Skip to content

Following the Arts Councils cuts, the fight to represent British Chinese communities has just got harder.

April 6, 2011

Yellow Earth's production of "King Lear" (2006) by Shakespeare, adapted and directed by David K.S. Tse

Whilst a great many “good causes” have been lost in the recent round of Arts Council cuts, there has been a double blow to British Chinese culture. Though from the post-cuts discussions, you’d be forgiven for not noticing.

Yellow Earth, established in 1995, is the most visible theatre company for showcasing British East Asian theatre, and is an important source for new generations of British East Asian actors. It has just received a 100% cut in Arts Council funding, placing its future in jeopardy. The Asian Music Circuit, a promoter of Asian music in the UK since 1989, has also received a 100% cut. Although much of the latter’s work is South Asian focussed, it remains a significant means of enabling British Chinese musicians to perform, and more importantly, to educate.

The Arts Council would no doubt argue that it has a justifiable rationale in cutting financial support to these companies, but it is a testament to the relative invisibility of British Chinese communities that the likely impact of these cuts in terms of ethnic representation in the arts has barely been registered. Had flagship Black British companies been cut, wouldn’t this have been pointed out already?

Of course, there were always going to be winners and losers, and no doubt many other worthy causes have similarly suffered. But it has been a hard-won battle to get the British Chinese any kind of decent cultural visibility, and Yellow Earth and Asian Music Circuit have played an important part in this fight. One only has to look beyond the work of these companies to see what they are up against.

In contemporary mainstream media, the British Chinese are virtually absent.  In soaps like Eastenders, where at least some kind of attempt is made to reflect the cultural diversity of Britain, an obvious absence is a British Chinese family. Where are they? The programme makers clearly think that the Chinese influence does not extend beyond the borders of Chinatown, placed as it is in that oft-mentioned but rarely seen district known, quite camply, as “up West”.

But just as you wonder what British Chinese actors have to do to get on television, along comes BBC’s Sherlock with a horde of Chinese gangsters whose command of English is, to the say the least, basic. Sherlock may have updated some of the Victorian themes from the time of Conan Doyle, but the producers obviously felt comfortable with portraying ‘Chinese’ characters in a way that Dickens would probably have found clichéd.

Xin from Coronation Street

The appearance of student Xin in Coronation Street at least demonstrates that Chinese characters are exclusive neither to violent crime nor to London, and she can even speak English like everyone else. Well, maybe not like everyone else in Corrie – her accent is rooted to the South, even if she isn’t. But if her accent marks her as an “outsider”, this is reinforced by the mispronunciation of her name, which, oddly, she never deigns to correct. Xin is pronounced as “shin” in Mandarin, “sam” in Cantonese, though the locals comically mispronounce her name as “Sheen”, making her sound like a well-known brand of furniture polish.

The dramatic interest centres on the fact that Xin is not ‘British’, and as her student visa expires she has no alternative but to collude with the gormless Graeme to marry her way to a British passport. Yet more criminal activity.  Though quite why she wants to stay in the UK is an enigma. With China still experiencing 8% growth, I doubt it is because she might not get a job; the best job she has managed on Corrie is in – yes, you guessed it – a Chinese restaurant.

Perhaps Corrie is making a veiled statement about the Human Rights situation in China? For the inhabitants of Coronation Street at least, the East is some deplorable, undemocratic, uninhabitable place; somewhere beyond the viaduct – itself the scene of recent carnage – and Xin must be saved from this certain, though unspecified, doom. But with the inevitable arm of soap-land law waiting around the corner, it is only a matter of time before the marriage is revealed as a sham and she is sent packing. It’s sad but true: characters with R.P. accents can rarely cut it on the cobbles.

British East Asian actors have complained that they feel like they are living in the Britain of the 1950s, and from contemporary mainstream media, it is not difficult to see why. The ‘British Chinese’ are invisible, stereotyped or transient.

This makes the work of Yellow Earth and the Asian Music Circuit all the more important in asserting an on-going British Chinese presence, and they have done so for decades. But in acknowledging the part these companies have played in trying to counter reductive stereotypes, they also have their weaknesses. Yellow Earth has come up with some great work, but its track record is by no means consistent. Similarly, Asian Music Circuit may promote performers who play ‘traditional’ instruments, but is this at the expense of supporting British Chinese musicians whose preference is to explore alternative musical styles? After all, for some British Chinese artists, their ethnic heritage is an irrelevance. These companies can’t please everyone. This is especially the case when they are creating both the work and the political platform for its representation – and without the support of major institutions, like the BBC, who could and should be doing more.

So, with their funding cut, what is the future? It’s certainly not the end of the battle. Should Yellow Earth and Asian Music Circuit be forced to close, Chinatown Arts Space, based in London, will remain an important force in commissioning British Chinese performance, and the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester will continue to support the work of Chinese artists, including those from British Chinese communities. Yet, opportunities for visibility will be scarcer, and the battle for fairer representation harder to fight. Either there needs to be a concerted effort to save these institutions, or a reconsideration of how British Chinese communities seek to express themselves through the performing arts. One thing is for sure: the mainstream media won’t do it for them, and as it stands, the Arts Council isn’t helping.

About these ads
34 Comments
  1. April 6, 2011 4:14 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article, some of which has already been said in various other places.

    This possibly demonstrates one of the UK Chinese community’s problems. We never join up the dots and support or link up, so we can’t complain when we are peed on from a great height by those who know they’ll meet no challenge.

    FYI, there’s a selection of articles on relevant topics at mine for anyone who’d like to read further on the above issues.

    Morrissey and Chinese as subspecies:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2010/09/morrissey-brands-chinese-people-sub.html

    Racism for fun: Fu Manchu in Edinburgh:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2010/08/racism-for-fun-fu-manchu-producer.html

    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2010/08/bbc-jumps-racist-shark-fu-manchu-in.html

    Sherlock and wily orientals:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2010/08/sherlock-and-wily-orientals-bbc-stuck.html

    Turandot:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2009/10/chinese-serial-killer-tamed-turandot.html

    Yellowface back from the grave:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2009/05/yellowface-back-from-grave-state-of-uk.html

    Anna May Wong: a celestial star in Piccadilly:
    http://madammiaow.blogspot.com/2009/01/anna-may-wong-celestial-star-in.html

  2. billy austin permalink
    April 7, 2011 5:15 am

    I saw today that ACE has cut Yellow Earth’s funding completely. I cannot say I am surprised by this. It was painfully obvious to me (but not the Yellow Earth board it seems) that ACE was cutting the company adrift when there was no ACE representative at the company’s recent round of interviews for the vacant artistic director’s position where I was an unsurprisingly (given the company’s track record of appointing from within and my own outspokenness) unsuccessful applicant. Indeed I deliberately didn’t complain about the farcical fait accompli nature of the recruitment process as I was reluctant to present myself as a ready made blame figure when the axe inevitably fell. I also felt, though I felt then and feel now that the circumstances behind her appointment were (through no fault of her own) extremely dubious, that Kumiko Mendl, as a decent and intelligent person, deserved a chance as artistic director. In the extremely unlikely occurrence of myself being offered the job I would have liked a clear opportunity to run the company without carping from the sidelines so I wished to afford her that courtesy.

    So the UK now has no funded theatre company that represents the interests of East Asian people who are very much the “forgotten ethnic minority” as far as the media are concerned in this country. We are ignored, patronised and marginalised beyond belief whilst the entertainment industry at large smugly congratulates itself on the amount of black and brown faces on stage and television nowadays. The fact we have lost the only remaining publicly subsidised theatre company creating work by and for people of East Asian descent is indeed a cause for protest.

