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Feast Festival: Rick Lau

By Alex Wheaton
dB Magazine, Issue #370, 2-15 November 2005


It may not be a typical weekend for Rick Lau, who spends some of his free time house-hunting for the perfect apartment near Sydney's Coogee beach before he heads down to Adelaide for this year's Feast Festival.

Lau is appearing in his one man cabaret show 'How Now Rick Lau', which is, as you might expect from the name of the show, quite a bit autobiographical with a little artistic license thrown in. The bit about the next door neighbour being a Turkish oil wrestler is made up, he admits.

"I want to share with a few friends, and so we're looking for the perfect apartment at the right price, but it still needs to be in walking distance from the beach..." he purrs. A dedicated sunlover, Lau is an intriguing man: how many gay Asian cabaret performers who hold a degree in Computing Science can you name? Hmmm, one.

"Yeah, I really likes the hot weather, so I'm hoping it will warm up when I come down there - I lived in Adelaide for two years when I came to university, so I know all about your summers," he laughs.

A native of Hong Kong, Lau headed off to see more of the world when he was seventeen, and hasn't looked back. "I spent four years working overseas, and had clients in the 'States and Germany, and I still have mixed feelings about Hong Kong." Sure, he goes back to visit his family, and earlier this year wwent back to perform the show over there.

"I thought that it would be a very special experience, and it was, because my family came along to see me perform, but this is in an area where the arts is not so supported."

The cultural differences and expectations must be enormous, I posit. "In general I guess Asians are into having a good career and making money to support the family," he asnswers carefully, "and if you don't the pressures are great." That will all sound quite familiar to anyone who has attempted to make a career in the arts, I guess, but Lau knows other cards in the deck are marked against him.

"Being a gay Asian in Australia isn't so easy sometimes, and there's even expectations within the gay community... there's what I call the Gaysia complex, and it's all about whether someone is a rice Queen or not. Gay Asian men seem to be expected to behave in a certain way.

These are the sort of issues explored by him in 'How Now...', which follows the journey of an insomniac blogger from 3m to 7am as he finds his own way within society and attempts to form friendships. "Where do you place a misfit, a minority within a minority within a minority?" asks Lau, making the rhetorical question sound vaguely wistful.

It would be wrong to think this is a show which is merely a catalogue of his complaints: a commissioned work from the development studio at the Sydney Opera House, this is a show which has seen Lau in full flight.

"I'd done a few cabaret shows - my last show was 'Sunrise', and people liked it. Over here it's a totally different culture and people are encouraged to follow their ideas," he says, thinking back to Hong Kong. Even so, it's been a bit of a struggle - having done some acting he auditioned for NIDA and was accepted, then followed that up with bit parts in musical theatre and scored a role in 'Hair'.

Then not much happened.

In casting there's to often the likelihood of an Asian man being typecast, and that's not hard to imagine, but Lau saw the possibilities of turning this into a positive. "In the cabaret area there's very few Asian men and being one is possibly a way of being more obvious, more noticed. I'm really enjoying the chance to tour this performance and show people what I can do."