Nothing like summer in the city: a dispatch from off-Broadway

Now is the summer of our discontent made mind-numbing winter by the air conditioning of the Public Theater. No, seriously, I was getting cold urticaria on my hands the other night. It feels like a horrible thing to complain about when last week was hot enough to drive Lin-Manuel Miranda and Shockwave to release the third installment of their hex-annual “Hot as Balls” NYC Heatwave series, to say nothing of other discomforts such as Scarlett Johansson colonizing yet another demographic, precedent for the revocation of naturalized citizenship being set, kids in cages (some resources to help listed here), and the threat to the Constitutional rights of vulnerable citizens for decades to come via hostile takeover of the judicial branch of the United States government. But sometimes, it’s the little things that are just insult to injury.

 

 

 

I’m currently on Day 18 of my 39-day long streak without a day off. By far not the longest that anyone will ever have gone without a day off, let alone at jobs that they love and completely voluntarily agreed to. Still, I’m undeniably glad to be almost halfway through this bed that I made to lie in. Five and a half weeks of 74-hour work weeks (and that doesn’t count the two days per week where there are hours between shows when I’m technically not working but am physically stuck at work) is a lot of time, even for something that you enjoy, to say nothing of the resultant trashfires that are my apartment (there’s an actual tower of unopened mail on my desk) and also me (#tfw it’s a predicament situation between sleeping and showering… but at least showering is less of an urgent matter because it’s not like I’ve been exercising).

In other words: kids, this is why they say “don’t do it unless you love it.”

The first few days of this period of time, one of the jobs was still being done remotely, as it was the pre-rehearsal preparation work. I was starting to experience some mounting anxiety, which is normal for me during any prep week, especially if I haven’t worked with anyone involved. People sometimes jokingly refer to first rehearsal as the first day of school, but as a description, it’s not all that off. Who are these people? Will they like me? Will I leave a good impression? Am I prepared? Have I taken care of everything that I need to? Sure, I may technically be holding the same position, but everything is still entirely new and different – will I do a good job? Do I even know how to do my job anymore?? What is stage management??!!

Knowing that I would have the personal challenge of starting this second production while still running the first just added to my anxious energy. It was like I was getting pushed closer and closer to that pool where you know that the water is freezing cold and your legs suddenly stop listening to your brain because you  know the pain that lies ahead of you – only in this case, whether my legs were listening to me or not didn’t matter because I stand upon the relentless treadmill of time that’s carrying us all to our eventual biological deaths and erasure from memory. Barring apocalypse, the day of first rehearsal would arrive even if I did finally suffer that nervous breakdown and go running for the Adirondacks to live the rest of my life as a hermit. I might as well stare it dead in the eyes and meet it like the honorable warrior that I am in my very active fantasy life.

The production that I already had running is Ma-Yi Theater’s Teenage Dick by Mike Lew, currently playing at the Public Theater. (Yes, the Public is the Hamilton people.) Commissioned by the Apothetae, a theatre dedicated to productions that explore and illuminate the disabled experience, the play is a reimagining of Richard III set in high school – a Shakespeare high school AU, so to speak. Richard is now a teenager with cerebral palsy who has his sights set on the senior class presidency, with a tongue no less agile, charm no less entrancing, and mind no less dangerous than his namesake. Gregg Mozgala, the actor playing Richard and artistic director of the Apothetae, noted that part of the impulse of making the show happen came from the experience of all of the uncertainty and physical indignities of adolescence amplified by the realization that, unlike most of one’s peers, one’s body wouldn’t grow out of this phase to become “normal.”

Another part was having the play titled Teenage Dick.

Continue reading “Nothing like summer in the city: a dispatch from off-Broadway”

What’s cold and flat and white all over? Fargo, don’tcha know.

“So how was Fargo?”

“Cold. Flat. White.”

“Yeah, they were still getting snow, weren’t they?”

“No- I mean, yes, but- I mean… white.

There are times in your life when you are in tech in Fargo, North Dakota when, a week before that moment, you had expected to be in neither tech nor Fargo, North Dakota. I’d been sitting in a stage manager friend’s work apartment in New Haven, getting ready to finish up my overnight couch-crashing expedition with some of that mashed potato pizza at Bar and a visit to my old grad school office, when the email came in, asking me if I was by any chance available to leave in three days for a week-long work trip to Fargo because their stage manager had a medical emergency that might preclude them from traveling.

