An-Ting is a concert pianist, theatre director and Artistic Director of Chinese Arts Now (CAN) which is a new NPO producing contemporary Chinese performing arts in the UK.
Tell us about CAN Festival 2020?
CAN Festival 2020 features the best contemporary Chinese performing arts from theatre, music, dance, digital and performing arts. We share stories about British Chinese life which are not yet told in this country (Overheard, Invisible Harmony) and present a diverse range of Chinese artists, including circus (Lighthouse, Long Shot) and live art (Queering Now). Performances take place not just at traditional theatre and concert venues, but also at site specific spaces, such as a Chinese restaurant (Wun’s Tea Room) and the streets of London. Audiences can expect to encounter a culture shock in our festival as we show perspectives not often seen in the UK but these are stories that everyone can relate to with moments of struggle, joy and wonder.
You’ve directed an ‘augmented reality tour of Chinatown’, how does that work?
Augmented Chinatown 2.0 integrates AR, music, guided tour and drama. After downloading the app, users will be instructed about where to go in Chinatown. They will discover different layers of Chinatown through the guided tour and drama in the app. The tour will give users a solid idea about what happened in the area in the past and what happens today. For the drama element, augmented reality (AR) serves as a stage set which creates an illusional world in Chinatown. AR accompanying the original music and audio drama will together lead the users into a Chinatown of fantasies and stories.
How do you direct an augmented reality production, is it more like directing film or theatre?
The production is really a new form where we need to explore a new making process. The app developer/AR artist, Donald Shek and I work on a software engine called Unity and see what the platform can take for the audio and visual content and what kind of ‘theatre’ can work there. The writer, Joel Tan, Donald and I then devised the structure of the app together. Donald is doing all the coding and AR design for the app. The way to create the audio content is close to an audio drama where I rehearse and record with the actors in a recording studio. The music is a special part where we design the music specifically to integrate with the nature of augmented reality. Once we put everything together, we then have to transfer the app to the phone in order to know the way to edit the production. The complete form exists only on the phone which is the tricky but fascinating part of this production.
CAN are also producing Overheard which takes place in a Chinese restaurant, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Overheard is an immersed play taking place in restaurants/bars where the audience eavesdrops on the conversations between the actors while enjoying their drinks and food. We produce this special format of theatre as we would like to bring more non-theatre audiences to the ‘theatre’. The writer Joel Tan originally comes from Singapore but now lives in the UK. Usually in the UK we are shown only one type of Chinese character in TV and film. For Overheard, Joel uses characters from the Chinese diaspora (Hong Kong, Singapore, Mainland China, Australia, UK etc) and the themes of art and politics as context to show audiences how different Chinese people (of different ages, different roles, different social backgrounds) can have very different views and characters.
What in the festival do you think will surprise audiences the most?
There are quite a few! Augmented Chinatown 2.0 is the first sited theatre production in an AR app. Queering Now brings together Chinese queer artists, including performance artists, drag queen, drag king and a DJ. Invisible Harmony challenges the way British people see politics in the Chinese diaspora and will also come with a panel discussion about the current political situation in East Asia and the UK. Jo Fong’s Ways of Being Together unites 20 East Asian and 20 non-East Asian dancers on the same stage in a brilliant closing celebration for the festival.
What else are you looking forward to in the festival?
With our first festival last year, many British Chinese audiences expressed surprise at seeing a festival telling their story and exploring their identity. I am very much looking forward to seeing more audiences involved with CAN Festival 2020 and listening to their thoughts about our unusual theme in this country.
CAN Festival 2020 takes place from 3 – 23 February chineseartsnow.org.uk