Gold Mountain – Writing
I have always been conscious of my cultural heritage, not just one but two.
Being the son of a Chinese seaman from Canton and a mother from the local area, it hasn’t always been easy to marry the two.
Over the thirty-seven years I’ve been an actor, I have become more and more frustrated that so little writing comes from the British Chinese Community.
I have appeared in countless dramas, films and documentaries about us but with someone else telling the wider world where, why and how we exist.
I wanted to know where our own voice was and of course the answer is, it is in each of our lives, in each of our family and personal stories. The old adage about writing still rings true, write about what you know.
In the mid 80’s I was approached by Will Sulkin from Faber & Faber to go out to lunch to discuss a book idea, ‘The Chinese in Britain’. It only took the first five minutes of the lunch to say, “You have got to be kidding, I’m an actor not an academic!” The rest of the lunch I spent talking about Liverpool where I was born, my upbringing and how it influenced my becoming an actor. Will apologised for his initial idea and then said, “write us anything about your life!”
So I spent three months recording conversations with my father, which wasn’t the easiest task because at that time he was going to bed at 4.0pm on the dot and getting up at 4.0am in the morning. He would be called eccentric in some circles but I think he was depressed and ill. The first twenty minutes or so of our well it wasn’t a conversation because he just talked at me, but he was coherent and would talk about the news, politics etc. Then a switch would go off in his head and he would start to tell me the story of his childhood. I recorded our conversations because Dad was very difficult to understand at the best of times but by transcribing his words I started to reveal a series of stories about his early life in China and his later journeys and life in Liverpool.
It was sad and shocking in places and I realised very quickly that I would not be able to write about any of it, certainly not while he was alive. So it remained hidden away for the next twenty years, like so many other peoples stories in the British Chinese Community.
Graeme and Sue from the Unity Theatre had asked me on various occasions to come up with and idea for us to work on together. I knew that I had to approach my father’s stories at some point, he was long dead and the time seemed right with Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 being a possible target to aim at. Although I have written and presented six documentaries and my first short film, I find it very difficult to sit and look at a blank piece of paper and start writing. I am much better working in partnership with someone else.
That’s why I started this project with writer Kevin Wong, we threw a few ideas together.
Using my Father’s transcripts as a starting point. We knew it had to be a play and either a one man piece or a two hander. But eventually I had reached the point of telling Graeme that I couldn’t see how it could work as a straight forward theatre piece. So forget it!
Then by chance Graeme went to Canada and met Les Deux Mondes in Montreal. They got talking and they liked the idea of us all working together.
In 2008 Kevin and I travelled out to Montreal to work with them on our outline script.
Or we thought we were going to work with them. In fact their theatre was closed for the Summer and they had stayed around just to say hello to us. When we produced our script they asked us what we wanted to achieve with it. We weren’t sure; they sent us a way for 24 hours while they read the script. The next day we went back with very low expectations and were blown away with what they gave us, they’d created a little set to fit over a laptop and treated us to a visual feast of images, music and concepts. Multi media theatre.
Opening the script up in so many different ways.
About six months later Les Deux Mondes came to Liverpool to work with us at the Unity for five days and we explored and experimented with the use of screens, images, film, soundscapes and music along with the written word, it was exhilarating.
It was in May 2010 when Eugene Salleh & I had the opportunity to go out to Montreal and spend two weeks of intensive rehearsals at Les Deux Mondes Centre. Then the script began to change and take shape, up till then the work was all about how the piece might look and sound but now we needed a script that was honed to the level we saw it being performed. Words are important but no more important than the other components of sound, vision and light, together they make a whole experience to be watched and thought about.
This was a new world for me but such an exciting and challenging one. To see a scene as not just a conversation of words but a partnership of all four components.
I was writing on my own now. Acting all day in rehearsals and noting any changes needed and going home afterwards and rewriting ready to have another go the next day.
The guys of LDM lead by example, they may have spent weeks working on some technical aspect of a scene and then we would work it and if it wasn’t right, it would be dumped and we’d move on to the next idea.
No tears, no ego, just what was right for the piece, we were all creating.
It’s been a great skill for me to learn and because we filmed everything in rehearsals and then reviewed it, I slowly learned this new language of multimedia theatre and how to work the different components most effectively.
Gold Mountain is not about my dad and me anymore, although we are in there somewhere but it is about larger themes of history and family. Understanding, not condemning out right but trying to see why events happen in the way they do and why people react the way they do and that there is always the possibility of redemption.
I have learned in the process of writing and developing the play, to deeply respect my father as my father.
Which as a Buddhist is very important to me and I regard it as a gift.
I have written a lot of the script of Gold Mountain but a lot of talented people from two different countries, speaking two different languages but having the same heart, mind, vision and belief in what we are doing have brought it to life.
© Copyright David Yip 20/09/2010