BOUND FEET BLUES – THE YANG-MAY OOI INTERVIEW PART II

Our Papergang Matinees are to be staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre thanks to the generosity of Yang-May Ooi and her Bound Feet Blues team, who have donated their matinees to us.  We had an interview with Yang-May as she prepares for her opening night, (click here for Part I) and here you can read Part II:

14071522986_ed19ddc856_zYang- May, what compels you to tell a story?
I’m fascinated by people and their motivations and character. What makes one person rise to a challenge and do something heroic and another hide away in fear? What would you do for love? Stories are a way to explore these human instincts as they invite us into the lives and minds of others. Stories help us explore the meaning and purpose of our lives.

Stories connect our own small individual experience to the collective universal experience.

Stories told live or in a theatre drama are particularly special. There’s something electric and magical when we are all together in a theatre space and we collectively find a personal connection with whatever story is being enacted on stage. The personal becomes universal in those moments.

How do you shape your stories, your projects? Where do you start?
My books and performance stories always start with a jumble of images and emotions which I sift and sort through in my mind. Usually a title emerges very early on and once I have a title, the piece starts to take form. The title helps me find the themes and meaning of the work. If I don’t have a title, most likely the piece will not come to anything.

The arc of the story is the next thing that usually takes shape. I have a sense of where it is going and then vivid set pieces start to fall into place, like milestones along the way. The characters start to emerge but not all of them make it into the finished piece. My initial ideas are usually too complicated and there are too many strands –  so I will need to whittle things down to the cleanest shape. Each element must support the central theme, otherwise it needs to be pruned.

I am pretty proud of the structure of Bound Feet Blues, I have to confess. It develops like a piece of music with recurring themes and motifs that evolve and change as the story progresses. The structure is like an hour glass – it opens outdoors in Oxford and becomes more and more claustrophobic moving into the inner chamber of a bound foot woman from ancient China and eventually ends the first half with me on my knees; it then opens up again until I am running through the wide opens spaces of a wild, natural landscape.

How has Bound Feet Blues challenged you?
The main challenge has been to transform myself into a performer that can give a top-notch theatre performance, in particular as I have no formal drama training. I am working with director and voice coach Jessica Higgs who has an amazing talent for drawing out from me the best performance I can give as well as guiding the creative vision for the staging and production of the piece with an inspired sensitivity.

Having the stamina and fitness to perform five nights a week for three weeks is also going to be a challenge. So  I’ve been trying to get as fit as I can by working with a personal trainer.

21694515799_3d0d80577b_zWhy should everyone come and watch Bound Feet Blues?
It’s an intimate personal story about the women in my family but there is also an epic quality to it. My aim is to bring out the heroic and mythic elements in the story of an ordinary family – not because I’m particularly heroic or mythic but rather as a way of offering to the audience the heroic and mythic within all our lives. So although it’s my family’s story, I would like the audience to take away something of their own stories from it.

The show explores what it means to be a woman, using bound feet and shoes as a metaphor for desirability and empowerment in all their different guises. I demonstrate the brutal practice of footbinding on stage and portray the psychological and emotional outcome of this breaking of a woman’s body in China’s past. The historical stories are interwoven with stories from my own life as a way of looking at what it means for each of us to be a woman in today’s culture.

My aim is to take the audience on a journey of the imagination – in the way that the mythic storytellers of our tribal past might have invited their audiences into their story world. We travel from England to Malaysia and ancient China to the Australian Outback. I populate the stage with my mother, my aunty Diana, my great-grandma, a bound foot mother from ancient China, myself as a tomboy kid and a slinky young woman. But there are no costume changes or scenery changes. Whatever happens on stage is co-created with the audience’s imagination as much as through my performance. And although the show is subtitled, A Life Told in Shoes, I perform the piece barefoot – again, to emphasise the metaphor and also to invite the audience to reflect on the vulnerability of who we are through the vulnerability of my bare feet.

I hope the show will be intriguing and challenging. I also hope to make you laugh and be moved and be inspired – and  to discuss the themes on your way home afterwards!

Yang-May Ooi is a bestselling novelist, award-winning TEDx speaker and acclaimed writer/ performer. www.BoundFeetBlues.co.uk

Her solo theatre piece Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes is on at the Tristan Bates Theatre 24 November to 12 December 2015. You can find out more and buy tickets via bit.ly/bfbtickets.

Her memoir of the same name is published by Urbane Publications in November to coincide with the show For more info and to buy direct from the publisher – see bit.ly/bfbbook

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