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  • Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity, and the Geographies of Performance by Amanda Rogers
  • Philip Smith

In Performing Asian Transnationalisms Amanda Rogers asks how interactions between British East Asian, Asian American, and Singaporean theatre practitioners have occurred, and to what effect. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to the question of Asian identities between national boundaries in the practice of theatre, combining concepts from human geography and theatre studies. The monograph centers on the concept of the “transnational,” which can be broadly defined as that which operates in and between multiple discrete geographical locations. Transnationalism is closely linked with concepts of globalization and multiculturalism, but remains distinct in its interest in movements across, rather than within, borders and its critique of homogenization through cultural exchange. Specifically, she examines the relationships between Asian American, British East Asian, and Southeast Asian (mainly Singaporean) theatre practitioners and practices. Her thesis is that transnationalism provides a lens through which we can better understand international networks between, and self-representation of, theatre practitioners from different geographical locations. Rogers points out the limits of transnational exchange and the positive and negative effects. [End Page 528]

In her examples Rogers argues that official exchanges between Singaporean and Scottish theatres have yielded mutual, if not equal, benefits. Similarly, limited opportunities and racialized casting have led many British East Asian theatre practitioners to form networks with America. The exchange between British and American performers is perhaps most effectively illustrated by the international collective action taken against the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Orphan Zhao in 2012, a play that relied heavily upon Asian signifiers and had a primarily white cast. She argues that the creation of “minor to minor” networks across national boundaries allows possibilities for peer-to-peer learning, increased intercultural awareness, greater visibility, and a more powerful collective voice. Despite these potential benefits, however, bureaucratic barriers have prevented many British East Asian theatre practitioners from working in the United States, and some forms of transnational interaction, most evidently the showcase of Singaporean talent in Edinburgh in the late 2000s, have proven less useful than others.

Rogers’s examination of transnational encounters includes close readings of several plays. Through these close readings Rogers shows how recontextualization through border crossing (geographical, gendered, racial, and sexual) allows performers and audiences to explore the formation of identity in different contexts and to forge links between theatre practitioners and audience members across cultural boundaries. Specifically, she looks at Ivan Heng’s An Occasional Orchid (1996), Rosaline Ting’s Journeys (2008), and Damon Chua’s A Book by Its Cover (2011), all three of which are Singaporean authored and examine the lives and identities of Singaporeans and Malaysians who have lived and worked transnationally (in England in the first two cases and the United States in Chua’s case). She also looks at the reception of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly in New York in 1988, London in 1989, and Singapore in 1990, offering a fresh reading of this much-discussed play through the transnational lens.

Other plays analyzed include Henry Ong’s Madame Mao’s Memories, which played in London in 1992, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama production Trishaw, both of which (among others) were the product of memoranda of understanding between Singapore and Scotland in 1990–1996 and 2007–2009, which formalized training and collaborations. She looks at the ways in which Scottish collaboration has impacted Singaporean theatre and the ways in which such collaborations can benefit performers in multiple locales.

Rogers also considers American Sung Rno’s Medea-inspired wAve (2004) and Singaporean Jean Tay’s Boom (written in 2007–2008 to explore skyrocketing property values that even price the dead out of land for graves), both of which found new meanings when performed on the British stage by British East Asian performers in 2009. Rogers argues that the practice of preparing for these plays brought the British actors into contact with people from other national, linguistic, and generational backgrounds, and provided a platform to identify shared experiences across cultural groups. Similarly, for American...


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pp. 528-531
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