An interview with Ayunga, by EsquireOriginal Article – Link
ESQ: How did you come to Beijing from the grasslands?
AYG: During my teens, I worked for the Inner Mongolia military cultural corp. It was the best job and the pay was ample. It was just too comfortable. When you see the veterans of the corp, you feel that a lifetime goes by rather quickly. I didn’t want to be resigned to stay in this small courtyard forever. So, against my family’s wishes, I came to Beijing.
ESQ: You don’t like living too comfortably?
AYG: Yes. At the time, I felt I had infinite possibilities, I need to find something unsatisfying for myself, (I need) to find a new way of living. When countless possibilities surround us, then life can be kept interesting, right?
ESQ: What kind of life did you wanted to lead in Beijing?
AYG: I didn’t know. I came without knowing anything. That’s called chasing a dream. I didn’t know what that dream is. I’m afraid that when I wake up, everything will be in ruins or I may wake up in a castle.
ESQ: Did you find ruins or a castle, when you arrive?
AYG: After I arrived in Beijing, I was most definitely in ruins. Real life was beating me up. I was quite disappointed and I felt that I had been too rash. But I wanted to keep up the facade. Since I had stubbornly given up everything for this, then I have to do it. Even if I had to cry, kneel, or crawl through it, I must complete this journey. As I ploughed on, I could finally see the vague outline of a castle behind these ruins.
ESQ: Did you believe in yourself at the time?
AYG: My confidence was actually through the roof. I didn’t even know where that kind of confidence came from. I felt that if I worked hard at doing something right, with all sorts of skills under my belt, I didn’t believe I can’t earn a living.
ESQ: What did you wanted to do right?
AYG: Singing, dancing, everything related to music, including composing, arranging. I wanted to come to Beijing and learn everything. I didn’t dare to slack off for a single day. However tiring and hard it was, as long as I had the time, I would try and learn something. Those years were exhausting, but they were very, very fulfilling. Whatever I wanted, I ran straight for it.
ESQ: Why did your classmates at Beijing Dance Academy call you “Old Class Leader”?
AYG: Because I’m older than them. I also had more working experience. Compared to those kids in class, my mindset was also more mature.
ESQ: What were the responsibilities of the class leader?
AYG: Assisting the teacher, communicating with everyone, spurring on the class, maintaining discipline. Majority of the students in the dance academy had their parents around to make food for them. It’s the same in university, so they were essentially children. Their ability to provide for themselves was slightly weaker. Our form teachers were like our parents, they even had to manage our lives. When the form teacher couldn’t manage, I had to do it. Those were a bunch of mischievous kids, I had to watch them practice every day. I’ve got to talk to this person, persuade that person, fight brains and brawn with classmates of character. I really worried too much.
ESQ: Did they listen to you?
AYG: Yes. Basically, if I waved them towards the left, no one would go to the right. Just look at Zheng Yunlong, (who is) someone with some extreme personality. He didn’t listen to anyone, but he would listen to me.
ESQ: Wow, that’s a lot of authority. How did you build that up?
AYG: (Because) I’m old, I had the bearing of an old father. There’s also many years of accumulated trust, just like how Da-long and I witnessed each other’s growth together.
ESQ: Did you discover the difference between the ideal and reality after graduating?
AYG: The difference is too much. In our class of 18 students, there are only so few of us left that are still persevering in this industry. In the ten cohorts of students from 2009 to 2019, how many are considered to be spearheads of the musical industry? Zheng Yunlong has always been perservering. I still did a few musicals. The rest have become teachers and parents.
ESQ: What is the biggest problem that musical actors face?
AYG: There are very few seasoned and good musicals to perform in. There are some passionate bosses that invested in musicals, but the script itself was terrible. It was over after two shows and the loss was immense.
ESQ: From Super Vocal to Singer 2019, what have these two stages given you?
