British East Asian theatre: Make our own opportunities

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Simon Ly – Papergang Theatre

Discrimination. That word comes up in any discussion about British East Asian representation in the arts space. And at Papergang Theatre, we’re tired of hearing it.

Of course it’s no secret that actors, writers and directors of East Asian heritage still feel like they’re outsiders in the monolithic British theatre establishment.  There’s much to be done to fight deep-seated prejudices. But our problem with the D-word is that it gives us a pick of targets to blame for the lack of opportunities (theatres, casting agents and so on), when we could be more doing more to help ourselves.

We’re annoyed by the lack of decent scripts for actors, and their token portrayals of East Asian characters. So we’ll write our own to reflect who we really are. We want the public to engage with our work, but so we’ll give them stories they can relate to. Stuff that’s contemporary and relevant to British society.

To get something in return,  we’ll need to put more in. Otherwise we’ll only have everyone else (and ourselves) to blame.

That’s why a group of us founded Papergang Theatre, a platform for British East Asian writers to develop and produce their work. We met two years ago on the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices writing group, where we bonded over a love for writing – and a desire to bring contemporary new voices from our community into the mainstream.

We believe all things must start from a good script. The more content we put out there, the more opportunities for performers, directors and everyone else who’s part of the theatre process to shine.

Earlier this year, we ran a scriptwriting workshop to develop new British East Asian writers, and we now have five plays in development. We presented excerpts from them yesterday at the Actors Centre, as part of the ongoing SEA Arts Fest

Change is in the air. So come and be a part of it.

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