Lai enrolled for a Bachelor of English degree at Baptist University as her guardians had wished. But while she loved English, she found the curriculum, with its emphasis on linguistic pronunciation, stifling. “During a class in the first week of year two, I literally ran out of the classroom,” says Lai.
While she was deciding whether to drop out of university, she saw theSchoolofCommunicationsbuilding and decided to give it a go. She begged the department head for a transfer to study film. Lai began to live on her own terms and even managed to found FM Theatre Power with her friends.
She did not manage to keep the secret under wraps for long. That same year, Lai’s Gung Gung was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. He had in fact always known she was pursuing drama, and told her, ‘‘If I can survive this, I am going to watch your performance.’’
Although he did not make it, in the end these last words lifted the guilt Lai had carried with her secret and became the motivation for her to further pursue her career in theatre. Her Por Por died a year after.
In her fourth one-actor play, Woman in Red, Lai tells the stories of different women, among them a young girl, a pseudo model, a career woman and a lesbian. She even shares her own story on the stage. The scene with the hunch-backed old lady who yearns for her lost partner is a portrayal of her guardian.
Lai believes drama is not something that should be confined to the theatre. She took scenes from the play into the crowded streets to share her stories with the community. Some onlookers stayed for the entire duration of her performance. Even though the street performances were exhausting and free, Lai treasures the interaction with the audience. ‘‘We believe social changes stem from the streets and drama should reflect society if it is to resonate,’’ says Lai.
Resonance is important for Lai. She believes that audiences can tell whether she is pretending on a superficial level or really interpreting a character. Every time she acts, she learns from the story of the characters she plays. When the material is autobiographical, it forces her to face her emotions unreservedly, such as when she was rehearsing the story of her guardians. “I could talk about them calmly during interviews,” says Lai, “but during rehearsals I totally broke down.”
Having lost two families, once through abandonment and then through death, Lai was completely alone once more on stage in her one-woman show. It makes her value her interaction with the audience. ‘‘I’m alone but not lonely,’’ she says.