Throwing light on Kiwi differences

16:00, Feb 06 2014
James Roque
JUGGLING IDENTITIES: James Roque and Chye-Ling Huang take on multiple characters in the upcoming play Lantern as part of the Auckland Lantern Festival.

A light-hearted look at the challenges of being Kiwi-Asian in New Zealand will hit the stage during this year's Auckland Lantern Festival.

It is the first time a theatre production has been included in the colourful festival programme which celebrates the diversity of Chinese culture.

The festival runs this year in Albert Park and Queens Wharf from February 13 to 16.

The play, Lantern, takes a humorous look at identity, belonging and striking a balance between retaining cultural values while fitting in to New Zealand society.

"Being Chinese-Kiwi means you constantly juggle several identities," playwright Renee Liang says.

"On one hand, you want to do everything you can to fit into Kiwi society; on the other, you can't run away from the things that anchor you."


James Roque and Chye-Ling Huang play 10 characters in the part-comedy, part-family drama showing at Musgrove Studio from February 10 to 15.

Lantern centres on the fictional Chen family - husband Henry, his estranged wife Rose, their young adult children - and their struggles to come together as Chinese New Year approaches.

Mr Roque, who was born in the Philippines and moved to New Zealand with his family as an 8-year-old, can identify with his characters.

"Growing up as an Asian male, it's a crazy experience," the Freemans Bay resident says.

"I find it hard to know which group I can identify with. I go to a Filipino festival and think ‘this is a culture shock' and feel a stranger to my own culture.

"It's about finding the balance between fitting in to New Zealand culture but also honouring your roots," he says.

The play is directed by Eli Matthewson and Hamish Parkinson and produced by Pretty Asian Theatre Company.

Mr Roque and Ms Huang, who graduated from Unitec's school of performing and screen arts in 2012, formed the production company the next year to tell more Kiwi Asian stories.

Lantern is its second production after FOB (Fresh off the Boat), by Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang, was performed at the Basement Studio last June.

Ms Huang, an Eden Tce resident, says PAT stemmed from a lack of productions that address contemporary Asian viewpoints in New Zealand.

"I started to notice a real gap in full-bodied characters and stories and any kind of Asian presence in the New Zealand context on stage," she says.

"There's no young company dedicated to it.

"A lot of the time the representations you see are very token.

"We want to see more well-rounded full-bodied people - less stereotypical characters."

Lantern festival organiser Erin Ngan says the play is a perfect fit.

"One of our aims is extending the Lantern Festival to explore deeper into Asian-Kiwi culture, using the talents of our artists and writers," he says.

What: Lantern

Where: Musgrove Studio, Princes St, Auckland

When: February 10-15 Cost: $20 adults, $18 concession

Visit: to book.

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