    Yellow Earth, unfortunately though, is a difficult cause to fight. Founded by five friends and passed around between people who met its original artistic director’s approval, the company has, more or less since its inception, operated in a strange and insular bubble of its own making. Their work has attracted little genuine widespread interest and it’s difficult to make a case that it was having any kind of creative dialogue with its audience or indeed who its audience were, beyond people who enjoy an evening of “minority interest” theatre. The company maintains on its website that “Yellow Earth’s current production of Why the Lion Danced was a sell out national tour playing to delighted audiences ranging in age from 4 years to 84 years”. This would be fine were they funded to be a children’s theatre company but they weren’t. The fact they frequently returned, at key points throughout their history, to dressing up in exotic costumes to tour children’s plays is only further evidence of their rather desperate and dated approach to what it means to be East Asian in Britain today. The website also trumpets the fact that the company’s work has “ranged from a bilingual version of King Lear for the RSC’s Complete Works Festival which toured China and the UK to Running the Silk Road by Paul Sirett, which played at the Barbican in London and toured nationally with a mixed cast of British actors and actors from The Beijing Opera School”. It seems to me that both of these were examples of a director attempting to bathe in the reflected glory of mainland Chinese talent as opposed to any serious attempt to make theatre that furthered our cause as a sector. I should know. I was in one of those productions. The company’s focus (in both of these productions and throughout their history as a whole) on traditional eastern “movement skills” was also curious in that it surely panders to, rather than contradicts, stereotypical preconceptions of the kind of work East Asian people can do. Their outreach programme is advertised in a fashion more befitting of a gay contact ad than a bold calling for serious, aspiring and ambitious young actors.

    Whilst it pains me to be so critical I’m afraid that, all too often, Yellow Earth were part of the problem rather than the solution.

    My point is this. Responsibility for Yellow Earth’s failure and eventual demise must surely rest squarely at the Arts Council’s doorstep. Yes, Yellow Earth have been insular and amateurish. Yes, the Yellow Earth board have displayed shocking arrogance, defensiveness and outright incompetence . But the Arts Council chose to fund them whilst at the same time severing Mu-lan’s funding, a company who at that point had just played two sell out seasons at the King’s Head and Battersea Arts Centre before transferring off Broadway and whose repertoire had consisted of hard hitting, controversial subject matter that featured a young gay Chinese man adrift in a landscape of racial isolation driven to murder, Japanese war survivors struggling to make sense of their past, a Chinese take away family in Essex attempting to maintain their unity in the face of outside change and an abrasive and emotionally volatile city trader striving to navigate an intense love affair with a recovering alcoholic artist. Nary a dragon god or fortune cookie proverb in sight. I believe this happened because the Arts Council were far happier funding a non challenging organisation who would tour twee exotica to obscure venues.

    It is my contention that Yellow Earth were fundamentally mismanaged from the start. The Arts Council took no responsibility for this and seemed to make no attempt whatsoever to steer the company onto the right lines. And now we have no theatre company and as performers and writers will have to live off the scraps the mainstream, mainly Caucasian, establishment will toss us when and if they see fit. An appalling state of affairs. East Asian people are effectively being told that a career in the theatre is not for them.

    Who, at the Arts Council, will take responsibility for this?

    What steps will the Arts Council take to remedy this dire situation?

    Surely the time has come for a fundamental shift in ACE’s attitude towards the East Asian community.

    Daniel York.
    Elected Member, Equity Minority Ethnic Members Committee.
    Actor, Writer, Director.
    * This piece has been sent to the Arts Council.

    • Kelly Lee permalink
      April 28, 2011 2:23 pm

      How do you stand up with a chip that big on your shoulder…?

      • billy austin permalink
        May 11, 2011 5:16 am

        Daniel York writes-

        I only just saw this one!

        What an incisive and enlightening contribution.

        Whatever else anyone can say about me, the fact is I’ve made points. The best those who disagree with me seem to have been able to manage is slurs, “anonymous” letters and snipey comments.

        As Madam Miaow says at the bottom of the page, why don’t some of you grow a spine and have a proper discussion?

  3. April 7, 2011 9:58 am

    It’s appalling that the only UK Chinese theatre company has had its funding cut but Billy Austin has a point.

  4. Ashley Thorpe permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:35 am

    Yes indeed. I know that there has long-existed some disquiet about the effectiveness of Yellow Earth from some quarters. This frustration is particularly understandable given the role the Arts Council played in the ending of Mu-lan. Yellow Earth’s monopoly has created problems in all kinds of ways, not least because they became the “flagship” company, which is rarely helpful in balancing pressures from different directions.

    I think I was alluding to this dilemma when I wrote “either there needs to be a concerted effort to save these institutions, or a reconsideration of how British Chinese communities seek to express themselves through the performing arts”. It seems to me that a stance needs to be taken: either there is a vote of confidence in Yellow Earth and an attempt to try and save it, or an alternative strategy is developed in the hope that a company (companies?) might take its place in the future.

    I’m not sure I agree that Yellow Earth were only “minority theatre”, though it is true that they never quite transferred into the mainstream consciousness of theatre audiences. There was a time when they looked poised to. Though, as I think Billy suggests, it is not as simple as pointing the finger at one person. Everyone has some explaining to do. Could Yellow Earth not have done more to see this coming? They know the responsibilities they have. But what quality assurance procedures did the Arts Council put in place to monitor the successes of the company, and ensure that they could continue to do important work? There is the possibility of smoke and mirrors on both sides here when there is so much at stake, but I am, like Billy, inclined to look to the Arts Council for explanations. They knew that this cut would be controversial.

    Indeed, before the cuts were announced, I asked a member of the Arts Council to attend a conference taking place at Reading in September entitled ‘Contesting British Chinese Culture: Forms, Histories, Identities’. So far, I have not received a response from them… I will try again.

    Let me be clear, I absolutely deplore the actions of the Arts Council in terms of the effects of the cuts on East Asian representation in the arts. It would, of course, be better to have Yellow Earth alongside other companies, and it may now transpire that there aren’t any at all. So this is the question: what’s needed? Is Yellow Earth fit for purpose and should the threat it faces be fought against? Or is it time to reconsider what the options are and start afresh?

  5. billy austin permalink
    April 8, 2011 3:42 am

    Ashley makes some excellent points above. Yellow Earth’s monopoly was detrimental to British East Asian actors and writers and, ultimately, to the company itself as they became more and more the Caucasian establishment’s subsidised “gang masters” in terms of it always seeming that the rest of the industry were sitting back saying “well, Yellow Earth have the yellow box ticked”. It frustrated me to high heaven that, despite previously having had a 15 year career working at places like the RSC, National Theatre, playing classical leads around the country and appearing in various feature films that, after doing some rehearsed readings with the company, I was referred to as a “one of the Yellow Earth actors”. Like we were some strange little cult of “yellow people”! And, of course, being a lots of little “yellow people” we all, of course, had the same tastes and aspirations. The power vacuum in which Yellow Earth operated resulted in a truly shocking lack of humility where they literally couldn’t see the woods from the trees. I don’t want to go into detail here (there’s nothing confidential, it would just involve an awful lot of typing!) but I found them incredibly difficult to deal with on a number of levels, particularly after the previous General Manager, Pete Staves (a genuinely nice guy), left.

    When I say “minority interest” I suppose what I’m referring to is the fact that the plays they produced never seemed to be ABOUT anything much and seemed to me more often to be an exercise in “movement disciplines” and “cultural interest” than anything else. There always seemed to be an awful lot of focus on Eastern “tradition”, Eastern “movement”. But, why, in all honesty, should a British East Asian actor or writer have any special knowledge or interest in these things? Would not their experiences of being East Asian in Britain today and their TALENT qualify them as valid artistes? Something that has long vexed me about the industry is how differently we, as East Asians, are treated. NO ONE has EVER asked Benedict Cumberbatch if he can do kung fu.

    Yellow Earth have my sympathy to an extent. The winds of change blew harshly and coldly on them and they simply weren’t prepared. One minute they were operating in the “New Labour” funding environment with its emphasis on quotas and box ticking, the next the Arts Council are vowing to fund “the bravest, most original, most innovative” work, qualities only the most ardent optimist would associate with a company whose last two productions were a mismatched double bill and a children’s play with the word “Dragon” in the title.

    Yellow Earth will find this difficult to believe but I would dearly love to be able to support them and I do have a lot of time for Kumiko Mendl but I simply cannot offer a vote of confidence to an organisation that has presided over an entire generation of East Asian practitioners like one of the legendarily weak and despotic emperors Chinese history is so riddled with, furthering the causes of those who feather their own egos whilst casually obstructing those who challenge them in any way. The recent sequence of events where two artistic directors departed suddenly with no adequate explanation and the board dallied about finding a replacement till it really was too late in the day before appointing from within in what was obviously an engineered fait accompli was nothing short of a fiasco.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the Arts Council have expressed no interest in attending the conference. I will definitely be mentioning that in my correspondence with them. It doesn’t surprise me because they are absolutely used to ignoring and side lining East Asians. As Madam Miaow says, we have to band together and complain loudly.

