Stage & Screen

&ASIAN Roundtable Featuring Playwright Kyo Choi and Artistic Director Kumiko Mendl: Exploring the History of WWII (Korean) Comfort Women Behind Choi’s New Play ‘The Apology’

&ASIAN team member Yin Ting Lau is joined by Europe-based Korean Playwright Kyo Choi and British-Japanese-German Artistic Director (New Earth Theatre) Kumiko Mendl for a discussion on Choi’s world premiere of ‘The Apology’ and the history we share behind it as contemporary women/femmes within the Asian diaspora.
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&ASIAN Roundtable Featuring Playwright Kyo Choi and Artistic Director Kumiko Mendl: Exploring the History of WWII (Korean) Comfort Women Behind Choi’s New Play ‘The Apology’
Content warning: This roundtable contains discussion of sexual violence.
An audio only version of the roundtable is available on SoundCloud. A video version of the roundtable is available on YouTube.

Yin Ting Lau: Hello folks and welcome to the &ASIAN roundtable today! We have two really incredible guests joining us to talk about The Apology, a new play presented by New Earth Theatre and Arcola Theatre premiering this September in London, based on the true accounts of comfort women at the Second World War. The play takes a macro and micro perspective of this historical atrocity in order to assess the larger geopolitical consequences of prioritising public record over individual trauma. 

As a trigger warning, today's episode will contain themes of sexual assault and viewer discretion is advised. My name is Yin Ting Lau, I help lead content creation and arts coverage at &ASIAN and I'm an immigrant living in New York City by way of Hong Kong and the UK. And now I'll pass it on to Kumiko and Kyo to introduce themselves. 

Kumiko Mendl: HI, my name is Kumiko Mendl, and I am dual heritage Japanese-German/Jewish. I was brought up in the UK and I am the Artistic Director of New Earth Theatre: we are a theatre company led by East and Southeast Asian heritage artists and we were founded back in 1995. It's very much our aim to bring the voices and stories of our artists and communities to audiences across the country and beyond. 

Kyo Choi: Hi, my name is Kyo Choi, I'm a writer of predominantly plays. And I'm South Korean through and through, I still carry only a South Korean passport although I was raised outside of Korea. I'm mostly based in Portugal right now, but I did live in London for quite a while and that is my work base. Thank you.

Yin Ting: Thank you both so much for joining us. So I love a good origin story flashback right at the beginning, and in knowing how New Earth Theatre was a big part of The Apology coming into existence, I wanted to hear a little bit more from Kumiko first, to travel back a bit further and ask: how you came to co-found New Earth Theatre and its mission?

Kumiko: Oh, well, that's a good question. It does go back quite a way, because I am actually one of the five founding members. There were five of us performers/actors of East and Southeast Asian heritage who came together in 1994. Actually, we were cast in a play that was put on at Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, it was actually a family show and it was based on a Chinese folktale called “The Magic Paintbrush” (神筆). And one of the actors actually had adapted it, his name was David Tse and he had been thinking about putting a company together or bringing people together to form a company because he, and alongside ourselves, we were sort of frustrated with the lack of opportunities that we were having as actors of East and Southeast Asian heritage. So we really wanted to come together, we were keen also to explore our own heritage and different art forms. Looking at different ways of storytelling - Western and Eastern styles we had training in both to a certain extent - so we were looking at finding some kind of hybrid at the outset. The company developed and grew, and it's taken many turns and changes over the years of course, but I'm delighted to say that I'm still here, the company is still here, and very much in need. There is definitely a space that we need to take, and it's really important. 

So we're now a national-touring theatre company, but we also have quite a number of development training opportunities for people entering the industry or just beginning through our academies. One of our programmes has been the Professional Writers Programme, which was really initiated to create a step change in writing and seeing more East and Southeast Asian heritage writers; having their plays onstage in Britain, there were very few... There has been very few, and most of those have been Asian-American writers or writers not based in the UK, so we were keen to really work with writers who were based in the UK, developing their craft with them. 

