Joanne Lau on writing WORTH

When I was writing WORTH in 2019, little did I imagine it'd be premiering at a time when the themes of loss and grief would be particularly poignant and fresh for so many (myself included).

My original urge to write this story was simply to entertain and engage.  It was a bizarre thing that happened in my life and I thought it'd be funny. The idea was inspired by true events and yet, a lot of the trauma was buried so deep down in my emotionally constipated soul that there was no way it could've been written the way it is now without the loving challenge, prodding, and continual support of the New Earth Professional Writers Programme. Our dramaturg, Caroline Jester, was enormously helpful at reining in my tendency to cover emotion with comedy, and pushing me to be more courageous and honest. As I began writing and rewriting, it went from a funny story about made up people to my story.

WORTH is a play about generational trauma. While the story and characters have been adapted to suit the format, every instance of abuse mentioned is something that has happened to either someone in my family, or me personally. (Also, yes, the scavenger hunt through grandma's house is real.) This isn't trauma porn. This is just real life. People can choose to distance themselves from the subject, but I don't have a choice. I live with the effects of generational trauma and child abuse every day. This play is my attempt to explain what it's like. It's an attempt to explain that when I step into a room, I'm carrying all of this with me. It's why I don't often feel I deserve to speak up. It's why I freeze when someone's angry. It's why I put up with far more than most in relationships and workplaces before it even crosses my mind I should leave.

People who've never experienced it think they know the whole "abusive immigrant parent trope". We laugh it off with comedy (guilty - I've certainly made a buck or two off this) or we just don't want to hear it because it's bad for our brand - "Is this really the part of our culture we should be highlighting?" As someone who has experienced this "trope" first-hand, I can't tell you how infuriatingly privileged that question is. For those of us who live with the legacy of trauma and abuse, not only do we have to suppress it to keep others (Asian or non-Asian) comfortable but we've been made to feel like we're tarnishing our race somehow by talking about what we're experiencing. The point of the play isn’t to demonise but rather to humanise and show the dimensions of this complex issue. I'm so grateful to New Earth Theatre and Chester Storyhouse for a chance to talk about this subject and its impact, and hopefully help others like me feel less alone, ashamed, and invisible.

In a time where anti-Asian hate crimes have soared, some of us need extra courage to stand up and fight back, not just for ourselves, but also for our community.  I've certainly frozen in the middle of the street when racist abuse has been hurled at me because I'm used to putting up and shutting up when abuse is happening. Maybe this play will help someone reassess their worth and realise that being mistreated under any circumstances is not OK. Maybe they'll also see that bitterness and anger, pride in empty achievements, or a sense of self-pity and righteousness only perpetuate the cycle. It's love, grace, forgiveness, and yes (sorry, Caroline), humour that will help us heal.

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