  6. mao wang permalink
    April 8, 2011 12:26 pm

    Billy Austin makes some extremely good points which until now may not have been as openly endorsed by other East Asian artists for fear of being excluded by the one and only Yellow Earth Theatre company. I, for one, agree with all of Billy’s criticisms of Yellow Earth and would emphasise the charge that they were part of the problem, not the solution, by noting that the company’s output undermined East Asians and reinforced stereotypes, rather than the opposit, which they claimed. Also I would state that the quality of the work undermined the sector as a whole. “Is this the best they have”? is what people would be subconsciously thinking. No, actually. We have a lot better. They are just not here, tonight! But the company systematically avoided working with the very people from the sector who had differing ideas to them, who could have improved the quality and diversity of their output. It is always going to happen, of course, but the Arts Council should have recognised this as Billy says, and not have given Yellow Earth so much power with no competition.

    Rather than have a vote of confidence in Yellow Earth from the sector as suggested by Ashley, I believe this should be the very last thing that should happen. I think it is the best thing for the sector that we have a clean slate to start again and we should not rally round a company that has for too long excluded those of us who have a different idea to their one-dimensional paradigm of “East Asian”.

    Having a monopoly on representation was never going to be a good idea, especially when the staff and Artistic Directors (with the exception of Kumiko Mendl, for whom I have a lot of respect and am sorry that her appointment came too late) were so prescriptive and one dimensional in their vision – and the Arts Council of England have to be held responsible for this. With no one to compare them with, it was going to be difficult to charge them with the worst possible charge, (true though it is) that their output was not good enough, not representative of the sector it was supposed to represent and, a waste of money. Yellow Earth has run its course and should have been cut off years ago. It is convenient for them that they now argue that it was down to the austerity budget and point to other companies who have been similarly hit. Basking in the reflected glory of other companies is a running theme of their exhortations as Billy has mentioned above. We should rejoice publicly that we can start again, this time maybe with two companies, which can compete healthily and better represent us all. In fact I hope this is the policy of the ACE for the future. Then at least if one company doesn’t like you, there will be an other who might. One size, in this case, definitely doesn’t fit all. I was on the outside of the Yellow Earth radar and therefore found I was not represented at all, but I am optimistic now I will be, and my controversial idea (not embraced by Yellow Earth!) that not all Chinese are the same can be indulged.

    Yellow Earth should NOT be resurrected. It is over and about time too. A new era is about to start, in which perhaps the true voice of the British-East Asian actor / artist will flourish, and I predict it will bear little if NO resemblance to the output generated by Yellow Earth these past years.

    • April 11, 2011 4:27 pm

      Just to add that TRUE HEART THEATRE will be performing at the NEW DIORAMA THEATRE from 10-28 May.

      73A

      An award-winning play by Hong Kong playwright Yat Yau.
      This 45 mins show will be produced in two Language Versions.

      Lucy Sheen & Lap Kung Chan as Mother and Son in the English version.
      Veronica Needa & Ka Man Ip in the Cantonese version.

      We seek to make a poignant universal story about trans-generational communication available to all sectors of the UK population.

      First and second generation Cantonese-speaking UK Chinese as well as their British-born English-speaking children, are particularly welcome.

      More info from

      http://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on-at-new-diorama.aspx?id=63

      and visit our website

      http://www.trueheart.org.uk/blog/whats-on/

      We are beavering away at making a difference from grassroots upwards.
      Come and SUPPORT US by turning up and bringing friends.

      Veronica Needa
      Co-Artistic Director
      True Heart Theatre

  7. Stephen Ng permalink
    April 11, 2011 2:44 pm

    There should be Chinese representatives in the Arts Council Board and Committees, and more liberal Chinese Advisors and Consultants within the hierarchy, though this does not necessarily mean more fundings ringfenced for the East Asian community in UK.

  8. David Tse permalink
    April 16, 2011 2:28 pm

    It’s unsurprising to read some of the frustrated venting expressed here, which I understand and sympathise with. As Anna (Madam Miaow) says, “We never join up the dots and support or link up.” Infighting and backstabbing only gets in the way of dealing with the bigger picture.

    There was a time when Mulan and YET existed. I supported this diversity of East Asian companies / voices. While some were unnecessarily undermining, I advocated for the bigger picture. ACE operates independently, and for whatever criteria, they stopped funding Mulan, a terrible loss to the East Asian sector. This placed a terrible burden on YET, and made it an easy target for some artists’ frustrations. It is ridiculous to expect one British East Asian (BEA) company to represent the entire sector, and the company never set out to do so. There is a whole plethora of Caucasian work out there: physical theatre, new writing, adaptations of classics, site-specific, interactive work. Do those AD’s have to answer to the personal demands of every Caucasian artist? A reality check is sorely needed.

    During my tenure at YET, many attempts were made to diversify and support artists, eg. Yellow Ink (new writers), Yellow Stages (new directors), and Typhoon playreading festivals (resulting in new Japanese company Ichiza forming / producing a Typhoon discovery, The Face of Jizo). Yellow Academy is a recent initiative to encourage aspiring BEA actors. New companies were supported and encouraged to stage their first production after this initial investment by YET, eg. Yellow Gentlemen by Ben Yeoh, directed by Bronwyn Lim; Pilgrimage of the Heart by Simon Wu, directed by Shan Ng.

    The Arts Council was lobbied for more funding to help diversify the sector. This led to the EAST training scheme run by the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, which benefitted a whole range of different artists working in different artforms (including theatre) across the sector. During my tenure, YET was voted Time Out Critic’s Choice, won Sainsbury’s Checkout Theatre and the Pearl Arts Awards, played at Soho Theatre, Polka Theatre, the RSC, the Barbican, HK Arts Festival, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, and almost every major regional rep and small scale touring venue. Productions regularly attracted excellent reviews from quality broadsheets, as well as the occasional harsh one. Audiences varied from excellent – in well-managed venues – to mediocre in poorly managed ones. Internally, strategic decisions were made for YET’s development that were difficult and painful for all concerned.

    Plays dealt with different themes / East Asian stories, but the consistent thread running through all of them, whether work for adults or children, were the roots of violence and the abuse of power. “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” Work often explored the complex bicultural dialogue between our contemporary British experience and the East Asian heritage from our parents. This varies enormously for those who identify as BEA, especially between bilingual and monolingual artists, and may help to explain some of the comments above.

    I stepped down at the end of 2008, and it’s unfortunate that YET has stumbled in this latest funding round, as Kumiko had very exciting plans for the company. We should unite to ensure that 16 years of experience, infrastructure, audience / artists databases, BEA training initiatives, BEA opportunities for young people / emerging artists, does not disappear overnight. As Daniel (Billy Austin) rightly says, “The fact we have lost the only remaining publicly subsidised theatre company creating work by and for people of East Asian descent is indeed a cause for protest.”

    The current funding climate might encourage some to get their knives out and attack this vulnerable teenage company. I appeal to your better natures, and suggest we not only rally and support YET as it reinvigorates itself, but also demand that more funding should support a healthy, diverse BEA sector, which has been historically underfunded by the Arts Council. Focus on the bigger picture, and together, we might achieve greater opportunities for both new companies as well as existing ones. Cat-fight, and we’ll collectively go under.

    David Ka-Shing Tse
    Freelance actor, writer, director, filmmaker
    Founder AD of YellowEarth.org (1995 – 2008)
    Founder (p/t) Creative Director, ChinatownArtsSpace.com (2006 – present)

    • Jenny Ng Matthews permalink
      April 17, 2011 9:57 pm

      David keep up the good work, I fear this article seems to has dug up a few old wounds and people are taking this opportunity to vent, criticise and self promote. If they spent more time concentrating on their own talants rather then wasting all their time putting down the acheiments of others they might have received the attenion and funding that they feel they deserve. Talk is cheap let’s all work together to get more east Asian faces I. To mainstream media and let’s quit the bitching.

      • billy austin permalink
        April 18, 2011 11:07 am

        Jenny, I fear your arguments are as weak as your spelling and punctuation. What “self promotion” have you seen here? FYI I acted in around five plays that Mu-lan produced. I acted in one of Yellow Earth’s. David asked me to act in three others-The Butcher’s Skin, 58 and one of the Nightingale tours. I was unable to say yes to to two of them because of prior commitments and the other I declined to appear in because I felt the role and the play just weren’t sufficiently strong enough, a view very much in line with the general critical reaction to the play. I also appeared in a whole host of play readings for the company. I think I’m qualified to give a comparative professional assessment of the two companies without you labeling it as “bitching”.