Yin Ting: Right now I feel like I'm seeing - with a lot of millennials my age and also with Gen Z - it feels like there's been such a surge of collective realisation that if there isn't space, then we have to create our own space. And to some of us right now, I mean, I know certainly for me with &ASIAN, that already felt like a revelation. So to know you were doing this in 1995 is incredible. Certainly, I'm gonna assume you were one of the few companies that was founded like this in London; I don't know, if you felt like you had a lot of peers in the industry with companies like that?

Kumiko: No, there were some other companies. There was one company at the time, Mulan Theatre, who were doing some really great work, looking at new writing in particular. We were coming more from an, I suppose, art-form-physical language– we weren't very keen on that, just because of the make-up of the performers. I trained at Lecoq which is very much movement based; it's not just movement, but it's a movement based training with quite a lot of devising. But yeah, unfortunately Mulan [Theatre] actually no longer exists. So then we became the one East-Southeast Asian theatre company, and we still are [the only company] that's regularly funded.

There are many more smaller companies coming through, which is great, but they’re project-to-project funding whereas we were regularly funded for a number of years. So yeah, there's still definitely space.

Yin Ting: Well thank goodness that you have that consistent funding, because you're able then to support and nurture a lot of talent. And so now relating to Kyo’s origin story: how did you find yourself on the path of playwriting, which, as you now know, led you to New Earth Theatre eventually?

Kyo: Well, I don't have quite an impressive resume like Kumiko. I started really in 2016– actually, my main ambition was to be a novelist. And after three years of writing a novel, as with so many first time novelists, I couldn't get my first book published. But I had a very interesting conversation with a book agent at the time, and she suggested that I take a break from writing, maybe a year or whatever, and then come back to it again, either to rewrite the novel or to start a new project. And one of the things she said to me was, “you know, you're quite good at dialogue and maybe you should try your hand at playwriting.” So that's how that came about, [it] was really her suggestion. 

I promptly took a playwriting course, at City Lit in London. And I wrote a play, a full play after nine months of the course, and just sort of haphazardly and randomly submitted it to what was called PlayWROUGHT at Arcola Theatre. This was a new writing festival that they used to do every year where they chose ten new plays to do staged readings of, and my play was chosen. And that was really the start of it. When that ended, I was on holiday and the director who directed my play Empowered at the Arcola, she told me about the new playwriting scheme by what was then called Yellow Earth, now New Earth. I submitted to that, and again, luckily, was chosen as one of the four writers of the Professional Writers Programme. And that's how I wrote The Apology, so Kumiko and her company, they've been supporting it and now producing it through thick and thin, through COVID. And that's how my relationship with Kumiko and New Earth had begun. You know, people in writing talk about that sort of big break, if you like, what really got them into the industry, and I would hands down– it was through Kumiko and New Earth that, you know, that's how my career really began. 

Kumiko: I'm so pleased. I mean, it's interesting, the synergy as well that you actually had your first play as a reading at the Arcola and here we are, having your first full production coming up in September? It's really exciting! 

Yin Ting: In talking about The Apology, I’m just going to recap - well, if that's even possible - recap for our listeners who may not be aware of this period in time. Comfort women and comfort girls were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army and its occupied countries and territories before and during World War Two. And I wanted to add for our listeners, that the history of comfort women in Asia is particularly complex and traumatic, made all the more confusing by a lack of closure and global recognition, least of all by its perpetrators. As a roundtable made up of three people of Japanese, Korean and Chinese heritage, I thought maybe we could start by going around and actually each share how we individually came to be aware of this shared history.

I definitely remember the moment I first knew about this history. My mother just came home one day, and I think I was about 14 or 15 years old. She came home and had Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking. She bought this book– and already having grown up Westernised in Hong Kong, I mean, my family is still very Chinese and I'm Chinese through and through, and we only speak Cantonese… But she already knew that one of the barriers to me possibly gaining the full breadth of my cultural history is that I didn't like to read in Chinese, I preferred reading in English. And so it was thanks to Iris Chang to really bridge that gap, in bringing that history to the Western consciousness. This book still exists and it's still read everywhere; my mom brought this book home and said, You should read this, and you should know about this history. And that was the beginning of something that still lives in my mind to this day. And I'm grateful to my mother for that. And I think it speaks a lot to a different kind of inherited knowledge or ancestral knowledge that my mother also made the move to make sure I knew of these things that she knew… possibly in the way, as Asian femmes, that we were always implicated within it even to contemporary day.

