Cage – Lisa chats with Jordan Shea (Theatre Interview)

Cage is part of the Freshworks program at The Old 505 Theatre for 2018. It is playing from 27 February to 3 March.

You can grab your tickets here. 

Images by Jasmin Simmons

The last twelve months has seen criticism of young Western backpackers busking or selling wears on the streets in Asian countries in order to raise capital for their great Asian odyssey. Expecting locals to fork out for their trip can be considered resourceful here. but many countries are offended by this behaviour. It speaks to a consistent post-colonial series of presumptions Westerners make about many Asian countries and their locals. This phenomenon is investigated by Jordan Shea in the forthcoming production Cage at the old 505 Theatre. Here is what the 505 has to say about Cage:

Cuong, Bryce and Ryan turn up in Thailand for three very different reasons. They meet in a sordid little place in the city, where they disrespect the country beyond recognition. As the three negotiate their way through a firestorm beyond their wildest imaginations, a rite of passage joy ride turns into a nightmare.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Jordan a couple of questions about his new play, and the topic of tourists behaving badly. I was particularly interested in the idea of ‘Asian values’ and how that has transformed out of the 90’s when the idea of a uniform Asian set of values was first raised.

(For these questions, ‘Asian Values’ is taken as the wiki definition.

During the years of the ‘Asian miracle’, of course, there was a sense of exhilaration about the ‘Asian values’ campaign. Mahbubani wrote of the ‘explosion of confidence’ that gave East Asians the sense that ‘they can do anything as well as, if not better than other cultures

Kishore Mahbubani, ‘The Pacific Way’, Foreign Affairs, January/February 1995, 103.

LT: There is a cultural ‘war’ being expressed between ‘Asian Values’ and ‘Western Values’ (which amounts to American Values) How have you examined or engaged with this in Cage?

JS:  I think that with the war between values in Cage is an age old one. The Asian values of honour, respect and discipline are often seen in their courts, judicial systems and political systems, and at times, our laid back, lethargic and larrikin like clashes with that in Cage. I have attempted to characterize this laid back stupidity through the character of Bryce, played by Josh Anderson. I think Bryce embodies a rare sort of Western values, abusive of privilege, and anything else they hold in their arsenal. 

LT: From Elvis in ‘Harum Scarum’ to The Hangover series, western films have depicted a racist image of Asian culture that has encouraged the poor habit of tourists showing disrespect to local culture. How are you seeking to shine a light on this problem in Cage?

JS: It’s interesting you mention that! I think that I’ve shone the light on that by displaying this idea that this particular country (Thailand), is not just a country you can take for granted. I’m inspired by Asia’s rising grasp on the world in tourism, IT, economics, art, politics and military. This means these countries are getting stronger in so many different ways, and they cannot afford to be laughed at or degraded. Our relationship to Asia has always been interesting. From the blatantly racist (Yellow Peril), to the strengthening of our ties with Asia during the Keating era, Asia is a global power and not just a continent. My aim through this, is to portray a pocket of Asia as being tough, no nonsense, bullshit – when some of these blokes think they’re exactly other. 

LT: How much do we need to know about each other’s culture? Is there a way to show respect while ignorant?

JS: If we’re going to be active global citizens, have empathy and have knowledge – we should know about each others culture. I think there’s easy ways to show respect. I think the wording of questions, the tone of which you ask it, or independently research something you’re curious about. More people need to do this. Seriously, just google it. You’re not going to be ignorant for asking and not knowing, you’re ignorant by not acknowledging it. Recently, I started reading in-depth about how the Irish people mourn, and it made me understand things a lot better.

LT: What are some of the dangers of relying on an overly simplistic opposition between ‘Asian Values’ and liberal democracy?

JS:  Well, I think Asian values are continuously changing. There are some core ones as I’ve mentioned before, but they are rapidly changing as certain countries reposition themselves in the global community. A lot of these values are harboured from generations and centuries of atrocity and oppression, opposing these values may make you seem ignorant, racist or just blinded by the fact that Australia has one of the highest populations of Asian people outside of the continent. 

LT: Is there a way different cultures can influence each other through tourism that is helpful?

JS: Yeah, I think so. But you have to know what tourism is doing for you. People might go on holidays because they need to slack off from a 9-5er day job and lie on a beach in Kuta, which is bloody understandable. But I think that culturally you are influenced wherever you go, because you generally tend to work towards respecting, acknowledging and understanding it better.