Q&A: Chimerica

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee on the cost of heroism and working with director Chris Abraham

A Canadian Stage and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production
Written by Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by Chris Abraham

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in Chimerica. Photo by Dylan Hewlett.

The jumping off point of Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica is the real-life photo taken in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989 by AP photographer Jeff Widener, which quickly became one of the most iconic pieces of photo-journalism in history.

After a successful run in London, Canadian Stage and the Royal Winnipeg Theatre Centre are bringing a new production of Kirkwood's play to Toronto's Bluma Appel Theatre from March 29 to April 17. Directed by Chris Abraham, the show features a cast of 12, including Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim's Convenience) and Shaw/Stratford Festival veteran Evan Buliung.

As tanks roll through Tiananmen Square, crushing the student movement’s cries for democracy, a young photojournalist from America captures on film a moment of defiance that comes to symbolize the struggle. More than 20 years later, a mysterious note appears in a Beijing newspaper and the now middle-aged journalist is driven to discover the truth about that fateful day, and the secrets that were buried as the world looked on. Chimerica examines the changing fortunes of two countries, their tied fates, and the fates of all caught in between.

Here, we talk with Sun-Hyung Lee about his experience working on this exciting project.

Theatromania: How would you describe Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica in a few sentences?

PSL: Chimerica is a geo-political thriller that examines the true nature of heroism and the costs associated with said heroism.

Theatromania: Tell us about your character, Zhang Lin. How did you prepare for this role?

Zhang Lin is an English teacher in Beijing. He’s an old friend of Joe Schofield (Evan Buliung) and is living a sort of shattered life. He lost his wife when they were teenagers during the Tiananmen Square protest and subsequent massacre and is still haunted by those moments. To prepare for this role, I used booze. Lots and lots of booze. Fine. I read the script and gathered my own thoughts and ideas of how to play Zhang Lin. Then had a discussion about the character with the director of the show, Chris Abraham. Theatre is such a collaborative processmany discoveries are made during rehearsals with other actors and the director watching as an “outside eye." I also had extensive language work to do for this role. I had to learn not only a Mandarin accent, but Mandarin as well! Luckily, I had some top-notch coaches to work with: Eric Armstrong for the Beijing Mandarin accent and Dr. Yuan Liu to teach Mandarin proper.

Theatromania: What have you learned so far from working with director Chris Abraham?

Chris is an absolute joy to work with. He’s smart, funny, passionate and inspirational. He’s a real actor’s directorhe knows how to speak to different personalities and is able to draw the best from those he works with. This was my first experience working with Chris, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve learned that you can be graceful and generous under extreme pressure, and yet still hold people accountable for their performance. High standards are what make us all excel.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

PSL: I’d like audiences to take a step back from their way of looking at things in life and to truly examine all perspectives of what they’re witnessing. By limiting yourself to a single perspective or narrative there can be no true discourse between people of nations. I’d also like them to consider the true cost of heroism and to realize that some things are worth it.

Theatromania: What’s next for you?

PSL: Next, I’m going to be playing the lead in the new CBC comedy Kim’s Convenience!

See Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in Chimerica from March 29 to April 17, 2016 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2016-03-29 - Sun, 2016-04-17


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