Eat Duck is a play I wrote that follows an extended family after the death of a grandmother figure. It’s about how the family gathers after her passing and navigates different forms of grief and attempts at reconciliation.

I titled the play after a memory I have of my loved one’s grandmother who passed away in 2017. The day before her passing, she specifically asked for roast duck. The family was very confused about this request because she had been unable to eat or drink for a while already.

The doctor said she was probably just reminiscing about Chinese New Year – roast duck is one of the dishes served at reunion dinner – and the quality family time that came with it. I titled the play as such because I wanted to honour the love she had for her family.

I’ve never experienced a death in my own family, so it wasn’t my grief that I was writing about. It’s hard to describe; it was more of disenfranchised grief. During her seven-day wake, I quietly wondered why it took a death for everyone in the family to be a bit more vulnerable and honest with each other.

At the same time, I was very comforted because this is a family that has so much difficult history, yet they managed to come together because there was still love amongst them. They were scared and in pain, and yet so hopeful, which I found just incredible to witness.

I wrote Eat Duck a few weeks after the wake because I was inspired by what I saw, but for that very reason, I had to be careful with the material. Because my boyfriend’s family is the inspiration behind it, I did not wish to abuse or misrepresent their grief.

I had a responsibility to them. Thankfully, when I talked to the family about the play, they were very understanding and gave me their blessings. They told me that’s what art is about – you take reality, process it in your head, and create something powerful from it.

Eat Duck doesn’t replicate this family’s reality. In fact, it’s quite far from it. I was very careful in picking issues that are common and universal. The play explores the struggles that most families might go through.

One of those struggles is learning how to love someone and how people want to be loved, which is an issue that exists in my own family. I was raised by a single mother, and growing up, it was difficult for me to have a mother who didn’t often express her love through words.

At the same time, I grew increasingly aware of what she had to endure throughout her marriage; every possible thing that a man could do to disrespect his wife, my dad did. But the crazy and amazing thing is that she raised me to not hate him.

I grew up with the understanding that he was a bad husband but was trying to be a good father, which is why I could maintain a relationship with him. He did ridiculous things, but he’s human, and he’s still figuring things out.

It takes an incredibly strong woman to teach her children about grace despite her own pain, and this is a strength I’ve drawn from her and imparted to every female character in Eat Duck. It’s also because my mother instilled empathy in me that the characters I create are nuanced.

Through writing this play, I think I discovered that I still have a lot of baggage from how volatile my childhood was. I thought I had dealt with all of my bad memories and trauma, but every time I hear certain scenes read a certain way during rehearsals, I end up crying.  

This is also a beautiful thing because most people don’t get the privilege of working in an environment like theatre where other people help to watch your blind spots and inform you of where you need to grow and what you need to deal with.

And that’s one of my takeaways from working on this play – to find comfort in the knowledge that you don’t need to have everything figured out in order for you to be happy. You can’t just wait for everything to be perfectly resolved. It won’t happen. You’ll be miserable forever.

For the longest time, I was looking for answers or chasing some kind of a resolution. I’ve learned that it is possible to be happy even with questions running through your mind. You just need to be patient in the process.

I hope people who watch the play go home feeling a sense of comfort. Comfort that you can move on after someone’s death, that there can be reconciliation with a sibling even if the relationship is tense right now, that your angry child can grow up full of compassion.” – Zenda Tan, 23

Interview by: Arman Shah