Gender Roles Playing on Stage: Pride in Chinatown

On August 1, 2018, Paul Wong curated and presented Gender Roles Playing on Stage: Pride in Chinatown, the first ever pride event in Chinatown.  Hosted by Shay Dior, Mother of the House of Rice, this was a magical immersive event that took place throughout the spectacular Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Audiences were treated to a mashup of Chinese Opera, drag, and music. For Wong, Cantonese opera was part of growing up in Chinatown, with his mother singing karaoke at home, and music from shops and rooming houses spilling out into the streets. Audiences were treated to a mashup of these gender-bending genres that celebrate the rich history of Cantonese opera as a folk art form in Chinatown and Chinese communities. Classic Chinese opera roles were originally all performed by men. More recently, when women have been permitted to perform on stage, they often play both female and male roles.

The performances in the Hall of One Hundred Rivers featured classical Cantonese opera performers Master Ieong Hoi-Seng and Cheung Yuk-Fung. They performed Fragrant Sacrifice, the grand finale of the most famous Cantonese opera The Flower Princess. It is a story of political palace intrigue, this is the Chinese Romeo and Juliet story. Master Ieong played the female part, and Cheung Yuk-Fung played the male part. This was a dramatic gender bending and colourful performance.

This was followed with performances by contemporaryAsian drag artists, Rose Butch and Maiden China. These performances were created for this event that included workshopping between the performers and producers that included visiting Master Ieong at his Cantonese opera school to learn more about the craft and history behind traditional Chinese opera. As a result, Rose Butch and Maiden China shaped their performances around the Cantonese opera genre and their own Asian heritages. Rose Butch performed a Japanese Noh Theatre-inspired piece to St. Vincent’s Prince Johnny, and Maiden China drew on Cantonese opera traditions in a performance to Björk’s Unravel. These performances were personal, emotional, and powerful for the performers and the audience.

The China Maple Hall featured DJ Ian Widgery, best known for remixing 1930s-era Shanghai jazz music with a contemporary beat, and the producer of Shanghai Lounge Divas. The Jade Water Pavilion featured a karaoke station installation with traditional Cantonese opera playing on loop. The Scholar’s Study featured Wong’s neon piece 咸水埠温哥华 / Haam Sui Fow Wun Goh Wah, and LAIWAN’s video installation, Movement For Two Grannies: Five Variations

This was a sold-out event to a wide intergenerational and cross-cultural audience. Due to its success in 2018, we are producing an expanded Pride in Chinatown 2019. It will celebrate Queer Asian-Canadian art and artists that will tantalize all five senses. Curated by Paul Wong, this will be an interdisciplinary art event that will feature both traditional and new experimental art forms, including sonic and electronic music, immersive theatre, media art installations, lion dance and martial arts, drums, performance art, drag and non-binary encounters, poetics, opera, culinary treats and erotic refreshments.

Gender Roles Playing on Stage: Pride in Chinatown was a public art program commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program in partnership with the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The event was also co-presented as part of the Alternative Pride Festival by the Vancouver Art and Leisure Society.

Related Links

Pride in Chinatown brings ‘loud and proud’ celebration to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, The Star Vancouver, Tessa Vikander, July 25 2018

Town Talk: Indigenous feast kicks off Harmony Arts Festival, Vancouver Sun, Malcolm Parry, August 10 2018

Collaboration, Performance