My brain immediately slammed on the brakes, because I’d had plans for the next week. Granted those plans had been for a second week of “unpaid vacation” – the only kind of vacation that you get when you do gig work is unemployment between jobs – but writing regularly, playing the piano, doing my own personal exercise bootcamp, catching up on watching a series that my friends were on my case about, and generally spring cleaning my life was something that I’d been kind of looking forward to, particularly given that I have a busy summer (#grateful) ahead of me. And most importantly, I’d had plans, and I’m not sure about you, but my brain is naturally pretty reflexively resistant to course changes, even when for the better.

But the fact was that I was available for that week, if just barely – I’d need to go straight from the final performance to the airport so that I could be in rehearsal the next afternoon – and I’m a goddamn sucker for playing hero. The doctor had not yet given final word, but I agreed to be on deck for them.

“Sorry, I take back what I said last night,” I re-commented to a friend’s post. “Probably can’t make it to Smorgasburg on Sunday because I’ll be in Fargo.”

At this point, my brain had shifted to accepting this as a win-win situation. If the doctor cleared their stage manager, I got to enjoy my originally planned Spring Cleaning Week and watch Mob Psycho 100. If the doctor nixed it and I was called into action, then I received money, adventure, and glory.

So much in life comes down to having the power to say “yes” and “no.”

Not two weeks before that, it had been the day before St. Patrick’s Day. The fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday meant that my plans were to have my own traditional corned beef and cabbage at home and not leave the neighborhood all day, and so hopefully avoid the unruly drunken throngs. Just as I was about to go to bed on Friday, I did one last check of my Facebook feed… and saw a friend’s post with a ticket available to see Sleep No More the next night. Despite close friends having been pushing me to see the show for something like two years, scheduling and finances had created a higher barrier of entry than my interest level could top. But for there to be a ticket opportunity presented to me? There was a minute or two of hemming and hawing as I considered the motivations underlying my original plans and imagined the horrors of the St. Patrick’s Day evenng crowd downtown, but my answer really could be nothing but: yes.

I had a great time – and I was able to see a friend perform.

Not sixteen hours before that, my stage manager friend and I were getting good food and terribly slow service in a restaurant in New Haven. At that rate, we were going to be late for the show playing at Yale Rep, for which my friend had complimentary tickets due to being a guest artist. Noting the time, my friend commented that the last of the student Shakespeare series was having its final dress rehearsal that night, and it didn’t begin until 8:15pm. A professional play at Yale Repertory Theatre or a rehearsal for a student show in a blackbox… I’d already mentioned my plans to attend the former, but I knew which one I’d rather see.

It was a pleasure to get another chance to consider A Winter’s Tale, and to say hello to faculty who were present in the audience.

So by the time the initial inquiry had had the chance to settle in for a couple hours, I had shifted again into the Land of Yes.

(And what would you know, but not 48 hours after that, I received a text from another stage manager friend telling me that I absolutely had to – had to – come see the workshop at the Public that they were working that night because my life would be significantly better for it. I had about 18 hours until I would be boarding a plane at LaGuardia, and I’d planned to have a leisurely evening of finishing packing and prepping for the show and getting to bed early but…

Get your tickets to Ain’t No Mo by whenever and wherever it ends up having its world premiere, is what I’ll say to that.)

I landed in Fargo near the end of April Fool’s Day, when the live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was just wrapping up. At the baggage claim, I opened up my suitcase and took out the winter coat that I’d been about to pack away for the season a few days ago. After bundling up, I headed out into the 40-degree temperature drop from when I’d left New York.

So yes, it was cold. And the landscape was, indeed, very flat. Heck, even the topography of the grocery store was flat – the aisle shelves were short enough that I could stand at the entrance and see across the expense of the entire store, from wall to wall.

And then there was how the only Asian people I saw the entire week were the violinist that was part of our New York production team and the sexy beast that I saw in the mirror each morning.

If you’d given me a pop quiz about the demographics of Fargo prior to my going there, I probably would have been able to give you some pretty good guesses. Something like my hometown, maybe, where “The racial makeup of the town was 97.66% White, 0.45% African American, 0.29% Native American, 0.28% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.28% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.81% of the population.” I was still caught off-guard by the feeling, though. My hometown has the advantage of familiarity, of course. But also, my hometown is a literal single-traffic-light tiny hamlet in the middle of the woods. This was the largest metropolitan in the state, where we were working at the state university.

Also, there were my multiple encounters with still-current use of the word “oriental,” which dropped on my brain like a record scratch each time.

“I think that I’m single-handedly shifting the vocabulary of the racial discourse in Fargo, ND,” I texted my director at one point.