Kumiko: I mean, from my perspective, actually, it's interesting you ask that question, because I suddenly cast my mind back and I'm thinking… I don't know exactly the moment when I discovered this story, but it feels like it was through Kyo. Actually it's really interesting, because it's a story that's certainly not talked about in Japan; it's not in the history books. And it's not something that's acknowledged. I mean, people know about it. And I think Kyo and I actually attended a talk at the Korean Cultural Institute, where we went and we met a woman who'd published a book about it and she'd actually gone and interviewed some of the actual Japanese soldiers, which was really interesting to get their testimony. And that was really fascinating and quite an eye opener.  

Kyo: I can't think of a specific incident as you had, Ting, in terms of knowledge and awareness. What I do remember is when what's called The Statue of Peace (평화의 소녀상), a bronze statue of a young girl sitting on a chair with an empty chair beside her, was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. That was in 2011. I was already living in London at the time, and I do remember the controversy that caused and the media around it. So that memory is quite significantly lodged in my mind. And in terms of my parents talking about it, no, we never talked about it. I don't think it was because it was a forbidden subject, I think it just happened to be the case, we didn't talk about it at all in the family. I mean, I remember when I was being interviewed at the time for the Professional Writers Programme, and this question was posed to me, “why, or when did you think about writing this play?” 

It's inexplicable, it was really in the winter of 2016. When I visited my parents from London, they live just outside of Seoul. We had planned to go for a meal in Seoul, which was an hour's drive from my parents place. And I don't know, I just said, “can we go see this statue outside the Japanese Embassy?” And my parents had never seen it either, so they said, “yes, of course, let's drive by and see it.” And we drove by, we got out of the taxi and walked around that whole area in front of the Japanese Embassy. It wasn't a Wednesday, then. (That's the Wednesday demonstration that's been going on since 1992, a weekly demonstration outside the embassy by the statue.) But there were lots of mostly women, predominantly young women, it must have been a weekend. Lots of young women students who were sitting, singing, it was a very peaceful protest. And I think that's when I really thought, “Oh, I really should write about this, I want to write about it.” 

I already had a very clear visual in my mind of specifically two characters, and that was an older man and his adult daughter, which is how I started writing a play. That's what I submitted to Yellow Earth as an excerpt and sample of the play. So that's really how the play started; something that was sort of just deeply embedded in my mind that just bubbled to the surface in the winter of 2016.

Kumiko: Actually, sorry, just to correct my records, I realised I had read a play, someone had written a play about the comfort women, which is Lucy Sheen. She had written the play and I did read it before I met Kyo, so I was aware of the story. And I remember reading it and thinking, “Well, this is a story that needs to be told.” At that point in our programming, we were already full. So actually, when Kyo came to the programme, with this idea, and desire to write about the story, I thought, “well, this is a wonderful opportunity.”

Yin Ting: I feel like in all of our recollections, there's kind of a little bit of commonality there in terms of once we gained the knowledge, there was this sense it really lingered, and it can't really ever go away. It's like something once you know, you can't unknow it, and then it creeps up on you so slowly over time, because you don't know what to do with it. In relating to that feeling and how all three of us came to have personal knowledge of this history, The Apology deals with and centres on three different women, all dealing with this knowledge in different ways: withholding, exposing, and experiencing the rupture that comes with finally knowing. Kyo, what led you to centre on to these three different perspectives for your play? 

Kyo: Oh, that's a very good question. In fact, the original story didn't. And through the professional writers programme I had a wonderful dramaturg, Caroline Jester. The play had gone through many permutations before I ended up with these three final main characters. And in fact, just to slightly correct what you said about one of the main characters, Yuna, in fact, has not known her entire adult life that her mother was a comfort woman. So one of the journeys that she goes on within the play is really trying to extract the truth from her father who's been covering it up throughout her adult life and her childhood, obviously. And that is essentially one of the themes of the play: the uncovering of truths, not just on a government or on a bigger political scale, but also on a family scale. 

