A hero’s journey, a quest for identity & a world in a Chinese mall in the trippy, visually striking, thoughtful No Foreigners


Derek Chan and April Leung. Miniature design by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, April Leung & Derek Chan. Media apparatus design by Remy Siu. Projection design by Milton Lim & Remy Siu. Photo by Daniel O’Shea.

Hong Kong Exile (Vancouver) and fu-GEN Theatre (Toronto) opened their co-production of No Foreigners, produced in association with Theatre Conspiracy (Vancouver) and presented in association with The Theatre Centre (Toronto), at The Theatre Centre last night. No Foreigners was co-created by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu and David Yee; and features performers April Leung and Derek Chan.

Puzzled and troubled at being barred from a store by a mysterious old Chinese woman for being a “foreigner,” despite being Chinese, a young man ventures into the depths of a Chinese mall seeking his identity. While visiting his mother, he learns he is to inherit his grandfather’s estate, but must first discover the password. His dual purpose becomes a single quest, and he ventures deep into the mall where, with the help of an unexpected mentor, he completes a series of tasks and eventually arrives at a secret moth conservatory, where he may attempt to speak with his grandfather.

No Foreigners Production Photo 2
No Foreigners miniature close-up. Miniature design by Natalie Tin Yin Gan, April Leung & Derek Chan. Media apparatus design by Remy Siu. Projection and sound design by Milton Lim & Remy Siu. Photo by Daniel O’Shea.

This magical multimedia adventure in storytelling is achieved through the shadow play of miniature sets and figurines, manipulated and voiced by Leung and Chan, as well as projection, animation and sound. Exploring the concept of what it is to be Chinese, No Foreigners incorporates language, popular culture and ancient traditions within the framework of the classic hero’s journey. The result is a mind-bending, funny and moving ride featuring a large and diverse cast of shopping mall characters. As husband and wife co-owners of a failing electronics store, Leung and Chan bring particularly hilarious and poignant performances. And Leung is also a cheeky, cool and gifted mentor to Chan’s determined, serious and ambitious young hero as they navigate food court ninjas and a karaoke performance. Ethereal, meditative moments combine with dynamic visuals for a truly remarkable theatrical experience.

With shouts to the design and creative team: David Yee (text); Natalie Tin Yin Gan, April Leung and Derek Chan (miniature design); Remy Siu (media apparatus design); Milton Lim and Remy Siu (projection and sound design); and Derek Chan (translations).

No Foreigners continues in the Theatre Centre Incubator space until February 25. Tickets available by calling The Theatre Centre’s Box Office at 416-538-0988 or online; advance booking essential, as it’s an intimate space and a very short run.


A brave & vulnerable hero’s journey – Just Lift Your Feet

Twitter JLYF header DSCF0736-editfinl_1Actor/playwright Heather Allin’s one-woman fable Just Lift Your Feet had its  Toronto Fringe Festival opening at the Robert Gill Theatre last night, playing in a late-night time slot to a small but engaged audience.

Directed by Dennis Hayes, Just Lift Your Feet has its origins in a SoulOTheatre solo show workshop intensive with Tracey Erin Smith. Drawing on archetypal characters, spiritualism and personal storytelling, the play examines fear, creativity and being true to oneself.

Lost and struggling to find her voice, Morgan’s trek to the forest in an attempt to regain her creative mojo becomes an unexpected hero’s journey – one in which the shadow self (the goddess Morgaine) and wise self (the Doe) battle for her allegiance. As Morgan tends to the injured doe, protecting her from Morgaine even as she protects her creativity from the bitch goddess, she finds strength in fragility.

Allin does a lovely job of using specific physical and vocal characteristics to draw and differentiate each character – and the one-person sword versus dagger fight between Morgaine and Morgan is masterfully choreographed and executed. The set, props and sound transport us to a world of magic realism: the music wondrous and twinkling, the wood and rock of the forest with its luminous birch trees and blue/black fabric river, the warrior’s breastplate, sword and dagger – and the red fabric that represents the severely injured animal.

The performance was followed by a brief talkback Q&A session, where Allin, Hayes and the audience discussed character delineation, and the process of finding and writing the story. The possibility of a version with multiple actors came up too, but one audience member noted how the piece is especially powerful as a one-woman show. I have to agree with the latter assessment – the play’s themes of personal journey, and the inner struggle against fear and striving to find a true voice, are well-suited to a one-person format.

Universal in its depiction of the longing to find one’s place – one’s self – in the world, Just Lift Your Feet is a brave and vulnerable piece of storytelling that touches, teaches and tickles.

Just Lift Your Feet runs at the Robert Gill Theatre until Saturday, July 13. Click here for complete show date/time details.

Just Lift Your Feet – interview with actor/playwright Heather Allin

S3lgwNs8bmvaHRI5RnMpjysm3SA20iBRu2--D1NuG5kJust one week away from the opening of the Toronto Fringe Festival, my friends, and I had the pleasure of interviewing actor/playwright Heather Allin, who took some time amidst a super busy pre-Fringe schedule to answer some questions over email about her upcoming one-woman Fringe play Just Lift Your Feet.

LWMC: Hi, Heather. Thanks for taking the time to speak about Just Lift Your Feet. What is Just Lift Your Feet about?

