As immigrants themselves, Carmen Lee and Chun Shing (Roland) Au know first-hand what it is like to arrive on a foreign shore. Originally from Hong Kong, the two theatre artists have recently taken up residence in Halifax.
With the creation of Theatre Du Poulet the two first explored their relationship with their home country in 2018 with Extinction of Hong Kongers. In their newest work, Settle Elsewhere, they now explore their journey, and those of others, as immigrants to Canada.
“Our first instinct when we arrived was to tell the story of where we came from,” says Lee. “In this second production, we thought it was time to talk about the immigration process and the journey for us to Canada.”
Told in part as documentary theatre, Lee and Au interviewed fifty immigrants from different countries as research for the show. “It’s not script-based but was developed in collaboration with the actors, based on their stories,” she says.
Settle Elsewhere is also taking the stories one step further by making them site-specific, with audiences first gathering at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
“The audience will go there to start the show and then travel to different locations in the city to see the daily life of the immigrant,” explains Lee.
What’s in a name? Taking its name from Au’s nickname “Chicken Roll”, the duo originally thought they would call their newly formed company Chicken Theatre, but realized it did not reflect who they were. In the process of learning French at the time, they decided Theatre du Poulet was a much better fit. “It shows our personality because of all the different combinations and crazy stuff that comes together in creating our shows.”
Alongside the site-specific nature of the show, Settle Elsewhere also uses masks, music, and movement to help tell its stories. Lee hopes that the non-verbal nature of the show will make it more accessible to more audiences.
“Because English is not our first language when we go to see a show in Canada, it’s always script-based, and we find it hard to understand the whole story,” says Lee. “Then we asked ourselves how we could create something more physical, something that is a more universal language that more people can understand.”
Lee is hopeful that through Settle Elsewhere, audiences will gain a better understanding of what it is like for an immigrant to arrive on a foreign shore and attempt to fit in.
“We suppress our feelings because there is this idea that we were all immigrants at some point,” says Lee. “But we’ve talked to many Canadians who do not know how the immigration process works. I hope that [Settle Elsewhere] will help them understand.”
Settle Elsewhere runs October 22-27 at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (1055 Marginal Rd, Halifax). Tickets are now available online through Ticket Halifax. Visit theatredupoulet.com for more information.
Editor’s Note (10 October 2019): This interview was edited to remove some of the specific details of the show at the request of the company.