01 Aug 2019

International Theatre Production Graduate makes her Directorial Debut

After living in Sydney throughout her degree, International Theatre Production Graduate, Shiya, noticed a lack of representation of overseas Chinese in mainstream theatre - so she looked to do something about it.


Shiya is now the Director/Producer of 'A Deal' as it makes it's Australian debut! 'A Deal' is an extraordinary, prize winning play by China's leading contemporary female playwritght Zhu Yi. This production really resonated with Shiya - so she rounded up an amazing team that includes a bunch of AFTT grads and started working on it!

We caught up with Shiya to chat about 'A Deal' and what it has been like working with AFTT grads on a production like this! 

Tell us a bit about ‘A Deal’ 

The Australian premiere of A Deal offers a deeply personal and human insight into the challenges immigrants face when settling into a new and unfamiliar homeland. Set in New York during the winter of 2015, A Deal follows the story of a young Chinese actress who pretends to be an orphan and human rights victim to land a leading role in a Broadway musical. Meanwhile, her parents back in Shanghai attempt to smuggle $1 million in cash to buy her a Manhattan apartment. A Deal has successfully premiered in New York, Taipei and Nanjing. With a diverse and talented cast, led by a passionate director, A Deal is a refreshing, and much-needed performance for Australian audiences. 

How did you come to be the Director of this production?

As a Chinese national living in Sydney, I feel that there is virtually no representation of overseas Chinese in mainstream theatre. The stereotypes about modern China and a lack of acknowledgement for the cultural and historical context cause more harm than good. I want to create new narratives based on individual experiences and involve cast and creatives from diverse backgrounds. Therefore I founded Flying House Assembly to foster international collaborations and inspire cross-cultural understanding through performing arts. Strongly inspired by the provocative theme and powerful language of A Deal, I decided to bring this play to the Australian audience.  

Some of your team members are also AFTT grads, was this a coincidence or did you guys come as a package?

Several ‘A Deal’ creatives are friends I made while studying at AFTT. The Stage Manager, Alex Liang and I were in the same Theatre Production course. Amy Sole, the Artistic Advisor is an AFTT Acting grad. Victor Kalka, the production designer, is a long-term collaborator of AFTT productions. I worked with these three talented people while stage-managing my grad show at Belvoir Downstairs. Felicity Anderson, my social media manager, is also an AFTT grad who I met at the Short and Sweet Festival. 

I moved to Australia last year, AFTT offered me opportunities to connect with like-minded young professionals. So when I first started building the creative team for my directorial debut, AFTT community was the most accessible talent pool for me. Having worked with these inspiring people, I trust their commitment and professional skills. Moreover, I am grateful and overwhelmed by their generous support and input to this project.  

What’s it like working with other AFTT grads on productions like ‘The Deal’?

Theatre is all about collaboration.  Having been trained at a cross-disciplinary learning institution, my fellow AFTT colleagues are exceptionally skilled to deal with the challenges creatively and imaginatively. I feel supported and inspired by their passion and dedication throughout the creative process. Our opening night is only a few weeks away and I cannot wait to show you all what we have created together! 

How has studying Theatre Production helped you become a great director?

A theatre director orchestrates the entire production and it requires a tremendous amount of management skills, especially in the realm of the independent theatre. In my case, I am wearing two hats at the same time: the director and the producer. The Theatre Production course covered so many aspects of the industry practice that I find incredibly valuable, such as scheduling and running rehearsals, booking venues, taking care of emotional well being of myself and the crew, WHS, script analysis and basic technical theatre knowledge. When I needed a fight choreographer for some scenes, I immediately reached out to Patricia Rolwing, a fight director who gave us a workshop at AFTT. With practical know-hows in my toolbox and the strong support from the AFTT community, I was able to step into the role of director with confidence. 

What advice would you have for anyone thinking about studying Theatre Production?

Congratulations! You are about to start a journey full of joy and challenges. You will be inspired and moved every day. You will laugh a lot and certainly cry a lot. You will meet the most talented, hardworking, creative human beings on this planet. The work will be so difficult that sometimes you wonder why you choose it in the first place. However, that is how you grow. Surround yourself with creative people you admire, and learn from them. Watch lots of good shows, get involved in projects, volunteer to assist, throw yourself in the deep end and never let inner criticism tears you down. I always remember my AFTT tutor Farlie’s mantra: “You don’t choose theatre. Theatre chooses you.” If you are thinking about studying theatre production? My advice is: Do it and let theatre love you.

To learn more about 'A Deal' or to buy tickets, click here.

To learn more about studying Theatre Production, click here.