Student creates theater piece based on real life of people in Oakland’s Chinatown

Madeleine Fernando, Assistant A&E Editor

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This weekend, the stories of real-life Asian Americans will come to life on stage in Weinberg junior Diana Fu’s theater piece “Tears at the Margins.”

“Tears at the Margins” is a series of monologues and two performance poetry pieces based on interviews Fu did with people from Chinatown in Oakland, California, Fu said. The play delves deeper into the stories of these people and shows the impact of gentrification in their lives, she said.

The five characters of the play are based off real people from her interviews, she said. Fu conducted the interviews in December and wrote the play during the second half of Winter Quarter, she said.

Fu wrote “Tears at the Margins” for her immersion project for the Asian American studies program. For the major, students are required to complete a project, which could include a senior thesis, an internship or a research project related to Asian American studies, according to the program website.

Fu wanted to “do something different” for her project, and decided to conduct oral history interviews of people and turn them into a creative project, she said.

“It is really important that these stories are told because these are real people,” Fu said. “A lot of it deserves to be heard.”

Weinberg sophomore Jessica Wang, an actress in the play, said the play addresses issues in a “very nuanced manner.” Wang said with most Asian-American theater or art, she walks in with “kind of an idea” of what the message will be. However, “Tears at the Margins” showcases a complex and diverse depiction of Oakland’s Chinatown, she said.

“Diana did a really great job in this play of just capturing all the different nuanced views,” Wang said. “(The play) shows how … all these different people within the same ethnicity in the same part of the same city have very different views and are coming from a lot of different places.”

In her interviews, Fu asked questions about people’s experiences growing up, how they saw the Bay Area change over the years and what changes they anticipate in the future, she said.

“It’s kind of like an untraditional play. There’s not necessarily a plot,” Fu said. “We’re kind of taking an adventure into Chinatown and … listening to everyone’s stories.”

Weinberg senior Luke Zhang, an actor in the play, said his character, Stanley, begins to realize how prevalent of an issue race is after entering high school. Although race was not an issue for him growing up, Stanley realizes its implications and sets out to be a voice for anti-discrimination, Zhang said.

Zhang said the characters themselves spark conversations about the Chinese-American experience. The play shows how the gentrification of Chinatown has affected a variety of people in different and complex ways, he said.

“Everything from first-generation Chinese people to fourth-generation Chinese people, it’s very different for everybody,” Zhang said. “Some characters are bilingual and some are monolingual and some participate a lot in Chinese culture and some are mixed. … It’s just a very good hodgepodge of characters.”

Communication freshman Grace Dolezal-Ng, the director, said the play is particularly exciting because it deals with themes not usually touched on in the theater community and involves several non-theater majors.

Dolezal-Ng said the play features multi-faceted and very “human” Asian-American characters, who aren’t typically depicted in theater, she said.

Fu said the stories mean a lot to her, and she hopes the audience enjoys hearing them.

“It’s really important to hear real people speak and hear real people’s stories,” Fu said. “Theater is a great place for the imagination but … there’s so much to be learned even just from talking to people who you didn’t even think had amazing stories.”

Email: madeleinefernando2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @madeleinemelody

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