        If you want to support David (and that is very much your right) why don’t you say something in support of him and argue your point instead of beating anyone who dares raise their voice in dissent with crude and inaccurate sticks?

      • April 18, 2011 5:36 pm

        This is valid criticism, Jenny. It’s what’s know as ‘debate’ and should have been had ages ago.

      • Jenny Ng Matthews permalink
        May 3, 2011 12:12 am

        Billy, sorry about my ‘weak spelling and punctuation’ tapping away on my i phone late and night and in the dark is never a good idea and I’m not really here to ‘argue’ either.

        So you want me to spell out why I support David….well he gave me an oportunity to showcase my talent and introduced me to a wealth of other wonderful East Asian talents. My family have also enjoyed many of Yellow Earth’s productions and I’ve been able to introduce the Chinese culture to my son and his young non Asian friends.

        There is no need to write a long list of David’s achievements to validate my support, as you have so enthusiasticly about yours (and you say there is no ‘self promotion’ in this thread) I am sure Billy others reading know exactly who you are but I don’t, would you care to post messages in your real name?

        Have you supoorted fellow East Asian artists? if not why don’t you spend time and energy on telling us how you would do this ? Funny isn’t it that is’s okay for you to beat ‘ anyone who dares raise their voice’ but not vice versa.

        You’re critical and ‘better then thou ‘ tone is ungracious and just reflects badly on you.

      • billy austin permalink
        May 3, 2011 4:58 pm

        Jenny,

        I’m not sure you’ve actually READ any of my comments beyind desciding I’m a nasty person after the first two lines, but I’ve signed at least two of them. My name is Daniel York. You can “beat” ME all you like, as you put it, but I struggle to follow your arguments.

        Your only response to criticism of David Tse’s artistic record is that he gave you a job and you and your family have enjoyed their productions. On both counts I’m very glad to hear this but I don’t think this answers the very real points I’ve made above about Yellow Earth’s rather shameful perpetuation of the strangely limited view the caucasian establishment has of the kind of work East Asians can do. It also doesn’t answer the the very real point that Yellow Earth was set up from the very outset as cliquish in-club for David and his friends.

        The facts speak for themselves. For a long time their policy was that at least three core members had to be cast in every single production they did. On the type of cast numbers Yellow Earth were deploying that was severely limiting in terms of opportunities for other actors yet that remained the policy until the core members departed.

        When David Tse stepped down from his position as Artistic Director, Phillipe Cherbonnier (already the company’s “literary associate”) and Jonathan Man (David’s unfortunately inexperienced protege) were selected from a somewhat eccentric shortlist of applicants. The two of them lasted barely a year. Yellow Earth then attempted to install Kumiko Mendl (a long standing Yellow Earth employee and fellow founder member) in the role of “creative producer” without the the bother of a troublesome recruitment process before belatedly realising that, as custodians of public money, this wouldn’t look too good, whereby they held a cursory round of interviews before, surprise surprise, the post was offered to Kumiko.

        Jenny, on the one hand you accuse me of “self promotion” on the other, you demand evidence of how I’ve “supported” East Asian artists?! I can’t really win either way but here goes-

        As Associate Director (for the princely sum £1000 pa) I worked tirelessly with Paul Courtenay Hyu in running the company, setting up a youth theatre drawn from local Vietnames kids from Lewisham housing estates, organising play readings, having endless meetings with aspiring East Asian writers and performers and formulating a viable programme. On a shoestring I adapted Hong Ying’s Daughter Of The River into a one woman show giving an opportunity for actress Jennifer Lim (who subsequently went on to work at the National Theatre and appear in the cult horror smash hit Hostel) and a design artist called Ming Wong (now one of Singapore’s most celebrated artists). I wrote a feature film script which was given limited development finance by Film4 for which I shot pilot scenes (Yellow Earth wanted to charge me £25 plus VAT for forwarding my casting breakdown to their database!) thereby enabling an exciting young British Japanese actor called Andy Koji to play a tough, demanding role. One of the pilot scenes is being edited by Taiwanese editor Li Ming Ying who recently graduated from London Film School. The film is still in development and I have several short films in development, all of whom contain challenging and exciting roles for East Asian actors.

        As an elected Equity Minority Ethnic Committee member (an unpaid position) I have carried a motion to the T.U.C. Black Workers Conference to pressurise broadcasters about the lack of East Asian faces on our screens winning unanimous support in the process, have written letters to and had face to face meetings with high level BBC staff and raised issues about their casting policies regarding East Asian representation, have upbraided Arts Council England about their apathy regarding their funded organisations’ casting policies with regard to East Asian representation and have pressurised publicly funded theatre companies regarding the lack of East Asian faces on our stages. Only last week I met with acclaimed theatre director Ramin Gray to express my concerns about the casting of his latest production The Golden Dragon. All of these activities I might add carry a risk of affecting my future employment prospects but I do it because I consider it right.

        I also work extensively with an organisation called Act Up (http://www.act-up.co.uk/act-up/) training aspiring actors and leading outreach workshops. Many of my students have gained entry to drama schools. In the unlikely event I’d have been offered the artistic directors position at Yellow Earth I wanted to work with Act Up’s director, Gemma Lloyd, to design an outreach programme aimed specifically at East Asian youngsters from deprived backgrounds.

        Jenny, I’m honestly sorry I criticised the spelling of your last post but I’m afraid you really do seem to have no line of argument beyond David being your friend and you not liking to see him criticised, anyone who daring to bearing some form of “grudge”. This is a fairly standard Yellow Earth response, I’m afraid. If white people criticise them they’re “racist”, if East Asian people do they’re bearing “grudges”.

        Jenny, I’m trying here, honestly, but for the life of me I can’t see what it is you’re actually trying to SAY.

  9. billy austin permalink
    April 17, 2011 1:08 pm

    David, you call it “cat fighting” and encourage our “better natures”. This is ludicrous and, I’m afraid to say, rather typical of your entire mindset. If it’s any kind of critical opinion directed towards you then it’s “cat fighting” and against our “better natures”? You and your cronies have had over 15 years of soaking up public money to “represent” us with barely anyone daring to say a word in criticism. I feel strongly that this has to stop. Your rather crude notion that we should all unite behind you and the people you approve of is trite convenient and plays right into the hands of the Caucasian establishment who would have all of us little “yellow” (your word, not mine) people grouped under a nice little “yellow” umbrella where we’re supposed to all be good little “yellow” boys and girls and not disagree or think differently about anything or have any of the individualism and free thought that white (and even black and South Asian) artistes are credited with by right.

    Yes, you did have an undue amount of responsibility upon you but the fact you never even attempted to meet those responsibilities is shockingly arrogant. Under your tenure, actors were treated like children, their professional credentials given scant respect and auditions for even expenses only play readings were run like 1950’s Broadway musical cattle calls. Yes, you created lots of little “Yellow” monikered inititatives but it’s was always you and your cartel deciding who was “forwarded” and who was “blocked” and that, all too often, was down to your own personal tastes and ideas about the way East Asian people were to be represented in public and your own curious idea of what a “team player” is. It wasn’t theatre, it was a “cultural exercise” with you as the Arts Council’s licensed gangmaster.

    Why, only last year, the Yellow Earth general manager that you employed was refusing to forward my film casting breakdown (a process that took me all of two minutes) to the YET database unless I paid £25 plus VAT for the privilege. Profiting from artistes contact details without their permission with the aid of public funds? After complaints to the Arts Council I was informed that policy was “under review”. The results of that “review” were never made public as far as I’m aware but I’m pretty sure no casting breakdowns currently circulate. David, you’re arguing that the company can’t please everyone but you could do the little things, surely.

    Yes, you won Time Out Critics Choice. But you did that with the aid of two comedically gifted and creative actors who you never even attempted to employ again (not “team players”?). Yes, you played the RSC. For three days in a season that included theatre companies from half the known world . Yes, you won two awards I’ll wager no one outside a very small circle has heard of. There is, however, no denying your achievements in terms of international link ups. It’s interesting that without your fund raising and networking nous Yellow Earth have collapsed like a deck of cards since your departure. But then I’d argue that Yellow Earth was never a sustainable model being constructed entirely and so resolutely around one man’s very personal ethos.

