By Mirae Lee
“Asian but not Asian.” Reflecting on their experience living as a mixed race person in Canada, playwright Adrienne Wong and Julie Tamiko Manning collaborates on Mixie & the Halfbreeds, exploring the in-between, shifting territory that any mixed person must navigate.
Starting off as a CBC Radio drama which soon became a theatrical production in Vancouver 2009, the play is reborn with a new script for its Toronto premiere which kicks off this Thursday, April 5th. A fu-GEN Theatre presentation, the play also features a new cast - Zoe Doyle and Vanessa Trenton - and an all female crew, including the mixed-race director and dramaturge Jenna Rodgers.
Meet the playwrights below, and learn about their experience as a mixed race person living in Canada, and how their story became Mixie & the Halfbreeds (with a special inspiration from Julie’s dad’s old band).
Mirae: First of all, I’m intrigued by the play’s description: “The Extraordinary Tale of Two Half Asians and A Bag of Rice.” How are the “two half Asians” related to yourselves?
Julie: I’m a mix of Japanese and British, Adrienne is a mix of French Canadian and Chinese. The characters of Mixie and Trixie are modelled after our racial and cultural identities. The bag of rice is a stuffed toy (stuffed with rice, of course) called “Short Grain”. Short Grain belongs to Mixie and has been her companion since she was a child.
Adrienne: When we are writing, Julie and I each “represent” one of the characters, as a lawyer would represent a client. So there’s some of us, and our perspectives in each of the characters.
How extraordinary is this tale?
Julie: The tale is actually quite simple. It is the story of two strangers finding friendship in each other. The extraordinary bit is the strange world of the Blond Forest in which Mixie and Trixie lose and then find themselves in.
Adrienne: To me, what is extraordinary about this tale is that we’re tackling themes and ideas around mixed race identity. You don’t see many plays about what it means to be mixed race.
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Mixie & the Halfbreeds? What’s the inspiration behind the 15-minute radio plays? How has the journey been in changing / bringing this piece to life with fu-GEN from the first 2009 version?
Julie: The name Mixie & the Halfbreeds started out as a joke when I first travelled to work on a show in Vancouver. The majority of the Vancouver cast and company was of mixed race, and coming from the Montreal theatre community where I was the only one who identified as mixed race (15 years ago), my mind was kind of blown. I had lived for so long as the “only one” and all of a sudden, I found myself surrounded with people whose life experience was very similar to mine. We were not all of the same race but our experiences of being mixed race, whatever the race, were very familiar. With so many people of mixed race in one room, we could have formed a band. And the name would be Mixie and The Halfbreeds. I might have been inspired by my dad’s old band name: Steve and The Starlighters 😉
When Adrienne and I met, we evolved the idea of Mixie & the Halfbreeds into the story of a girl band fighting against the evils of AM radio. She was working as a freelancer for CBC and pitched the idea to a producer. CBC commissioned us to write a 6-part series of 15 minutes each.
The radio serial ended up being shelved at CBC so Adrienne and I decided to adapt it to the stage. She was Artistic Producer of Neworld Theatre in Vancouver at the time and they ended up supporting our writing of a new draft. The only remaining elements were the characters of Mixie and Trixie. It was produced by Neworld in 2009.
Adrienne: Yep, that’s the story.
The play is about, quoting Adrienne, how “you can belong in some circles, but in others you just don’t fit in.” How do you define the feeling of belonging? How has the definition of “belonging” changed, particularly for someone who identifies as Asian mixed race, from when you were a child growing up in Canada to now (or did it change at all)?
Julie: I grew up in a small town in rural Quebec. I did not belong in all sorts of ways: Asian but not Asian, anglophone but not English, a tomboy…I fell in between everything. Even though I felt a sense of belonging when I got to theatre school, going into a career that focused in so narrowly on what I looked like not only magnified my non-whiteness but it also magnified my non-Asian-ness. No one knew where to put me. It was a disadvantage to be unrecognizable. When I finally travelled elsewhere in Canada and found other Mixies, I felt like maybe these could be my people. When I discovered the word “hapa”, I felt like maybe I could belong to this community. My sense of belonging still changes from day to day but at least, now I know that I am not alone.
Adrienne: I think the play teaches us that “belonging” is more about human connection than what someone looks like on the outside. Physical appearance can signal shared interests and perspectives to others who can read those signals, but appearances can also lead prejudice and stereotyping. Mixie and Trixie’s journey to friendship is possible because they get to know each other in other, less tangible ways.
In your opinion, do blondes really have more fun?
Julie: Not really. But maybe blondes get more attention. I dyed my hair blonde once and it was the only time in my life I could actually feel people turning their heads. But that could just be a case of the grass is always greener.
Adrienne: Blondes definitely get more attention. And when you dye your hair blonde, it’s like getting a brand new wardrobe. But more fun? I think that’s an urban myth.
Who is your role model, and what’s one advice, or something they’ve said that has stuck with you?
Julie: My role models are my mom and my grandma. They’ve lived through more racism and sexism than I will ever know and they have always been the most open and kind women. My mother is the centre of our family, like her mother was before her, and they led their families and lives with love.
Adrienne: My role model is my Mom. She’s resourceful, scrappy, and mischievous. My Dad, too, because he’s always encouraged me to embrace being different.
What’s your dream for your creative career? Or which dream do you think is next?
Julie: I’d like to have an Asian Canadian theatre company in Montreal. I don’t know how supported and sustainable that would be because most Asian artists from here find more opportunity in Toronto or Vancouver, but I’d like to make it more viable for those artists to stay in Montreal. I’d also like to offer the diversity of Asian stories to Montreal audiences. It’s selfish too, in a way, because I love Montreal and I want to stay here- so I just want to create a reason for myself to stay here.
Adrienne: I’d be happy to keep working on projects that push the boundaries of what we as artists and audiences expect as stories and performances. I’m currently working with Spiderwebshow Performance to produce foldA — the Festival of Live Digital Art in Kingston this summer. I’m drawn to intersections, in this case between digital tools and theatre.
What do you wish the audience will take away from the play?
Julie: That they are not alone.
Adrienne: I hope that folks seeing this play feel inspired by difference rather than intimidated by it.
Mixies & the Halfbreeds
April 3-15, 2018
Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman School (6 Noble Street, Toronto)
Tuesday to Saturday 8 pm | Saturday & Sunday 2 pm
Tickets can be purchased online HERE.
Mirae Lee is the Community Director at Project 40 Collective who currently defines herself as an emerging cultural producer and anthropologist. She recently discovered the beauty of theatre, and hopes to learn more about the amazing BIPOC theatre community in Canada. You can learn more about her at miraelxx.com.