by Lansy Feng
How I Met My Dead Husband is a story of lost love, reincarnation, death, desire and apples. Well, two apples. It takes place across four lifetimes and has songs performed in three languages. How on Earth does someone come up with that?
It all started from my singing teacher Nate Gilkes encouraging me to write my own show. I was searching for ideas when I found myself looking at a prop coffin that I had made for a colleague, thinking, “Who can I put in the coffin?”
Almost immediately, the perfect idea popped into my head.
I kept it to myself for the time being, just writing the story, but I couldn’t seem to find the thing it needed. That is, until one of my tutors at Howard Fine Acting Studio – David Coury – arrived with his SFA course. He told us to start from our own heritage. An early assignment was to find an old song from our heritage and bring it to class. I chose “望春風” (Longing for the spring breeze). From that song, we were given half an hour to write a story.
The first few lines of the lyrics are, “獨夜無伴守燈下, 春風對面吹, 十七八歲未出嫁,看著少年家”
They say that a young girl is still not married at the age of 17 or 18 (which was quite old for the time), and she is waiting and looking at this guy she likes. I started from this girl's point of view in the old time Taiwan to build up her story.
Taiwanese people talk about fate, and many believe that things that happen in their lives are destined. People also talk about afterlife and reincarnation and there are lots of folk tales about it. It's these aspects of Taiwanese culture that inspired me to write the show.
I loved the new story so much that I scrapped everything I had written to that point and recreated it with this story from old time Taiwan as its base.
Of course, I kept the coffin. And the dead husband.
Once I had a script that I was happy with, I raced off to tell my husband Johann. Without thinking too much, I just blurted out, “I wrote a show!” He’s always pretty supportive, so wanted to know straight away what it was. When I told him the title, he looked a little worried and quietly (and laughingly) asked if he should be worried.
Not just yet.
Although the show is set in 1950 Taiwan, the story is told in modern English. It's easy to relate to. Through this method, Chuen Jiau can lead you in for a peek of the old time Taiwanese culture, value, humor and stories.
When I write, I start in English. I write in English and think in English. Once it is time to study a script as an actor, I translate everything into my first language, which is Mandarin. Although I'm fine with speaking English, my first language still gives me a deeper meaning of the words the character is speaking, and it actually makes me feel much more. Then I speak the character’s words in both languages a few times. When I hear it out loud, it makes a big difference. I do this to every script. So I’m not just saying the words, I feel them when I’m speaking on stage as the character.
I performed an earlier version of How I Met My Dead Husband at The Butterfly Club in early 2018. It was a really good experience to bring it to an audience. They are really the missing character in any show. They change everything!
I joined Wit Incorporated last year, after playing Guildenstern and Ophelia’s Mother in Ophelia Thinks Harder. I really like the company – and the people aren’t too scary – so was really pleased to become part of the company.
There's always room to improve in every work, so I was very excited to further develop my show for this season with the company. Having a few new pairs of eyes to look at the work and add thoughts in the script, set, design, sound. etc. sparks beautiful fireworks. The process helps me to learn more about creating the work and surprisingly I learnt more about the characters that I wrote. Plus, I get to focus on writing and acting while the rest of the team takes care of the other stuff!
I’m really excited to bring a little taste of old time Taiwanese culture (and humour) to Melbourne’s west. Taiwan is great. Street food! Friendly people! Beautiful scenery! It's a small island as the size of half Tasmania, but contains almost the same amount of people in the whole Australia. Yea, it sounds pretty damn squishy, but each town is quite well equipped and easy to access. I'm not trying to advertise for tourism, but you should totally visit the night markets!