By Eury Chang
Published in 16.1
Eury Chang interviews David Yee, a founding member of fu-Gen, a theatre organization aimed at promoting the works of Asian Canadian playwrights.
Last year, fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company (fu-GEN) hosted the first ever Asian Canadian Theatre Conference in May of 2010. As one of the Vancouver panelists, I participated in a week-long gathering full of discussions, papers, and debates which coincided with the 2010 Potluck Festival—a showcase of new work by Canadians of Asian descent. During this time, I also met with members of the fu-GEN team, who were undoubtedly some of the most gracious and hospitable people I’ve ever come across. A few days into the conference, during our lunch break, I met David Yee—one of fu-GEN’s founding members—for the very first time. Even on that sunny day, Yee was wearing a black overcoat, smoking cigarettes while emitting a rather ominous presence. He is probably what one may expect from a guy who integrates trademark satire, black comedy, and witty cultural commentary into his every play. Make no mistake; David Yee is not just a personality—he is the consummate actors’ playwright.
Almost a year later, I take the opportunity to reconnect with David Yee over the phone. He has taken over as the new Artistic Director of fu-GEN ever since his close colleague Nina Lee Aquino (former fu-GEN Artistic Director) went over to Cahoots Theatre to become Artistic Director. The two colleagues now sit at the helm of Toronto’s leading independent theatre companies and not surprisingly, the artists keep close ties with each other. In fact, while this article was being written, Cahoots just launched the premiere of Yee’s latest play, entitled paper SERIES. I ask him to characterize his dramatic writing and without hesitation the playwright obliges, “I think fluid is the word I’m looking for. I wish you could see paper SERIES—my latest play with six monologues strung together. Everyone has their time to shine, and everyone is used in everything else. The work doesn’t look like traditional theatre plays; rather, the work is a living and breathing organism that has ever-changing features.” Yee adds, “Our work is full of life and surprise and energy and when it hits that kinetic phase, it makes you sit up in your seat and say… What the fuck? That’s awesome!”
I chuckle and smile to myself because Yee’s seeming lack of self-censorship and raw nature is refreshing, and because I believe the trait belies a man of immense wit and curiosity. Take for example his “signature” project to date, a play called lady in the red dress. In 2006, Yee came to Vancouver for a week to participate in the inaugural colony at Playwrights Theatre Centre. With the help of Don Hannah, the play began to take shape. In the years to follow, he would receive additional guidance from other key collaborators. Yee admits, “After that, I worked with Guillermo Verdecchia as my dramaturg, who helped me clarify the play’s new direction. He has a deeper understanding of theatre and the world than I do so that was a lucky thing.”