Last weekend, the Yale Cabaret’s Company of Cab 53 presented a virtual play called “Expats Anonymous” in collaboration with artists from Singapore. The show addressed topics of immigration, belonging and survival in the midst of a pandemic, specifically tackling issues of systemic classism and racism within the Singaporean immigrant community.
“Expats Anonymous” was proposed and written by Malaysian-Singaporean playwright and actor Rachel Chin. It tells the story of a young Malaysian-Chinese woman named Annie who faces the prospect of deportation from Singapore as an unemployed expatriate during the pandemic. She is forced to compete with other immigrants for a single job opening and the chance to stay.
“This play is a story of one person, but it’s a reality for too many people,” Chin said. “The more I was researching the topic, the more I was struck and angered by how little discussion and transparency there is regarding the expats’ integration process.”
Chin is a multilingual actor, singer, playwright, model and emcee based in Malaysia and Singapore. The show was inspired by the real-life experiences of Chin’s Thai housemate during the lockdown in Singapore. During that time, Chin’s housemate lost her job and was unable to find another one due to new governmental policies favoring local inhabitants. Eventually, she was forced to return to Thailand.
According to Chin, both the pandemic and inadequate governmental support drove many people out of Singapore. These people had been living in the country for years and had families, friends, and jobs — they only “lacked a birth certificate.” Chin wanted to bring public attention to these issues.
Chin knew Cab member Thomas Pang DRA ’23 from their undergraduate experience together at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. During the lockdown, Chin met other Cab members at Shakespearean play readings organized by Pang. She proposed the play to the Cab in November and completed the script in January. Chin and the Cab then put togethera team of Yale students — including director Alex Keegan DRA ’22 — and Singaporean actors and dramaturgs.
Cab team members noted how important it was to “give voice” to the expat community and immigrant experiences.
“Being an immigrant is like trying to endure an emergency water landing: assimilation is my life vest, and my cultural identity is the baggage I’m asked to leave behind to survive,” said Miguel Urbino DRA ’23, a scenario designer of the play.
Because many team members were in different time zones, scheduling rehearsals and performances was challenging.
“We had a total of five weeks rehearsal process, so it required us a real Herculean effort to scramble everything together in such a short amount of time,” Chin said. “We all had to remain in constant communication with each other, that’s why I am so thankful that I found this team. Without their help and support, there would be no show.”
Following every performance, there was a live talkback that invited the audience to engage in discussions about immigration, systemic racism, classism and policy responses to the pandemic.
The team’s main goal was for the play to resonate with those who struggle to be accepted in their homes as well as to highlight the “nuances of privilege and disempowerment” in expat communities. Members also wanted to stress the importance of connectedness in times of hardship.
“If there was one thought that I could have my audience walk away with, it’s that we, as individuals, are stronger together,” Chin said. “Within a system, one person can’t do very much. But if everyone stands together, and we defend each other, and we work with each other, then we can change so many things about the world that we live in.”
“Dear 2020, With Love: A Euphoric Play,” the next Yale Cab show of the season, is set to premiere on April 15.
Tania Tsunik | firstname.lastname@example.org