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Photo by Carlos David

“Us Performing Us”: An Interview with MOONCAKE COLLECTIVE

By High Line | June 27, 2019

Two people making shadow puppets.

As our second Out of Line of the year, MOONCAKE COLLECTIVE performs Twice the Moon on July 17 & 18. The performance draws from fireside storytelling, Chinese opera, and shadow puppetry.

Through their friendship, Bex Kwan and Sophia Mak of MOONCAKE COLLECTIVE unearth contradictions in their relationship to family mythologies, histories of foreignness, and kinship as queer Chinese people in the United States.

The following is an interview with Kwan and Mak, conducted over email.

HIGH LINE: How do you work collaboratively? Does either of you have certain strengths or weaknesses that are supported by the other? What are the challenges?

MOONCAKE COLLECTIVE: Oh, what a great question. This is something that we think about all the time. Cultivating our friendship forms the core of our collaboration. We ask a lot of questions and encourage each other to find answers, or at least explore those questions further. We do that by talking with our own families, researching stories we’ve been told, sifting through family albums, and visiting the places that hold memory and meaning in our lives.

One of our biggest challenges is discerning the line between our “real lives” and “the show.” Because so much (all?) of what you see in the show is “us” performing “us,” we have to be very intentional about protecting our friendship offstage.

Two people holding a blue dot and a yellow dot.

HL: You’ve said that this collaboration came from people mistaking you for one another. Where do you think the idea of interchangeability of people who look like you comes from?

MC: While we sometimes make fun of the “people confuse us for each other” thing that happens, the roots of this phenomenon are in white supremacy in this country. The creation of the model minority myth is one part of that… The model minority myth casts Asians (especially, and some might argue, only East Asians) as obedient, hard-working, docile, asexual, intelligent, and upwardly mobile when directly compared to other people of color, especially Black people. The invention of this characterization was a strategic move by the US government through the press to divide solidarity efforts during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sometimes, we’ve heard folks express that this myth has always existed, but if you do some digging, you’ll find that before the 1960s, Asians were actually characterized very differently by white media to suit their political interests. We could go on for a long time about how this myth has impacted us and our families. If you’re interested, a good place to start is in The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority by Ellen D. Wu.

HL: What about fireside storytelling interests you? And shadow play? Both actions that typically happen in the dark, and often with fantastical content.

MC: There is something about fireside storytelling that not only sparks the imagination but also brings people together to embark on a collective narrative journey. The flame is warm and draws people closer, while also casting dancing shadows on its surroundings, transforming any space into a theater. For us, our family mythologies live in the space in between tangible and phantom, and we’ve found that the ephemeral nature of a shadow is the perfect set for them.

Two people dancing and making shadow puppets.

HL: How has the High Line been as a prompt, site, and a co-collaborator?

MC: The High Line has pushed us to try new things with our work. We have been mostly working in black boxes, and so taking on the challenge of working outdoors has made us consider new ways of telling our stories. For example, we’re used to being able to turn off all the lights and have a perfect black out, but that’s impossible at the High Line! So, we’ve had to figure out how to let go of control of light and find that precision with audio. Also, being in such a huge space makes creating intimacy with the audience a fun puzzle to solve. The team at the High Line has been such a dream to work with! They’ve supported our vision every step of the way.

HL: What’s next for you?

MC: We’re so excited to be Artists-in-Residence at Brooklyn Arts Exchange starting this fall.

Join us for Out of Line: Twice the Moon by MOONCAKE COLLECTIVE on Wednesday, July 17 & Thursday, July 18 from 8 – 9pm.

Learn more & RSVP
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