UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Railroad plays : performing reconciliation in Asian North American theatre Chang, Eury Colin


Railroad plays: performing reconciliation in Asian North American theatre is a study into a specific sub-genre of theatre coming out of the Asian Canadian and Asian American demographic. I use the term "railroad plays" to describe a body of work that gives voice to immigrant experiences working on the railroad. In a nutshell, railroad plays allow us to revisit and better understand historical prejudices of the late 19th and early 20th century. Additionally "performing reconciliation" is a term I use to suggest how contemporary theatre can help minority groups to engage in social activism, by imagining new ways of looking at history while reconsidering intercultural relationships. I argue that playwrights employ a variety of dramatic techniques - storyline, language and symbols, characterization, genre, and references to historical events - in order to encourage readers and audiences to reconsider intercultural relationships in North America. In this thesis, I analyze the dramatic text of two railroad plays: Forbidden Phoenix by Marty Chan, and lady in the red dress by David Yee. Both playwrights make references to historical moments and use the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway as a way to discuss broader issues such as human rights, inequality, and immigration. Additionally, I analyze a third railroad play by American playwright, David Henry Hwang. I provide a literary analysis to the play text coupled with a performance review of a 1998 Vancouver production, paying close attention to physicality, intercultural elements and audience reception. The purpose of my thesis is to draw meaningful connections between theatre practice and social justice, by asking: How do railroad plays contribute to a more nuanced knowledge and understanding of theatre history and intercultural relationships in Canada?

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