Photo: Sarah Walker
2023: presentation, Arts House, 22-26 November 2023
2020-21: first development, Culture Lab, Arts House
Creator, writer and lead artist Michele Lee
Dramaturg and collaborator Sepideh Kian
Performer and Collaborator Ra Chapman
Designer and Collaborator Eugyeene Teh
Writer and lead artist Michele Lee
Director and Dramaturg Sepideh Kian
Performer Alice Qin
Set, AV and Costume Designer Vanghoua Anthony Vue
Lighting Designer Rachel Lee
Sound Designer and Composition Elissa Goodrich
Film-maker Ari Tampubolon
Film Score and Composition Rafe Yang
Stage and Production Manager Reis Low
Assistant Stage Manager Celina Mack
Producer Bureau of Works
A somewhat autobiographical tale of Hmong parents, death and ghosts.
As Australia careened from deadly bushfires to the beginning of COVID-19, and as Hmong-Australian writer Michele Lee was working on Asian ghost TV shows, she rang her parents for 30 minutes each day.
Lee wanted to figure out how to talk to them about death: their death, the deaths they’ve endured here and in Laos, the Hmong perspective on death. In asking herself, ‘How do I let my parents die on their terms?’ Lee sought to reconcile vast emotional, cultural and geographical distances.
As moments of acute and layered crisis bring mortality achingly close, this charming and tender work of theatre offers moments of humour and nuance, and moments of contradiction, to wonder on our approaches to this life and the next.
This was also adapted and developed for a podcast.
Reviews and responses
The ghosts in How Do I Let You Die? are the ghosts of intergenerational trauma; of family lore and secrets left unspoken and allowed to fester in the chasms that form between Lee’s family members; of spirits, curses and demons that lay dormant in their bodies until they don’t… The repetitive, circuitous nature of these phone calls feels intentional – Lee and her parents circle around what they really want to say to each other, constrained both by limitations in language and an inability to comprehend one another fully. This play is Lee finding a way back to them and beyond them once they pass on – The Age
In February 2020, the playwright rang her parents every day for half-an-hour, to talk to them about death – ‘their death, the deaths they’ve endured here and in Laos, and the Hmong perspective on death’. This 90-minute solo piece documented this process, and in doing so also recorded the wavering experience of migrant children dealing with their parents’ mortality in the face of cultural disconnection and the lives of some of Australia’s first Hmong migrants. The result wasn’t so much narrative theatre, but more a blend of performance lecture, ethnohistory and autobiography. It never resolutely answered the titular question, but offered up a thought-provoking, albeit choppy exploration of mortality; just as there are multiple Hmong words for “ghost”, there are myriad ways to memorialise one’s parents when the time comes – Arts Hub
As the play goes on, I realise that very little was actually spent talking about how Michele lets her parents die. A hard enough question to wrangle out of migrant families. A lot of the play is actually talking about their lives. The many wars waged in and through Laos, leaving behind a home because you can’t see a future there, meandering through an impressively extensive family tree, the beginnings of Hmong history in Australia. Very honest snapshots, underpinned by almost 30 voice recorded phone calls. It’s beautiful. If the metaphor is life, in order to understand how to let someone pass, we must understand how they have lived – Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel, curator, artist and writer
Development: Arts House
Presentation: Arts House, Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, Besen Family Foundation, Friends of the School of Music ANU, Arts ACT.
A video we made as part of the 2021 Arts House development.