That’s Beijing — In The Spotlight: Elyse Ribbons

In The Spotlight: Elyse Ribbons
Luke Holden

Producer, writer, actress, inspirer. An artist in Beijing.

On a sunny afternoon in downtown Beijing, that’s sat down with Cheeky Monkey Theater owner and manager Elyse Ribbons to hear how and why she started one of the few drama companies producing original works in the city. From its official origin in 2007, Cheeky Monkey Theater has staged plays in both English and Mandarin to great success. It currently employs three full-time staff and an intern with an eye to expansion both at home and abroad. Elyse explains the reasons behind her success. Interview by Luke Holden

that’s: Why did you decide to start a theater group in Beijing?

Elyse: A friend of mine asked me if I could join in with the Dashanzi International Art Festival. They were doing a version of the Vagina Monologues. I did it and I really, really enjoyed it. The feeling of being on stage, it’s like a drug – the audience, loving you like that. It’s the most powerful feeling. I auditioned and got a part in a Chinese play at the People’s Art Theater that summer. It was very disorganized and I thought if these guys can do it, then I could too.

that’s: Cheeky Monkey – why the name?

Elyse: Well, for two reasons. One, I was born in the year of the monkey. And Cheeky Monkey, in both languages, translates to be a sly, clever, entertaining creature. A monkey is seen as a very playful and fun thing. It actually translates freakishly well.

that’s: Do you write all the Cheeky Monkey pieces?

Elyse: I haven’t written all of the pieces that Cheeky Monkey has produced, but certainly most of them. There’s a lack of playwrights in the city. The whole point is that I want Cheeky Monkey producing original works, about Beijing, about China, about what everyone here is dealing with.

that’s: Are you investing your own money in it?

Elyse: I have invested all my money. There’s no investing, it’s all gone. But with these two shows (Green Eyes on Chinese and Kung Pao Shakespeare), I think they will be very good pieces. I’ve found amazing actors and the scripts are very solid because we’ve been working them with the crew. I’d love to do a production every other month, and have every language possible.

that’s: You have been called the only expat doing original theater in Beijing. Is that fair?

Elyse: I don’t want to take credit for being the only, but maybe I’m the only one who’s addressing a Chinese audience as well. My goal is to be a kind of bridge, culturally, and to share the best of the west with the east, and the best of the east with the west.

that’s: The soon-to-be-staged Green Eyes on Chinese is performed in Mandarin. What’s it about?

Elyse: It’s about learning Mandarin. It’s kind of like this extended stand-up comedy routine where I talk about learning Mandarin, because the storyline is that I am preparing for an exam the next morning. There’s a modern dancer who represents my id. She grows into a beautiful piece of art, expanding on what I’m talking about to become a new character, yelling at me to study more. Then there’s a girl-on-girl tango; it’s very hot.

that’s: And what about Kung Pao Shakespeare, the English language play?

Elyse: It’s a play within a play about a yuppie Chinese director who hires a really talented Chinese assistant who studied theater in the UK and then hires a fully expat cast even though the director himself doesn’t understand English. The expat cast is a very big mix of professionals and ‘unprofessionals’. One of the actresses is actually the director’s mistress. There’s drama, there’s controversy, there’s lots of fire.

that’s: Do you plan to stay in Beijing for the rest of your life?

Elyse: Beijing is like an abusive boyfriend. You love Beijing, you hate Beijing, you get in fights with Beijing and Beijing smacks you and beats you up and makes you swear “I’m going to leave you, go away. I’m sorry, goodbye.” And you try to leave but you can’t. There’s something about this city that’s really stimulating. It’s certainly not the easiest place to live in, but as an artist it is the most inspiring.

Green Eyes on Chinese
Performed by Elyse Ribbons and Hua Lingyun at Peng Hao Theater (located next to the Central Academy of Drama, off Nanluoguxiang) on April 24th, 25th and 26th at 7:30pm. Tickets are 100RMB (60 for students). Call 15810803034 or email greeneyes@cheekymonkeytheater. com for details. Performed in Mandarin.

Kung Pao Shakespeare
Performed by a global cast at the Canadian International School (near the Kempinski Hotel) on May 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at 7:30pm. Tickets are 120RMB (60 for students). Call 15810803034 or email tickets@ cheekymonkeytheater.com for details. Discounts available for groups of 20 or more. Performed in English. www.cheekymonkeytheater.com

4 Responses to

  1. Park97 says:

    I plan to visit your abusive boyfriend this year. Say hi to him for me :)

  2. juhuacha says:

    yes sir, will do ;)

  3. Bill Bartmann says:

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  4. PatShelby says:

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