CBC ARTS: https://www.cbc.ca/arts/how-this-evolving-performance-about-second-generation-chinese-canadians-is-changing-its-creators-1.5174841?cmp=FB_Post_Arts&fbclid=IwAR3seL-Ns5Fe5_1hcz1ai-T2uLoZ0CfFddm0IFZauzQPXcyOyDpt-OOw6m4
The Mother Tongue Project is a 60 minute interview-based multidisciplinary theatre piece performed in English and Mandarin. It is a duet of meditations on mortality, family, love and loss created by myself and creator/performer En Lai Mah.
Starting in 2016, En Lai Mah and I have been connecting with our parents, uncovering our family histories that have framed the cultural context of our hyphenated identities as Chinese-Canadians. The question: "What is your mother tongue?" a seemingly simple question, has brought about complex answers. Mother Tongue has come to mean more than just first-learned languages, it encompasses the anchors of cultural connection we have to our elders and beyond.
My connection to the Chinese language was through the Mandarin songs my grandmother taught me as a child. I was singing in Mandarin before I was speaking it. After my grandmother’s death, I felt the loss of forgetting those songs, and through my interviews with my Mother, I have begun to relearn them. Through this process, I’ve been creating a performance that brings to light the pervading cycles of silence that are inherited from mother to daughter. In layering song and projections of interview transcripts, voices begin to emerge that bear witness to displacement and intergenerational trauma.
En Lai is of mixed race and does not speak Mandarin. His father, who was born in China felt that it was more essential for him to learn Kung Fu than Mandarin. By learning about his father's lifelong dedication to Chinese martial arts, En Lai has immersed himself in a practice that has connected father to son for three generations. Through movement and text, En Lai transforms into his father Peter who speaks of his own adoption, instability during the Chinese civil war, and his eventual migration to Canada. En Lai uses martial arts as a form of moving meditation, reflecting on the vast differences between his father’s and his own life path.
Development for The Mother Tongue Project began in 2016 with Then They Fight, later supported by Cahoots Theatre with a workshop showing at the Lift Off Festival. With the support of the Ontario Arts Council Recommender Grants from Crow’s Theatre and fu-GEN Theatre, we invited Jivesh Parasram on board as Director/Dramaturge. The latest draft was presented as a staged reading at the Gateway Theatre in 2019, and in 2020 Rumble Theatre and Rice and Beans Theatre will be supporting a technical workshop.