Interview: MTC's GOLDEN SHIELD Playwright Anchuli Felicia King Talks Globalization, Communication & More

King discusses how her background influenced her writing and politics, differences in culture, the real court cases that inspired Golden Shield, and more.

By: Apr. 26, 2022
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Golden Shield

Manhattan Theatre Club's American premiere of Golden Shield, written by Anchuli Felicia King (White Pearl) and directed by May Adrales (Vietgone at MTC), begins performances tonight at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street). Opening night is Tuesday, May 17.

When American lawyer Julie Chen files a class-action lawsuit involving a multinational technology corporation and the Chinese government, she hires her sister Eva as her translator. Can they put aside their differences to speak the same language?

Golden Shield's ensemble cast features Cindy Cheung, Fang Du, Kristen Hung, Daniel Jenkins, Michael C. Liu, Max Gordon Moore, Ruibo Qian and Gillian Saker.

The show's creative team includes dots (scenic design), Sara Ryung Clement (costume design), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (lighting design), Charles Coes & Nathan A. Roberts (original music & sound design), Tom Watson (hair & wig design), Ka-Ling Cheung (vocal coach), and Alyssa K. Howard (production stage manager).

BroadwayWorld spoke with Anchuli Felicia King to discuss how her background influenced her writing and politics, differences in culture, the real court cases that inspired Golden Shield, and more.


Your play Golden Shield is making its American premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club. Can you tell me about what inspired this play and what it is about?

This play was inspired by a number of real court cases that I read about where Chinese plaintiffs sued American technology companies for their alleged collision with the Chinese government in helping to build the great firewall, the system of online censorship in China. And I found it really fascinating because it raised all these interesting questions about international law and also digital freedom and human rights. But also a lot of interesting questions about communication and Sino-American relations, and the difference between our cultures and languages. So that was really the impetus for me to research a bunch of these court cases and try to find a compelling drama in there.

What was the research process like for you?

The research process for this play was pretty comprehensive. I read a lot of court documents related to the way that the cross-actions were arbitrated under this very specific legal statute call the Alien Tort Statute, so I had to do a lot of research about just how these court cases could be arbitrated in a US district court. The play goes into quite a lot of detail about that particular statute and how it was enshrined in 18th century American law, and the way that human rights lawyers have been using this as kind of a legal loophole.

So, I read court documents, and then I read a lot of research about the way that the firewall had developed in China, and the various ways that they censor people online. I read a lot of accounts of online activists in China, and dissidents. It was a pretty comprehensive research process. And then I threw it all out and tried to write something that was compelling and human. It was quite involved. It's kind of the way that I work as a playwright. I tend to write from real source material and a lot of my process as a writer is being really curious about a subject matter and then doing a deep research dive to try and understand it.

You grew up between Thailand and the Philippines, moved to Australia, and then came to New York. Has your personal background and your life influenced your writing?

Hugely, and I think it's also really influenced my politics. I tend to write plays about technology and globalization I think because I don't remember a time before the internet, and because I grew up as this itinerant global citizen. I think of myself as an international citizen, and I have a very strong globalist politics. I would like to make art that is about what it means to be part of an international community. And I like seeing plays that represent people from all over the world on stage, but also deal with macroscopic issues around these two huge, accelerating forces, digitization and globalization, that I feel like are the forces that have defined my dissidence.

Golden Shield

The topic is really timely.

Yeah, it's crazy to think that the play was programmed before the pandemic, and it's somehow only gotten more timely and urgent, I think. Particularly with the discussion around China now. And the play deals with the lead up to the Beijing Olympics, and now we're having the Beijing Olympics again, the tension between America and China, privatization, the Chinese government, our ethical responsibilities towards each other as international citizens, all of that stuff can feel more timely now. So, in some ways, I'm sad this play didn't happen in 2020, but I'm grateful that we get to do it in this historical moment.

How was the rehearsal process?

Fantastic. We have a really extraordinary ensemble of actors. A lot of them are performing in two languages, which is extraordinary to watch. And May [Adrales], our director, has staged this really virtuosic, fast-moving production. The play happens in a bunch of different countries, and over the course of 10 years, so you're watching rapid transitions, and the play sort of flies around, and it's been exciting and invigorating to watch that come to life.

What do you hope that audiences take away from Golden Shield? Especially an American audience?

I think, really, the play is about communication, and the total sum of misfires that can happen in communication, whether it's between cultures, in the law, in technology, but also on the personal level, between family members, between loved ones. And I hope that audiences take away from the play that the effort to communicate, as fraught and impossible as it is to communicate effectively, is worthwhile because it's what makes us human and it's what makes love possible.



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