we love china :: interviews with expats

Here’s an interview that I recently did with “We Love China” a blog that focuses on long-term Expats and the fun, wacky and interesting things that they’re doing here in the Middle Kingdom. The only negative is that its a blogspot blog, which is blocked behind the Great Firewall, so its an issue to get to it.

Elyse Ribbons 柳素英: Just Can’t Leave Beijing!

Hey there China lovers! Well, if you’ve been an expat in China for long enough, then our latest interview certainly won’t need any introduction. Elyse Ribbons is well known in China for her theatre and acting work – in fact, this creative, energetic, seemingly unstoppable woman has even founded her own Beijing-based theatre company - Cheeky Monkey Productions. In between this, she manages to find time for heaps of other interesting projects such as Beijing’s Chocolate Appreciation Society ‘Chocojing’, co-ordinating Beijing’s first 10-Minute Theatre Festival, appearing on countless Chinese game shows, MC’ing the TEDx Beijing event and organizing other cool things like the Beijing Art Walk. I’ve never met the lady, but I think she’s seriously inspiring, and really hope to catch one of her live performances one of these days. Presenting the star of the show…  Elyse Ribbons!

Hi Elyse, thanks for your involvement in we love china! Although you call Beijing home now, where is your first home town?
Its a bit complicated, I was born in Detroit, Michigan but then grew up all over America, and I’m currently a citizen of North Carolina (I even vote from abroad!) but am a resident of Beijing :)

You’re an American playwright and actress living in Beijing, and you also have your own theatre group, ‘Cheeky Monkey Productions.’ Was your primary aim of moving to China to become involved in acting and theatre –or in other words, what was it that brought you to beautiful Beijing?
I studied abroad in Beijing as a student and just fell in love with the place. Moved over here not really knowing what I was going to do, but knowing that I would have fun along the way. I have worked in about a thousand different industries before (re)discovering my passion for storytelling.

When people imagine life as an expat in China, they would probably never consider the possibility of making it as a foreign actress in Chinese (and English?) language productions. Is this career path one you’d recommend to other expats, and do you think there’s a lot of opportunity here for actors of the laowai variety?
I wouldn’t calling being a foreign actress in China a “career path” so much as a sideline. If you’ve ever heard about the problems that minorities have in Hollywood, that issue is multiplied greatly here. For me, I use it as a learning opportunity to better my Chinese and have a little bit of fun, but if it were my full-time job and more importantly, my reason for being here, I think I’d go insane. However, as a creator, I think China is *amazing* and the perfect place to be.

Why did you decide to start your own theatre group in Beijing?
It wasn’t a decision so much as the way the cards ended up being laid out.  Which is perhaps why its been working out so well.  As any long-term expat knows, plans don’t ever go “as planned” here in China ;)  Its much better to “be like water” and go with the flow.

Is there much original, contemporary theatre produced in Beijing?
There is a *ton* of original contemporary theater happening in Beijing.  Much of it isn’t the greatest, especially when you compare it to the heights of Chinese performance arts like Peking Opera, etc.  But, its developing with its own flavor and style, and a lot of it is challenging  but also entertaining.

In addition to your theatre work, you seem to have starred in quite a lot of Chinese-language TV shows, soap operas and game shows.  Do you have any funny stories you can share from any of those experiences?
In the finale for a game show I was in last year, I playfully stole the presenter’s prompt cards from them (they usually hold them in their hands, like 3×5 cards) and was mockingly reading them aloud in between filming episodes.  These cards were printed out from a computer.  They included the names of the winners, typed, before we even filmed the episode.  Not surprising, but it was disheartening (but humorous?) nonetheless.

I read something on the Internet about your involvement with ChocoJing – Beijing’s Chocolate Appreciation Society! I think it’s incredible that such a Society exists – if there’s one thing expats complain about, it’s the lack of good chocolate in China. Are you still a part of ChocoJing?
Yes, I am still very much a part of ChocoJing, and especially as winter gets nearer, ChocoJing really amps up for some great events (its all about getting a nice layer to keep you warm up here in the northern capital, haha).  Anyone interested should email me at chocojing@iheartbeijing.com

On the whole it looks like you’re involved in a huge variety of creative pursuits – you’re the creator and producer of Beijing’s first international 10-minute theatre festival, ‘The Shifen Festival’, and you’re also one of the organisers of the ‘BeijingArtWalk’ – what is it about this city, do you think, that inspires so much creativity?
I think that its the juxtaposition of the old and the new, East and West, Beijingren and Waidiren, insanely rich and incredibly poor, government and culture… there’s just so much going on, an artist need only take a look around them and be inspired.

It really seems like Beijing is a dream place to live for those with a persuasion to the arts. Can you see yourself ever leaving this place?
People often ask me what my “Five Year Plan” is and to be honest, I have no idea.  I’m pretty sure that I will always have a foot in China (Beijing) though I’m not sure in what capacity.  I have two anecdotes that I often use to describe my relationship to Beijing (neither of which is in good taste, ha) one of which I will share with you here:   Much like with an abusive boyfriend, Beijing will sometimes beat me down and slap me around a bit, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t leave.  But then again, maybe I’m just a masochist ;)

Read Elyse’s blog here, her comic here and follow her on Twitter here.Thank you so much for your time, Elyse!

we love china :: interviews with expats

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