It’s with great sadness that we announce the passing of one of New Earth Theatre’s founder members, Veronica Needa.
I first met Veronica when she was cast alongside Kwong Loke, David KS Tse, Tom Wu and myself in the production of The Magic Paintbrush, adapted by David KS Tse from the popular Chinese children’s folktale and directed by Vicky Ireland at Polka Theatre. Right from the beginning I was struck by Veronica’s indomitable spirit and energy. She threw herself into everything 110%. Having been brought up in Hong Kong watching many Chinese operas with her Cantonese grandmother, her innate understanding of Beijing Opera and her evident acting ability made her perfect casting for the magnificently powerful and fear-inducing landlady, Gum Ying. She took on Beijing Opera double stick twists and turns, all with a twinkle in her eye. The five of us actors went on to become Yellow Earth Theatre (as it was known then).
I knew Veronica had trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and had struggled as someone who looked Western, spoke perfect English but whose roots and upbringing was in Hong Kong. She felt her assertiveness and eagerness to get up and try things, to push herself out front, did not go down well with her fellow classmates. Throughout her life, she was constantly questioned by Chinese speakers as to why her Cantonese was so good. Veronica was never afraid to speak up for the things she believed in and coming to terms with her Eurasian identity was beautifully explored in her bilingual solo piece FACE, first commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Centre for their FESTIVAL NOW in 1998. New Earth Theatre helped produce the English version that toured across the UK in 2002. As a younger person of mixed heritage myself, I remember how the piece made a profound impression on me and gave me a lifelong love of autobiographical work.
Later, we became joint Outreach and Education Associates for the company. Wherever we went we were greeted with open arms, warmth and generosity: Veronica seemed to know everyone in the Cantonese speaking community and was a constant and powerful advocate for the arts. We learnt lots from each other as we supported each other to work in a plethora of community and education settings.
Her passion for stories and interest in people never waned; in fact it only grew, and when she discovered Playback she knew this was her calling. She left New Earth and founded the School of Playback Theatre UK, which led her to teaching and introducing a whole new generation to Playback all over the world. She set up True Heart Theatre in 2006 through her commitment to East Asian stories and communities, and it has since become home to a dedicated bilingual group of Playback practitioners. As a proud trustee of True Heart, I know we will endeavour to continue her incredible legacy and if we have just a pinch of Veronica’s energy, fire and passion we will keep the good work of True Heart going.
Even after she left New Earth back in the early 2000s, we continued to keep in close touch. Her passion for theatre and performance never ceased and she was a natural storyteller with a beautiful speaking and singing voice. I cast Veronica as the grandmother in the first show I directed for New Earth in 2011, Why the Lion Danced. Combining her storytelling skills, acting, puppetry and movement skills (as pictured) she was perfect as the kind but no nonsense Nana, although by then she was so used to improvising with Playback, she held a healthy disregard for learning lines!
When I became Artistic Director, she became our go-to storyteller for any event or festival, regularly visiting schools and museums and holding young children and adults spellbound with stories of Hou Yi, Chang’e and the Dragon boat festival; and to the delight of audiences, revealing her own superbly crafted, handmade dragon complete with detachable parts to illustrate its origins.
All through her long illness she never once sat back and let it take over - I was constantly amazed at her stamina and zest for life. Barely a few weeks out of hospital after her first major operation, she was organising a storytelling performance at the British Library and performing alongside two others. During the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last year, True Heart was invited to be part of the Mayor’s celebrations in Chinatown and, undeterred by the poor amplification, Veronica recounted one of her many stories from Chinese folklore for a good five minutes.
I know we will endeavour to continue her incredible legacy, to emulate her energy, fire and passion and keep the work alive.
She was ‘auntie’, ‘mother’, teacher and friend to so many and she will be remembered with great heart and love by all who were fortunate enough to know her.
14 April 2023
New Earth Theatre
If you wish to remember Veronica please visit here.