These people were kind and generous and did not have bad intentions.

That didn’t really matter.

If I go for a drive and accidentally run somebody over, as far as that person’s medical condition is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether or not I intended to hit them with a car. Sure, it matters in determining whether or not I’m a psychopath who should be charged with murder, but in regards to the well-being of the person underneath my car, there are so many things that were more direct contributors to that moment than whether I was literally thinking “I’m going to hit a motherfucker today because I want to cause harm”: how well I knew the traffic flow and road conditions where I was driving, if I was paying attention to my surroundings, if I was driving too fast.

Again, none of this changes the medical condition of the person underneath my car.

And yes, I will judge a person if they speak of certain things in certain ways, even if it’s just a matter of education or the lack thereof. It’s not a condemnation but a judgment made for my own well-being. Things like “oriental” tell me how much I can trust a person – which is a different thing from judging the trustworthiness of their character. There are many good, upstanding, trustworthy people whom I wouldn’t trust to, say, take me skydiving. If you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, I’m not going to trust you to push me safely out of an airplane. Likewise, if you haven’t bothered to learn not to call a person like me “oriental,” I’m not going to fully trust you with my well-being in this world. If you’re still running Windows ME and haven’t even installed any patches for the past decade, I don’t know if I’m compatible with your system or what malware you might have been susceptible to. The OS that I observe throws up red flags for how you might be processing me.

And I understand that you might not have an out-of-town Asian guest to be your personal tutor and gently hold your hand through these changing times. But there are books. There are movies. There’s the internet. There’s literally the entire world. It’s within your power to stop being comfortable and passively consuming only what has been hand-fed to you within your own bubble.

As a person belonging to various non-dominant demographics within U.S. society, I grew up being trained in empathy for those unlike me for my entire life.  I’m overjoyed by all the little straight white boys who are now being presented with more growth opportunities than were easily available merely ten years ago: Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Love Simon. These things aren’t “niche” and irrelevant to straight white boys any more than Indiana Jones was niche and irrelevant to me and my taste in hats. Embrace these growth opportunities being presented to you. And if it feels a little uncomfortable – well, maybe that’s just growing pains.

Meanwhile, I’m back home. And by “home,” I no longer mean my hometown, although I still call that “home,” too. I’m back in NYC, where it’s warm, crowded, and I’m often out of place but only need one ride on the subway to feel that everyone is at least a little bit out of place and a little bit connected in this big, tiny, crazy world.

(Post-Script: I do have to give special shout-outs to the amazing Drekker Brewing Company and Proof Distillers, as well as the Toasted Frog in downtown. Highly recommend all if you end up in the area.)

“Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.

Last week, Thursday was a major holiday in my world. The atmosphere was already high from the Olympics running in PyeongChang. And it was the Lunar New Year (i.e., “Chinese” New Year, which is a fine name for it if you’re actually Chinese, but pro-tip: maybe don’t repeatedly ask an Asian what they’re doing for Chinese New Year if they’re not, you know, Chinese). And on top of that, it was opening night for Black Panther. (Thank you to the marketing folks who realized that old people with early bedtimes get very excited about movies, too.) And not only was Black Panther just, you know, Black fucking Panther, but two schoolmates from graduate school had major roles in it, one of which was their first movie role ever.

Basically, Thursday night was the night of Turn The Fuck Up.

As you might have heard by now, this was a movie event where the hype did not match the reality – because what was expected was a movie that brought a black heroic narrative into the mainstream and didn’t fuck it up, and what was delivered was many steps above that.

(And here’s where I say: if you haven’t seen Black Panther, stop reading this and go see Black Panther because spoilers and also treat yourself.)

There are plenty of people with insights and opinions about Black Panther who know a lot more about the subject matter and/or film in general than I do. Here are a few of them:

My thoughts about Black Panther don’t really matter, to be honest. But what Black Panther means to me does matter, if only to provide just one more example to illustrate how wide-reaching the effect of this movie is.

I’m not sure how many other people who were little non-black POC girls in the early 1990s had this experience, but I remember poring over the American Girl catalog and trying to decide between Revolutionary War era Felicity, the settler immigrant Kirstin, bougie Victorian Samantha, and spunky WWII Molly. The Revolutionary War was already my jam, but immigrant stories touched me in a certain way and also Samantha had the best clothes. So I hemmed and hawed as I tried to decide which American Girl would be the one that went in my letter to Santa.