    But, now that you’re on here, tell me, is there any truth in the rumours that the company have struggled to book their tours since? It’s certainly a fact that the tours have got shorter and the venues become smaller and more obscure. In fact only producing a children’s show seemed to enable the company to book anything that resembled a “tour” in the old fashioned sense of the word and would seem to speak volumes for the company’s artistic and commercial reputation. It’s certainly not a situation the likes of Told By An Idiot or Ridiculusmus are having to contend with.

    Of course, attracting audiences is a completely capricious business but you’re quick enough to shovel the blame elsewhere

    “Audiences varied from excellent – in well-managed venues – to mediocre in poorly managed ones.”

    Or is that you engaging in the kind of “backstabbing” that you chide the rest of us for?

    It’s interesting that you use a Shakespeare quote to illustrate the “themes” you say YET’s work explored because I’d argue that the only time those “themes” were portrayed in any kind of powerful and dramatic sense was in King Lear. All too often I’m afraid your good intentions were rather suffocated by a straitjacket of watery political correctness and faux Eastern “movement discipline”. It was “worthy theatre” and that, I would conjecture, is probably why you received such an abundance of funding. I say this despite your hiding behind the age old subsidised sector excuse of being “poorly funded” when in fact millions of pounds were poured into YET by the Arts Council.

    Outreach and education are of course laudable endeavours. But YET advertise theirs in a manner more befitting a gay contact ad than a serious calling for inspired and aspiring future theatre practitioners-

    http://www.yellowearth.org/

    Further exploration of the company’s website reveals pictures of school children armed with exotic looking fans. Is this really what the Arts Council were funding you to do? Teach school children that Chinese people wave fans around?

    Of course it’s easy to be critical but, believe me, I haven’t chosen to do so without a great deal of thought and soul searching. David, it gives me no pleasure to say this but I honestly believe the time has come for you and your friends to stand aside and let other people into the picture.

    No. I will not “rally” and “support” Yellow Earth. It’s my choice and it ill behoves you to deem that “cat fighting”.

    Daniel York

  10. Ashley Thorpe permalink
    April 18, 2011 11:42 am

    People are entitled to their opinion and to support, or not support Yellow Earth, and Asian Music Circuit too (the latter, regretfully, not having been commented upon at all in these posts). Passions run high, as indeed they should.

    However, I would like to refocus the blog back to the issues I wanted to raise in my initial post, namely, that if Yellow Earth and Asian Music Circuit close, what will come next? Is it not better to have a range of publicly-funded companies rather than just one or two? Of course, there is now the possibility of having none.

    Given the atrocious stereotyping that East Asians have to put up with in the media, how can these mainstream perceptions be fought? Or are British Chinese performance arts now defunct as a tool to challenge stereotypes and bring people together? Of course, I am playing devil’s advocate in suggesting “it’s the end”, but I’d really like to hear what people think should happen next. What is the strategy for productively and positively moving forward? Where does responsibility lie for this? With individuals? With communities? With funders?

    • billy austin permalink
      April 18, 2011 2:44 pm

      In response to Ashley I think the responsibility lies with individuals AND funders and it would seem obvious to me that a range of companies is clearly preferable to what we had previously. People trumpet “diversity” but I think that “diversity” should apply WITHIN a sector as well. We simply cannot have ONE company presenting work in ONE style directed by ONE person. It’s intolerable. One thing I would agree with David about is that in many ways he WAS in an impossible situation. The fact that he perpetuated that situation by keeping things to himself and his clique is another matter altogether

      The Asian Music Circuit is indeed a loss. From the little I know of them their approach was non prescriptive and they aimed to simply allow a range of talent to flourish and this surely is the way forward. The problem with Yellow Earth (and I’m trying to be as constructive as I can here) is that they locked themselves into serving up something “exotic” with their heavy emphasis on “Eastern movement discipline” which funding bodies were only too willing to pump money into but sooner or later it became a self imposed straitjacket because as Britain moves on it becomes less and less relevant. I’m not sure it was ever that relevant to begin with to be honest. Most people in this country would’ve seen East Asian people in flowery costumes doing high kicks and acrobatics. Was it ever breaking any ground to show more of that? Yellow Earth was set up, from the off, as a “movement based” theatre company. Which is why (and I’m sorry, this is not “sour grapes”) it actually struck me as quite a racist decision from the Arts Council to leave them as the sole funded East Asian theatre company. They were effectively telling East Asian people that if you want to be on the stage then that’s the kind of work you have to do.

      The other thing we would need to do is be much bolder in the way we choose to present ourselves and the subject matter we choose to engage with. One of the reasons I believe that East Asian theatre has never caught on in this country is that too often we fall into the trap of presenting an “acceptable” face. Avoiding “negative” portrayals. Promoting our “culture”. This is boring frankly and most people don’t really want to watch it. It doesn’t COMPEL people’s interest. Look at black people. They’re more than happy to do plays about gun culture and gangs. South Asians about honour killings and suicide bombers. They use theatre the way it SHOULD be used. As a mirror so we can see ourselves, our madness, our flaws. Yellow Earth began with a reading of Tibetan Inroads by Stephen Lowe. That play was possibly crying out for a production in 2008 but, no, we got Running The Silk Road with Beijing Operatics. Why Mu-lan worked (for me) is that it presented some “negative” East Asian aspects and examined them. I say, let’s have plays about triads, gambling, dodgy herbalists, you name it.

      Of course, none of this is possible without money and unfortunately there is none. The Arts Council’s policy towards East Asians is nothing short of scandalous and I would urge everyone who reads this, Yellow Earth supporter or naysayer, to email the Arts Council and apply PRESSURE. Their replies are infuriatingly glib and high handed, mind.

      With the best will in the world I don’t really see how I can “rally” and “support” Yellow Earth. They’ve had £150,000 per annum for ten plus years, how much MORE “support” are they supposed to have? Added to this the management of their last three years has been nothing short of farcical and I’m afraid blindly “supporting” them after that only belies a desperate lack of integrity on all our parts. I personally “supported” them with my acting on quite a few occasions, I literally hacked my guts up every night on stage in King Lear in a performance that physically hurt me. I was even prepared, with a great deal of trepidation, to be their artistic director because I felt SOMEONE had to. Before anyone starts muttering darkly about “bitching” and “old wounds” let’s be clear here. If I had a penny for every person who told me in the last three years that I should be the artistic director I’d probably be able to fund Yellow Earth’s next production myself. I’d said no so many times but like I said, SOMEONE had to. To say the board were unreceptive to me is the understatement of the century. You’ve probably all guessed from reading all this that I’m quite feisty but being in a room with people who hate you that much is an education I can tell you.

      Maybe we CAN all work together but, David and Jenny, people have to be allowed to express their opinions and feelings without being beaten down. The basic tenet of your posts seems to be “shut up”. Honestly, why don’t you put me in the struggle session while you’re at it? Please. No more “shut up”.

      I am glad to see you’re a real person, though, Jenny. Given David’s track record we can never be too sure! Eh, Gladys? Ha ha ha!

      And, David. You can rejoin the debate any time you like unless, of course, you want to continue a private email feud with me, in which case, that’s also fine

  11. Paul Courtenay Hyu permalink
    April 18, 2011 2:08 pm

    It is fashionable to put the blame squarely on bankers these days for any and every cuts. The Arts Council England (ACE) recently announced their National Portfolio Funding Programme for the Arts for 2012-2015 with £965 million going to 695 organisations. No one penny is going to any Chinese or East Asian related organisations – why? Who is to blame?

    Funding from ACE to Yellow Earth Theatre Company of £150.513 for 2011-2012 comes to an end. Why were they not successful in their application under the National Portfolio Funding Programme? According to ACE’s decision when determining applications – each organisation has received the level of funding judged appropriate to its individual circumstances and to the programmes set out in their applications, rather than applying a policy of ‘equal pain for all’. For example, many are receiving increases due to a major transformation of their organisation, because they will greatly expand their programmes of activity, or because they provided a compelling vision in their application. So, has Yellow Earth Theatre Company failed on all three criteria?

    The bare truth was that the company’s output had been declining in quality in recent years, their artistic policy was vague and there existed a ridiculous situation that this company was the only East Asian company in receipt of any funding from ACE.

    This indefensible policy of funding only one arts organisation for an entire community, was never going to work. Having only one company sidelined a vast swathe – a majority, I would argue – of artists for whom the “vision” of Yellow Earth was not one they shared. However, being pragmatic, most actors and artists kept silent in their artistic criticism of this output through fear that they would be actively excluded from the productions or communications outreach of the company and wind up with no company at all to represent them. This had happened in some cases and it was not a desirable state for a struggling artist.