HA: It’s the story of a woman, a creative woman, who has lost her connection with herself. Fear, loss and failure have arisen. She heads off to the forest, hoping to leave the judgments behind to try to reconnect. She fails miserably. In so doing she “gives up,” opening her world to the non-ordinary experience. There she meets a Goddess and a Doe who vie for her creativity, one who wants to consume it, while the other wants to help her reconnect. In the format of the traditional Hero’s journey, Morgan, the lead, is shown the path she took and relearns how to be connected with what matters, and at the end of her fantastical journey, she reconnects with those two sides of herself, goddess and wise woman, to be able to create again, for the joy of creating.

LWMC: Just Lift Your Feet had its genesis in a SoulOTheatre solo show workshop intensive with Tracey Erin Smith. Can you tell us a bit about that process and how you came to find this story?

HA: I loved that workshop. In it there were four other fantastic women, each of us with stories to tell. Tracey was like a guide in the dark helping us to find creative impulses and stories that were meaningful to us, that she would hear, spell bound. Presenting that piece to an audience gave me a focus to craft a play and the opportunity to see if it was of interest to friends and strangers. From that I decided I wanted to continue to develop it. This version is very different that that one. Yet the threads of what I wanted to talk about: fear, and how debilitating fear can be; the power we all have inside ourselves to be creative and contributing and connected humans with self, others and everything around us. I was fortunate to have my friend and dramaturge Jani Lauzon to help guide me along the path as a writer of a play. SoulOTheatre was the kick-starter to this play. Tracey helped to inspire me and to keep me going when the fear of failure arose – as it still does.

LWMC: Had you written anything before?

HA: I have written many an essay, speeches, president’s messages, scenes and a short play, but this is my first full-length play.

LWMC: How did you manage to navigate your dual writer/actor role during the dramaturgical and rehearsal process? Did you find one hat more challenging to wear than the other?

HA: I feel like I’m wearing about 15 hats. Letting go of ‘writer’ was probably the hardest, because it’s also the newest. If I’d known how much work it all is, I might have thought twice, but probably still chosen to do the show. I had to learn to triage, to delegate, and when that didn’t work, I had to let some things not get done, and be okay with it.

LWMC: You also have scenes where you’re playing multiple characters in various relationships to each other. What’s that like? What helps you ground yourself in each character throughout as you shift back and forth?

HA: I’ve put together a fantastic team: voice, movement, fight and of course my director and stage manager who can be that outer eye, and help me figure out the gesture, the voice, the breath, the stance and the power. All of which went put together, create characters on stage being played by one woman. My set, lighting and sound designers support the story, and my performance. My communications team have put together a beautiful and integrated branding of the show that evokes the play.

LWMC: Dennis Hayes is your director for the Toronto Fringe production. How did you find each other? Did he also assist with dramaturgy?

HA: Dennis is incredible to work with. He knew my two co-producers and they recommended he be the right person for this script. Jani Lauzon has been working on the dramaturge of the script with me since last summer. She’s helped me learn how to tell a story dramatically and theatrically. Dennis has helped to sculpt those intricate moments.

LWMC: Any revelations – personal or professional – that came about during your time writing, editing and rehearsing that you care to share?

HA: When I began thinking of writing, I thought I didn’t have anything to say. Then I realized I had so much to say I couldn’t begin. And so I followed my heart, and at each step of my journey the right people arose to help me get to the next step. There are stories in each of us. It takes a lot of bravery to start and even more to finish, but step by step you move forward. If it calls to you, follow your heart.

LWMC: At this point, do you have any plans for Just Lift Your Feet beyond the Toronto Fringe run?

HA: Well, we frequently refer to “in the Mirvish production,” while recognizing we’re in the Fringe Festival. In my quiet moments, I hope I can develop the play to its next level, and that it will find spots in a theatre company’s season. I also think it could travel. So yes, but right now I’m focused on this stage, and this time.

LWMC: Do you have any other projects in the works?

HA: Right now, this is my focus.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

HA: I encourage everyone to find your own creativity. I ask you all to support the arts and, in particular, artists. Watch us, so that theatre lives vibrantly. Pay us, so we can afford to bring you new stories. Enjoy theatre, and what it offers. I am fortunate to have some very talented and dedicated artists working with me on this project. The team that surrounds me and supports the creation of Just Lift Your Feet are amazing to work with. I thank them.

Thanks, Heather!

For those of you on Facebook, check out the mention of Just Lift Your Feet in 2013 Toronto Fringe Picks by Derrick Chua.

Just Lift Your Feet runs July 3-13 at the Robert Gill Theatre:

Show Code


Show Time




Wednesday, July 3, 2013 – 10:30pm – Thursday, July 4, 2013 – 12:00am

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Friday, July 5, 2013 – 5:15pm – 6:45pm

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Saturday, July 6, 2013 – 7:30pm – 9:00pm

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Monday, July 8, 2013 – 3:00pm – 4:30pm

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 – 8:30pm – 10:00pm

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 – 2:00pm – 3:30pm

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Saturday, July 13, 2013 – 10:30pm – Sunday, July 14, 2013 – 12:00am

Robert Gill