May is really synonymous with Arts in Beijing! So far, we’re counting a whole bunch of music festivals, a film festival and last but not least, the limited run of Elyse Ribbons’ new play: Kung Pao Shakespeare. I had the pleasure of catching one of her previous plays, “Green Eyes on Chinese”, which i loved and I’m looking forward to catching KPS over the weekend!
Elyse is a force of nature! she is Beijing’s own multi talented actress/playwright/director, chocolate and wine loving socialite extraodinaire! She’s a great person to hang around and deserves a big “we are not worthy” shout out from me.
The new play, as she describes it is:
Kung Pao Shakespeare is a sendup of a Beijing theater company thats trying to do Taming of the Shrew with an international cast. Cross-cultural misunderstandings coupled with trans-continental romantic blunders create a laugh riot on stage.
Also, a big shout out to Elyse for taking time out of her rehearsal schedule to answer some questions for beijindaze.com to kickstart our “Beijing 人“ category:
1- you’ve been around Beijing for a while and seem quite at ease with both foreigners and locals alike. So let’s say you have a bunch of local friends (that think western food is made up of pizza and hamburgers) curious about western food, where would you take them for a gentle introduction and why?
I would actually probably take them to Annie’s… its cozy, comfortable, and noodles aren’t entirely foreign to the Chinese diet (though as many of my local friends have mentioned to me, Italian noodles are very hard) 😉
2- how about the gongbao jiding crowd? If you wanted to show them more obscure/interesting sides of Chinese cuisine?
My gut reaction is Xinjiang food, but most people who have been here for any length of time have already discovered the Joy of The Chuar. So I would probably take some folks to a Yunnan restaurant, or a Shaanxi place with the pita bread soup. Both options are interesting (but not sea cucumber interesting) and palatable, plus most restaurants of this genre tend to be a lot of fun. Oh, and cheap. The only good Chinese food is cheap.
3- what’s the strangest memory you have your life in Beijing, one that’s left you completely dazed?
There’s so many… I tend to be very zen-like about these experiences nowadays (and think of them as future play material) 😉
A good recent one: I auditioned for a teeny role in the new Will Smith movie “Kung Fu Kid” as a working class girl from Detroit… which they’re filming in Beijing. To be filming a scene in my hometown (Detroit) in Beijing blows my mind. Not sure if I got the part, though I guarantee I’m the only actress auditioning that was actually from Motor City 😉
4- Biggest frustration about living in Beijing?
Traffic. Seriously, Beijing needs to rethink its transportation issues… I mostly bike everywhere, but there are times when I’ve got to get out to the West Side (or Haidian) and getting in a taxi is like asking for someone to punch me in the face. Ugh.
5- Being a public persona and a celebrity, what would you say is the biggest misconception about you?
I’m actually always amused by the misconceptions about me… Chinese media aside (as they commonly just make stuff up – like about me being the Chef at the American Embassy). I’m just constantly amused that every time people see me (LaoWai and Chinese alike) they always comment on how I must have lost weight recently (ie: I am thinner than they remember). I have been the same size since high school. So I think people must remember me as being a lot fatter than I am. I’m not sure what that says about me…
6- I love the title of the new play, Kung Pao Shakespeare, how did you come up with that one?
Really I was using this show as an opportunity to take Shakespeare and slice, dice and fry his work up (with a light sprinkling of chillies). I use his play, Taming of the Shrew, as a reflection on stereotypes and then as a device to help several of the characters develop… I just love playing with words and verbifying (?) Chinese words: to be KungPao’ed, well, its evocative in ways that normal English just can’t compete with.
7- you got a free pass to do what you wish, wherever you wish instead of being in Beijing doing what you do. Where and what would that be?
Hmm… do you really want to give this blog an explicit rating? 😉 Seriously though: my dream of dreams is to have a hutong courtyard in Beijing, a place in London, a small studio in New York, and a beach house in the Mediterranean… and a career that allows me afford all of this. Obviously, being a playwright isn’t going to get me there, but then again, doing what you love has its own rewards. Not anything like having a beach house on the Mediterranean, but hey, I’m happy. 😉
8- word association! if you think of _____ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
* Beijing = the mind boggling brilliance of riding my bike through maze-like hutongs to emerge onto a street with 30 story iconic glass buildings… and almost getting hit by a car
* Baijiu = getting so drunk from a lunch time drinking bout with local cadres that I ended up rapping the national anthem on CCTV
* KTV = haha, I can’t say here… but there’s a scene in Kung Pao Shakespeare that will illuminate more of my thoughts 😉
* Sanlitun = the transition between South Street and the current Sanlitun vibe is a weird but accurate metaphor for the development of Beijing as a whole
* Chocolate = the joys of gorging on a fabulous chocolate fountain with friends who don’t mind talking to you, even though you have chocolate dribbles on your chin.
* High heels = http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNzk5MjI4ODg=.htm
Catch Kung Pao Shakespeare May 22- 24, 2009 at Canadian International School of Beijing
Kung Pao Shakespeare on the web: http://www.cheekymonkeytheater.com/kps.html