An-Ting Chang, CEO and Artistic Director of CAN and Kumiko Mendl, Artistic Director of Yellow Earth Theatre talk about working together for the first time and the process of commissioning and realising two digital commissions. The current co-commission Duck Rabbit is available to view now.
What were you looking for when choosing the commission to work on together?
AT: When calling out for CAN Digital Commissions, I was really looking for innovative ideas which could transform the presentation of theatre and design the form for our digital devices.
KM: We were looking for innovative but simple ideas that could be achieved with the commission and timescale we had, under the current conditions artists were experiencing. This meant the work was to be made for a digital sharing as opposed to a live one.
Why did Duck Rabbit fit the bill?
AT: I was intrigued from the first read! Two things attracted me the most: the exploration of Pamela’s Peranakan heritage and the other is that the work is hosted on our website where the audiences experience a play through film, seeing a series of real photos of Pamela’s grandmothers. Peranakan, described as ‘Chinese not Chinese’ is an Indonesian term. Pamela imagines a conversion between her British and Peranakan grandmothers and explores where her heritage is from through this conversation. I was excited by this idea and by an opportunity to introduce a very different ‘Chinese’ theme to our audiences. I didn’t know anything about the Peranakan before! This proposal completely fits our remit where we want to introduce works blending diverse perspectives/stories with Chinese themes in an innovative way.
KM: Duck Rabbit stood out for us for its simplicity; the viewer would select a photo of a woman from another era and time and move through a series of photos to reach another woman. The story would unravel in two different ways, two different directions depending which photo was selected first but the photos would be the same. The story appealed to me on a very personal level. I like Pamela am a BESEA artist of mixed heritage so the act of taking a collection of old photographs from a family album as a catalyst to explore the lives of her two grandmothers held great resonance and I believe many of us who are coming to terms with our identities, our complex relationships with our families, our histories and our place in the world will find a similar appeal.
What role do you think digital work plays in the current arts climate?
AT: We need to really recognise that digital work is very different from live performances and they cannot replace them. I am still a firm believer in the importance of live performances. However, digital art could be more accessible for people and you can possibly engage different types of audience more easily and in general, this is a very technological society but we’re not as advanced. This is an opportunity for artists to create works and to engage the audiences in a new way.
KM: Digital work is one of the main ways we can continue to reach our audiences. Those of us who work in theatre really struggle with this as we are having to use a different medium for our work to be seen and the whole point of theatre is it’s a live communal event. However digital presents opportunities to explore different ways to tell stories and can provide wider access to new audiences both of which we are trying to embrace here.
Have the two organisations collaborated before?
AT: No, we haven’t. At the beginning of the outbreak, we decided to launch CAN Digital Commissions as we felt the importance as an NPO to support the artists making works during the time when the theatres and concert halls were all closed. We also felt the importance to encourage solidarity in the British East and South East Asian sector, and therefore, we invited Yellow Earth Theatre and CFCCA to join as co-commission partners.
KM: This is the first time and that’s been one of silver linings to this whole situation, it has enabled us to collaborate in a way we would never have done before
What benefits are there to working on the commission together?
AT: It is good for the artists to have more resources and the support of different expertise across two organisations.
KM: It’s been very good to learn from each other and collaborate on an artistic and producer level. The companies are of very similar size and although we have very different remits there is plenty of overlap and we share similar values. It’s enabled us to reach new artists whom we have never worked with before and allowed us to offer a more substantial commission.
Do you have any future collaborations planned?
AT: Yes! We are very excited that we will launch another co-commission work by Tobi Poster-Su.
KM: We decided to create two commissions together so the next one will be Tobi Poster-Su’s Chang and Eng and Me (and Me). This will involve puppetry, a medium that I really find fascinating with its ability to explore often taboo or difficult subjects plus marrying puppetry and digital is going to be an interesting one!