AYG: The most straightforward ones would be that more people now know that Ayunga is a musical actor; they know what a musical is and that if there are musicals in the future, everyone can buy a ticket and go to the theatre, improving our musical market; every academy’s musical students are increasing. These really, really, really give me the most consolation. Now that I have more commercial shoots, I have earned a little more money, I also have gained more and more fans — then should I straighten my back and do a better, with more quality, musical? I didn’t have a choice in the past, I couldn’t straighten my back then. Whatever people wanted me to do, I did it. We have the right to speak now, I’m not scared anymore. We have to unite next time and ask for better work.
ESQ: It’s really not easy.
AYG: Because stage actors in China is considered one of the lowliest professions. We only feel that we have true value when we are on stage. However, there are too many actors, who can’t go on stage, that don’t have any money. They are always waiting for a chance.
ESQ: How did you live all these years?
AYG: Actually it wasn’t too awful. I am someone who makes clear plans, so even though I didn’t earn much, I still had savings. I even helped my siblings at home, so there’s no need to worry everyone.
ESQ: Up until now, has your ego been inflated?
AYG: No, I’m not someone who gets a big head. Mindset and mentality are the most important. We are still way off when compared with truly great people. Many a time, we hope we can become popular, but if it’s just for a moment, then you are just a sparkle in this galaxy of a generation. Honestly, I don’t really have much (representative) work, even in singing. In the past, for the sake of livelihood, I always did mainstream, marketable things. There was no choice. From here on out, I want to use my work to speak (for me), I want to produce some good work with the rest of my life.
ESQ: What did you want before? Why did you go against it?
AYG: I didn’t actually go against it, but every one of us has something pure that we want, something of substance. I don’t want to humour anybody, I hope my work is especially pure. Something that when someone listens to it 50 years later, they will think that this person has done something that reflected the changing of times in certain aspects 50 years ago. This is a question I have been thinking about.
ESQ: Until now, you haven’t actually acted in a lot of musicals.
AYG: Not a lot, because I hope that when I act in one, I can focus on just one. A musical takes up four months and I hope these four months are of value. Every musical has a meaning to my life, otherwise I might as well go and work on something else.
ESQ: There aren’t actually that many excellent musical actors in China.
AYG: There are only so few musical actors in China currently. Main male leads are Liu Lingfei, Zheng Yunlong, and myself. When there is no competition, how can there be any improvement? It’s extremely bad because we’re sitting ducks. Why are Broadway actors always passionate on stage, not daring to slack off even for a moment? Because they live every day worrying that they may not have a job tomorrow. Once they have to wait, it will be a wait of several years. The character (they play) is life to them. So I have always been vigilant and hard on myself, I have to keep improving myself. I have to compare myself to the actors on Broadway. If we can’t be at the level of Broadway’s A-listers, we’ve got to at least match their C-listers’ standards.
ESQ: You have to prepare, even when you’re not acting?
AYG: Of course. Never wait until an exceptional script comes along, and then discover that it’s you who can’t do it. Being a musical actor is difficult; singing, acting, and sometimes even dancing. If an actor does it really well, and the audience sees it. With a good script and a good actor, word-of-mouth will go around and in the end, you will become an actor of value. Moreover, we now belong in an age range that is a musical actor’s prime, 30 to 40 years old, so we have to work even harder to learn and prepare.
ESQ: What methods do you usually use to study?
AYG: I personally love to hone my skills. In the past, if I don’t take 3 to 4 hours to practice the piano or singing, I can’t get over myself. I can practice a single R&B warble any time, all the time. When I’m on the streets with my friends and family, shopping in the mall, I’ll suddenly go ‘Ma-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah~’ Then they’ll go ‘Ay ay ay, stop singing, are you crazy.’ These details cannot be refined within a day or two, or even in a month or two. Sometimes it even gets more and more varied and confusing as the learning goes on.
ESQ: You know so many things, do you feel confused?
AYG: Too confusing, even now, I’m very confused. But one thing I’m very certain of is that I will definitely continue doing musicals. Everything that I have learnt is extremely helpful for me when I’m moulding a character in a musical. When I get different styles of musicals next time, I can do them all with precision. If it’s an evil character, then you have to use a villainous voice to express. A male lead’s voice is always bright and warm. And for certain dramatic characters, you always have to act out the mental and vocal state that matches the characters.