    This autocracy was not up to par artistically, however, and standards were acknowledged to be worsening, not improving. Even now, their only argument against the cut is that it leaves the sector without a subsidised theatre company and it’s not fair! They chant racism! They are not defending their position on any artistic grounds, which for an arts company is an interesting stance. But all is not lost.

    I believe it is better to have no company at all representing the “East Asian sector” than only one which is prescriptive in its vision of “East-Asian”, only one which has such a monopoly on its power base and only one which does not serve up representative work and costs so much money to boot. The quality of the work was never even particularly high. Good enough for some critics, maybe, in a patronising way – but it was never good enough to get any stand-out reviews, (or critic’s choice nominations) or anything that ever really, truly, underlined artistic success? They never produced one really good show. Lots of money was being spent and nothing much was being delivered in return. Even in the good times, this equation normally results in the axe.

    That it did not happen earlier is the most striking symptom of ACE’s one-company policy. They had painted themselves into a corner, which prevented anyone from criticising the company’s output without being charged a Sino-phobe or worse… What we were served up was very, very worthy for sure. All done, in case you were wondering, with oriental music, lofty artistic programme notes, and a host of stereotypical influences – guaranteed! – in an otherwise East-Asian cultural vacuum. Well done, ACE! It was Ethnic Theatre at its most ethnic! Dragons, gongs, big sleeves, martial arts and actors with 2 weeks’ training copying classical Beijing Opera moves that in reality take at least 7 years to master!

    All done, too, with a serious Chinese undertone, that made even the funny parts humourless. And to top it, all under the banner of the re-claimed word, “Yellow”! But even with this worthy pill the company, unhappily, had become tired and was costing a not inconsiderable sum of taxpayer’s money.

    The Yellow Earth management must be held responsible for this. As critics sat through their shows, struggling to find positive ways to sum up their experience, everyone felt altruistic and worthy – but how good were the actual shows? Were they engaging and entertaining? Those of us outside the bubble felt not. We also felt overlooked and patronised. “This is the best they have”, people would think, so they would not let us poor East Asians have both barrels. If only they had known that this was not the best we have, by any means. Indeed we had a lot better some years ago when there were two companies representing the East Asian sector1. And imagine if we had had three companies (which by 2011 we surely deserved)! But no, one company would do for us!

    No one dared to speak the truth in our politically correct straitjackets. Even now, it’s the bankers’ fault! To be clear, I blame the Arts Council and Yellow Earth’s Management. It was a fait accompli and the rest of us suffered as their grip and monopoly on the sector grew firmer. The board were simply not competent enough to acknowledge or address the steady drop in artistic standards and reviews.

    Now that we British East Asian artists are no longer ruled by such an unrepresentative autocracy, we should be thankful. We can even be optimistic. We can take matters back into our own hands and make a noise.

    ACE has been able to extricate themselves out of a hole of their own making. ACE need to support the sector again, as soon as they can – and this time, by funding more than one organisation at the same time, a move so obvious it beggars belief no one had hitherto recognised this. Healthy competition is always good in any business. Only then will reviewers be able to do their jobs properly. Only then will we be able to see who does the most interesting and popular shows. Only then will there be a benchmark for the junior partner to aim for. Only then will there be a true progression in the sector’s growth and development. Only then will we truly flourish as a sector, artistically.

    Competition also assures us of different approaches and artistic goals. More chance of being represented. ACE must next time attempt to nurture this sector with a policy and aim to drive up artistic quality bearing this obvious fact in mind. There was no attempt to monitor and benchmark the quality of artistic output in the past and this must, too, be addressed. There was no accountability to the very people who matter – the taxpayers / users. Why could they not compare the output / critical acclaim across all cultural sectors on a value for money basis? Whatever their methodology was, it was not working and had a detrimental effect on the whole sector. It was a tick box exercise that suited all those involved in its making (and of course the small number of beneficiaries).

    This funding cut will be derided and argued about for a long time. I argue it has worked out well for East Asians in this case, albeit unwittingly. I am more optimistic now than I have been for some time. I predict an optimistic future if ACE gets its act together and starts a policy of properly supporting the sector – a future in which hopefully a few stand-out award-winning productions are produced.

    This time, we should never allow any one theatre company take that position of ‘representing’ the community. We should learn from our mistakes and if we don’t we will indeed be invisible.

    Paul Courtenay Hyu

  12. Meimango permalink
    April 18, 2011 11:39 pm

    I’ve nothing new to add, but wish to agree; it’s distressing that at every creative level our ‘sector’ has become used to fighting over scraps. There should be room for aesthetic differences – but that it has come to this, is endemic of ACE’s (at best) lack of insight and mismanagement, or (at worst) it’s systemic racism. £150000 a year is a pittance to run any touring theatre company, especially one representing a whole sector. I think most posters here have agreed that no company can flourish artistically or financially in a vacuum. ACE need to recognise their flawed approach, but this won’t happen unless, as Billy Austin states, we put pressure on ACE. If anyone’s marching anytime soon let me know…
    B M Lim

  13. May 1, 2011 4:09 pm

    I am a Chinese actor based in the UK and speak Cantonese and English fluently.
    I will leave reduce my comments regarding theatre to this: i still want to create good, mainstream, and more importantly, entertaining theatre that reaches to audiences hearts – no less. Emotional content that makes sense.

    The other thing i want to comment on is this: the internet and videography technology has allowed us to create and make work, that can be produced on a budget and have wide distribution channels.
    My intentions is this: All the stuff that we are talking about, lets now get together, start from the obvious which are the issues pertaining the collectiveneness of a British Chinese society. One which challenges the preceptions that the British public have.
    Lets do this is any way we can. be it drama, comedy, or down right contraversialism.

    i look forward to collaboration.

    best
    Chris
    chris.li.uk@hotmail.com

  14. billy austin permalink
    May 3, 2011 4:57 pm

    Jenny,

    I’m not sure you’ve actually READ any of my comments beyind desciding I’m a nasty person after the first two lines, but I’ve signed at least two of them. My name is Daniel York. You can “beat” ME all you like, as you put it, but I struggle to follow your arguments.

    Your only response to criticism of David Tse’s artistic record is that he gave you a job and you and your family have enjoyed their productions. On both counts I’m very glad to hear this but I don’t think this answers the very real points I’ve made above about Yellow Earth’s rather shameful perpetuation of the strangely limited view the caucasian establishment has of the kind of work East Asians can do. It also doesn’t answer the the very real point that Yellow Earth was set up from the very outset as cliquish in-club for David and his friends.

    The facts speak for themselves. For a long time their policy was that at least three core members had to be cast in every single production they did. On the type of cast numbers Yellow Earth were deploying that was severely limiting in terms of opportunities for other actors yet that remained the policy until the core members departed.

    When David Tse stepped down from his position as Artistic Director, Phillipe Cherbonnier (already the company’s “literary associate”) and Jonathan Man (David’s unfortunately inexperienced protege) were selected from a somewhat eccentric shortlist of applicants. The two of them lasted barely a year. Yellow Earth then attempted to install Kumiko Mendl (a long standing Yellow Earth employee and fellow founder member) in the role of “creative producer” without the the bother of a troublesome recruitment process before belatedly realising that, as custodians of public money, this wouldn’t look too good, whereby they held a cursory round of interviews before, surprise surprise, the post was offered to Kumiko.

    Jenny, on the one hand you accuse me of “self promotion” on the other, you demand evidence of how I’ve “supported” East Asian artists?! I can’t really win either way but here goes-

    As Associate Director (for the princely sum £1000 pa) I worked tirelessly with Paul Courtenay Hyu in running the company, setting up a youth theatre drawn from local Vietnames kids from Lewisham housing estates, organising play readings, having endless meetings with aspiring East Asian writers and performers and formulating a viable programme. On a shoestring I adapted Hong Ying’s Daughter Of The River into a one woman show giving an opportunity for actress Jennifer Lim (who subsequently went on to work at the National Theatre and appear in the cult horror smash hit Hostel) and a design artist called Ming Wong (now one of Singapore’s most celebrated artists). I wrote a feature film script which was given limited development finance by Film4 for which I shot pilot scenes (Yellow Earth wanted to charge me £25 plus VAT for forwarding my casting breakdown to their database!) thereby enabling an exciting young British Japanese actor called Andy Koji to play a tough, demanding role. One of the pilot scenes is being edited by Taiwanese editor Li Ming Ying who recently graduated from London Film School. The film is still in development and I have several short films in development, all of whom contain challenging and exciting roles for East Asian actors.

