One of a few Australian theatre directors with an Asian background, Darren Yap, 53, is a trailblazer who’s worked extensively here and abroad since the late 1990s.
“I’ve directed large-scale events such as The Sydney Olympics 2000, The Asian Games in Doha, Sponge Bob Parade at Sea World, Ghost, The Musical in Tokyo,” Yap proudly recalls. “I’ve also created new Australian work like Letters to Lindy, Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam and Double Delicious, [and helmed] small to lavish musicals including Miracle City, Miss Saigon, Mamma Mia and King Kong. I love working with loads of different people in different genres.”
Like most in the live theatre sector, last year’s onset of the coronavirus pandemic marred Yap’s professional life.
“In March 2020, I couldn’t finish rehearsals in Tokyo [for Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat]. I was in week three when ScoMo asked overseas Australians to come home ASAP. I had to break my contract, which was awful to do. I rushed home to isolate myself. I lost several projects too, like many of us, and worst of all, in 2020, my five-year-old dog died.
Yap continues, “I was very thankful I qualified for JobKeeper. I did bits of teaching on Zoom and directed a show called Ghost on Zoom, for Tokyo. It was surreal and very tiring to concentrate, but I was so grateful for the work.”
Before returning to business as usual, Yap took the quiet weeks off to discover life without work. It was a reflective experience, which seems to have introduced long-term transformations.
“With the reality of slowing down due to COVID, I started to turn my attention to meditation. What surprised me was I became very content at home. Cooking was my new hobby. At 53, I realised life has to balance with work. I want to hold onto this as things start to get busy again.”
Getting busy again, however, does not mean going back precisely to the way things were. Many have reassessed their values, and Yap is no different.
“I think I am better at time management. But, more importantly, I am better at saying no to people and jobs. As a result, I’m more resilient now, and I am more selective in the work I choose to do.”
Present changes in Australia’s sociocultural climate have also inspired a transformation in Yap’s attitude and thinking.
“With my recent projects, I strive to be inclusive. So even if the work has an Asian theme, it does not necessarily mean I want to only work with Asian people. Inclusivity is really important to me. I think boxing people into categories is dangerous. I don’t want to be known as an ‘Asian director’,” Yap says.
Things certainly seem to be heading towards high gear for Yap with a slew of exciting projects in the pipeline, including The One, a comedy due in 2022 written by Vanessa Bates, and RIOT, a musical opera written by Michelle Law and Paul Hodge.
“It’s for Opera Queensland and La Boite, set in 1888 about the Chinese Riots in Brisbane. Sadly the themes about xenophobia and the threat of the Chinese coming over here and ‘taking our jobs’ are still relevant,” Yap says. “RIOT speaks of the fear and racism still is paramount in Australia. For instance, people laying blame on the Chinese for COVID.”