I have known Meiyin Wang for about eight years as a director, collaborator, colleague, and friend. And besides making a mean pork dumpling, she is one of the best artists I know. My first working experience with Meiyin was an audition for her production of Mother Courage. I had come late to the audition and I remember walking into a room in the throes of creation. Groups were spread around the room jumping, dancing, whooping, and conspiring. Mei was sitting intently watching it all. I associate Mei with this intense look; that concentration that comes onto her face when she is watching work. It’s almost as if she puts herself inside the play with the actors—she is in there with us.
I felt this phenomenon most acutely when I worked with Mei on her thesis production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed at Columbia University. During the process, she struck a difficult balance between pushing the actors into the terrifying territory of the text, while creating a working environment that felt safe. This generosity became really clear during the last couple days of rehearsal. We were finally in the theatre and able to work with some of the technical elements, which included hanged actors, severed limbs, fire, blood packs, and falling flowers: low tech this was not. Most directors at this point would have abandoned the “collaborative” process and committed themselves to the logistical battles of getting the production performance ready. But in the midst of the crisis of tech, Mei allowed the actors to have an hour-long discussion about why we were doing the play. This conversation and the shared understanding that came out of it, gave our performance a foundation from which we could hurl ourselves into Kane’s terrible and beautiful world. Mei understood that this hour was better spent deepening human relationships than running a logistical rehearsal.
This kind of bravery and commitment to what is important in the theatre marks all of Mei’s work. The productions that I have had the pleasure of participating in as an audience member are defined by this fearless integrity. One of my favorite productions of all time (I am not being hyperbolic here) was Mei’s production of M4M, an adaptation of Measure for Measure that was performed at the chashama space on 42nd Street. The piece was smart, moving, and visually stunning. It folded me into its world. I will never forget the gasp of the audience when the curtain to chashama’s window opened and we watched the actress playing Isabella cross 42nd Street and catch a cab, while in the foreground the actor playing the Duke lay bound and gagged on the stage. The juxtaposition between the theatricality of what was happening in the space and the filmic realism of what was happening outside was thrilling—magic—everything you want contemporary theatre to be.Published on July 14, 2011