Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈
Has this ever happened to you? There you are, in a family gathering, and suddenly someone reveals a story about a cousin that you've never heard of before, and suddenly the table gets real quiet?
Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈 is a dance performance about those kinds of amazing, conversation-stopping stories that were never intended to be public.
I lived in Chinatown for ten years before I was priced out of the neighborhood. For me, Chinatown was, is, and will always be a mystical place. Years ago, when renovating my apartment, I found an urn of ashes, possible bullet holes, and hand painted wallpaper hidden behind layers of sheetrock. Across from my apartment, an ancient older man kept watch on a hallway lined with envelopes, and he would never tell me how all of this mail came to be there.
These kinds of unspoken narratives led me to create this project. Even though I am Chinese, and speak both Cantonese and Mandarin, Chinatown residents don’t share private stories easily. To begin the work, I ran story-sharing workshops at several Chinatown Senior and Youth Centers, and also found other funny, outrageous, adventurous, and traumatic stories from talking to local residents, going through Chinatown archives, and eavesdropping on conversations in tea houses and local bakeries.
There is a Chinese proverb - Wǔ Wèi Zá Chén 五味杂陈 - that uses the five tastes of cooking (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty) to describe the complex emotions in life’s ups and downs. In Sit, Eat and Chew, this proverb connects to personal stories that have become the creative and emotional inspiration for dance theater performances in unusual local spots. Small groups are guided in their explorations of the works as they’re performed in five public and private locations throughout Chinatown.
What are the next steps What have you done already for this project, and what still needs to be done? Where are you in the process? When/where will it premiere?
The story telling workshops are completed, and I’ve started rehearsing with company dancers. I will also be incorporating local amateur dancers into the final project as we work towards its 2017 premiere: Oct 14 & 15, 21 & 22 (two weekends) at various locations in Chinatown including: a local hair salon, private apartment, public park, restaurant, and the Museum of Chinese in America.
Why is this important? What is the point of entry to this project for a global audience? What’s the most important or exciting thing for them to connect with?
Stories featuring local experiences of Chinatown residents and performances incorporating professional and locals offer insights into a mix of public and private sites. By bringing together Chinese residents and engaging with non-Chinese spectators, this project aims to dissolve stereotypes, create bridges, and celebrate Chinese culture and histories. A creative archive of stories, social practice, and performance, I was moved to create Sit, Eat and Chew to re-connect with and support the community that so beautifully embraced me when I first arrived in NYC.
Plus enjoy an “insider's” perspective into Chinatown from a guided introduction to performances in unique, local sites.
We need your help!
There are 32 local seniors from Chinatown who will be participating in the performances as local community dancers in the project.
These seniors shared many stories of their life experiences with me, and they are very, very serious about their dance practice. Most of them never had opportunities to perform when they were younger, due to work or other difficulties, and they bring powerful gusto to their dancing. It’s their way of celebrating life.
I do not have the budget to pay them. Your contribution offers them a stipend for their time and energy.
Your contribution will also help support lower cost tickets to local Chinatown residents, seniors, and students so they are fully incorporated into the project that is happening in their neighborhoods.
Several local businesses and residents opened their doors to allow us to use their space for these unconventional experiences. Your contribution will help us pay them something in acknowledgement of their welcoming of this project and audiences into their spaces.
Risks and challenges
Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈 is an unconventional performance that is not possible to replicate in a theater, and for this reason, I am self-producing the work to be able to realize its unique potential to transform the Chinatown we think we know. The site and stories are equally important in bringing the project to life, and I have already overcome the challenges of connecting the work to private and public sites in Chinatown plus the involvement of the local community. This took an amazing amount of legwork and time spent getting to know people and explaining the work. Trust developed over time, and residents began to share their stories with me. Now the locals I've met are opening up their own spaces as sites for these "pop-up" performances with local stories.
This is a special opportunity to connect with the "real" Chinatown though the eyes of the people who live there.
While a conventional performance space has large capacities for audiences. Sit, Eat and Chew 五味杂陈 aims to provide a more intimate experience for smaller groups of audience. To accommodate audiences, we will perform 12-16 times during the course of two weekends (3-4 performances each day) to be able to share the performances with the same amount of audience as in a regular theater setting. Having these additional performances also makes the production more costly. At the same time, we want to keep the price reasonable for general audiences, and also very affordable to local residents. Having locals there is also an important aspect to the work.
Even with all this research and advance planning accomplished, there are always extra costs that can pop up (transportation, emergency purchases, etc). We know we have a good network of people interested in helping to support this unique project in Chinatown. We hope you will join us and help back this project to make it as successful as possible.
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