By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Yun Theatre’s new production, “In Between,” features seven short plays from seven different playwrights, all on the subject of migration. But the show’s director and Yun co-founder, Christie Zhao, affirms that the theme struck her close to home.
“The concept of ‘In Between’ was born from my personal experiences of feeling stuck in between different cultural identities and language systems,” said Zhao. “As a Chinese immigrant living in the U.S., I often found myself not fully belonging to either the Chinese or American communities. My language system was cracked open after six years of living in the U.S.
“I often found myself mixing it up and losing the words no matter who I am speaking to. I started to retrace my own history of migration: How I decided to leave [China], how I had hopes and dreams of America, how the perfect American Dream crumbled once I started to open my eyes to the reality, what my migration has done to my family, and so on. I became deeply interested in exploring the complexities and realities of migration, and how it shapes our lives and relationships.”
Zhao confesses that she didn’t grow up watching theater. In her hometown of Wuhu, Anhui, China, such practices “were not a thing. People have never heard of it.” But by the time she attended the University of Washington, she’d learned enough to double-major in Drama and Computer Science.
Yun Theatre was founded through a grant, which required the founders to establish a nonprofit. But it was an early project, “Monologues of n Women,” which solidified the troupe’s artistic mission.
That production, says Zhao, was a huge success.
“It was entirely original, closely reflecting the daily lives of Chinese women in our generation. The play served as an act of speaking out, defying fears of censorship and authoritarianism, and reclaiming our language and voice in a powerful way.
“We received overwhelming support and even gratitude from the community, and it was actually a lot of people’s first experience with theater. It was also their first time seeing their stories and experiences represented through theater in Seattle.”
For “In Between,” Yun Theatre put out a call for 10-minute scripts online, asking playwrights to share perspectives on migration and the general theme of “In Between.” One-hundred-seventy submissions came in. Reducing them to seven, for the main production, took extraordinary time and effort from a curatorial board of five.
Even then, Zhao says, the board was so impressed by another six of the plays that Yun’s putting on a special staged reading of those six, on the evening of Aug. 19, at 2 p.m., directed by six different local talents.
The main “In Between” production, though, required a full theater company to realize, including costume designer Tianxing Yan.
With almost all six actors on stage in seven different plays, said Yan, “it becomes a thrilling puzzle to create costumes that help the actors build the unique world of each play while delivering a distinct experience for the audience. The sheer number of quick changes required adds to the complexity of this task.”
Yun’s music composer, YUELAN (spelled in all capital letters), reported a particular challenge for “In Between.”
“This is the first time I’m putting together a live band at a Yun Theatre show! We have four musicians: A drummer (Tina Deng or Josh Valdez), a guzheng player (Yihan Lin), a keyboardist (YIYI), and vocals/miscellaneous instruments (me). Our keyboard is fed through a computer, but in terms of tangible instruments, we have a smattering of plucked and bowed strings (guzheng, guitar, viola), one or two singers, a kazoo, a bit of percussion (drumset, shaker, rainmaker), a kalimba, and a keyboard.
“It’s honestly very pieced together with the resources that we had [at hand]. Several of these instruments I had laying around my house, and the band also brought in what they could.”
“As I reflected on my own migration journey,” concluded director Zhao, “I became deeply interested in exploring the complexities and realities of migration and how it shapes our lives and relationships. We also hope that [the production] will spark a meaningful dialogue within our community about the complexities and realities of migration.”
“In Between” from Yun Theatre plays Aug. 17-27 at Center Theater at Seattle Center Armory, Lower Level. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit https://yun-theatre.com/in-between. For information on the staged reading of an additional six short plays, visit https://yun-theatre.com/in-between-staged-reading.