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“Where We Belong:” Mei Ann Teo on Identity and Asian Food


Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asia Weekly

Madeline Sayet in Where We Belong, directed by Mei Ann Teo. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Self-knowledge comes from early life. For creative people, the path to creativity is often early too. For theater director Mei Ann Teo, who brought “Where We Belong” to the Seattle Repertory with Madeline Sayet, both impulses came at the same time.

Teo, who uses their/her pronouns, explained, “My first memory is seeing my 5-year-old self in the mirror and being curious, ‘Oh! This is what these thoughts, this voice look like. I’ve been Love the meta concept, it’s beyond. Thankfully, it’s not just about self-referencing. My favorite plays are mostly metaphors and metaphysics.”

The director, who grew up in Singapore, recalled that Singapore was stricter than the US in many respects, including freedom of speech and marijuana use, but was safer due to stricter gun laws.

“I first studied drama at Victoria Junior College Singapore, and then went on a DIY theatre education tour and internship at Berkeley Rep, short training programmes at SITI Corporation and DAH Theatre, at Yugen Theatre where I studied Noh and Kyogen (Japanese theatrical form), and then finally formalized the long-term pedagogy for a master’s degree at Columbia University.

“I have had many important teachers, many of them including students and collaborators I have met over the years. Anne Bogart is one of the greatest teachers we have had in the field, not only because of the ideas she gave me (though there were many) , but also because she created space for me to develop my ideas and cultivate the uniqueness of each of us as artists.”

“Where We Belong”, written and performed by playwright/actor Madeleine Sayet, compares and contrasts Sayet’s visits to Britain when the Brexit campaign came to power, and her Aboriginal ancestors’ visits to England in the 1700s to address the issue of government betrayal.

“I first met Maddy when I was a professor at Hampshire College, and she was speaking in western Massachusetts,” Teo recalls. “A friend contacted us and said we should meet. When she was invited to premiere [“Where We Belong”] At the Origins Festival in London, we started doing more development and rehearsals.

“I remember being very scared of having to direct another director. Maddie is a great director. I think in the end, the approach was a clear and transparent collaboration of requirements and process, and we built the process together.”

The rest of the creative team joined before the show’s national tour hit town. But Teo was quick to praise them too.

“Our production designer Hao Bai brought an incredible vision to the world of the show in terms of set and lighting design, bringing the natural world to the theater to complement Maddie’s story.

“Our composer Erik Schilke’s stunning music is another character that connects emotional arcs and supports the driving force of the drama. Our costume designer Asa Benally was the first designer on the job, and he featured on stage with Such a detailed, attentive and joyful way to shape Maddy’s character.”

Teo is delighted to be back in Seattle, which she praises for having some of the best Asian food in the world outside of Asia. But her work goes beyond the Seattle Rep.

“The show continues outside of Seattle, so the future is public [Theatre] In New York, Center Stage in Portland, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I was the Associate Artistic Director and Director of New Works. I am delighted to be at OSF and I am able to create more opportunities to grow and make a difference in the field. “

“Where We Belong” will be performed at the Seattle Repertory Theatre on October 9th. For showtimes, ticket prices and other information, visit: seattlerep.org/plays/202223-season/where-we-belong.

Andrew is available at [email protected].



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