Eloise Wang: Multilingualism in Theatre August Blog Post

I spent the past month redrafting the creative section of my research — a bilingual full length stage script. It’s a story about China’s one child policy and the adoption pipeline to the U.S. I did my fair share of historic dramaturgy prior to writing this script last year, and now my linguistic research is the perfect addition. The story begins with Kai and Chloe, both Chinese adoptees and now a couple, traveling back to their birthplace for the first time. In an unnerving turn of events, they face the  ghastly truth of their long-forgotten childhood adoptions. 

I wrote this 70-page story in London and was fortunate enough to have a reading in an off-west end venue.

Bush Theatre in West London where the reading took place.

Things sounded great but the reading wasn’t so much. In complete honesty, I think it went horrible. For the convenience of that program, I wrote multiple scenes in English with characters who are Mandarin Chinese monolinguals. And again for the convenience of the program and the reading, I had to cast cross-racially only because the program only had one East Asian actress. I spent a lot of my research contemplating the debate of accessibility vs. authenticity and the arguments supporting each side. As I march towards the end of summer, I have many thoughts to be written into a paper but little faith to revitalize my young dramatic creation. I want my story to land on how adoptees reconnects or rejects the first culture, how learning a language changes a person, and how language can represent a culture and a cognitive pattern. But I can’t flesh out my thoughts unless I show my audience what Mandarin Chinese sounds like on stage.

When I finished the first draft of this play, the word count was at 12,771. Less than 400 words was written in Chinese despite a third of the scenes are supposed to happen in Mandarin Chinese. The draft looks very different now. Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran once said, “One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language.” It’s one of my favorite quotes ever. I want my play to inhabit my languages so that the characters can craft their own habitat within.  

The photo I took of the word count page when I finished the first draft.