CHOP/STICK

Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

20/11/2012 - 24/11/2012

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

08/10/2013 - 12/10/2013

Production Details



“Michelle Ang can use CHOP/STICKs. So can You.” 

An original play about the inconclusive and misleading ideas of “otherness”.   

Tuesday Nov 20th November – Saturday 24th November 2012  

There was a time when the idea of eating sushi for lunch would be met by a grossed-out face and making a curry for dinner was only for the culinary adventurous. Nowadays, it’s a fair guess that soy sauce is as much a kiwi pantry staple as Marmite, and is as mixed into our cuisine as blood is mixed in our kiwi veins. The modern New Zealand experience is an amalgamation of all the immigrant cultures that now make up our population; which is fitting because haven’t we all basically come from somewhere else anyway?

As such, isn’t it about time we reevaluated our ideas of identity? What does “ethnic” (*shudder) even mean and can it really be taken at face value any longer. We need a fresh (pun intended) take on how we view “Us”; New Zealanders, and “Them”; whomever that means.

CHOP/STICK presents an irreverent style of social commentary that is more a gentle prod to the consciousness as opposed to a suspenseful drama. Audiences will be taken into an experiment. We took one actress and turned her into 13 different characters. Can the audience be convinced to suspend their prejudices (and their eyes) and watch an Asian (another nonsensical cringe word) actress become characters that are outside the boundaries of what we  “see” her as?  It’s topical. It’s hilarious. Yes, it’s a theme that has been explored before, but not in this way. And there are stereotypes. Plenty of them. But they were really, really thought about.

CHOP/STICK was born from the frustration of an actress feeling she would never have an opportunity to play outside her ethnicity, and a writer interested in the absurd complexities of cultural diversity requiring stereotyping of cultural identity. Jo Holsted and Michelle Ang are new on the Auckland theatre circuit. Having watched a fair bit of local theatre they decided to bring life to a script they started years ago whilst in Barcelona. They are writing, producing and promoting this project themselves.

Jo has written many short stories and moved into the indie playwriting scene when she relocated to Auckland after being overseas. She currently produces an arts show on community radio; Planet FM, and brings with her a wittiness and cynicism to the themes explored in the project.

Michelle is better known as a television and film actress. She has starred in local dramas including Outrageous Fortune and last year won the NZ Film and TV Award for “Best Actress in a Feature Film” for her role of Emily in “My Wedding And Other Secrets”. Now based in New York, she is the lead in the new US series “Underemployed” premiering this week on the MTV network. This will be a first for Michelle in terms of creating and performing her own theatre piece. She hopes to bring along film/tv audiences to this medium and has lent many personal experiences to the crafting of the script.

Both are very much New Zealanders despite their different backgrounds, colour and eye shape. Both think “inbetweeness” is the new norm. CHOP/STICK really is a play for ANYONE who can use chopsticks.

CHOP/STICK plays: 20th – 24th November 2012
Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, CBD
Tuesday through to Saturday: 8:30pm
Matinee performance: Saturday November 24th 2012: 2.30pm

Tickets: $18 / $20 (plus applicable booking fees)
Bookings through iTicket ph: (09) 361 1000 or www.iticket.co.nz
www.facebook.com/chopsticktheplay  

2013

Chop/Stick is not a story. It’s a cheeky delve into how we see ourselves, how we see each other and who for the love of all things holy “we” is.

Evelyn (Evie) isn’t Chinese enough for her Grandma but is Asian enough – without being too Asian – for her best friend Kayla. Steve discovers he may be even more interesting than Melissa. Melissa would probably agree. Kingston has a fresh take on freshness and, if anyone asks, he’s at the library.

Thirteen diverse New Zealanders all played by diverse New Zealander Michelle Ang.

BATS THEATRE:
Bats Out-Of-Site, cnr Dixon and Cuba Streets, Wellington CBD

Performances:
Tue 08 Oct – Sat 12 Oct 2013, 6:30pm

Ticket Prices 
Full $18.00 | Concession $14.00 | Group 6+ $13.00




Clever comedy

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Oct 2013

With Chop/Stick we are into a solo comedy that explores with broad strokes and a pointed wit how we see each other and how cultural background, sex and language determine that vision and stereotypes are formed.

Michelle Ang, giving a lovely, warm performance, introduces us to thirteen assorted New Zealanders from a grumpy, bossy Chinese grandmother who morphs into her granddaughter who morphs into a Samoan, a Maori, and so on.

Jo Holsted’s script deals with the perceptions of racial differences so cleverly that the minefield is crossed safely. But this does not mean it is insipid. There’s always a telling and humorous conclusion to each sketch such as the scene in which auditions are held for a Thai TV shampoo ad or when a reluctant man gets carried away in a karaoke duet.

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Fluent, fluid and wonderfully entertaining

Review by John Smythe 09th Oct 2013

Described in the menu-style programme as “not a story” and “a cheeky delve into how we see ourselves, how we see each other and who for the love of all things holy ‘we’ is,” Chop/Stick serves up a delicious banquet of characters, all played with a delightfully light and confident touch by the very talented Michelle Ang.

Although it is not plot driven, there are two recurring and evolving relationships that inevitably create a degree of narrative structure, which is all to the good for an hour-long show (credited in this programme as “written by Jo Holsted” although the blurb for last year’s Auckland premiere states Holsted and Ang worked together “to bring life to a script they started years ago whilst in Barcelona”).

The standard Chinese custom of grandparents looking after the children while the parents go out to work is somewhat turned on its head, in that NZ born-and-raised Evie sees herself as having been saddled with looking after her “ah ma” after her Granddad died. Instead of hanging out with her friends – especially Kayla, who wants her to come for a sleepover – Evie is stuck with being her Grandma’s kitchen-hand, shopper and secretary.

