Living Newspaper Clippings: Transcript of Anchuli Felicia King and Tife Kusoro in conversation

This is the transcript of the recorded conversation between writers Anchuli Felicia King and Tife Kusoro, recorded as part of the Royal Court Living Newspaper Clippings series. This conversation was recorded in February 2021. 

Anchuli Felicia King 

Hi, my name is Anchuli Felicia King, and I wrote on Edition 2.

Tife Kusoro 

Hi, my name is Tife Kusoro, and I wrote on Edition 2.

Felicia: Okay, so I guess let’s start off by talking about, I guess, the theme of the Edition, which was ‘Aunties’? How did you feel about the theme for our Edition?

Tife: I thought it was really exciting. It was really cool, like a cool different way to look at news because I think it came from, a little thing that I thought in one of the writers meetings about, how I engage with news in my life and what that is like, and how I kind of felt, at the time anyway, that I didn’t really, listen to or watch that much news. And all the news I was getting, or that I was consuming, came from social media. And how, kind of on social media, there’s a sort of alternative news, it’s like people telling, making their own news or creating their own community sort of thing. And then all of like fake news that comes with that, and I was thinking about how that happens in my life and WhatsApp and aunties spreading fake news on WhatsApp and stuff like that. And so that was kind of where it came from, kind of, trying to think of an idea of what news is in that alternative way – alternatively finding, creating community in your own news and stuff like that. But then it kind of spiralled, and it was like, why can’t it be an ‘Aunty’ Edition?

Felicia: And I remember as well, one of the conversations we had, particularly that Mark was championing was wanting to have people feel welcomed into the space.

Tife: Yeah.

Felicia: And have it feel like there was almost a family environment – that there was the sort of team of aunties that was guiding you through the space and taking care of you. And I actually, when I saw it, I was like, “Yeah, that frame worked really well and wove through everybody’s pieces” – you felt like, even though you weren’t related to these women and ‘Aunty’ was more of an abstract concept of these women who were taking care of you. How did you find the process of actually working on writing your pieces? And then, how did you feel when you saw it?

Tife: I felt so great when I saw it, because I remember just watching it online and just thinking, “Wow.” Just how the piece kind of fit in the space and stuff like that, was so cool to see. Yeah, and actually just writing it. I kind of felt like, it felt interesting, because I kind of felt like the kind of character of the Aunty was, it was based on people that I feel like I know in my real life, so it kind of felt like it just kind of came out. And that sort of, I was trying to think of the place that this fake news kind of comes from and how sometimes it feels like it’s coming from a really genuine, caring place and people really wanting to protect the people they love. Even if it’s not in the best way, or even if it comes up in a way that isn’t quite right. But then still getting that feeling of wanting to protect and stuff like that. And I felt like that really came through when I saw it. Yeah, just that welcoming feeling of the Aunty that you were talking about. Your Protest Aunty piece was one of the ones that I really really really loved, and I just want to know how you felt about writing that?

Felicia: I mean, yeah, the first thing I have to say is it happened so quickly, and because I was over here, I was very much like, “How is this going to happen?! Like, we’re all going to separately write pieces and then what? And is it gonna work?” And then when I saw the recording I was like, “Wow, it’s incredible how thematically coherent it felt in a weird way, right?

Tife: Yeah.  Yeah, they were sick!

Felicia: That there were all these recurring motifs throughout and even though we hadn’t seen each other’s pieces, there was a real, there was a tonne of through lines in there, which is really awesome. But yeah, I’ve definitely, I was so happy with the way that my pieces turned out, mostly because the performers who did it were so funny and amazing.  Right? They just totally got the humour of it, which I think was really difficult to nail. And I think it came from, I mean, it was great that we all had sort of different personified aunties in that opening, in the Front Page piece too, so that there was a sense of, like you’re saying, even though there’s a sort of benevolence and love behind their motives, each of the Aunties had a sort of sinister bent to them. And that there was something sort of menacing about the way that they were enforcing their love. And certainly, with the protests Aunties, I wanted it to be very much in this sort of revolutionary spirit that we’ve been seeing in protests all over the world, but there is a sort of unhinged quality to it that can very quickly veer into extremism. And I really wanted to play with that discomfort of like, they’re revolutionaries, but it’s also like, how far does it go before you’re just part of mob mentality?