Then, Addy was released. And I went full Issa Rae:

black

I did, indeed, become an Addy girl and proceeded to be a Civil War history nerd for a good five years or so, which is a lot of time when you’re in elementary school. And not just within the American Girl oeuvre, either – I’m talking As Seen On TV boxes of historical flashcards, family trips to Gettysburg, hats. I eventually shifted over to the French Revolution, but for me, growing up in a white family in an overwhelmingly white community, Addy had started my connection to Black history. This didn’t make me woke by any means but, in hindsight, it raised my awareness and investment above the sadly low mainstream level.

Now, let me pause right here and emphasize that I have no claim to either the historical trauma of Black people in the United States of America or the present-day injustices still endured. I may feel drawn to increase my awareness and knowledge not just because I believe being an educated citizen is a moral duty but also due to finding a personal resonance, but it’s just that: resonance, not identification. Is there a Black culture equivalent of “weeaboo” that’s public-use-acceptable by non-Black people? I just barely dodged the former during the anime phase my adolescence, so I hope to hell that I would not be foolish enough to pull those tricks as an adult.

The relationship between Black American culture and Asian culture, both American and abroad, has long been interesting to me. While Asian-held anti-Black sentiments are far too common and I can guarantee that you’ll pretty much always peep one East Asian motherfucker at any given white supremacist rally, Eddie Huang (of restaurant and Fresh Off the Boat fame) is a current publicly-identifiable face of a notable affinity and exchange that has been going strong for decades. Korean hip-hop artists are coming to more prominence now (the artistic and moral integrity of the commercial music industry is another topic) and, well, the Wu-Tang Clan exists. Samurai Champloo. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

But curious to me in my specific experience, I think back to lunchtime during my freshman year of high school. My elementary school was so overwhelmingly white (at its most diverse point, the 500-student population had six non-white kids, myself included) that there really was no choice when it came to demographics, and my middle school was so small that my entire class fit at only two lunch tables (boys and girls, which I still regret in hindsight). But looking back at the start of my high school career, when I came in not knowing anyone to a class of 70-odd young women who mostly also didn’t know each other, I can’t help but wonder what led me to end up at, to put it bluntly, the Black lunch table.

It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. But when you’re the odd one out, you often gravitate toward other odd ones out. And in many parts of the U.S., there is that little voice inside of you screaming to get out of that sea of whiteness.

(Jordan Peele was, in fact, correct about Get Out being a documentary.)

There was a lot that was conscious decisions and deliberate awareness in my anticipatory lead-up to Black Panther. It was a fact that the team was good and could be counted on to do good work. It was the fact that this movie was placing Black culture to the forefront in an unprecedented way. It was a fact that the teaser trailer had more women in it than the whole of the MCU. It was the fact that I had gone to graduate school with two members of the principal cast, one of whom was actually a year-mate with whom I’d worked on a number of shows. All of this meant that I signed up for ticket sales alerts months ahead of time and bought my opening night tickets for my second-choice showing as soon as I got home from work on the ticket release day in January because my first-choice showing was effectively sold-out after only four hours. I wanted to see a good movie, and I wanted to give my financial support to it.

I think that there are things that goes further back and deeper down for me, though. Continue reading ““Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.”

Listen to the tune that keeps sounding in the distance

This is the dream I dreamt…

I was carrying on with my own business in a small local town. There was a sense of impending threat. There was some sort of war going on, a factional one, and our community was at risk. We told ourselves that

But as we were walking through the forest, I looked up and saw a dark object in the sky, tiny and far away. From it came hurtling a bright spot that rapidly grew larger enough to discern as a fireball. It struck what probably was the next neighborhood over. I just knew that there was another one coming, so I began to run, keeping my eye on the sky – and sure enough, before I even had the chance to get much of anywhere, another fireball appeared, aiming straight toward us.

We all ran.

I was in a traditional-feeling, wood-and-paper-constructed shop of some sort with others, and we knew that after those bombings, the actual invaders couldn’t be far behind. There was a loud tumult outside, and I ducked into the bathroom just in time to see the ruling faction march in and begin rounding up my friends the shop people. I stayed tucked in the bathroom for a while.

When I peeked back out, my shop friends were being paraded back into the main shop area as prisoners and the invaders were being installed s the new bosses. I slipped outside and began walking briskly down the street. A white woman with a high quality camera was passing by, so I latched onto her and began asking her technical questions so that I would hopefully be less noticeable.

It wasn’t until after I woke up that I consciously realized that one of the strange things about the dream was how the people populating it were mostly Asian. And that spurred the realization of how that stood in contrast to what was apparently usually the case.

