.

If you’re interested in quality theatre, made “on the cheap” with stunning musical transitions, excellent acting, essential costuming, humour, wit and occasional pathos – put ASIAN INVASION on your “to view” list. 

“Asian Invasion: Plays from the Other Side of Aotearoa.” 

Public performances (i.e. not Schools shows):

At WCSCC (Wellington Chinese Sport Cultural Centre)
Mount Albert Road, Newtown 
9 May @ 7:30pm 
Tkts: $5.00 at the door    

At Canterbury University on 16 May at 2:10 at a venue TBA
In Palmerston North @ 7:30 on May 26th at The Dark Room
At Waikato University on 30 May at The New Place @ 12:00
At Northland Youth Theatre, Whangarei on 5 June @ 7:30
At the Hawkins Theatre in Papakura on 10 June @ 7:30
At Q Theatre – The Vault – on 13 & 14 June @ 7:00 and 9:00
At Whangamata Repertory on 22 June @ 7:30
At Keirunga Homestead Havelock North on 28 June @ 7:30
Again in Wellington TBA on July 3rd… TBA 


THE ACTORS: 

NikitaTu-Bryant was a jazz major at the NZ School of Music. Her first Wellington theatre appearance was in Fitz Bunny - Lust for Glory for the 2007 Young and Hungry Festival. Following that, CATS then Miss Saigon through the Wellington Musical Society. She was offered the role of Trang in Capital E's Kia Ora Khalid (Dave Armstrong/Gareth Farr); from its early work-shopping days through to its performances throughout New Zealand and later Adelaide and Melbourne. 

Nikita tours regularly with her band(s) throughout New Zealand. 

Mayen Meta is a graduate of The Actors' Program 2013. Recent credits Include being a featured extra on Spartacus: Blood & Sand, making a guest appearance on Shortland Street and playing multiple characters in the stage production of Camino Real. Mayen also has a supporting role in a feature film due for release this year. In his down time Mayen enjoys the outdoors, playing piano and filmmaking. 

Chye-Ling Huang is a graduate of Unitec's Performing and Screen Arts Acting degree, appearing in shows including The Asphalt Kiss, The Dining Room and the sell-out season of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. In her first year out of training, Chye-Ling co-founded PAT: Pretty Asian Theatre Company (shortened as PAT) with James Roque (Kiss the Fish, Titus). 

Benjamin Teh came to New Zealand from Singapore and eventually discovered drama through an obsession with skateboarding and videography. He’s been hooked ever since; regularly writing, directing and acting in whatever he can think up or successfully audition for. Benjamin is also the proud playwright of Robot VS Ninja, and has many other scripts in store for the world. 



50mins

Helping to grow more tolerance, kindness, and understanding

Review by Cherie Moore 14th Jun 2014

Asian Invasion is on for two nights only at Q Theatre’s Vault. It is a four hander currently touring high schools, with a message about culture, acceptance and identity. 

The theatre is sparse and set in traverse. As I arrive, the actors are sitting on chairs at both ends of the stage and greet the audience (out of character) as they come in. The fluorescent lights overhead stay on for the full performance – giving us a real sense of what it is high school kids are seeing on the tour, and stripping the performance back to expose the actors’ talents.  

The show is comprised of ten scenes with multiple characters, book ended by a song about having foreign blood but having lived in New Zealand your whole life. The actors create all aspects of the scenes including sound effects, music and soundscapes. The female actors in particular – Chye-Ling Huang and Nikita Tu-Bryant – must be commended on their musical contribution. Several instruments are used to help transport the audience to a different time and place. Ben Teh, one of the two male actors, also has a scene of his writing featured.

The ten scenes used in Asian Invasion all either feature Asian characters, were written by Asian writers, or speak to issues facing the Asian population. Mayen Meta is an impressive force in the show, showing real talent for accents and physical characterisation. 

This is a show made for high school students and that is evident in some of the material, however as an adult in the theatre I too find it thoroughly enjoyable. There is a song that follows a scene from Krishnan’s Dairy that is a little cringe-worthy, but other than that this jammed-packed fifty five minute show is one I’m pleased students are seeing.

The messages and experiences shared in Ensemble Impact’s Asian Invasion are creating a dialogue with young people in this country that will help to grow more tolerant, kind, and understanding individuals.

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Borrow or steal a school uniform to gate crash a performance near you

Review by Gail Pittaway 31st May 2014

Subtitled ‘Ten token tales’, this is a fine compilation of short scenes from ten mostly contemporary plays showing interactions between Asian, Pasifika, Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders. The four young performers of this ensemble are equally energetic, youthful and talented, yet each brings a particular quality to the dynamism of this well-paced short show.