I think about that a lot, because I remember when I was walking with a friend, when I just started writing this play, and we were walking in a park, and I was telling my friend about the play that I wanted to write about comfort women and who they were. She looked at me, and she said, “Well, what about your mother? She would have been living in South Korea at the time, could she have been one of them?” And I was absolutely shocked by her question. And I immediately said, “No, of course not. That'd be ridiculous.” And I realised that actually, my reaction really came probably from a sense of shame, more than anything; the surprise that I felt when she asked me that. And I thought, this is exactly the kind of shame that people want to cover up. They don't want to disclose these truths, particularly when it comes to women and sexual violence. At the end of the walk, I was so kind of perplexed and just surprised by my own reaction, I really had to kind of analyse it, and I realised how shameful I felt about feeling the shame. You know, it's this very kind of strange feeling to have, especially as a writer, when you're constantly trying to analyse things and understand the significance of things. And yet, when you're kind of bearing the brunt of it, that completely catches you by surprise. And I realised that while this is also one of the very important themes of a play, that the reason why it can be covered up for so long, not just on a bigger scale, but also on a smaller, intimate, interpersonal family scale, is this deep sense of shame that comes with the issue.

Yin Ting: There is this sense of urgency, that is compounded by the knowledge that the number of survivors continues to dwindle every day as they age out of this realm as time passes. And so public productions such as The Apology become so crucial to introducing and retaining these historic testimonies within the public consciousness and awareness, especially outside of Asia. And so I wanted to ask Kumiko: in your work of ensuring these histories make it to the light and in promoting the play in general, what is your assessment of the general public's awareness within the UK - or even internationally - of comfort women?

Kumiko: I mean, I don't know if I'm qualified to talk about internationally, but at least within within the UK, I would say unless you have a particular interest or have some kind of connection to East Asia, Japan, or Korea, or any East Asian countries, I don't think you would know about this. It's certainly not something we have heard or get taught about in schools; we know very little about Japanese occupation in East and Southeast Asia during the Second World War; everything is through the lens of our involvement, the UK’s involvement, Britain's involvement in the Second World War, and Germany, and so forth. People know about Hiroshima, and that's about it; I would say Pearl Harbour. But, you know, they don't know about the invasion or occupation of Hong Kong or Singapore, or Malaysia or any of these. 

So I think it's definitely something that people are really interested in. I mean, they say, “Wow, I didn't know about this,” or “this sounds interesting.” But in the past decade or more, I suppose there's been a real awareness, much more awareness of South Korea and the culture coming from South Korea, through various means. So there's an interest in South Korea, and along with that, people become interested in the history of a place. Internationally, I don't know; either I would imagine for Europe, it's pretty similar as to the reaction or knowledge or awareness of this story, in Europe or anywhere in the West. It's very not known.

Yin Ting: I am so glad you both mentioned the didactic nature of The Apology in terms of holding up the mirror to society. In thinking about the difference between just allowing an audience to sit and experience catharsis, versus being forced to assess even their complicity in coming to watch such a story, this is probably achieved through the character of Priyanka, who heads up the UN investigation in looking at how the plight of Korean comfort women was covered up.

Kyo, I am interested to know a little bit more, and you can also educate us about the political cover-up that happened between international governments where it concerns Korean comfort women, and whether the inclusion of Priyanka stemmed from your fear of an audience, especially in Europe but especially with the spectators in London, there can sometimes be this barrier of “Oh, this isn't really related to me. I'm not Asian, we're not in Asia; I can just watch this, and cathart away.” And I wanted to know, besides you educating us about that political cover-up, if you can also talk about directly combating this experience of just spectating and then leaving it all behind.