I thought about that dream as the airplane carried me from Osaka to Seoul, and I found that my personal anxieties (of not fitting in, of facing hostility) had disappeared when faced with the more mundane bigger picture. This was a people. This was how life went on in the face of nuclear geopolitics.

Descending below the clouds to finally see the bridges stretching across the Han River, a swell of emotion reminded me of my first international flight (that I could actually remember), when I was 20 years old and went to England to do research for an academic project. Back then, I’d been caught off guard by a fierce gut reaction to seeing the lights of Newark International Airport shrinking below me. I felt a strain on that binding tie that resists disloyalty, like I was abandoning someone and needed to articulate, if only to myself, that this was not goodbye, that I would be back. Now, I again felt something on a very physical level, a relationship between body and land, only this time, it was the surreal experience of making the return to somewhere I had never known.

I thought of the dream again a couple nights later. After spending the day swanning about in hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I’d found some maduguk for dinner (#goals) and was going to hop onto a bus back to the boarding house where I was staying for this leg of my journey. But when I got to the bus stop, I changed my mind, remembering that there had been an impressive statue in the large boulevard leading toward the palace.

And so I kept walking.

As I continued into the city, I heard music, amplified but live. It was a mesmerizing blend of traditional and wild, the spirit of jazz flowing through a drum and solo instrumental voice that would not allow itself to be called a melody. It was not far at all, still well within the sight of the palace where the wide boulevard was lined by art museums, that I discovered an outdoor concert, where the musicians onstage were powering a calligrapher wielding a giant brush who was painting hangul writ large. Indeed, I recalled, it was Hangul Day, the holiday celebrating Korea’s literacy of its own creation. I concluded that this must be some sort of public concert held in celebration.

I joined the crowd, standing on the plaza off to the side yet also right up front, because how great was that, stumbling onto a free concert? But as I stood there looking at all of the people, my dream returned to me, and all I could think of was watching those balls of fire in the sky, so tiny at first but growing larger and larger and larger as they approached their inevitable targets.

This is how I’m going to die, I thought.

As it turns out, I did not die at a hangul concert in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. And after that night, my dream drifted back into the realm of curiosity rather than looming as prophecy. How much of that really, I wonder, was actual Korean nuclear anxiety and how much was it an American import of the Las Vegas massacre that had occurred just days before? (Oh, the irony of my grandparents’ fears for my safety traveling abroad, I had thought, when the real terror lived at home.) Was it, like me, just some neurotic blend of the two?

A couple weeks ago, I had myself a two-show week at the Public Theatre. First, I was fortunate enough to see my friend Ceci Fernandez playing the lead role in Tiny Beautiful Things, regularly played by Nia Vardalos. While I wouldn’t call the play a life-changing work of dramatic writing, it was a wonderful, heart-expanding communal experience, like a church service comprised solely of homilies.

But what was unsurprisingly disturbing and yet, more prominently, unexpectedly affirming for me was Julia Cho’s’ Office Hour in the tiny Martinson Theater a few days later. This energizingly theatrical work explored the story of a college professor trying to get through to a student in her writing class whom her colleagues have warned her has all of the signs of a school shooter. Notably in this extremely American story, both the professor and the student are Asian.

On my way out of the theater following the play, two older white ladies walking in front of me were discussing the show between themselves and one commented about how she felt that all of the guns were confusing and distracted from “the cultural issues.”

Reminder: this was a play about a potential school shooter.

But I could only guess that the faces that woman was seeing could only belong one story, that of the “culture clash.” Indeed, in one conversation, the professor discusses how her parents didn’t want her to become a writer – ah, yes, of course, the strict and traditional Asian parent! Clearly this was what explained these two lives in crisis that we were watching. Whence could the rage – the rage that was so shocking to see depicted on stage but the existence of which was so viscerally, familiarly real – come but from that? Those people and their culture issues!

I left those people behind me but kept the story with me as I walked out of the theatre.

(You still have a little time left to catch both shows – Office Hour runs through December 3 and Tiny Beautiful Things through December 10. And while I highly recommend Office Hour, please do heed the production’s warnings about gunshots and gun violence.)

I build myself a home

They say that you should surround yourself with those you aspire toward. Not only does that potentially create connections in a professional context, but in life in general, being exposed to something or someone great can aspire you to work to get to their level.

There’s also the good ol’ fashioned shame factor.

