You have written a new play, tell me a little bit about it.
My play is called The Korean Drama Addict's Guide to Losing Your Virginity. Told in the style of a Korean drama (or soap opera), the play is a romantic comedy about what happens when a Korean drama addict meets a real life Korean man.
What incited you to write this piece?
A few years ago, I became a foster parent overnight. I went from no kids to four kids. This meant I was stuck at home. In order to kill time and for my own self-care, I asked for some Korean drama recommendations. Keep in mind, I always made fun of people who watched Korean dramas, but I needed to do activities that could happen at home. Then something crazy happened. I got hooked on Korean dramas and even when I was no longer a foster parent and had regained my free time, I kept watching Korean dramas. I went on online forums. I even went to LA to a Korean pop convention. I felt a lot of guilt about watching dramas because it took up so much of my time. I felt I had to do something productive with all of this knowledge, so I wrote a play.
How does this piece fit in with your other creations?
I've written other plays. Some might be live under the title of "performance art" more than others. Some past theater-based projects include Hmong-Lao Friendship Play or Lao-Hmong Friendship Play, which I co-wrote and co-performed with my best friend Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay. I also wrote Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman, Ten Reasons Why I'd Be a Bad Porn Star, and Sia(b). I'm in the process of writing some new work for young audiences.
Tell me about yourself. Do you do other forms of art besides playwriting?
I identify as a memoirist first and foremost though ironically, I have written more in other genres. For example, I have a fictional children's book in print called The Imaginary Day. Currently, I'm working on The Dead Hmong Women Project, which uses poetry to talk about domestic violence within the Hmong community. But much of my theater-based work comes from a personal place. My trajectory, however, is moving towards stories wherein I'm merely a playwright and not a character.
Tell me about your experience with the Playwrights’ Center.
My first experience with the Playwrights’ Center happened when I was 21. I saw an ad for the Many Voices Fellowship, whose goal was to nurture playwrights of color. Using poems as my work sample, I got in and became more familiar with playwriting. A few years later, I received another Many Voices Fellowship. By then, I knew theater was part of my journey as an artist, and the fellowship enabled me to build personal and professional relationships with other playwrights, create new work, and work with new dramaturgs and directors. It's good to return to the Playwrights’ Center now at a different stage in my career. I feel like I can experiment more with my writing and be more strategic about the business side of the arts.
What is your end goal with the project?
For the McKnight Fellowship, I really want to be strategic and use my time to create new work and find homes for them. I'm not professionally trained in theater. All my formal education has been around literature, and theater is a different animal. In the Twin Cities, there are organizations that have nurtured my work, but I'd love to (and need to) build a more robust national audience for my work.
For my k-drama addict play, specifically, I want to see this piece premiered in other cities. I was intentional about writing an Asian American romantic comedy. In the United States, we don't see enough stories about Asian American experiences. Or, when we see them, it must be in a very specific context. For example, a Japanese story about internment camps, a Hmong story about the Secret War. I personally think it's revolutionary to have a romantic comedy that intentionally features voices from the margins.
Where do you see your play going and how do you hope this fellowship will help you?
One of the things I'm interested in seeing is how to penetrate or infiltrate national theater spaces. This is what I mean: Sometimes when people look at my work, they think, "This is a Hmong play. We don't have a Hmong population. We shouldn't produce it." But I'd like theater companies and audiences to say, "This is a comedy. This is a play about friendship. This is a play about hauntings. This play is for nerds who participate in fandoms."
Describe your writing process.
My process is messy. I like to just free write about anything and everything. The workshop space then becomes important because it helps me to edit and refine the text. I like getting feedback and appreciate actors, directors, and dramaturgs who, rather than being judgmental, are helpful to the messy creation process.
If someone wants to become a playwright, what do you suggest to them?
I'd suggest they go see plays--from the high-end productions to experimental theater to new works. It's also important to re-think what theater could be. A play doesn't just have to exist in a proscenium stage with lights and costumes. It can happen at a restaurant, an abandoned building, a community center. I'm still exploring the possibilities and limits of theater and how it engages people in a different way than, say, books, movies, or TV.