They are a touring company who mostly concentrate on school shows but ‘donated’ this performance to the University of Waikato Theatre Studies Department  and theatre community and it’s a treat to see what some lucky school kids are able to have on offer.

This performance almost didn’t happen, in fact, as the touring van was stolen the day before, along with the props, costumes and musical instruments, then these possessions were dumped in a side street and the was van used to commit a burglary on the Katmandu store here in Hamilton; filled up with sleeping bags, thermal socks and wet weather gear, no doubt! But the Asian Invasion gear was mostly recovered the next morning and the show went on, at full throttle with mention only made of the unfortunate events in the question time. 

The play scenes vary from comical to serious reflective pieces using scripts by well-known writers such as Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Jacob Rajan, as well as less well known voices. There’s even one by one of this company, Benjamin Teh, called Ninja versus Robot which serves as an engaging and entertaining opener to the production, with Teh and Chye-Ling Huang using gaming moves and great sound effects in a nice piece of combat choreography. Probably pitched and placed to grab the attention of the school audiences for whom they mostly cater, its unexpectedness works well with our crowd, too.

The ensemble uses music, especially guitar, but also violin, ukulele, bells and rattles to enhance and punctuate the mood. Nikita Tu Bryant’s guitar playing is versatile and gutsy, giving soundtracks in a range of styles and Mayen Meta’s Bollywood break out is irresistible. Most of the excerpts are two-handers, with sound effects, noises off or music provided by the remaining two players, as in Krishnan’s Dairy, by Jacob Rajan, with the simple but touchingly effective off-stage sounds of the door bell, shop till and flicking of plastic bags, while Mayan Mehta and Chye-Ling Huang as Mr and Mrs Krishnan bicker about their store.

Renee Liang’s First Asian All Black introduces a slow motion ball passing sequence with Chye-Ling as ball puppeteer. The full ensemble scene with a Chinese New Zealander being press-ganged into performing ‘Tu tira mai’ in front of a German class is a total show stopper, both for its comic caricatures as well as the cultural crunch involved. Other themes include youth suicide, teen prejudice, familial pressure and gender expectations; it’s not just a load of laughs. 

It’s fantastic to see how the atmosphere of a story can be conveyed in just 5-10 minutes with a quick change of jacket or posture, and the minimum of props. Voice, movement, gesture, pace, partnership – the core elements of theatre are given centre stage as these wonderful young performers give voice to some of the diverse people who all happen to coincide here, in Aotearoa. Borrow or steal a school uniform to gate crash a performance near you. 

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Vitality, variety, versatility

Review by John C Ross 29th May 2014

As our nation gets more and more ethnically diverse, how much do we genuinely mix and mingle with each other? How far do we really get beyond stereotyping to mutual understanding and empathy? This show’s certainly entertaining, yet it also throws up some fascinating challenges.

EnsembleImpact as a group of professional actors has been operating since 2009, in devising and touring shows for secondary schools, with each of them centred around some theme and sticking with New Zealand based and written materials. This year’s show features eleven extracts from ten plays involving Asians in New Zealand in one way or another, with an ensemble of four young Asian Kiwis, Nikita Tu-Bryant, Chye-Ling Huang, Benjamin Teh and Mayen Meta. The staging is traverse-style, with just four chairs, and a few bits of costume and props on the floor behind at either end, and a couple of guitars at one end, so it’s quite transportable.

The show starts, as it will finish, with a kind of group rap, accompanied by stamping and clapping, about being here, with ‘foreign blood’ yet part now of the local human reality. (The identification of the plays is pinched from John Smythe’s review.) 

The first sequence has ‘Broken Ninja’ Jackson (Benjamin) facing up to ‘Abused Robot’ Audrey (Chye-Ling), and a spectacular, somewhat ridiculous, fight developing between them, with no blows or karate kicks actually landing. Ninja wins this time, but only just: he’d programmed Robot to exercise free will rather too well. This extract comes from Benjamin Teh’s own play, Ninja vs. Robot.

The second sequence has a well-meaning but bumbling male Maori TV journalist (Mayen) trying to interview a young East Asian (evidently South Korean) woman (Nikita), and making an awkward mess of things. He bumbles into the touchy topic of shame, and increasingly tries to compensate for his own shameful clumsiness. She is politely fending him off. [From Foh Sarn (Fire Mountain), by Lynda Chanwai-Earle.]