Tife: Yeah, I thought that was really really cool. I just loved how they were sort of challenging authority and being really fierce and sort of ferocious. Because, when I think about Aunties in my own life, sometimes I put them in a box in my head of people that are sort of protecting authority, or like they aren’t, yeah, just not like that. And that, to me, just turned it on its head. And that was really, really cool. And it made me think of when the End SARS protests were happening, my parents got involved with that. And, you started to see people really differently and see how they, in themselves and in their own lives, sort of challenge authority and stuff like that. But yeah, I thought that was really cool. And I really liked how the aunties came up in the lift as well. Yeah. I thought that was hilarious.

Felicia: Yeah, that was, I mean, that was just genius. I just really didn’t know how they were going to shoot any of that stuff I wrote that feels like, really short pieces but I saw it and I was like, “Brilliant, brilliant.” I mean, that’s the other thing that was so amazing, right? Getting to see everybody’s pieces and how they were used in the space. And some of them being almost installation pieces where the live art that was going on in the space was so… Do you feel like when you were starting to write it, you were thinking of your space? Or was the space sort of an afterthought, when you sort of got to the process of rehearsing it?

Tife: Actually, I was trying to figure out a way to make this space make sense with the sort of three minute monologue that the Auntie gave. And because I was like, “Well, what is this space in her life?” And then it started becoming, I was like, “Okay, this is a space where she sort of holds her underground church fellowship that is against lockdown rules. And it’s happening in her basement. And so it has to be super top secret.” And she was inviting the audience in. So I was really trying to think with a sort of immersive brain because I don’t really, I haven’t written immersive stuff before. But it was really, really cool to have that challenge and have to think about that. And then just seeing it on screen, I felt like that sort of secretiveness of it, I don’t know, it was interesting how that fit with screen. Because I know that if people did get to actually be in the room, that feeling would have been totally different and really interesting. But yeah.

Felicia: Yeah, and I loved the way that she was sort of perched over the audience and hovering, and it was very clear, she almost felt like she was delivering a sermon from a pulpit. You know?

Tife: Yeah, yeah. It really did.

Felicia: Yeah, I loved that. And I felt like, you know, because in our very early conversations with the designers, when they were talking about the quality of each of the spaces, it felt like every space that they were building had an innate character to it already, and certain things that you had to sort of write around. So it was such an exciting, I don’t know how you found it, but I found it such an exciting challenge to be like, “Oh, yeah, how do you make it work for that space – the reality of that space? And also, it was fun that we both got subterranean spaces, like literally!

Tife: The underground Aunties.

Felicia: Yeah! How did you find the process of, were you involved in rehearsal at all?

Tife: No, because I was doing something else at the time as well. So it was kind of, I couldn’t really be involved in the rehearsal process.

Felicia: Same.

Tife: The first time I saw it is was on screen, when it was happening. So it was like, “Oh, wow.”

Felicia: I know, I had the same experience and it was incredibly surreal to send the script off and then be like, “Okay, so at the end of the week, I guess we’ll just see it happen!”

Tife: Yeah, we’ll just see it happen.

Felicia: Did you get to talk to the designers at all about what you wanted your Auntie to look like or costuming or anything like that?

Tife: Just a little bit, like over WhatsApp and stuff like that. Just sending ideas about what the Auntie would wear and just her general vibe, and the vibe of the space as well. Yeah, but it was really cool to be involved in those decisions. Yeah. What about you?

Felicia: Yeah, I was lucky enough to get to have a meeting with the designers and I was so impressed – the Design Collective were awe-inspiring.

Tife: Yeah, they’re sick!

Felicia: They’re so incredible, and the time limitations that they were working under and the resource limitations, and they still managed to… I was so impressed talking to them. And they were like, “Okay, so we want to get as many, you know, protest posters in there as possible.” And they were really keen to make the Aunties look like, I’d actually included a picture of Asian aunty memes because I really wanted it to be like that 80s look with the bum bags and the visors. And I was like, “As close as we can get to this 80s Asian aunty vibe as possible would be ideal.” And they were so open to it, and they were like, “Yeah, we’re 100% going to do it.” And when I saw it, I was like, “Spot on.”

Tife: That is jokes. I think I also sent memes as part of my design. Yeah, one of my favourite things seeing for the first time was the Agony Aunt costume. I was just like, “Whoa, this is so sick!” Because it was kind of like, how I sort of imagined it in my head, that sort of algorithmic Aunt character that sort of goes against this warm welcoming Aunty thing, but just seeing that was like, “This is perfect.”

