Review :: Sydney Festival – I Am a Camera

January 17th 2012

William Yang – courtesy of Sydney Festival

I first stumbled across William Yang's work when Belvoir St Theatre put on a series of his slideshow performances 9 years ago. The performance I saw was Sadness and Yang took the audience inside the Sydney gay scene and the huge effect AIDS had on it. I remember being completely drawn in by Yang's mix of humour and pathos, his empathy and gentleness. Yang has developed this kind of storytelling into his own distinct style. You are drawn into his pictures and stories.

Yang takes on big themes. His latest show I Am A Camera looks at the long, at times extraordinarily harsh, history of Chinese immigrants in Australia. Yang always tells the stories through his own personal experiences, and this is what makes you connect to the much bigger ideas he is exploring. One of the main threads in this story is a bus trip that Yang took with 60 people from the Chinese Heritage Association to the Lambing Flat Festival at Young in NSW. It was the site of one of the most infamous gold field attacks on the Chinese by European miners – the Lambing Flat Riot. Yang cuts between the story of the riot as well as various small town idiosyncrasies, the RSL club meals (party pies and spring rolls), and the humour that the bus load of 60 make up almost the entire audience of the festival 're-enactment'. You find yourself laughing one moment then being shocked by the violence of our history the next.

As is the case with a lot of his shows, Yang shares his family with you. Their lives and deaths are all displayed on two screens behind him. Looking at the images you see with what ease they pose and allow Yang to take their photograph. In situations which most of us would find uncomfortable, Yang captures the moment. And it is this that has made his work so engaging over the years.

At the beginning of the show Yang describes himself as a blogger, before the word blogger was invented – he documents his world he tells us. Yang is just as comfortable photographing someone with the largest smile on their face as he is capturing someone facing their own death. His meals, his interactions, his encounters are all photographed. Yang is accompanied by two musicians performing an extraordinarily sympathetic composition by Elena Kats-Chernin. This show is one of the most reflective of Yang's I have seen and I really enjoyed its gentle pace. 

What: Theatre, I Am a Camera
Who: William Yang, presented by the Sydney Festival
Where and when: Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – January 13-15, Seymour Centre- January 17-22 7pm and 21, 22 2:15 pm
How much: $30, book here


Read more from Nick La Rosa