In the third, a lone Asian student (Mayen) gets talking in a bus to the (invisible) driver about the preconceptions the locals have about such as himself, instead of seeing him as a person. (He speaks also, briefly, in their own language, to a fellow passenger.) Has he achieved anything thereby, substantially, in promoting understanding? [From Chop/Stick, by Jo Holstead and Michelle Ang.]

In the fourth, a Samoan student at Timaru Boys’ High School (Mayen) is wising up a newly arrived Chinese student (Benjamin) as to how to be ‘cool’ in this environment. Some of the advice is a bit weird, and rough. They get into practicing rugby passing, with Chye-Ling appearing first as a rugby coach and then, weirdly, as an ‘invisible’ ball-mover. The boys end with a resounding rendering of the haka ‘Ka Mate’ (they belong!). [From First-Asian AB, by Renee Laing.]

In the fifth, two Asian women (Nikita and Chye-Ling) engage in fortune-telling with tea-leaf reading, with comforting clichés, not entirely convincing, slipping into more disturbing territory. [From Yellow Brides, by Vincent O’Sullivan.]

The sixth has two workers in a South Auckland supermarket, a Fijian-Indian (Mayen) and a Samoan taro-chopper (Benjamin), acting up for the security cameras, then challenging each other, and the Samoan becoming quite scarily aggressive. Really just in fun, as he later claims? [From Taro King, by Vela Manusaute.]

In the seventh, a Pakeha secondary school girl, Kayla (Chye-Ling), introducing a newly arrived international student to her school, speaks of her male and female Asian fellow-students with one ignorantly patronizing stereotyping and put-down after another. [Also from Chop/Stick.

In the eighth, an older and a younger man (Mayen and Benjamin), two melancholy Asian migrants (in fact, Cambodian refugees), at a beach in the evening, talk about dreams, memories, ghosts of the past, the younger man’s failing some kind of exam, waiting for a woman to come, life as a limbo of waiting and loss. [From Neang Neak’s Legacy, by Surita Ken Kossamak.]  

The ninth is recognisably an early scene from Carl Nixon’s Two Fish ‘n’ a Scoop, with Jason (Mayen) trying to get a job in Mr Chan’s fish and chip shop, and overcoming by sheer persistence the reluctance of his daughter Rhea (Chye-Ling) and of Mr Chan himself (Benjamin). Father rather zestfully and graphically warns that if Jason fools around with his daughter, he will slice off his balls, batter them and deep-fry them.

The tenth features a New Zealand Chinese exchange student (Nikita) in a classroom in a school in Germany, being compelled to perform, by singing a song from her country. She does, shyly at first, but rather well, sing a waiata, but is then subjected to cheerful scorn when she is forced to admit that she speaks only English, and not Maori or Chinese. [From The Exchange, by Lauren Jackson.]

The eleventh is recognisably an early scene from Jacob Rajan’s Krishnan’s Dairy, with Krishnan himself (Mayen) desperate to make a success of the dairy, and his wife Zina (Chye-Ling) equally desperate with homesickness for her own family back in India, and unscrupulously driving away the customers. Finally though there’s a song, about ‘working so hard,’ yet with love, and this is followed by the repetition of the opening rap.

The show as a whole is a rich mix, with plenty of vitality, variety, versatility, and smooth transitions from one sequence to another, which are creditable to the director Kerryn Palmer as well as to the actors. Surely, school audiences up and down the country will enjoy it yet also take away stuff to think about.

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Richly varied fare served up with great skill and panache

Review by John Smythe 10th May 2014

I am expecting Wellington’s diverse Asian community to flock to the WCSCC (Wellington Chinese Sport Cultural Centre) in Newtown to celebrate EnsembleImpact’s Asian Invasion: a sampler spread of the range of works by NZ Playwrights who either have Asian heritage or have dramatically captured the Asian/Kiwi experience. I’m looking forward to seeing it in this context. But there are only few Asian faces among the twenty-odd punters who avail themselves of the privilege.

At least we get to see it – in the traverse – in the centre’s cosier, carpeted foyer area rather than the massive multi-court sports hall. And while there is much in the programme that Asians will identify with on all sorts of levels, it is also very salutary for non-Asian Kiwis.

With an apparent ease that belies the research and rehearsal work that must have gone into it, Benjamin Teh, Chye-Ling Huang, Mayen Meta and Nikita Tu-Bryant – directed by Kerryn Palmer – perform 11 excerpts from 10 plays.

