Trendfem may be no more but ex-blogger of opera and theatre Mary Grace Nguyen still has plenty to say in the 10 questions for 10 years challenge
Where were you 10 years ago?
I was in New York. I left my English teaching job in Japan, after two years of singing, playing games and jumping around in a classroom. I randomly decided to travel to the States before growing up and properly ‘adulting’. Back then, WordPress had just come out and bloggers were posting on Google blogger, Tumblr and Live Journal. This was also the first time I started a blog and began writing, sharing my travel experiences in Japan and New York with friends and family. However, as much as I should say I am proud of this, I am thoroughly embarrassed about this blog and shall not reveal the url here. Nonetheless, the lessons learnt was my realisation in loving to write, about anything and everything.
Best show you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
This question is so unfair! I’ve seen some brilliant productions at the Coliseum, Royal Opera House, National and Almeida. Not forgetting to mention some unique off-West End shows at the Fringe, including the Arcola, the Rose Playhouse, or King’s Head. (Grrr!) If I had to name one show, though, I’d say Othello. I just love it! The writing, the intensity, drama, tragedy and controversy. Any theatre company or director can make a real handkerchief of the work. (Get it? Hankerchief… oh forget it!) It’s been reproduced, re-written, ripped into shreds and, also, made into something entirely new over the centuries. There’s a constant debate about the usage of ‘black-face’ in Verdi’s operatic version, Otello, and I love how the context and themes: discrimination, race, sexism, and jealousy, makes the work feel current in today’s modern mess… I mean, modern world!
What has been your professional highlight of the last 10 years?
Too many highlights to mention. [Scratches head.] Well, my theatre blog, TrendFem, features interviews, and transcripts, I had with musicians, opera singers, theatre performers and creatives. Around this time last year, I released a short-lived podcast series bringing their voices to life. My moment, of when I could say ‘I’ve made it’, was when I received an email inviting me to interview Lea Salonga – the first female singer to take on the lead role of Miss Saigon at the West End. When I was a kid, my mum had some strange idea that I’d become a singer and perform her role, but, of course, that never happened. That’s how significant the email was to me. Sad story but my schedule clashed with Salonga’s availability, so I didn’t get to meet her in the end. (P.S. In case you’re wondering, I am not a trained singer.)
Top flavour of interval ice-cream?
What show do you wish theatres would give a rest for a few years?
Or forever!! Any production or show that has a cast that’s completely white, male and from a privileged background. I am going to pull the diversity card out for my answer here. May we see more productions with a diverse cast and creative team, please? I’m talking about directors, actors, designers, understudies, sound artists – the lot. I am sorry if my plea seems gushing but I’ve had enough of seeing and hearing the same problem again and again. Also, I’d like to speak for people with disabilities too. We need to include them into the equation – they love theatre too, so why can’t they be a part of it?
Name someone who you think is a really underappreciated talent (in the world of theatre)?
Theatre bloggers! [Quickly runs off stage left.]
Elphaba or Glinda?
I haven’t seen Wicked yet. Hahaha! I know. On the sort-it-out-mate list.
What is one thing that you think would help theatre survive and/or thrive the next ten years?
Speaking from a theatre blogger/reviewer perspective, I’d say a body, charitable organisation or committee that oversees theatre criticism for all writers and puts them in the limelight. There seems to be some divide between “real critics” and independent online writers aka #theatrebloggers. One is officially paid to write by a prestigious publication, while the other does it for free and for the passion of writing about shows which those prestigious publications won’t necessarily think about reviewing. Theatre bloggers don’t just do it for free theatre tickets and canapés! With the cut back in great theatre editors at the Evening Standard, Guardian, The Stage, etc., the scope of theatre reviewing has undoubtedly changed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t collaborate and work together with independent writers. Initiatives like @MyTheatreMates and @StageFaves are great examples of that.
Which is your favourite theatre?
This question breaks my heart. I’m going to have to break the chain and mention three of my favourite theatres. They have to be The King’s Head, the Rose Playhouse and the Royal Opera House. They all have their own unique character and have produced many unforgettable productions in their time, and shall continue to do so. I wouldn’t have begun reviewing performance if it wasn’t for their big theatre ambitions, history and exceptional ways in making art and theatre accessible.
Can you say anything about what’s to come for you, (in the next ten years or otherwise)?
More positive, and potentially negative, tweets on theatre and opera as well as some highly filtered photos on Instagram of gorgeous theatres and opera houses across the globe. I may come back to reviewing and blogging in years to come, though. Right now, it’s down to microblogging to save me some time and keep me in the theatre/opera loop. The theatre and opera world has a lot going on, from new productions, talented artists, grand initiatives in making art and performance more accessible, to its more bleaker, controversial and political moments. It’s a world I cannot live without. I have to thank Theatre and Opera Twitter for that. Toi, Toi, Toi!