    As an elected Equity Minority Ethnic Committee member (an unpaid position) I have carried a motion to the T.U.C. Black Workers Conference to pressurise broadcasters about the lack of East Asian faces on our screens winning unanimous support in the process, have written letters to and had face to face meetings with high level BBC staff and raised issues about their casting policies regarding East Asian representation, have upbraided Arts Council England about their apathy regarding their funded organisations’ casting policies with regard to East Asian representation and have pressurised publicly funded theatre companies regarding the lack of East Asian faces on our stages. Only last week I met with acclaimed theatre director Ramin Gray to express my concerns about the casting of his latest production The Golden Dragon. All of these activities I might add carry a risk of affecting my future employment prospects but I do it because I consider it right.

    I also work extensively with an organisation called Act Up (http://www.act-up.co.uk/act-up/) training aspiring actors and leading outreach workshops. Many of my students have gained entry to drama schools. In the unlikely event I’d have been offered the artistic directors position at Yellow Earth I wanted to work with Act Up’s director, Gemma Lloyd, to design an outreach programme aimed specifically at East Asian youngsters from deprived backgrounds.

    Jenny, I’m honestly sorry I criticised the spelling of your last post but I’m afraid you really do seem to have no line of argument beyond David being your friend and you not liking to see him criticised, anyone who daring to bearing some form of “grudge”. This is a fairly standard Yellow Earth response, I’m afraid. If white people criticise them they’re “racist”, if East Asian people do they’re bearing “grudges”.

    Jenny, I’m trying here, honestly, but for the life of me I can’t see what it is you’re actually trying to SAY.

    • billy austin permalink
      May 3, 2011 4:59 pm

      Apologies for posting twice. I couldn’t work out the reply function!

  15. Ashley Thorpe permalink
    May 3, 2011 8:09 pm

    Whilst I am pleased that this blog has generated debate about Yellow Earth, I think it is time to move on from an irresolvable impasse. There are those that think YE did a good job. There are those that don’t. As with any company, that is to be expected. The case has been stated vehemently above.

    Instead of restating the same arguments,I welcome constructive comments on ways forward. If people are setting up companies or initiatives that they want to discuss, they should post this here (as I am sure they will be posted elsewhere). Perhaps it will be possible to write a blog about the plethora of activity that comes in the wake of the cuts. As an optimist, I hope for as positive an outcome as possible.

    Those who have an axe to grind in any direction please take your post elsewhere. Posts will be subject to moderation.

    • billy austin permalink
      May 3, 2011 8:23 pm

      Yes, Ashley.

      Myself, Paul Courtenay Hyu, Anna Chen & Lucy Sheen are looking to set up an umbrella arts organisation provisionally named “Xin Tian Di” (“new place”), or “XTD”. It will have no “artistic director” and no over weaning and self limiting “policy” but instead will have some form of committee who will make decisions. Its aim will be to promote and empower British East Asian theatre practitioners and artists. The aim is to pay an administrator to help small companies and individuals to apply for funding thus hopefully encouraging a diverse variety of artists and organisations to flourish and grow with no judgement placed on the type of work they wish to develop.

      Already myself and Paul Courtenay Hyu have performed a satirical arts installation project entitled “Bride Or Groom” featuring Chinese Elvis (Paul) and Chinese Mandolin Player (myself) performing songs from The King Of Rock N Roll as we pondered the lack of Chinese faces at the Royal Wedding on either “Bride OR Groom” side.

      If anyone is interested in contributing, please make yourself known.

      Ashley, I take your point above but if people are going to challenge me then surely I have to respond? I have to say I think it’s wrong when you start censoring or controlling. Half of the problem, as I see it, is that for too long no one’s been allowed to SAY anything.

      • jenny ng matthews permalink
        May 12, 2011 11:36 pm

        Ah yes I had a feeling it was ‘The Daniel, Paul and Anna show’ by the why you were all concurring with each other’s comments, let’s face it you’ve pounded Yellow Earth down to the ground and David Tse (if everything you have written is the true) might as well have packed up his bags and gone back to Hong Kong and not bothered to do anything for East Asian artists in Britain and saved everyone a load of angst with the crap that Yellow Earth have produced. However the irony is if it is that if it wasn’t for the existence of Yellow Earth and their achievements to the degree that they are worth writing about you guys wouldn’t even have this platform to desecrate them, then shamelessly self-promote…what do you think you have just been doing?
        What upsets me is that it’s such a shame that there are people out there who feel they have to step on others in order to get ahead and rub salt in to others wounds to heal their own.
        I am genuinely glad that you guys are collaborating and forming an arts organisation, I applaud you and I wish you well and look forward to seeing some of the results of your creative work. Let’s just hope none of you fallout or disagree with each other as you’re likely be very unforgiving of each other and will unashamedly and publicly tear each other apart.
        Honestly good luck.

  16. billy austin permalink
    May 9, 2011 10:12 pm

    Daniel York writes-

    Equity has received an anonymous letter which complains that my original article on this issue shows “contempt” for children’s theatre. The author of the letter does not wish to make themselves known so I feel I must set the record straight here.

    I have the utmost respect and admiration for children’s theatre. In fact, as an actor, I have appeared in several plays that could be described as “for children”, in addition to numerous workshops aimed at young people. I certainly have no “contempt” for it and believe it should be viewed in exactly the same way as Shakespeare, Brecht and Simon Stephens.

    For the record, now that Yellow Earth has had their Arts Council funding cut if they chose to metamorphose into a fully fledged children’s theatre company I wouldn’t criticise them for it (though their very name, with its connotations of skin colour, is problematic for me). I question, though, whether a solely East Asian children’s theatre company would merit a place in the funded theatre landscape. There isn’t, I believe, such a company for any other minority ethnic grouping. I also wouldn’t object to Yellow Earth producing children’s plays as part of a comprehensive and challenging programme of work. Of course, their funding levels never permitted this, which is why I feel that, under their remit as the (self named) “flagship” East Asian theatre company, their priorities really should’ve lain elsewhere.

    The anonymous writer picks out four quotes from my article-

    “The company maintains on its website that “Yellow Earth’s current production of Why the Lion Danced was a sell out national tour playing to delighted audiences ranging in age from 4 years to 84 years”. This would be fine were they funded to be a children’s theatre company but they weren’t. The fact they frequently returned, at key points throughout their history, to dressing up in exotic costumes to tour children’s plays is only further evidence of their rather desperate and dated approach to what it means to be East Asian in Britain today.”

    Companies such as London Bubble (themselves in recent years the recipients of Arts Council cuts), Theatre Venture, Theatre Centre and Unicorn Theatre have an excellent record of producing challenging and bold work for children that has featured imaginative and non stereotypical roles for East Asian performers. My criticism is that Yellow Earth have a rather regressive and clichéd approach with a heavy emphasis on exotic “chinoiserie” and teaching children to wave fans (http://www.yellowearth.org/educationandoutreach) as if this is the way East Asians behave. I also strongly believe that, as the sole funded East Asian theatre company in Britain, work aimed solely at children should not have been their priority.

    The anonymous writer questions my signing my articles as a member of the Equity Minority Artists Committee and they suggest my views are bringing the union “into the argument”. This would be true were I attacking children’s theatre. I am not. I believe strongly however that my elected membership of that committee impresses upon me the need to speak out about what I feel is the pigeon holing of East Asian performers and writers into certain areas of work which, lest we forget in all the furore around my views on Yellow Earth, my article was directly criticising the Arts Council for. East Asian practitioners are actually quite well served in terms of opportunities in the area of young people’s theatre, as has traditionally been the case with all BAME artists. It’s when we’ve tried to move on to the more “adult” end of the spectrum we’ve been met with innate prejudice and impenetrable glass ceilings.

    “the Arts Council are vowing to fund “the bravest, most original, most innovative” work, qualities only the most ardent optimist would associate with a company whose last two productions were a mismatched double bill and a children’s play with the word “Dragon” (sic) in the title.”

