What I found the other day in rehearsal, our first day running blocking, was that it was hard to be an immigrant. Aside from me and Wanda, the other girls in the immigrant chorus are all white. So even if they have immigrant backgrounds, I’m sure they’re almost all pretty far removed from the immigrant experience. And I found that it was awkward to tap into that kind of servile Asian immigrant physicality around these people, perhaps because it was so close to home.
At the same time, I wondered if that was really the kind of immigrant I should go for. I know that the fearful, hunched-over, wide-eyed, ragged immigrant translates well on stage. As soon as you see that, you know that the character is new to town from overseas. But what about something more true to life? I don’t think my mom scuttled along the streets with her arms huddled around herself, skirting the foreign people and afraid of everything. I think she was nervous because she hadn’t mastered the language, and probably had terrible dress sense. Knowing her, I think she walked with her head held high. She would have been determined, she probably had to walk or bike fast to get from school to work to home, to take care of me and catch up on all the lessons she didn’t actually understand even though she went to lecture. She would have asked directions if she really needed to, in broken English. She may have avoided black and Hispanic people because they had a bad rep (just being honest with this one).
I’ll have to think through this some more. On one hand, it is important not to be embarassed of being an immigrant, if that means sometimes squabbling with the other Asian woman, huddling close to her at other times for comfort, admiring the white girls’ dresses. On the other hand, maybe it would be good to redefine what an “immigrant” really looks like.
With all the “Linsanity” stuff going around right now, I’ve also thought about not just getting MORE representation of Asians in American theatre, but different ones. Maybe the stereotype, maybe not the stereotype. The goal isn’t to have ethnic-specific theatre. Is the goal awareness? Equal representation? Maybe it would be good to remember that while some questions/indignations are valid (“What does it mean for me, an Asian girl, to be part of this show?”), there IS such thing as overthinking. Asians are just breaking into theatre. Maybe that’s okay for now.