By BREANN DIAS

 

The momentary blindness that fell on the crowd preceding the preview of Call of the Sparrows was really a farewell to the world as we knew it. From the hilarious squawking of the introductory monologue, you knew that you had left the Te Pou centre and entered a mystical, bewitching village, one where the lives of the thousands were merely specks of dusts ingrained in time.

The cast of six showcased a plethora of characters, each distinct and enchanting. Call of the Sparrows is the creative brainchild of writer Chye-Ling Hang and director James Roque. I spoke to Chye-Ling and James about the setting of their story, which is based heavily on their own families’ superstitions and traditions preserved for generations.

“I don’t know what exactly it is about superstitions and traditions, but there’s something so uniquely Asian… something which Western culture doesn’t really have much of,” James muses.

Chye-Ling is quick to agree: “It felt like the same world, even though we both never knew that world; it’s only existed in fables and stories to us. There’s something really unifying about those ideas and I think it speaks a lot to a wider theme. It’s really interesting to me for my identity. What bits of that do we hold on to, to define ourselves? Sometimes it’s really useful and sometimes it’s really awful and damaging.”

As executive producers at PAT (Proudly Asian Theatre), James and Chye-Ling’s new play has a freedom in terms of not only creative expression, but also political. Being professionals in the creative industry of New Zealand, both young visionaries admit to feeling pressures about reconciling their identity with societal expectations, in terms of their ethnicity.

“I think it’s super interesting how binary it is for some people: You’re either Asian or not. But you can’t define that; there’s no set definition of what it means to be ‘Asian,’” James says. “It sort of reflects on why we changed the name of our foundation from ‘Pretty’ Asian Theatre to ‘Proudly’ Asian Theatre. ‘Pretty Asian’ suggested, “Oh, I guess we’re pretty but I guess we can still blend in,” whereas ‘Proudly Asian’ Theatre is like, “You know we are Asian and we may have cultural differences but that should be celebrated and not tucked away!””

The world of the ‘sparrow’ is both ethereal and familiar, drawing back to its Asian roots for props, masks, shadow-play, lyrical lines and probably the most bewitching soundtracks I’ve heard, by Nikita Tu-Bryant. An extremely stylised performance that is an exciting hybrid of old and new, Call of the Sparrows stands proudly to break boundaries; especially the boundary between stage and audience.

 

The liberation coursing through the production of this season makes Call of the Sparrows a siren call; irresistible. Be sure to witness this pure work of genius, talent and spirit. It plays at the Herald Theatre, Auckland from October 11th-16thClick here for all the details!

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