    I made a mistake with the word in the title. It is of course “Lion”. I can only reiterate the point that for Yellow Earth to produce a children’s play by a well known children’s writer, in light of their funding limitations, as their sole production for the year, is woefully unadventurous. For the record, I am familiar with the work of the play’s author, Carey English, and think she is a phenomenal writer. As a writer of such pedigree, surely another specialised children’s theatre company could’ve produced the play thereby creating more opportunities for East Asian directors and actors, leaving Yellow Earth free to concentrate on their remit i.e. “to raise the profile of British East Asian theatre” to quote their website. An aim that would surely be better served by finding a play or production that can be presented in the highest profile spaces and that will challenge the audience’s perceptions of East Asian performers.

    “In fact only producing a children’s show seemed to enable the company to book anything that resembled a “tour” in the old fashioned sense of the word and would seem to speak volumes for the company’s artistic and commercial reputation.”

    What I was questioning here was not the act of presenting a children’s play but that after fifteen years of core Arts Council funding the only place they seemed to be able to find an audience was in an area that as I’ve said above is already well served. The “artistic and commercial reputation” I allude to is not a derogatory reference to children’s theatre but a criticism that children’s theatre (with its more “captive” audience) was the only avenue left open to them.

    “the Arts Council were far happier funding a non challenging organisation who would tour twee exotica to obscure venues.”

    There is no reference to children’s theatre here. This isn’t even directed at Yellow Earth. This is entirely directed towards the Arts Council and their view of East Asians. Whether this was Yellow Earth’s intentions I believe the Arts Council perceived it to be. Mu-lan theatre company always attempted (and whether they succeeded or not is a matter for yourselves to judge) to present East Asians in a provocative and unfamiliar way. The Arts Council seemed, for whatever reason, to find this threatening. They certainly never severed Mu-lan’s funding (about an eighth of Yellow Earth’s) for artistic reasons. I believe their perception of Yellow Earth (and whether this was the case or not is a matter for yourselves to judge) was that they would peddle twee exotica in obscure venues. Nothing whatsoever to do with children’s theatre.

    I hope very much this clears up any misunderstandings. I respect the writer of this letter for their passion and defence of children’s theatre. I also understand they have no wish to enter into a “debate” with me. A pity as I would’ve welcomed a discussion about these issues with someone as committed and forthright as this.

    Daniel York, elected member, Equity Miority Artists Committee.

  17. Stephen Ng permalink
    May 9, 2011 11:22 pm

    Anonymous complaints need anonymous answers. When it is anonymous it is full of venom.

  18. May 11, 2011 12:16 am

    Fragile, feminised and childlike, is commonly how dominant groups portray minorities — as many of us have complained in the past. Daniel is right to flag this up when he sees those who are meant to represent us pandering to such definitions of who we are.

    The anonymous correspondents should grow a spine and come out and have an honest adult debate. Please stop infantilising us.

    • billy austin permalink
      May 11, 2011 6:39 am

      Daniel York writes-

      You know what I find most depressing about all this? It’s the lack of PASSION. People have clearly objected to things I’ve posted perhaps because the truth hurts (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Their way of responding to what they don’t like-

      1) Accuse people of “backstabbing”.

      2) Make personal remarks about me. (“venting”, “self promoting”, “bitching”, having a big “chip” on my shoulder etc.)

      3) Writing “anonymous” complaint letters about me.

      The second one is profoundly depressing. Jenny and Kelly, you do realise you’re making personal comments about someone YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW? Whatever else you say about me, I know all the individuals and situations I’m talking about extremely well. Your whole response seems to be “you’re criticising my friend so you’re horrible”. This is the future of our theatre we’re talking about here! Do none of you CARE???

      I’m afraid it rather smacks of the “catfighting” David was so piously admonishing earlier.

      Let’s have a DEBATE. And, please, the stuff I was saying about Yellow Earth was never the main feature of my initial post. The real villains here are the Arts Council

      • billy austin permalink
        May 11, 2011 10:03 pm

        Daniel York writes-

        David Tse emailed me privately to correct me in that he doesn’t, in fact, know Kelly Lee. My apologies therefore for misrepresenting him on that point.

  19. billy austin permalink
    May 13, 2011 6:48 am

    Jenny Ng Matthews wrote-

    “Ah yes I had a feeling it was ‘The Daniel, Paul and Anna show’ by the why you were all concurring with each other’s comments, let’s face it you’ve pounded Yellow Earth down to the ground and David Tse (if everything you have written is the true) might as well have packed up his bags and gone back to Hong Kong and not bothered to do anything for East Asian artists in Britain and saved everyone a load of angst with the crap that Yellow Earth have produced. However the irony is if it is that if it wasn’t for the existence of Yellow Earth and their achievements to the degree that they are worth writing about you guys wouldn’t even have this platform to desecrate them, then shamelessly self-promote…what do you think you have just been doing?”

    Daniel York writes-

    Jenny, this is just shameful I’m afraid. If anyone expressed an opinion it’s “pounding” and “desecrating”? I don’t want to write anymore about Yellow Earth, frankly, I’d rather talk about the REAL culprits, the Arts Council and the future. But for the record-

    David Tse formed and ran a theatre company for the best part of 15 years. No mean achievement and I take my hat off to him. In that time he worked hard and the company toured as extensively as they could. He also took the company to good international venues and was an astute networker and fundraiser.

    My criticisms are with the quality and type of work he did. Whilst possessing an admirable visual sense his productions were all too often childlike and po faced, lacking in humour and boldness of performance, producing a cloying and somewhat twee effect. David finds it very difficult to work with experienced actors who in any way question him, indeed I would venture to say the only way one COULD work with him is by subsuming one’s personality and instincts to such a degree they would barely be there. I have emailed him in private and told him to his face that he could possibly be a good theatre director if he was ever bold enough to conquer that last, very avoidable, shortcoming.

    Whilst well intentioned he relied far too heavily on over earnest “movement theatre” which I’m afraid does rather pander to Western stereotypes of what type of performance work East Asians can do. This was a funding trap that I’m afraid to say he fall for hook, line and sinker. It doesn’t advance us. It only sets us back. The Caucasian establishment are more than happy to put us in the “faux physical” box and trivialise and marginalise us this way.

    Most damning of all however is the lack of a truly impactful, state of the nation, British East Asian play. Where was their “Porcelain”? Their “Take Away”? Their “Sun Is Shining”? They had 15 years and they never did one. Mu lan managed it three times on an eighth of the budget. What did Yellow Earth do? Pointless revivals of Dennis Potter and an obscure 70′s feminist play (with no context whatsoever), a play about four friends carrying an alternative Olympic torch which couldn’t hope to compete with the drama of the real life procession and a play about the Dover ferry disaster which somehow managed to be about a girl with blue hair and featured a “feel good” ending with a white woman laying souls to rest by praying for them.

    The companies’ finest moments were Rashomon (a fine piece of writing by Philippe Cherbonnier which the production never quite found the guts of in my humble opinion), King Lear (for a minute there I thought he was actually going to break the mould) and New Territories (David writes well for children). But somehow the company were never able to raise themselves above being a “cultural interest” exercise. It was “worthiness on the stage”. Not drama.

    Jenny Ng Matthews wrote-

    “What upsets me is that it’s such a shame that there are people out there who feel they have to step on others in order to get ahead and rub salt in to others wounds to heal their own.
    I am genuinely glad that you guys are collaborating and forming an arts organisation, I applaud you and I wish you well and look forward to seeing some of the results of your creative work. Let’s just hope none of you fallout or disagree with each other as you’re likely be very unforgiving of each other and will unashamedly and publicly tear each other apart.
    Honestly good luck”

    Daniel York writes-

    Your last sentence is ludicrous. That’s the point. There’s no “disagreeing” with David (or you by the look of it). Look at the reactions on this page when someone expresses measured criticism! It may interest you to go back and read my initial post on the subject. I don’t mention David once. I only obliquely refer to him. He (and you) have made this about him. No one else.

    Must you reduce constructive argument to playground level? Jenny, you’ll have to take my word for this, I have NEVER “fallen out” with David. I don’t believe Anna ever has for that matter (though that may have changed in the last couple of days from what I hear). I don’t actually dislike David. It’s his actions I find difficult to comprehend.

    Thank you, though, for wishing us luck. I understand you’re a costume designer. I’d love to see your work. I don’t bear grudges, really. Your loyalty to your friend is admirable but it misses the point, I’m afraid.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers

%d bloggers like this: