An all Asian cast brings to life TIANANMEN REQUIEM, a deeply moving tale of a young gay couple trying to survive the Tiananmen Square crackdown and how it affects their family – for decades.
This is truly a play that the Chinese government does not want you to see. TIANANMEN REQUIEM has had its share of obstacles already. Dennis Yueh Yeh Li has courageously taken-over the position of stage director after the original director left. The production company also chose to no longer be involved and even actors resigned refusing to cite reasons. Many simply quit without offering a reason. Even a university professor, a mentor to the playwright, refused to be involved – even as dramaturg.
Toney A. Brown & Marc Levine have taken over the role of producers with sponsors Wang Dan (Dialog China) and Rod Lathim joining the team. Dialog China is an organization founded by famed Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan, who was China’s “Most Wanted Man,” was imprisoned twice, and is spending his exile in America as an indefatigable human rights activist. In his endorsement of the play, he wrote on Twitter in Chinese “Seeing those who were not born during the Tiananmen Massacre dedicating themselves to preserving history, makes me incredibly thrilled. Looking at the younger generation, I no longer feel lonely.”
The author of the play, due to danger he and his family might encounter, has decided to stay anonymous.
“[This play] is my only way of dealing with the trauma,” he said.
March 10 – 27
115 MacDougal St, NYC.
We spoke with director Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li about this experience.
I find theatre extremely fascinating because it is a space that’s so personal and intimate, yet a space that you welcome the audience to be part of it,” says the Taiwanese artist who came here 10 years ago to persue a career in the theatre. “And because of this ephemeral connection with the audience, possibilities are unlimited. That’s why it excites me, and that’s what keeps me going.
We asked Dennis what insipred him to take on such a challenging piece.
I used to work with The Living Theatre, and now I am in a collective called Al Límite, which is founded by many of the former members of the Living Theatre, including myself. Throughout that time, Judith Malina has really taught me what it means to make theatre, and inspired me to find my own path, connecting my passion for theatre to the world we live in. Along that journey, I am definitely no stranger to political theatre. In fact, by doing political theatre, I learned to humble myself, and learned to be compassionate, because that’s what really brings people together. Doing theatre like this then allows me to dream, dream for a better future that eventually I can also benefit from. And to be able to dream is to face the history, especially the history that’s censored. Tiananmen Requiem tells just that—the aspiration to break free, politically and sexually. Being Taiwanese, I know how precious that is. After witnessing what happened to Hong Kong these last few years, it makes me feel more obligated to confront the tyranny. Only to tell these censored stories again and again can people finally get inspired. That’s why those students who sacrificed their lives during the Tiananmen Square Crackdown were there. Freedom is earned. And this is the way I do to help earn that freedom.
What obstacles do you foresee encountering?
That we might enjoy the moment of encouragement because we are doing this play, but the reality is there is a long way to go before what we are dreaming for comes to realize. We will get disappointed and helpless, and we might not overcome it. We might not even live long enough to see change.
Plays seems to be a faster go-to source for historical records. Do you think your play will be looked upon that way in 10/20/50/100 years?
Theatre is fictional. I don’t necessarily think this is a play only about the Tiananmen Square Protests. There’s something in it very timely and timeless. And it will certainly intrigue the curious crowds to dig deeper. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Do you think this should be a Broadway play or an off-Broadway play? Why?
Broadway or off Broadway, they are the same to me. This play goes beyond that. It should be done anywhere possible because that’s the meaning of this play.
What’s next for you and for the play?
Aside from being a director, I am also a playwright. I am writing stories of being an immigrant here in the United States. I want to shed light on how an immigrant navigate in between two cultures. As for the play, I certainly want that more people who have the capacity would want to put it on stage again.
Do you feel a stronger responsibility when working on such historic and pivotal work?
Definitely. That’s what I learned from Judith, and from The Living Theatre.
What’s your creative process like?
We had a discussion about the play, and about the Tiananmen Square Protests. As a director, it’s my job to bring the cast back to that moment to feel what it was like for those students. After that, we worked to create an autonomous world where this story takes place. From there, we begin to figure out and focus on the relationships among these characters and with the time and space.
What makes this different or special?
Many of the cast members are Asian Americans. They didn’t necessarily know what Tiananmen Square Protests is or the significance of it. So we spent quite sometime to relate that incident to the other incidents that are happening around the world, from Hong Kong to Myanmar, from Black Lives Matter to Anti-Asian Hate. It was particularly different and special for me, different because this is the first time that I work with a group that don’t share political knowledge with, and special because I feel more obligated and honored to share that knowledge to enlighten.
What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Take this play to Asia.