Their opening song (uncredited) declares “We’ve got foreign blood flowing through our veins” and “I’ve lived here my whole life” which, as an argument for acceptance, could also seem to support assimilation rather than promote the enriching value of cultural diversity. But I may not have caught all the lyrics.

Ben Teh’s own Robot vs Ninja plays as a metaphor for male-female relationships where, despite having ordered her with the Free Will option, Jackson believes Audrey is his possession to order about. Sure, in his flash Ninja way, he wins – but does he really?

In Lynda Chanwai-Earle’s Foh Sarn (Fire Mountain) a young Korean university student from Hong Kong is subjected to the interview techniques of a TV journalist – an East Coast Māori from Gisborne – who is tasked with digging the dirt on Auckland’s Asian crime scene. The clear gap in cultural understanding suggests he has a huge job ahead of him.

The first of two excerpts from Chop/Stick by Jo Holsted & Michelle Ang captures the typical experience a Chinese person may have if they speak Cantonese to a relative on the bus. His rejoinder to the old fart who ticks him off is priceless.

Later we are treated to Kayla who, while showing an international exchange student around, trots out glib remarks about Asian students and makes us cringe with her “I’m not racist, but…” commentary.

The sequence from Renee Laing’s First Asian AB (FAAB) finds a 4th Form homestay student of Chinese extraction from Malaysia being coached in how to be ‘cool’ by his Samoan mate. It’s setting up much that is developed in the play proper but his future aspiration to become an All Black is embodied here in their attempting the ‘Ka Mate’ haka.  

Two women take tea in the scene from Yellow Brides by Vincent O’Sullivan. I take it Queenie is the titular bride (of a Kiwi businessman) while her afternoon tea hostess is Pakeha (but I may be wrong). The harmless parlour game of reading tea-leaves takes a disturbing turn when Queenie sees sinister signs in them.

Hard-working Filipo, a Samoan who cuts taro at the Otara Market, is goaded by Fiji Indian Raju in a lively scene from Vela Manusaute’s Taro King. As with other scenarios, we are entertainingly reminded the dynamics of ‘race relations’ are not just about the dominant Pakeha /Palagi culture relating to those from elsewhere (not to mention those who were here before theirs came).

A number of ‘cultural disjunction’ scenes could have been selected from Neang Neak’s Legacy by Sarita Keo Kossamak So but the one they’ve chosen adds a new flavour by capturing the feeling of loss and yearning that so often haunts new immigrants, even when they are refugees from political turmoil.

The ‘shark-infested waters’ that will challenge the tidal pull of young romance are clearly established in an early scene from Carl Nixon’s Two Fish ’n’ A Scoop, when Pakeha lad Jason pops in to Mr Chan’s Fish ’n’ Chip shop to apply for a job that’s been advertised so that daughter Rhea can go to university.

From The Exchange by Lauren Jackson we share the experience of a New Zealand high school student of Chinese heritage, on an Exchange trip to Germany, being expected to sing a Māori song and explain its meaning. Her inability to speak neither Chinese nor Māori bewilders her hosts.

An excerpt from Jacob Rajan’s Krishnan’s Dairy, completes the programme. While Gobi Krishnan is committed to creating a new life for his family in New Zealand, his wife Zina does everything she can to sabotage their Dairy’s viability, let alone success. The play’s song about the power of love puts a fitting ending to the Asian Invasion anthology.

Overall it is an insightful and entertaining evocation and celebration of cultural diversity with implications that resonate well beyond its immediate scenarios. While obviously very suitable for high schools, adults of any age will get value from catching one of the regional community performance I believe are included in the itinerary.

All four actors capture the essences of their characters and their scenes with alacrity. I would just ask that they bring the same vocal clarity to their introductory and closing addresses, especially when saying their own names and introducing the others.

Compared with previous EnsembleImpact compilations  – A Baker’s Dozen (2010); Womanz Work! (2011); In Spite of Himself (2012); She’ll Be Write (2013) – the Asian Invasion show is probably the most cohesive in that the common denominator of Asian heritage brings the disparate stories together. It is certainly a programme to provoke much discussion and further enquiry into all sorts of subject areas in schools.

In and of itself, I feel it has the capacity to make a real difference; to enlighten students – and teachers – whose lack of awareness renders them consciously or unconsciously racist.  I’d also like to think these tasters will inspire people to read the plays in full and even produce them.

This year’s quartet and their director are serving up richly varied fare with great skill and panache.

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