Regarding O, a theatrical production opening next week, asks the audience two questions. The first — the one seen in posters and trailers — is about what it means to be transgender in Hong Kong. But secretly, it also asks: can theatre truly be authentic?
This latter question is something of an obsession for Miu Law and Wilfred Wong. The duo are founders of Herstory Polygon, an experimental theatre company which drew its initial inspiration from The Vagina Monologues. Since 2011, the company has borrowed the techniques of documentary theatre and applied them to Hong Kong’s gender issues.
“When we first started, we already focused on sexual minorities,” Wong says. “Starting from that time, we got in touch with many people [from LGBTQ communities] and did interviews.”
Regarding O is the latest step in this search for authenticity, using the approach of “reality theatre.” In typical documentary theatre, playwrights convert real-life interviews into a script, which is then performed live by actors. But here “reality theatre” goes even further: all performers come from the local transgender community, and have no acting background.
What will happen is almost like a game show. At the beginning, there will be an immersive outdoor component that tries to recreate the world as seen through the eyes of transgender people. When the audience returns to the theatre, the play’s creators will use a structured framework of questions to guide performers’ responses, resulting in a collage of stories.
This idea of getting people to speak for themselves is hardly new. But Regarding O is not satisfied with just displaying transgender people, i.e. making the argument that they exist. The true aim is to create a shared platform, where performers and audience members are on equal footing and can rethink ideas together.
“We want to get out of the constraints of playback theatre, where it’s about each person telling their own story, and ‘giving a voice to the voiceless.’ That is not our focus this time,” Law says.
Regarding O is especially interested in whether political movements can be inclusive. From the outside, the transgender community may look like a unified front, but the play highlights the community’s internal dynamics, its hidden tensions and fault lines.
As an example, Wong points to the community’s disagreements on what is an ideal outward appearance: some prefer to fit into conventional gender expectations, while others reject the binary altogether. That in itself can become grounds for solidarity or exclusion.
“The most intriguing thing is, there are minority groups even within minority groups. This question [of how to create a just outcome] is not just a personal question for transgender individuals,” says Law, who believes this dilemma has wider relevance. “Their personal plight is also our collective plight.”
Sho Leung, a 36-year-old language teacher, will be going on stage in Regarding O. He knew Wong from university, and agreed to participate because he wants more people to get to know “real transgender people.” As it turns out, rehearsing the play has also been educational for him.
“In this type of interactive theatre, there are some types of people I have never encountered before. Rehearsals became a way for me to interact with the community. It will be even more fascinating to interact with a real audience,” Leung says.
“When the play asks for our opinion, I find there are differences in how people define everyday concepts,” he notes with some surprise. “Some would deny they are ‘transgender’, because [as trans women] they feel like they were born female in the first place. I never knew people would think that way.”
Layered, complex, and even inconsistent — that is how Regarding O plans to set itself apart. In the end, the play is not really a call to action, so much as a call to observation. Law, for one, is content with this kind of theatrical reality they have achieved:
“I don’t expect the audience to take some immediate action, but at least we want to open a window to the world’s complexities. That is where authenticity is.”
Herstory Polygon’s Regarding O will be staged at Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre from August 18 to 20. The performance is in Cantonese, with English subtitles and audio tracks.