Kyo: Two points on that. One, firstly, the Priyanka character is very much based on a real UN Special Rapporteur: Priyanka is based on a real Sri Lankan UN investigator called Radhika Coomaraswamy; she basically wrote the first country report on sexual violence against women and children in wartime and she chose her country to be Korea. This would be before Korea was divided into North and South Korea, because [the sexual violence] happened during the Second World War. So she had visited South Korea, she tried to go to North Korea in the 1990s and there were some problem, and she couldn't go to North Korea. So she had interviewed quite a lot of the survivors in the 1990s and it took her several years to write this UN country report on violence against women, and specifically focusing on comfort women. So she's not a fictional character that I thought, “Okay, I need a woman like this to bridge the audience between what's happening in a country far away in East Asia and the western audience”; she very much existed in her own right. 

Secondly, in terms of what you were asking about the audience, perhaps thinking, “Well, I can not really be personally involved in a story like this.” I mean, again, I think that goes back to what we were talking about in terms of disruption. And I feel that actually, when you watch a play like this, yes, obviously, it's history based; it's something that happened, it's an atrocity that happened to countries, predominantly ex-colonial countries in East Asia. But all the issues, as I've mentioned before, are ever so relevant today in terms of wartime atrocities, in terms of sexual violence on a mass scale, you know, we read about this. We know about this, and in the Middle East, Syria and Africa, you know: whenever there is a war, there will always be an ensuing situation of sexual violence against women. 

I think just today I was reading a CNN article about how all the women and children who are trying to flee the Ukraine are now targets of human traffickers. It's not an issue that’s just remote to the Second World War– it's an issue that's completely relevant to today. So I hope that the audience do not come out of this play thinking, “Oh, my God, what a terrible thing that happened in the Second World War.” But I hope they come out thinking, “well, this is something terrible that happened, and it's good to know about it. But it's still happening today.”

Yin Ting: Thank you Kyo. There is a tendency that even with awareness, the focus becomes centred on the depravity of the crime, to the point that there is this proliferation of media that simply leans into the surface-level shock factor. The first thing that I actually thought of, especially because I have a personal interest in pop culture media, Hollywood movies and streaming services - they are some of the main sort of streams that a lot of people now get their awareness and knowledge from sometimes: what do you think are some of the central obstacles that have prevented a blockbuster industry from having actual good or nuanced industry productions that educate the Euro-American public about this history?

Kyo: You know, Hollywood would obviously be American-based and produced. I think, particularly in the last five years, we've had some breakthroughs really in terms of films about particularly East Asian stories; if I think about The Farewell, and also the Apple TV series, Pachinko, which is based on a novel. I think it feels to me that the kind of subject matter that is of interest to Hollywood is really the immigrant experience. You know, when you think about Fresh Off the Boat, Kim's Convenience, which is a Canadian TV show but it's about a Korean family who work in a convenience store in Toronto. These are really about, you know, the immigrant experience and I think that has a captive base that is of interest. But hopefully TV series like Pachinko, you know - based on a great novel and I haven't actually watched Pachinko because I liked the novel so much, and I’m really loathed to watching TV or film adaptations of novels that I love, so I haven't actually seen Pachinko - but I think there probably is, I don't want to say a sea change because that's too big of a word– I think there is maybe a bit of a shift. 

Historical subject matters and unless they are, as Kumiko talked about, the big Pearl Harbour, there's also a sensitivity of the subject matter. Particularly with, for example, my play; I think making a film or a TV series about sexual slavery in World War Two would be quite a difficult pill to swallow in terms of production, frankly speaking, which is why theatre, I think, is a very different realm from screen and we can go to these dark places if handled sensitively. And maybe with a larger scale in mind.

Kumiko: And actually, I think there's been a number of documentaries on the subject, which sort of makes sense as an investigative story, but I think what Kyo does so beautifully is bring that human element, and a personal— you know, that you can engage with; it's sensitively handled, as you say, I think it's a good balance. And there's also a degree of abstraction at points, whether in terms of one of the characters and how emotional life is, and you can do that with theatre; you don't have to be on the nose, and it doesn't have to be always like… there's a poetic angle to present in a non-realistic way, which is also just as powerful. And I think that's the strength of her play, too.

