This month our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life.
As those of you who subscribe to the Displaced Dispatch will know, Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage, was accepted by two international conferences in two of the world’s most appealing locations: Valencia, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa. Thinking I’d be a fool to pass up this kind of opportunity, I launched an online crowd-funding campaign to fund both journeys. Two of us would be going: myself and my husband, Dan, who also serves as my “techie” for the show.
It was my fourth experience with crowd-funding—the most recent being last year, to cover expenses for taking the show to an arts center in Reykjavík, Iceland; and once again, the campaign worked. (A relief since I feared I might have tapped out my supporters’ goodwill, but people were as generous as ever—and I won’t ever fundraise for this show again.) We didn’t quite make our goal but could afford to cover the balance. We would be able to attend two international conferences on two continents in two months—hooray!
In this month’s column I’ll recount our trip to Valencia, Spain, to participate in the 2015 SIETAR Europa Congress, on May 21–23. SIETAR, which stands for the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, is the world’s largest association dedicated to intercultural issues.
First impressions of the Land of Sweet Orange Trees
Dan and I had a couple of days of sightseeing before the three-day conference took place at the Universitat de Valencia. We drank lots of fresh-pressed zumo de naranja (“orange juice” in Catalán)—and yes, the oranges are the best we’ve ever tasted!
We toured the wonderful old section of the city, including the Cathedral and its Torre del Micalet, and the spectacular Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts & Sciences)—a futuristic outdoor/indoor complex near the beach, with an awesome aquarium. We even took the long bus route back to our hotel, which gave us a chance to see a lot of the Turia Gardens, a park built on a riverbed.
Dan got to carry on sightseeing while I attended sessions (workshops, panels, and lectures) during the first two days in order to meet people, learn more about the interculturalist professional world, and get the word out on Alien Citizen.
First impressions of SIETAR
In general the other conference participants seemed very nice but a tad noncommittal when I told them about my one-woman show. I think it was rather unusual to have a theatrical piece at the congress, though I noticed there were several sessions on storytelling as an important means of generating intercultural understanding.
Most of the attendees were what I would describe as interculturalist entrepreneurs—perhaps not your usual fringe theatre-goers? Still, I appreciated learning what sort of cross-cultural issues Europeans have been facing, and there was the bonus of generous lunches and yummy pastries along with coffee, tea, and zumo during the breaks. (I may have gained a pound or two.)
At the end of the second day, I was beat—but still had to do a run-through of my show in our hotel room that evening. Theatre takes stamina, so perhaps my two full days of attending conference events had done me a favor.
First she observes; then she performs. Lisa Liang at Congress Valencia 2015. (Photos supplied.)
The third day of the congress: show day! And some tension… For one thing, I didn’t realize until then that many congress-goers would take the day off to go to the beach or do sightseeing. I feared I might only have five or so attendees, which would be enormously disappointing after making the long journey from California (not to mention the fundraising!).
And for another, I was performing in a classroom like all the other session presenters, which meant we had just 10 minutes to set up. Ten minutes may be fine for a PowerPoint presentation but, especially as the session before us ran a little late, Dan and I really had to hustle to set up all the props, as well as the laptop, old-fashioned slide projector with voltage converter, my tape marks so I would know where to stand when projecting words onto my torso, and chair. We were in such a hurry that I forgot to set up chairs to stand and dance on “upstage.” I had to grab them from the front row in the middle of the performance. Funfunfun!
Despite these challenges, the show was a hit! People did turn up, and there were many more than five, thank goodness. They stayed for the whole performance, which was a coup—there had been walkouts from every session I attended in the previous days (with all the concurrent sessions, people were constantly session-hopping).
After the show, the applause lasted for such a long time that I exited the room to give the audience a break. But they didn’t stop, which was deeply gratifying and a huge relief, so I came back in and took some more bows. Many audience members stayed afterward to thank Dan and me, and in some cases draw parallels with their own lives. Those who found the story relatable included not just people like me, who grew up in different countries, but also people who’d lived only in Spain. One woman said she would distribute the show’s flyers at international schools in her country…so here’s hoping!
Most importantly: the show seemed to help people feel more connected and better understood, which is its ultimate mission.
Post-show, Dan and I went out for a celebratory drink of horchata (made with tiger nuts) at one of Valencia’s oldest and prettiest horchata joints. Then we ambled over to the formerly half-Moorish, half-Catholic quarter, where we ordered a pitcher of sangria (since it cost the same as two glasses).
It may well have been the best sangria I’ve ever had—certainly worth the headache afterwards.
We made it back in time to attend the conference’s gala dinner, which took place in a lovely courtyard at the university. A couple of people who came to the performance approached me to say they were telling everyone at their tables about Alien Citizen. Again, I felt a mix of pride and relief.
Brava, Lisa, to another fine performance! Photo credits: (top and bottom) Lisa and Dan celebrating with sangria and at the gala dinner (supplied); (right) “A glass of horchata, Spain” via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY SA 2.0).
To sum up…
Reflecting on the experience, I came to the conclusion that if the show is accepted at another non-theatre conference in the future, I should perform it only if it can be a keynote (as it was at the FIGT conference in 2014). Practically speaking, it takes time to set up the equipment and props, and as a performer I need space/room to relax and warm up before the show, which runs 80 minutes non-stop and takes my entire being to perform with the energy, precision, and authenticity that the audience deserves.
Still, I’m glad that we brought the show to this intercultural gathering, and I’d love to visit Valencia again. Food-wise, we had truly fantastic tapas and excellent wine, and as a night owl, I appreciated the late dinners. Virtually every Valenciana/o was very polite and friendly, and they all understood my slightly-gringa-inflected Guatemalan accent in Spanish.
The jet lag was only a problem on our first night. It took about a week to recover from it back in L.A., but that may partially be due to wistfulness: we’re not in Valencia anymore (woe!). Between its delights and our appreciative SIETAR audience, it was a fantastic, and very worthwhile, trip.
Next stop: South Africa!
At the time of writing I am preparing to attend the 10th Women Playwrights International Conference, being held in Cape Town from June 29 to July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communications and collaborations among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.
It sounds like my crowd. But South Africa: that’s a first! We’re hoping to do a winelands tour and maybe a one-day safari tour. Watch this space for my next update.
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Thank you, Lisa! I enjoyed taking that vicarious journey into a part of Spain to which I’ve never been. Imagine being able to drink fresh-pressed zumo de naranja to one’s heart’s content! (I’m not so sure about the horchata, though.) It was also interesting to hear your take on SIETAR: I know several Displaced Nationers were planning to attend. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.
STAY TUNED for the next fab post!
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