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Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping revives perspectives of Chinese Canadians

Dim Sum Diaries
Fabulist Theatre's Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping lives up to its name with an on-stage dining experience.

Damon Bradley Jang says that he learned a great deal about equity, diversity and inclusion during a two-year stint at the Stratford Festival. It came after the Capilano University–trained theatre artist became the first male BIPOC director with the festival’s Birmingham Conservatory.

Jang, who is Chinese Canadian, saw firsthand how Canada’s largest theatre festival made a major shift by bringing forth new perspectives to white-led theatre spaces. As co-artistic and marketing director of Fabulist Theatre, he felt inspired to honour stories by Asian Canadians.

“There was a lot of work done with Indigenous stories, which is great and absolutely what’s needed,” Jang tells Pancouver by phone. “Finally, Indigenous playwrights and actors are getting their due. But I thought in the same sense, there wasn’t a lot of recent Chinese Canadian work.”

Fabulist Theatre’s response has been to produce Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping. Inspired by Mark Leiren-Young’s 1991 radio play Dim Sum Diaries, the Fabulist Theatre show is a series of one-act plays. They’re written by Leiren-Young and seven other playwrights: Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Kevin Chong, Aaron Jan, Dale Lee Kwong, Yvette Lu, Minh Ly, Louisa Phung Suk Yee, and Kenneth Tynan.

Jang points out that Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping has been in production for about a year. It began with a writers’ workshop and the first reading took place last fall. Fabulist Theatre will present the world premiere workshop at the Nest (1398 Cartwright Street) from Wednesday (March 27) to Saturday (March 20).

Dim Sum Diaries
Damon Bradley Jang brought writers together to create Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping.

Diaries is a team effort

“This work would not at all have been possible without the dedication support and work effort of my producing partner, longtime friend, and co-artistic director Mary Littlejohn,” Jang emphasizes.

He adds that Littlejohn, along with stage manager Andy Sandberg and assistant director and assistant stage manager Amanda Wing Chi Lam, “are the unsung heroes” of the Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping. Lam is also the production’s cultural and language consultant.

More than 30 years ago, Savage God, headed by the husband-and-wife team of Donna Wong-Juliani and the late John Juliani, commissioned Leiren-Young’s original play for the CBC Morningside program. And it ignited tremendous controversy for how the five monologues addressed the impact of recent Hong Kong immigration on Vancouver.

Jang points out that Fabulist Theatre sought the blessings of Leiren-Young and Wong-Juliani to create the new version.

“The idea had been rattling around for a few years…because we had presented Dim Sum Diaries in 2017 as just a stage-reading fundraiser for our company,” Jang states. “We did it in conjunction with Pink Pearl [restaurant] as sort of a dim sum dining experience for people.”

Play opens with cacophony of words

It comes as two of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto and Vancouver, are led by mayors of Chinese ancestry—Olivia Chow and Ken Sim.

“What I thought to myself was ‘How can we revive the idea of Chinese Canadian perspectives in figuring out how things have shifted, especially post-2020 with the rise of anti-Asian hate and the influx over the last years about the empty homes?’ ” Jang says.

Dim Sum Diaries opens with a cacophony of words pulled from the earlier pieces. According to Jang, pieces are delivered in a sequence based on the dramatic structure as well as on set and costume changes and actor tracks. That’s because actors are playing multiple roles.

“It can be sort of shuffled around a bunch of times and swapped out with different writers and different pieces,” Jang points out. “It can exist in many different iterations. That’s the hope—that this idea of Dim Sum Diaries is this continuation of Chinese Canadian stories.”

Fabulist Theatre will present the world premiere workshop of Dim Sum Diaries: Second Helping at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 27) to Saturday (March 30) and on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Nest (1398 Cartwright Street). Tickets are available online. Follow Pancouver on X @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

 

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.