Yin Ting: And as you mentioned Kumiko, you started New Earth Theatre specifically to combat these things, the obstacles you were encountering. And so I also usually like to try and ask our experts to give words of encouragement or advice: 

In doing the work you both do, which is in pioneering representation for East and Southeast Asian stories, I'm sure that there were obstacles. We've discussed in general some of the societal apathy towards that, especially within Europe and America, because it's like, “Oh, it's not our business.” And I was just wondering if you both had experience of some of the obstacles you've encountered over your careers? And what were the things that allowed you both to keep doing what you do?

Kyo: I think, for me, in my fairly short career as a playwright, what I find really frustrating is– and actually, this is my Twitter profile which says: “Diversity doesn't mean one of each.” And I find that this mentality is very much imbued, particularly in London theatre, which is “Oh, we've done, in one season, a play about people of colour/the global majorities; for that one play enough, you know, we've done our quota.” I think that's still really prevalent in theatre, or onscreen, which is, okay, well, just to fill the diversity slot. You know, we'll have one Black play, one Asian play, or one Eastern play, and that's it, we're diverse. As opposed to looking at the subject matter, the quality of the play, the quality of the writing, what the play is actually trying to say. And that's been, I think, my biggest obstacle.

I can concretely think of two experiences where the Artistic Director or the main Dramaturg has actually said to me, “Oh, we've already done an East Asian play, so we can't produce yours.” In those very specific words. So yeah, that's, I'd say, a pretty big obstacle, right? Because I think, as a writer, of course, I am Korean, I am an East Asian writer. But I consider myself first and foremost, to be a writer. And I'm not just going to be only interested in writing about East Asian stories, I'm also going to be interested in other matters. And the fact that I'm still pigeonholed in that way, is a huge source of angst and frustration. But in a way, I think that's what makes me persevere more. Because if you just take that at face value, and you accept it– what would you possibly be looking forward to? Like, one play every three years? So in a way, I think that kind of anger, that wish to change things– I think that drives me, actually, that just makes me want to write more and to keep knocking on the doors.

And having an agent helps too, a supportive agent.

Kumiko: From our perspective it's been similar actually to Kyo, in the sense of being told or venues have said, “Well, we've already had an East Asian play.” (It's quite rare that they have.) Or you know, “Does it have martial arts in it?” They were only interested in maybe family-focused shows, sort of gentle, nothing too serious. I think things have shifted to an extent that more doors are opening, and it's actually finding and developing and building those relationships with venues. Because we're a touring theatre company, we are reliant on partners so we can actually put the theatre piece on, and it's developing those relationships and finding people who have the same values. It is those values, and they understand that they get the work, and they know why we're wanting to do what we're doing. And they want to be part of that. So we have got some close relationships, but people move on and then change, so you're constantly having to build new relationships to be exposed. 

One thing, I have to say, for all its problems in some ways, the Arts Council has been very, very supportive through the years. We have a really good relationship manager, and long may she stay with us because you know, to have an advocate also within the organisation is wonderful. And I know, they've had a lot of changes, and we don't have the most encouraging government. But if it wasn't for the Arts Council, it'd be a real, real struggle because they're just so expensive, and commercially, they're looking for something quite different. You know, no one would put this piece on, that's for sure, but I think that keeps me going.

I think it's also just- I'm at an age where I see it is about the next generation, it is about opening up opportunities, making opportunities, making things possible. That's really important to me and that keeps me going. Because I see the young people coming through who really want to get to be involved, and you can say, “Yes, there is a place we make for ourselves; we can take up space. We can use our voices, we can tell our stories, and it's really important that we do the work we're doing.”

I hope that we're modelling that, as well as opening up opportunities for the younger generation. 

Yin Ting: Thank you both for your really encouraging answers. And for this last bit of our roundtable, I wanted to devote this last section to the more uplifting anticipation of The Apology’s imminent world premiere! 

I don't know a lot about the creative and production team behind the play. So I was wondering if you could actually tell us a little bit more about that, and how has it been to work together as the cast and production team in contributing this story towards public memory?

