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TBI Q&A: Renee Liang

What’s great about today? "My 2 month old baby only woke up once overnight which means I had time and energy for creative things! Hurray!"
What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given? "It’s ok to say no to things."
Renee Liang interviewed her sister Roseanne about writing and directing 'My Wedding and Other Secrets'. Pictured - Circa 1978 - Renee (aged 6) and Roseanne (aged 9 mths)
After putting The Big Idea editor through a rigourous interview - 'why are we doing this' - Renee came on board in 2008 to blog about her experience as an emerging artist.


Renee Liang first appeared on our horizon as a community contributor with her engaging review on 'how to put art back into cities'.

After putting The Big Idea editor through a rigorous interview - 'why are we doing this' - she came on board to blog about her experience as an emerging artist.

As Renee introduced herself in the first TalkWrite blog in 2008 "I'm one of the legion of 'emerging artists' who read this site every week, and I'm also 'out there' in the Auckland arts community getting into lots of stuff. On this blog, I aim to talk about some of the things I see and think about, and also figure out (rather publicly) some things about being an 'emerging artist'."

Over the years Renee has stayed true to form, evolving as an artist, emerging as a leader and 'getting into lots of stuff'.

She's shared her journey through the enchanted forest of theatre, taken us backstage at the Auckland Arts Festival and Fringe Fest, sent postcards from her travels including Japan, the Emerging Pacific Leader’s Forum in Fiji (posting a report amidst a cyclone), and ‘fragile, beautiful’ Christchurch.

Her passion for interviewing Cultural Storytellers has gifted us with an ongoing archive of diverse stories and voices.

Occassionaly Dr Liang's worlds collide, as a paediatrician and artist, her family portrayal on the big screen (via lil sis Roseanne Liang) and most recently Renee's own growing family (more creative reflections on this soon!)

So without further ado, here's something you didn't know about Renee - what she would make with a piece of string, a stick and some fabric - via this TBI 10th Birthday QnA.

* * *

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

11 pm – 4 am. I used to make people set me writing deadlines and then as the deadline got closer, stay up later and later. However marriage and babies make these hours less acceptable than they used to be!

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

My husband says I’m messy – he’s forever cleaning up his desk after I’ve invaded it because my space is too full of piled-up projects. In terms of style, I’m one of those people who are blissfully unaware of fashion – I looked back on some old photos the other day and realized I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 15 years! I tend to have eclectic taste. Anything that looks good on a 5 foot 1 frame. And yes, my wardrobe is messy too…

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

I love having a great idea and then working to make it reality. Usually this involves lots of different steps and skills – from the introspective dreaming (this is where mild sleep deprivation is an advantage) to all the meetings, emails and funding applications (which causes sleep deprivation). Each step of the process has its own pleasures and challenges and I find no sooner has one idea reached fruition, than another five have sprung up to take its place!

How does your environment affect your work?

I find that wherever I am tends to creep into my work – if I’m writing on a beach then the sound of the sea will appear in the story somewhere. It’s the same with any music. So even though I love the idea of writing in a cottage by the sea, or a funky downtown cafe, the sad reality is that a small silent office with blank walls is probably the best environment for me to write.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

I’m more of a big picture person. Attention to detail is also important though, especially if I’m producing – saves a lot of time, money and emotion later on!

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

Help whenever you’re asked and you can… even those you are in ‘competition’ with! Creative karma will come back to you, with interest. We’re a small community and the more we support each other, the stronger and more resilient we all are.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

I’m very proud of my play The Bone Feeder. It’s based on an important piece of Maori-Chinese history and has been a ‘labour of love’ for the last three years. I’ve learnt so much about writing, production and funding applications while doing it! Most importantly, I’ve learnt about the importance of letting a story take its time to develop. Seeing the expressions on the audience’s faces as they came out was the biggest reward – they’d been crying and laughing.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m a bit of a late bloomer in the arts. My first career was in medicine, the second in research, both of which I continue. Writing is complementary to these careers – there’s a shared skillset.

Tell us a bit about your recent and upcoming projects.

I'm really excited about Culture Clash.  It's an ensemble piece, made with a group of actors, musicians, dancers and acrobats who have in common that they all use TAPAC as a creative space. We've been working together for 7 months, devising scenes around the idea 'what is home?'. I started off 'on the floor' making work with the rest of the cast, but as my belly got progressively bigger I had to slow down! When I came back from having my baby it was time to concentrate on my role as the story consultant - listening and shaping, working with the director Beth Kayes and creative producer Margaret-Mary Hollins. It's been huge fun and an immense privilege and I think when the curtain comes up in a few nights, people will see what a fresh, funny and moving piece of new theatre about the migrant experience we've made.

I’m also working on my own idea, tentatively titled Paper Boats. After my last two plays which had nearly all-male casts, I was keen to write something from the female perspective – especially as I know so many talented actresses. I’ve assembled a crack team of Kiwi-Chinese actresses and we start devising and work shopping around our collected oral histories in December.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

That’s a hard one since my career path has taken so many twists and turns already! I’m really happy with where I am now, but if I had to choose, maybe… play therapy? Being paid to play with kids all day sounds like a pretty good alternative on the days I’m tired and stressed!

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

Karekare Beach is always in my heart.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

A screen. I can use it for storyboarding, play shadow puppets behind it, project colours and images into it… when I’m tired I can hide behind it and go to sleep and no one will find me! When my daughter gets older we can use it to make a whole world.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

It’s ok to say no to things.

What’s great about today?

My 2 month old baby only woke up once overnight which means I had time and energy for creative things! Hurray!

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Sleep more. Spend time with my family, who are my inspiration. Take time to make something good.

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

It was a big day four years ago when I was invited to become a contributor. It’s given me an ‘inside eye’ on the way things work in the creative sector. Being a TBI contributor has given me an excuse to talk to many, many inspirational people – and I’ve subsequently ended up working with some of them. Lucky me! But this experience epitomizes to me the way The Big Idea works – it gets us talking and linking, and the community grows and strengthens as a result.

What changes have you noticed in writing in the past 10 years?

I’ve only been calling myself a writer for about five years so I don’t feel terribly qualified to comment! However, I do notice a lot more appetite for writing and other forms of expression about diversity, and in defining our national identity this way. It’s opened a lot of doors for me personally – I do feel lucky in my timing. Over the next few years I expect many more voices to emerge and for our ideas and conversation around identity to get more complex – a good thing.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

We are lucky that our community, on the whole, is generous and supportive, despite the low level of public funding.  We need to look beyond CNZ and other public bodies, and investigate other ways of being supported – it’s an ‘and’ not an ‘or’. Crowdfunding and philanthropy are exciting developments and long overdue in this country.  People from overseas often say we are lucky to have a public funding model at all, and one that lets us pretty much work independently. We need to develop our public and private models of funding together.

Despite support, it’s easy for emerging talent to feel lost or blocked and even burn out a few years in. The development of formal and informal mentoring networks might help with this, as well as peer support groups (there are good examples of these already but they need to be more widespread.) Production and collaboration skills are needed by anyone contemplating a career in the arts and I would like to see more conversation around this.

Finally, we are slowly emerging from our ‘island mentality’ when it comes to getting our work seen or published overseas, but we need to be pushed to get out there more and be proud of how our work sits on the world stage.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

25 Oct 2012

The Big Idea Editor