Backstage

Interview with Chi Vu | Playwright The Dead Twin

Playwright Chi Vu
Playwright Chi Vu

Opening tonight is Chi Vu’s production of The Dead Twin at Footscray Community Arts Centre as part of our FLIGHT Festival. Departing from a secret location in Footscray, The Dead Twin is an immersive, site specific work that explores the horror genre.

Chi Vu is a Vietnamese-born writer, director and performer. She is a writer of plays, prose and novels. In 2013 her novella ‘Anguli Ma’ was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. We catch up with Chi in the lead up to opening to hear more about this exciting new work.

How would you describe your play in one sentence?
Immersive. Family. Horror.

The Dead Twin uses the horror genre to explore legacies of trauma. What motivates this choice?
The Dead Twin describes an experience that is core to being a refugee using a pop culture genre (horror). I think the metaphor of a dead twin is an interesting approach to portraying grief and trauma. Our work is new because horror is usually found in film, is rarely done in theatre in this way (we are reimagining the genre as an immersive, cyclical performance), and we’re exploring these themes with an extraordinary ‘colour-blind’ cast.

How has your collaboration with director Deborah Leiser-Moore informed your work?
In 2013, I asked Deborah Leiser-Moore to direct The Dead Twin for a reading at the VCA because my script explores repressed identity, postmemory and inherited trauma through the ‘diasporic uncanny’ and postcolonial gothic. These themes intersected remarkably well with Deborah’s performance works – in particular, the trauma of ex-soldiers (KaBooM), and the silence/emptiness inherited by the children of Holocaust survivors (Cordelia, Mein Kind). By working together, we realised we had many shared areas of interest. Our approaches were also complimentary: Deborah is known for her visually stunning and highly physical works, whereas I like obsessing about narrative, dialogue and texture.

Who is your favourite playwright and why?
I love narrative whether it’s created by an individual playwright or an ensemble. So two of my favourite performance works are by Back to Back Theatre – Small Metal Objects and Ganesh vs the Third Reich. These works are very successful in the way they reveal ourselves to ourselves through the overall design and pared back dialogue.

Another favourite is Ranters Theatre’s Holiday. How can dialogue be so engaging without being overtly about any particular topic? It’s more about the subtly changing relationship between the two men on stage. I also love Susie Dee and Patricia Cornelius’s Taxi – for being able to reveal a location (and community of people living there). The audience sat in the back of the taxi as it drove around different parts of Footscray. It made new connections between these locations for me. Overall, I admire performances where the script is really well-integrated into the overall work, and yet the words that are spoken have a ‘shine’ to them.

You speak of your interest in exploring the ‘diasporic uncanny’ and the postcolonial gothic in your play. What is this? Why does it interest you?
The Dead Twin explores a sense of alienation experienced by immigrant families, particularly those who’ve fled war. Migrants are often buoyed in their new country by new opportunities, and yet they are still haunted by their previous identity. Our intention is for the play’s themes of trauma and suppressed cultural identity to resonate with Australia today.

When I wrote The Dead Twin, I used the postcolonial gothic to explore my bicultural identity, having left Vietnam as a child refugee; this play is not, however, autobiographical. The postcolonial gothic is a genre used to represent the ‘other’ – where true ‘otherness’ can neither be killed off nor assimilated. And unlike magic realism, the gothic emphasises the terror of this encounter, rather than ‘glossing over’ differences. I also use the ‘uncanny’ to describe being in-between two worlds – Australia and Vietnam. Hence the work’s exploration of doubles, twins and the path not taken.

This work’s themes of trauma and ‘otherness’ has relevance to contemporary Australia, especially given the prevalence of our experience of displacement and migration since white settlement. The horror genre is a way for us to connect with pop-culture to explore these themes.

Why do you write?
I think writers and artists in general make work because they have to. Because it feels weird not to; because you cannot engage or comprehend your world fully unless you write it down or paint it or record and manipulate it. Once I’ve written something, no matter how fragmentary, it just feels great to move the ideas around: grow this, pare back on that, until it captures the texture and energy that existed inside you when you first noticed it.

The Dead Twin Season: 12 – 22 August, 2015 Footscray Community Arts Centre
Click here for tickets and information