Kumiko: We were offered an amazing opportunity at the National Theatre, at the studio there, to workshop it. And for that, we bought in a director, Ria Parry, who’s worked with Kyo too, and we brought in actors and that was presented in front of many venues and invited guests and we had a really fantastic response, really encouraging. Kyo was actually given eight weeks of attachment time at the National to continue working on the piece, before the final reading that we held in May in 2019. The story and the way that Kyo had approached [it], and the way she tells it was, it really touched audiences and in a way it was a test out in front of audiences, wasn't it? We've got a really, really striking reaction, I would say, and it was something I felt like “We've got to put this on. We're going to, we've got to find a way of putting this on. This is so important.” 

And particularly with the urgency, as you're saying, the survivors are in their 90s now. And those survivors are less and less each year. So we began with Ria (Parry, director): I was and Kyo was very happy for Ria to come and continue working on the piece. Then we bought in designer TK Hay, whom we’ve worked with recently as a company and they're from Singapore originally; they were a Linbury Prize (for Stage Design) winner, which is the  big design prize for young up-and-coming designers, and they won it quite a few years back. 

So that was the Set Designer. And then we also have a new Lighting Designer– we're very keen on bringing East and Southeast Asian creatives into the team, it feels really important that we have people on board who have- there's an implicit sort of understanding that we don't have to explain ourselves. There's a camaraderie and there's a real sense of us working towards a common goal. You don't have to go through the whole” breaking the ice” sort of thing; people really bonded very quickly and worked together amazingly well. 

We have a [Composer and Sound] designer whom we haven't worked with before called Jamie Lu, but really excited to be working with them. We have an AV and Lighting Designer called Gillian Tan, who's amazing. She's working for all the big organisations and venues and so forth, so it's great to have her on board and have her expertise; she's originally from Singapore. We also have a costume designer, Erin Guan, who's fantastic too. That was really nice to be able to split the design and the costume design, because we saw Erin and we really wanted to work with her so that's worked out really well; she's got wonderful ideas. 

So that's how we brought the team together! Kyo, you might want to add something to that?

Kyo: Actually, I don't! I think you did a great summary. The only person that I knew is Ria Parry, and I was so keen and so happy to have her available. Because that was another issue, wasn't it? Having the play postponed from 2020, availability was also an issue. And Ria thankfully was available for rehearsals, coming up in a couple of weeks in time for the play to start in mid-September. 

I've had a Zoom with TK, and he is, I thought, just fabulous. I really appreciated how much research and forethought he put into the stage design. Erin unfortunately had food poisoning so she wasn't available on the Zoom. Jamie Lu, I knew through Twitter. And Gillian, I don't know at all. But do you know, I've had one other opportunity to work with an all East and Southeast Asian creative team and it's just so wonderful. It's quite a different thing from working in your usual UK/London environment; when you know that there's nothing to explain, that there is this tacit understanding, there is this shared view. It's a very, very special feeling to be in a room with creatives who look like you, who like to eat similar foods as you, and yet have completely different backgrounds because Asia is a huge continent. It's wonderful.

Yin Ting: Thank you so much for going into such detail about the creative production. I'm pretty confident that any listener hearing this wonderful and earnest description of everyone's amazing work, it's going to be even more tantalising to go see the play in person.

We're nearing the end of our time and so I wanted to ask you: for our listeners who want to follow your future moves, can you tell them how they may find both of you online?

Kumiko: You can follow New Earth Theatre at @NewEarthTheatre. That's our Twitter and Instagram handle. And I'm also on Twitter at @KumikoMendl. And on Facebook, you can find us too, under New Earth Theatre.

Kyo: Kumiko would call me a serial Twitter-er! On Twitter, I’m @KyoChoi1. I'm not much on Facebook nor Instagram, so that's my main outlet.

Yin Ting: Thank you so much for joining us today and The Apology will be on at Arcola Theatre from the 15th of September to the 8th of October. You can book tickets to see it at arcolatheatre.com. Thank you so much for joining us today at the &ASIAN Roundtable.

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