ESQ: Do you believe that China’s musical market will prosper?
AYG: I believe it will definitely get better. In the future, it will have an extremely large market. China’s musicals and plays will definitely become an important part of the country’s economic body. It’s just a matter of time. I estimate that it will need 10 to 15 years. Then it will be time for musicals to show what we can do, because right now, we have to wait for this batch of children to grow.
ESQ: Then wouldn’t your golden years be over?
AYG: China musical’s golden years doesn’t have to be my golden years. Musicals’ golden years are more important. When I’m 45, I can always act as a second or third liner. As long as there’s a good script, my heart will always be 28 or 18 years old, burning with passion.
ESQ: Do you feel that you are always late by a step? You’re often waiting at various stages of your life.
AYG: No, I think it’s just right. Fate’s arrangements are always the best. I want to throw my head back and laugh because God has been very fair to me. Actually, waiting is also good. Being early is not necessarily a good thing. I’m already very lucky; the profession that I love is gaining traction. There are many people who have waited for a lifetime, but never ever got to this point. I am extremely grateful.
ESQ: Working in the line of arts, you have to continuously upgrade yourself your whole life, is it tiring?
AYG: Instead of tiring, I feel super fortunate. We’ve felt the world’s warmth and coldness, we’re always living in the emotions of others, experiencing all kinds of life. When we revel in the moment of performing a song, aiyo, that is a state of bliss. When the audience can feel what you are feeling, hum along with you, cry, smile; there is nothing happier than that.
ESQ: Especially since both musical actors and singers interact directly with the audience from the stage.
AYG: That’s right. When I act in a musical, the audience follows my emotions. When you cry, they cry too. You hear their sniffling. You really hear them vividly. Everyone believes we are the people of the story, they feel “Aiyo, my heart breaks for what he has gone through in his life”. That is the moment when my heart feels really comforted.
ESQ: Many singers are afraid of being labelled, for example (as a) “ethnic singer”, are you afraid?
AYG: I’m not afraid of being (labelled as) ethnic singer, since I’m originally from a minority ethnic group. When others say that I’m an ethnic singer, I’m proud of it. But I want everyone to know that I’m different from other typical ethnic singers*. Our eyes are simple, we see things as they are. The Mongolian songs I sing are truly folk songs passed down for thousands of years. Using the musical method of singing, I renewed the performances with the songs’ essence. What I’m really afraid of is being perceived as a ‘gala singer’. This definition is too scary. With this label, everyone will gauge you as a gala singer, throwing a wet blanket on all your years of perseverance and passion, making you look like a drenched chicken.
* What he’s saying is there are singers who are made for the system or by the system, and labelled as such.
ESQ: What sort of stage do you yearn for now?
AYG: Returning to the theatre is what I yearn for most. The places I want most to perform at doesn’t necessarily have to be a stadium, or the bird’s nest (Beijing National Stadium). Only a theatre can present the quality of our profession.
ESQ: What kind of musical do you want to act in?
AYG: Firstly, to act in good foreign works that are already very, very familiar. Works that have decades of quality assurance, that is written into history, such as “Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Misérables”, “Miss Saigon”, “Rent”. We first borrow the good products from overseas to let the audience understand musicals, then we create China’s own quality musicals.
ESQ: Do you have any troubles now?
AYG: No. I just hope everyone will support my musicals like they had been doing, take notice of my work. Don’t follow me up the plane every other day. What if someone else needs to take this particular flight, but the tickets were bought by my fans? It’s not good to overuse the society’s resources. If everyone has such good (living) conditions, they can use this money and help pay for a semester’s school fees for needy children, or even buy some items for physical education. That is so much more meaningful.
ESQ: Then under what circumstances do you hope to meet fans?
AYG: It’d be nice to meet fans at musicals we act in, or when we attend an event. At the next suitable location, I will try my best to stay a little longer and spend more time interacting with everyone. I’ll let everyone have a good look at me from all 360 degrees, so they don’t have to follow me next time. Whoever continues to follow, I’ll tell you to go and help me sponsor those impoverished children.
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