In Conversation with Chloé Hung, from All Our Yesterdays at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
by Bailey Green
In the spring of 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. The abduction caught the attention of the world media, celebrities, first lady Michelle Obama and playwright Chloé Hung. The popular hashtag #BringBackOurGirls swept across social media. In October 2014, Hung came across an article marking six months since the kidnapping. To her chagrin, she realized that she had forgotten about the girls whose story had outraged her in April. She wrote an idea on a Post-It, “two sisters kidnapped by Boko Haram” and promised herself she would not let their memory slip away again.
All Our Yesterdays grew out of a two scene assignment that Hung wrote for a class at NYU where she is currently completing her MFA in dramatic writing. In the spring of 2015 she began writing the play in earnest—the story of fictional sisters Ladi and Hasana who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram. Their parents cannot afford for both daughters to attend school, and so the older sister Ladi is sent to school while the younger, Hasana, is kept home. “There was never a draft where Hasana wasn’t on the autism spectrum,” Hung remembers. “In Hasana we see how much she does need school, and how that would give her an amazing opportunity for a life she would never be able to have without education. Hasana has also allowed me to talk candidly about some of the issues in this story.” As part of her research, Hung discovered the lack of support for autistic children outside of urban centres in Nigeria.
When asked about the challenges of this piece, Hung describes the extensive research involved in the writing process. She credits York University professor Pablo Idahosa with providing her with a thorough crash course in Nigerian history and politics. Another key moment was when her step father, Michael Kaufman, who co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign, helped put Hung in contact with Hadiza Aminu in Nigeria. Hadiza Aminu were part of the creators of #BringBackOurGirls and spoke with Hung extensively about the situation in Nigeria, how the parents were coping and how the people in the community rallied and protested. “So it was challenging to distill all of that information into a story that felt relatable,” Hung says, “and the way I wanted to approach that was using a story of two sisters and the injuries that siblings can do to each other.”
In the transition from playwright to director, Hung adapted and learned to adjust pauses or movements that no longer served their purpose. “There were chances to do re-writing on our feet, and I have two amazing actors, Chiamaka Umeh and Amanda Weise, who brought it all to life,” Hung says.
All Our Yesterdays is partnering with Save the Children Canada for this run at Next Stage (during Fringe 2015 they partnered with Because I am a Girl). “It was really important to me that there was an outreach aspect to this show,” Hung emphasizes. “It’s all well and good for me to sit at home with my computer ranting and raving about the world, but what am I actually doing? What can I do from here?”
Currently Reading: Room, by Emma Donoghue. It’s terrifying, but so good.
Favourite City: Toronto! Bloor/Ossington wasn’t so cool back when I was growing up, but now it’s pretty awesome.
All Our Yesterdays
Presented by AnOther Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Playwright/Director: Chloe Hung
Featuring: Chiamaka Umeh, Amanda Weise
Stage Manager/Producer: Elizabeth Wilson
What: Sisters Ladi and Hasana have been kidnapped by Boko Haram. Through memory we journey through their captivity as they wrestle with autism, the need to escape and their past. When one makes a selfish decision, the effects reverberate to their present.
2015 Toronto Fringe Patron’s Pick
Where: Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St)
* Talk Back after the show