Felicia: Yeah, in his booth, it was so good. I also, I thought, I mean, I loved every piece in it, you know, there was nothing, it was just so incredible. I loved getting to see Mark’s opening in the alleyway as well. Again, it makes you sad that an audience couldn’t experience it in person, you know, because you think about what the journey through that building, all the way down into the basement and then back up to finish on the Agony Aunties and the Psychic who was so cool and mystical, would have been like. But I thought, all things considered, they did an incredible job of capturing the sense of being right there with the performers.

Tife: Yeah, and in such a short space of time as well – that was sick. I think one of my favourite ones was the one that was sort of in the Box Office area with the audio and the sort of conversation between the woman and her Grandmother. I just thought that was so intimate and so emotional. And it just made me, I felt like it just sort of encapsulated everything that I’ve been feeling, during this whole pandemic and everything of that like, wanting to stay connected with the people that we love.

Felicia: Yeah.

Tife: Yeah, and just hearing it, it felt, I don’t know, I just feel like the experience of being in that chair, and listening to these intimate conversations would have been so cool to do in the building and stuff. But yeah, that was one of my favourite ones.

Felicia: Yeah, it’s amazing that, and also there was the one by the Chinese writer where she was talking on the phone to her mother, I think?

Tife: Yeah.

Felicia: It’s so incredible that, even though we were writing really separately, that theme of literally being in contact long distance with your loved ones, and the false narratives that they’re being fed, or the difference in politics between sort of different generations, but trying to stay connected long distance, it was incredible that that theme, got riffed on in so many different ways. Similarly, I found it really moving, you know, that it just brought up lots of feelings of like, this is why we miss theatre so much.  That it’s about that immediacy and that intimacy, with people in a space and getting to experience something with a group of people. I wanted to ask you, do you feel like the piece that you wrote, would you want it to have further life at all? Or has it made you think about future projects or future writing? Or is it just this sort of perfect encapsulated thing that you’re happy to let go?

Tife: Yeah. I feel like it’s one of those things that, I feel like that in its five minuteness is what it is. But I feel like even now thinking about it and thinking about the subject matter and how that sort of WhatsApp news sort of thing, it’s making me think even now, how even since that point, how it’s continued in my life anyway. I know that I’m still getting, like my mum is still sort of believing these conspiracies now about the vaccine and stuff like that. But, yeah, it’s just a bit mad. It’s just making me think how that kind of thing is sort of like, it’s all continuous, but also still from this, not from a bad place and stuff like that. But yeah, one thing I wanted to ask you about your Protest Aunties is whether they actually came from a place of people that you know, in your life, or they’re just created to sort of, the imagination of them is to subvert Auntie-ness in its normal sense?

Felicia: I think part of it was definitely that desire to sort of subvert the idea of the Auntie as sort of counter-revolutionary in some way. And certainly a lot of it was inspired by experiencing protests in Thailand, and witnessing a lot of sort of middle aged people becoming these sort of revolutionaries. But I think, just sort of looking at the world at large and everything that’s happening in Hong Kong right now, as well, I wanted to be like, “Actually, just because you’re of a certain generation, doesn’t mean that you aren’t trying to fight the system.” And there was something, I felt there was something really nice about intergenerational passing down of revolutions – that every movement has a sort of intergenerational legacy to it. And that was something that I really wanted to explore, that you can actually get wisdom from your elders when it comes to revolution because they’ve experienced it. And they have the tools and skills that you need for your revolution, even if the issues facing you are different. So yeah, but I also really wanted to, there is a specific kind of Asian aunty that is that, and it’s a really difficult thing to encapsulate. They’re really into 80s Cantopop and karaoke and they like their bum bags, and they’re all up in your business. And so when we were talking about aunties, that was the first thing that I thought of, and I was like, “How can I subvert that archetype that’s in my head of what that Auntie looks like?” So that’s sort of where it came from.

Tife: Yeah, just seeing them, I was like, “These are people!”

Felicia: I think, you know, one of the threads that I kept identifying through everybody’s pieces was the sense of inheritance, and generational legacy. It was kind of in every piece actually, the sense of what we inherit from our forebearers – not just intergenerational trauma, but intergenerational strength. And how you get strength from those relationships. So that was really, a beautiful thread.

Tife: Yeah, and I feel like that sort of, I guess really fits with what we were trying to do with the Edition because I remember in one of the meetings talking about how we wanted to feel hope and just that sense of welcoming – not that sense of the news being really damning, or really feel weight, just wanting it to feel good and wanting it to feel hopeful. And that sense of passing what we are getting from generations before us, I feel really, really fits with that.

Felicia: Yeah. Okay, well, thanks so much, Tife. It was really lovely getting to talk to you about this.

Tife: Oh, it was sick to talk to you. I’ve had a great time.