THE POTLUCK FESTIVAL: a development festival of Asian-Canadian playsM Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst) and Nella Cucina (876 Bathurst). Opens Friday (June 20) and runs to June 29. Pwyc (sugg $15) except A Taste Of Empire, $25 (includes food sampling). 416-920-2828. Rating: NNNNN
After five years, the PotluckFestival is more than a smorgasbord of plays. It’s an artistic banquet.
Dedicated to developing work by Asian-Canadian playwrights, it’s presented by fu-GEN Theatre, headed by Nina Lee Aquino. Wanting to make the fifth year a special one, Aquino has expanded what’s been a single evening into a seven-day festival.
Typically, she also fosters scripts after the festival.“Potluck’s never ‘Okay, you’ve had your 15 minutes in the spotlight – that’s it.’
“It’s always important for us to take plays beyond Potluck. Writers like Norman Yeung, David Yee and In-Surp Choi began their works here and took them on to fuller productions.”Three Potluck shows will be part of future fu-GEN seasons, including Yee’s lady in the red dress, which deals with the Chinese-Canadian redress lawsuit, and Choi’s comic look at a Korean family, Kim’s Convenience.
Another, Terry Watada’s Tale Of A Mask, which began life as a one-act play about Japanese immigration and madness, has blossomed into a two-act work.
“A fourth Potluck show, Norman Yeung’s Pu-Erh, has played with its companion piece, Jasmine, in Summer Works and will be produced at some point down the road,” says Aquino.
But it’s not just script polishing that’s important to the artistic director; she also wants to nurture new Asian-Canadian writing and acting talents.
“I think the festival is about writers rather than scripts. Potluck gives playwrights a chance to dive into their work with the aid of strong dramaturgy.”
Other plays include Montreal writer Marie-Leofeli R. Barlizo’s Stroke, a sci-fi drama in which a neurosurgeon tries to program his own brain to forget a harsh past. In Byron Abalos’s Brown Balls, three Asian men masquerading as Bruce Lee, Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu justify and redefine their maleness.“Byron is part of a generation of writers who aren’t apologetic about sexuality. The piece explores Asian-Canadian male desires and stereotypes and asks questions like ‘Why don’t we get the white women?’”
There’s a culinary change of pace in the site-specific A Taste Of Empire, presented by Cahoots Theatre Projects. In the kitchen of Nella Cucina, writer/actor Jovanni Sy prepares a Filipino fish dish, Rellenong Bangus, for the audience.
“He guts the fish, cooks its insides delicately with other ingredients, then sews the insides back into the fish. At the same time, he relates anecdotes about the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The kitchen work is a metaphor for the colonization process, with the native fish given a new flavour by what’s added to it.”
But the cherry on top of the Potluck is the Kitchen Showcase, featuring excerpts from scripts by Karl Ang, Wayne Sujo, Diana Tso, Titus Leung, Jeff Yung and Yaya Yao. Their subjects range from the Nanking massacre by the Japanese and southern Ontario Asian cowboys to a tongue that detaches itself from its owner when she hides the fact that she can speak Cantonese.
“This Kitchen Showcase features sophisticated writers who know they want to be playwrights,” smiles Aquino. “None of them is afraid to write from an honest place, and we’re here to encourage their voices.”