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.


The night I broke my karaoke cherry

I’ve been debating with myself over the past few days as to whether I’d post about this – it’s a bit more personal than most of my posts, but it is a music-related adventure and that is one of the things I blog about. So. Here goes.

When I say “I broke my karaoke cherry,” I mean my pub karaoke cherry. I have sung karaoke at private parties/events but never in a pub, and the last time I got up in front of a crowd of folks who were mostly strangers, it didn’t go so well (years ago, I sang Melissa Manchester’s Don’t Cry Out Loud with insufficient vocal warm-up and cacked the high notes).

Anyway, my friend Tricia (a pal of my friend Kerri) started this annual tradition of having a birthday gathering at Spirits Bar and Grill on the Saturday closest to her birthday. And Saturday night at Spirits is karaoke night. I’d been before, but was never able to stick around long enough for the singing (which starts around 10 p.m.) – I always had some theatre event or other commitment to get to. On this occasion, I wasn’t even sure I’d be getting up to sing. It had been a while since I’d sung in public, period, and I’d only recently got back to singing at all, so I was nervous to say the least. But after hanging out there with Tricia’s assembled friends, and finding a relaxed atmosphere, and a crowd (which included another birthday gathering) and MC (Tara) that were lots of fun, I decided to go for it.

I chose Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, a comfortable song for my voice and I knew it pretty well. When I got up there, though, I promptly forgot the one thing I’d reminded myself about singing with the karaoke machine: don’t count on the screen to prompt the timing of your vocals – follow the music instead. So after a bumpy start, I remembered to just follow the music and use the screen to remind me of the lyrics. It went really well in the end, and the audience was great – holding up candles and cell phones to light my way and show their support.

And I had such a good time, I made bold to submit another song: Adele’s Someone Like You. Another singer beat me to it, so Tara offered me the option of choosing another song. I stayed with Adele and went with Make You Feel My Love. By the time this transaction went down, however, there was a mass movement at my table to pay tabs and leave. I told Tricia and Kerri that I was going to stay for one more song. Just after they left, Tara asked me if I was good to go. All my friends were gone, but I still wanted to sing. So I did and it went much more smoothly this time. With the hours and pints rolling by, the crowd was a bit more subdued but still with me – and I had a blast.

I left the bar feeling proud of myself – that I had overcome the fear of making a mistake so I could do something I love. I’ve been singing since I could talk, pretty much – and I really should do it more often.

Got any karaoke stories you wanna share?