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Taiwanese Culture Night to celebrate culture, explore identity through art

Second-year opera student Leland Smith and second-year statistics student Catherine Tong hold hands as George and Grace in “Make it With You.” The play will serve as the primary performance of this year’s Taiwanese Culture Night. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

Taiwanese Culture Night: Make it With You

Royce Hall

April 20

7 p.m.

By Harbaksh Kaur

April 20, 2023 5:16 p.m.

Taiwanese Culture Night will honor culture while exploring personal identity.

The event will take place Thursday in Royce Hall for the first time since before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Raeka Lin, a fourth-year computer science student and the producer of Taiwanese Culture Night, said she noticed how much time had passed since the last production and decided to spearhead the project. She said she spoke to the Taiwanese American Student Association and reached out to alumni to get the project off the ground because the majority of students involved had not produced a culture night before.

“Since none of us had that experience, we were kind of just walking in the dark. … Every single thing that we did, we had to just figure it out by ourselves,” Lin said.

Lin said there were many challenges in organizing the event because almost everyone on the 45-person team had never put on a culture night. She said most people also did not have a lot of experience with writing or production, but they were willing to learn.

[Related: Sikh Student Association’s Punjabi Culture Night joyously unifies friends, family]

For Jonathan Keung, a second-year cognitive science student and playwright, screenwriting had only been a hobby for him prior to “Make it With You,” the night’s primary performance. Keung said his love for film inspired him to take on the project, as he always wanted to try his hand at the craft. He said he used his own family history as inspiration for the script and derived the name Grace from his grandmother. Keung added that much of the play’s focus is on Taiwanese families who have sacrificed a lot to get the younger generation to where they are.

“I felt like it would be such an important thing to tell a story that would inspire people to see how much their own family has done, or how many sacrifices their family has done to get all of us to where we are today,” Keung said. “I was hoping that I could write a story that would inspire people in the audience to reach out to their families.”

The plot of “Make it With You” centers on two high-school students in the 1950s named Grace and George who come from different family backgrounds, said Catherine Tong, a second-year statistics student. She said the play deals with their relationship with their families and themselves as their lives intertwine. The performance also aims to share what it was like being Taiwanese in the 1950s and adapting to a growing world, Keung said. As the plot revolves around 1950s Taiwan, Keung said he conducted interviews with family members to understand what it was like to be in Taiwan during that time. He said those interviews were central to the characters and infused those personal experiences into the play.

The overarching themes of “Make it With You” are rooted in family ties and cultural exploration all wrapped into a romance story, Tong said. Lin added that the title was also chosen because of its fluid meaning in portraying all the different themes. For example, Keung said “Make it With You” focuses a lot on young people venturing out into the world and making a place for themselves in it. While the plotline is relatively simple on the surface, he said the story’s central message is its selling point, as it dives into family bonds and how Taiwanese Americans struggle to be their own people among expectations from family and those around them.

“The story is about discovering our potential,” Keung said. “It is about staying true to ourselves in spite of external differences.”

Since the play focuses on the harmony of younger and older generations, Keung said the group decided to showcase this by creating their own band of board members to play a modern piece, Eric Chou’s “How Have You Been?,” at the beginning and a popular Taiwanese piece, Lim Giong’s “Marching Forward,” at the end. Unlike the other people on the team, Lin said the band has musical experience but was only put together this year. She said the performances will include a variety of instruments that were heard in the original songs, such as piano, acoustic guitar, bass, violin, cello and drums.

[Related: Con Brio String Orchestra prioritizes inclusivity for non-music students]

Because there is an overlap between Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese culture, Lin said it made determining what other types of performance to incorporate challenging. She said the planning board wanted to highlight the breadth and diversity of Taiwanese culture while also making the event distinct enough from past culture nights. To achieve that, Keung said the modern music performance, for instance, will respectfully highlight issues Taiwan has had with China, which the team wanted to include because of how important it is to Taiwanese history.

Taiwanese Culture Night aims to help share Taiwanese culture with the audience, Tong said, and allow Taiwanese students to connect to their culture. Lin said the culture night will be meaningful to the cast, crew and the Taiwanese Culture Night board as they present their work to the audience and form a deeper connection with their culture through the event.

“It doesn’t take one person to find your own identity, it takes more than that,” Lin said. “So that kind of draws from the fact that (in) ‘Make it With You,’ it requires those around you to help you with that.”

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