I’ve never been much of a decorator. Whether out of innate minimalism or just laziness, ornamenting my space has never really appealed to me. When I moved into my first apartment for grad school, my mom very thoughtfully packed me some holiday decorations from home. I don’t think they ever saw the outside of the cabinet that I stored them in. After all, they would just sit out there to take up space and do nothing useful until I put them away again – what was the sense? As for putting things up on the walls, I have never seen empty wall space as something with any need to be filled. It’s a wall, it’s doing its job, just leave it be.

But my new roommate (who is actually an old friend) is a former scenic designer and props person who now works for a theatrical lighting company. They have art deco posters. They have copper lighting fixtures. They have furniture that isn’t made out of plastic.

I’ve maybe gone on a home improvement binge over the past few weeks.

To be fair, it isn’t 100% shame. Another thing that I’ve heard said is that every story is about someone either arriving to or leaving town. It shakes things up. I’ve experienced the sense of a fresh start every time that I’ve moved into a new living space myself.  Having someone new moving in has felt similar, even though I haven’t gone anywhere. Largely, each time has been a combination of cleaning out what I don’t need and improving the state of what I do have, whether it be via upgrading or adding a new element or mere re-arranging.

(Let me tell you, few things have made me feel more civilized than getting a cheap-ass bedskirt. It almost makes me feel like as much of a Real Adult as rotating/flipping my mattress on schedule does.)

I’ve not lived a life anywhere near as transient as many others, who have been much more uprooted whether by choice or circumstance. But after having spent my high school years bouncing back and forth between my separated parents, and my undergraduate years split between school-year dorms (which changed every year) and summertime home, and the following years chasing internships up and down the East coast, I was not feeling very settled by the time I hit graduate school.

But during the summer between my second and third years, I stayed in New Haven, making it the first time that I have lived in one place for the course of a full year in a decade. Not only that, but it was the first time that I’d ever lived in a place that was my own (as much as a rental can be), not something set up for me by someone else, not a room in someone else’s house where I used things that someone else had bought.

And for the first time in my life, I nested.

I re-organized my kitchen. I bought myself a nice set of dishes, the kind that I’d always wanted to get “someday.” Granted, it would take me another four years until I finally hosted guests for dinner and used the dang things, but it was the thought that counted. Now, if I wanted to, I could.

When I moved into my apartment in New York, all of the stories I’d heard (and schedule conflicts that I’d accommodated) told of frequent apartment searches and moving. Even when I jumped straight into a two-year lease, I think that I didn’t trust it. Any furniture I had was intended to be easily carried up and down stairs. Hell, for the first year, I was still sleeping on the inflatable mattress that I’d used for my entire time in grad school. (It was only supposed to be a temporary measure back then, but after moving everything else up a five-floor walk-up, you look at your graduation date and think, “You know what? I can deal.”) Not a single item hung on the walls.

But eventually, I began to settle in. It started slowly, mainly with the bed when my back couldn’t take it anymore. But it really picked up over the past year. And even though I still have a lot of plastic furniture because I’m intimidated by both spending money and the effort of getting large items off of ye olde list of Craig, I feel like I’ve finally started to claim this place as my own, rather than simply being a person who live inside of it. It’s home, and it’s mine.

As of the beginning of last weekend, that would have been basically all that I had to say on the subject. By the time I reached the end of last weekend, I had a lot more to say and have been trying to work through it since then.

Last week, a comedian did a skit that some people loved and some people hated. Most (though not all) of the people who found it incredibly funny were of a certain demographic. Most (though not all) of the people who found it hurtful and counter-productive were of another demographic – and they spoke up about it. Yes, it was Tina Fey, and I don’t feel that I have anything additional to contribute to the discussion of the skit itself. But what I did observe and feel worth noting was how much I appreciated white friends who had loved the skit discussing how they had listened to the pain and objections expressed by others and how they were actively trying to be mindful of a perspective that was not their own, that had not even occurred to them before someone had spoken up. That did not mean that their experience was invalidated; they were merely being conscious of the fact that their experience did not take precedence.

Having thoughtful and conscientious friends can put one in a bit of a bubble.

Because of course, as the night doth follow the day, so be the backlash followed by the backlash to the backlash.

But here was the thing: the people who gathered in a post to gleefully mock those who had objected to the speech? Accusing them of being divisive and destructive? Even speculating, with who knows what level of jest, that the outrage was some sort of alt-right false flag operation? They were all people whom I’d guess would call themselves liberals. Not only that, but they were either theatre-associated or associated with theatre people. And to a one, they were all white.

It was almost a parody of itself, and yet no one seemed to see it. A very small, very limited group of people were talking big words about how “those people” were dividing “us.” When I dared to ask one person who was engaging with me who exactly “us” referred to, the answer I received was “Oh my god. The left.” Over and over, it was lamented how terrible it was that people were “attacking” an “ally.”

