How the hell is he going to remember all those lines? It’s the archetypal bad question sometimes posed to actors tackling Hamlet or one-person shows. But because William Yang is rehearsing not one but four one-man shows (performing seven times a week for a month), the question seems allowable.
And it is. Yes, there has been some confusion remembering every detail of Shadows, Blood Links, Friends Of Dorothy and Sadness, not least because occasionally the material overlaps. It’s quite a lot to do, admits Yang.
The idea for a retrospective was that of Belvoir’s artistic director Neil Armfield, who has been entranced by Yang’s narrated slide shows since the very first outing: The Face Of Buddha.
Since then Yang has finetuned the unique medium, projecting his photographs to tell the stories of his Australian-Chinese heritage (Blood Links), the Sydney gay scene from the 1970s and on (Friends Of Dorothy), the devastating toll of AIDS (Sadness) and the parallel dispossessions of Aboriginal and migrant German communities (Shadows). More accurately though, themes crisscross within his shows, with different races, cultures and subcultures blending, colliding and informing each other within Yang’s vision.
He’s a sharp observer -“ keen enough to have acknowledged that for this season some updating of the shows has been necessary. Sadness has been reworked and Friends Of DorothyÂ has been updated.
There’s quite a lot of photographs from the last Mardi Gras in it, Yang said, who saw the 25th anniversary of the Gras as the end of an era, despite the fact that the event is continuing.
Friends Of DorothyÂ is a sort of historical document in some ways, Yang added. I see the 70s in it as the best because -¦ it did start from nothing really and had its own growth.
Is it, heaven forfend, educational?
It is very educational but also I’m not sure if young people today want to be educated, smiles Yang. I’m just resigned to the fact that maybe young people, maybe they’re at that age they’re not that interested in history.
[It’s] like we’re the parents of the younger generation -¦ They’re just really not interested in Mardi Gras because their parents are interested in it. They’ll find their own -˜whatever’.
Other works have required less alteration, with structural changes to Sadness informed by a film of the production directed by Tony Ayres. First staged in 1992, Yang hopes the show’s universal themes of death and loss remain pertinent.
He needn’t worry. In spite of the cultural specifics of his experiences and works -“ he tells me all his shows are about marginalised groups -“ Yang frequently performs his work around the world (Canada is most responsive; Norway the least, I’m told).
Retrospectives can also signal the end of an epoch for an artist, although Yang has little intention of slowing down. His new show may be the first to focus entirely on China -“ and he has a surprising revelation about the future.
I have been thinking of getting a video camera, Yang said.
The Journeys Of William Yang: Four Works Performed In Repertory is playing at the Belvoir Street Theatre until 1 June. Phone 9699 3444 for bookings or visit www.belvoir.com.au for specific performance dates and further information.