“Chinese people very hard worker” is at odds with the lifestyles of Evie’s contemporaries. Yet as they bicker and work together at a chopping bench, the simmering inter-generational and cross-cultural antagonism produces … something quite piquant.

Meanwhile the rather stolid Kiwi bloke Steve arranges to meet and eat with the sublimely relaxed, outspoken and assertive Melissa, whose mother is Thai and father is “from here”. They’ve met via an internet dating site. It’s when they eat Chinese that the titular chopsticks come into play but Irish Enya on the karaoke machine proves the catalyst for some surprising developments.

Kayla is your classic minx of a preening teenage schoolgirl. We see her showing German exchange student Celine around the school and revealing her limitations with blithe comments, invariably preceded with, “I’m not racist but …” The programme note that “Evelyn (Evie) isn’t Chinese enough for her Grandma but is Asian enough – without being too Asian – for her best friend Kayla” captures the essence of the central identity quest theme being explored in Chop/Stick.

Evie’s neighbour Kingston is full of bravado and beautifully realised in a bang-on ‘bro boy’ accent which I take to mean he’s Maori but it turns out he’s Samoan, which surprises me. Nevertheless his gift-of-the-gab and lively spirit make him a favourite character for me.  

A Japanese student’s ‘everyday’ experience on a bus produces the best line of the night in her riposte to some redneck telling her, “You come to this country, you learn to speak our language.”  And my Chinese companion tells me Ang’s Japanese accent is “perfect”.

There’s a Chinese fruiterer coping with a son who doesn’t want to live the cliché. His point about Kiwi fruit and Chinese gooseberries is also well made.

An audition for a Thailand shampoo commercial, involving riding on the back of a motor bike, links the whole identity quest theme to the commercial quest for the ‘pan Asian’ look.

A late arrival in the line-up is Gareth from Christchurch who is into martial arts gaming and turns out to be someone with whom Steve has a late night “online dependence”, so Steve must choose between fantasy and reality.  

Isobel Dryburgh’s flexible setting of a table/bench and boxes, flanked by linen drops, and Ashlyn Smith’s lighting design and operation, allow the action to flow seamlessly.

Ang fully inhabits each character with a deceptive ease. It’s clear she loves them all, more for their flaws than in spite of them. Her fluid physicality combines with very distinctive vocal patterns and some extremely astute writing to produce a wonderfully entertaining insight into the experience of being Asian in 21st century New Zealand.

I’d love to see Chop/Stick tour New Zealand high schools, or NZ theatres with a focus on schools’ block-bookings. While there is nothing in the least bit teachy or preachy about it, it has the capacity to enhance understanding and change perceptions for the better at a formative time in young people’s lives.

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Fresh and timely

Review by Reynald Castaneda 21st Nov 2012

Chop/Stick is the theatrical equivalent to bubble tea: sweet, cool, refreshing and potentially challenging for people who have yet to taste its difference. 

Jo Holsted and Michelle Ang’s winning script on multiple identities in a multicultural metropolis – headlined here by Ang – is a celebration of being ‘the other’ in a city where being ‘normal’ is subjective.

With the help of director Sophie Roberts, Ang’s energetic and enthusiastic physical performance as 13 different characters – from a Chinese grandmother to a Samoan teenager; from a white guy from Pukekohe to a Japanese exchange student – is seamless and breathless. 

Chop/Stick delivers an unequivocal sugar rush. 

Successfully interweaving multiple narratives without being bogged down by content, the play is anchored by Evie: a teenage girl struggling with her identity as a Chinese New Zealander.  

Constantly bombarded by opposing ideals – represented by her endearingly authoritarian grandmother, and her bossy and clueless best friend Kayla – it captures the familiar confusion and conflict facing young Asian teenagers. 

The play freely diverts into other narratives, too. Its transitions are light as a feather, without insulting the intelligence of its audience by assuming it can’t follow a multilayered narrative. 

Situational anecdotes, sprinkled along the way, comment on prejudices faced by Asian immigrants in Auckland’s congested city sprawl, yet avoid being didactic. 

The most memorable side-story is about a female Japanese exchange student’s encounter with a male sidewalk heckler. “You should stop speaking Japanese. You should speak English, you immigrant,” he asserts. Her retort is brilliant.

Chop/Stick unashamedly uses stereotypes – as it should. If it ahd tiptoed around them, it could have exposed itself to jeers of political correctness. In effect, the Basement Theatre becomes a safe haven to laugh at our own prejudices while making us feel good in the process. 

On opening night, the scenes that gathered the most laughs came from the familiar: Ang’s broad portrayal of a rowdy Samoan teenager, for example. He picks his nose. He grabs his crotch. He jokes he’s off to screw his mate’s mum.

While Chop/Stick doesn’t necessarily deliver something new, it feels fresh and timely. In a particular moment, an audio grab from a talkback caller with explicitly racist comments is allowed airtime. Chop/Stick is not necessarily calling it out, but emphasising why plays like this remain relevant.

Ang’s performance is spotless. She’s charming, lively and expertly flip-flops between multiple personalities. She practically disappears into every character she inhabits.

Its technical staging is a winner, too. White see-through linen graces the stage and functions as walls, mirrors and physical demarcation for different personalities. The flickering of light mimics a television, a karaoke bar or even a Chinese restaurant. There’s richness in its economy. 

Chop/Stick is unmissable. Not only is it funny, but also delivers valid insight into city living where every face you see is dissimilar from your own. 

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