A hybrid of theatre, music, film and media arts, Be-Longing is a digital theatrical performance incorporating ancient and contemporary lyrics, devised performance,
movement and interdisciplinary media “about the nature of queer desire, exile,
mourning and migration in diaspora.”
Presented by the frank theatre company, in this Q&A with co-creator Fay Nass we find out more.
Be-Longing will stream on the frank theatre company website from December 16 through 20. Visit franktheatre.com for tickets and information.
This interview has been edited.
Tell us about Be-Longing. What can audiences expect?
The audience can expect to experience an innovative form of storytelling combining theatre, film and new media. They can expect beautiful music, singing, dance and heartfelt personal stories interwoven with ancient poetry, performed by an incredibly talented cast.
How did the three of you come together to create the piece?
In 2018 I curated and devised a project titled Diaspora in collaboration with community participants who belonged to queer immigrant communities in Vancouver. The project included stories by five participants.
I had planned to transform the stories from verbatim style into an ambitious theatrical production in 2020 and invited Sammy Chien to join me as a New Media designer for that final phase. I met Sammy when I was doing my MFA a decade ago, he was doing a BFA at the time, and later we hired him as a designer for Camera Obscura, which was when I really became a fan of his work.
When the pandemic happened, it felt that the possibility of creating live theatre, especially of the calibre that I imagined, was not possible. This was when I reached out to Meghna Haldar, one of the community participants from the previous phase, who is also a professional filmmaker. We invited her to join us to re-imagine the piece by merging theatre, film and new media. The three of us began weekly meetings and conversations in April 2020 and, from there, started the creation process.
Why this particular piece now?
This piece looks at the complexity of diaspora: a longing for the past, for home and for distant memories. It explores the universal desire to belong, to be present in a place that feels like home. This pandemic has given many people the feeling of being trapped, isolated and disconnected, but these feelings are not new for those of us who have migrated from our place of birth. Additionally, being away from our homelands during the pandemic has triggered many intense feelings around access: not being able to fly to the place where our loved ones live, questioning why we are here and not there. The uncertainty of it all. However, the piece is not only about distance and loneliness. It’s also a celebration of the resilience of queer immigrants. We have been through many challenging experiences; we have sacrificed so much to simply to be able to live authentically.
Was it always your intention to create the piece digitally, or is this a product of the pandemic?
I think both. We knew that we didn’t want just to record a live show and stream it. That was something that we decided in the first month. I wanted to take this time, the slowing down of activities brought on by the pandemic, as an opportunity to think outside the box, to build new possibilities and new collaborations, rather than acting out of a scarcity mindset. It felt like the right time to be innovative. So yes, we did create the piece with the intention of it being digital and interdisciplinary.
It is a combination of mediums, including theatre, music, film and media arts. How do these various elements come together to tell the story?
The piece combines the immediacy and rawness of theatre with cinema’s visual power and the magic of new media. They all dance together and the music is the bridge that connects everything: time, language, form and space.
I think the mediums we’ve chosen and the creative process reflect the content of diaspora. Theatre was the first part: in three weeks, we worked on character development, we played, we devised, we learned the songs and movement, creating a collective identity. This identity came with memories, attachments and emotions rooted in those three weeks. Then we got into film, and the shooting week was almost like immigration. Now the piece needed to adapt itself to new limits and new possibilities. We had to let go of some things, and we had to be open to taking risks. We had to trust and re-learn new blocking. After the shoot came the sense of being lost, not being fully in one form, whether it be theatre or film. In post-production, through the new media design, our new identity was born. It felt like that stage when one realizes that we are the sum of all of our experiences, and that is beautiful; that is what makes us whole.
What was your biggest challenge in bringing Be-Longing to fruition?
The biggest challenge was creating a massive project of this scale with a small theatre company’s resources like the frank. We only have two part-time staff and an intern supporting this project.
Secondly, there was a huge learning curve for everyone involved as the three mediums sometimes speak completely different languages, and we needed to learn and unlearn constantly. Doing this project at any given time is unprecedented in terms of innovation, risk and scale, but to do this within COVID restrictions was a hundred times more challenging. Especially in a theatre space, we had to social distance, and distance even further while singing. This meant approaching blocking and movement in creative ways. During the shoot, the space only had a capacity for twelve people, and so we had to bring a limited film crew, which added a whole other set of challenges.
What was the one thing that surprised you the most as the show came together?
That we pulled it off. We’ve created a beautiful, massive project during the pandemic.
Why should audiences tune in to watch Be-Longing?
I think this project is unique both in creation and execution. The amount of time, tears, sweat, and love poured into this piece is beyond anything I have ever worked on. I think the audience is in for an incredible ride and a magical experience.
What do you hope audiences think or talk about after watching Be-Longing?
With all my projects, I hope to create work that offers new perspectives that encourage empathy and empowers stories by marginalized voices. I hope the audience thinks about the songs, feels the music in their hearts, and recognizes the resilience of immigrants and all the talented folks in this city that made this project possible.