And that was at the crux of it, really. Not the fact that they’d had a different reaction to a performance than many people (including me) did. As a friend of mine has so aptly stated it, we all arrive to view things shaped by our own circumstances, both external and internal, which can lead even the most intelligent and sensitive of people to experience the same thing in vastly different ways. It was that when confronted with a different view, the reaction had been not just to dismiss it with mean-spiritedness from a more privileged position, but to claim ownership of an entire movement/ideology. In that view, someone expressing a critique was to blame for “dividing” the group – rather than the divider being one who refused to listen and pushed away the one presenting the critique.

What was being said was that someone on “the left” who felt a certain way was merely living in someone else’s home. Or, alternately, there was the presumption that everyone was receiving shelter while the reality was that some were being shut out, rendering those “others” invisible.

What was being said, quite explicitly, was that someone who had been brought to their current place by pain, and dared to speak that pain, was merely an interloper whose grievances were less important than the comfort of a so-called ally.

With friends like these…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not viewing folks like this as Enemy. As an obstacle? Certainly. I’m not even one of the people in most immediate danger, by whatever combination of their selves and their circumstances, and I still have had the urgency shoved into my face.

It was early this year as I was working on a show in Hell’s Kitchen that I went to meet the rest of my work friends for a drink after a long day of tech. Being stage management, I showed up at the agreed-upon bar after the others – it was a new Western-themed place where some of us had caught dinner earlier that week.

When I walked in, you could feel the negative charge to the atmosphere. My friends were clustered together very tightly at their table. The place was extremely crowded, mostly by preppily-dressed white men who were all clearly there as a group.

Yes, the bar in Hell’s Kitchen near the theatre district was full of those who would be considered part of the so-called “alt-right” – i.e., a bunch of MRA white supremacists.

And the thought rose in protest: “Not in my house!”

We ended up leaving, although not before overhearing multitudinous offensive statements about women and/or foreigners, loudly singing a round of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” out of spite (though we doubt that we were heard, let along appreciated), being threatened for looking at them funny, and having a large man get into one of my friend’s face and demand to know if he was “a Democrat, a Republican, or an American.” (And for me, not before spotting the inevitable East Asian guy hanging out with them. Disinvited from the BBQ table forever, dude.) The last thing I remember happening in there was feeling someone grab my arm and drag me outside with the rest of my friends. Which was a good thing, because I was starting to go to the headspace where I just see red, and in hindsight, that was probably the closest I’ve ever been to getting into a bar fight.

We took refuge in a gay bar nearby for the rest of the night. Later that week, I put on my cowboy boots and went back to the bar seeking answers. Management wasn’t in at the time, but the bartender on duty took my information and seemed genuinely upset on my behalf. The manager called me later that day, and we bonded over our shared upstate roots as he asserted that his bar in no way supported such movements and should not have allowed such a hostile atmosphere to develop. He wondered if people were taking the bar’s aesthetic theme as an endorsement of a specific political alignment – and if the result of the presidential election was a driver behind people thinking that that might be the case.

In his words, I could hear his thoughts: how could this happen in my house?

It’s been said that a house divided cannot stand. But the idea of “division” is something that may require greater compassion and critical thought, as well as less self-centering.  For those of us who have had the privilege of being able to choose to ignore the damage done to others, it may seem all too easy to have our eyes on a so-called “higher goal.” But who has determined what that goal is? What right is there to demand silence and submission from others in the name of “unity”?  Is the real source of division those who are suffering or those who then declare such suffering to be a “distraction”? When a parent – i.e., the individual with more power – kicks a child out of the house for being gay, which is the person who has broken up the home?

And then there are those who should be kicked out. Nazis, for example, can go right to the curb, down into the gutter. And anyone who feels like apologizing for or excusing them can go right along with them. For they are those who would demand (or allow) the submission and degradation and extinction of others in the house – that is division.

All of this I’ve written at various points while in my newly redecorated living room, on my bed by the light of the pink salt lamp that I finally for a bulb for after buying it while on tour in Boston a year and a half ago, and riding the subway that contains one of the broadest spectra of humanity that I am blessed to experience on a near daily basis.

Right now, I’m feeling grateful to be home.

Work up a new appetite

We live in such an interconnected world now. Progress speeds forward at a dizzying rate. It’s wondrous, but sometimes we must ask ourselves: have we pushed the boundaries too far? Have the wheels of change spun out of control, unraveling the threads of civilization? Do we sit here dumbly as Rome burns to the ground around us?

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I picked those up at the grocery store the other day. I haven’t tried them yet because I’m actually not that big of a snacker, but I simply couldn’t let them pass without judgment. Truth be told, it was also a moment of pause for me as I can’t not think about how things have changed. There these were in just a regular old display with all of the Normal Stuff, while it was just a few years ago that grocery stores in this area still had an “Oriental” shelf, which is where you’d need to grab your small bottles of sesame oil and soy sauce.

Times used to be that you’d need to head to Kim’s grocery for anything much beyond that. Fortunately, Kim’s did exist as I was growing up, even if it was the only option and did require a special trip that was a half-hour drive into the city. While I believe that it did close at one point, it has now reopened. That’s more than could be said of the rare Korean restaurants in the area. I can recall a total of two existing during the first two decades of my life, and neither lasted more than a handful of years.

But change has been reaching even the most average city in the U.S.. Over the past few years, Korean restaurants have been popping up and actually not shuttering immediately. I’m already looking forward to lunch tomorrow, where I’ll be meeting a friend at Sunhee’s Farm & Kitchen in Troy, a hip fast-casual Korean place that’s about positive food culture and immigrant empowerment and all that jazz. I’ve been mostly trying to avoid eating Japanese and Korean food in anticipation of eating all of the things during my trip, but it was suggested to me when we were making plans and I’m only human.

This will be my second time eating there, as the restaurant had recently opened the last time that I was visiting home near the end of 2016, so we went there to try it out for my mom’s birthday —and ended up with an embarrassing white people story.

We’d had a rather sizable order and had to wait a bit for our food, so I wandered around to check out the place’s hipster decor. There was a second room, which had their not-yet-open bar, and I went in there and poked around like the nosy person that I am. As I loitered under the archway connecting the two spaces, a white couple headed out and the man, spotting me standing around, waved to me and said, “Thank you!”

Well, my grandmother was sitting right across from me and had a front row view of the whole thing, and she started cracking up while I stood there frozen with a zombie smile of awkward politeness. The others at the table began asking what was happening and my grandmother was so openly entertained that I figured the couple had left at that point, so I pushed out a strangled, “I don’t work here.”

…as it turned out, the couple hadn’t left yet and they heard me, so they hurriedly turned back, with the man exclaiming that this was their first time here, they had just been so excited to try it, and they proceeded to talk to my family about how good the food they’d had was, presumably to prove that they were really nice people, while my grandmother continued to choke herself with laughter and I just kept on standing there in the archway with a twitching eye and no way to extricate myself.

So yeah, you decide whether “embarrassing” is an adjective or verb up there.

I’ve gotten somewhat spoiled now that I live in NYC, where I can easily shop at an actual H Mart and pick up pre-made Korean dinners if I’m feeling lazy and have to choose which Korean BBQ restaurant we should go to. But even if I now live a life where my refrigerator is constantly stocked with kimchi and gochujang, that doesn’t dim my amazement at the changes I see growing back in the land of my childhood. Even if, clearly, not everything has changed.

…and maybe some things shouldn’t change, but you’ve still just got to give those Korean Barbeque potato chips a try.

Oh god my mouth has no idea what’s happening to it.

America, you great unfinished symphony

Aside from being just barely twenty-four hours out from running a 102-degree fever while fully medicated, this evening is about as perfect as can be. I’m once again in a rocking chair on the porch, with fireflies starting to glow in the twilight. A neighbor across the street has country music radio playing. As much of a city slicker that I am now, I grew up a moderate country bumpkin, so it does make me feel nostalgically at-home. I was from the sort of area where one could reach a decent level of suburban civilization (for instance, a grocery store) within a half-hour drive in the correct direction, but ten minutes in the other direction would land you in a cornfield. Summer was about county fairs. Autumn was about not getting shot by deer hunters. I was about a generation and a half removed from shooting squirrels in the backyard for dinner. And I could probably count the number of black people I’ve ever observed in town on one hand.

(The Asian population felt more prominent, thanks to a couple just down the road who had both an adopted Korean child and an adopted Vietnamese child, as well as the number of mirrors in our house. I couldn’t have pointed out any other Asians in town, but proximity and frequency can be hella amplifying.)

These days, I feel much more comfortable in non-homogenous spaces. The tyranny of the majority can be truly insidious, having a negative effect even when there is no active malice or ill intent. Nevertheless, I do have great fondness for my hometown. Established in 1772, it was originally envisioned by the eponymous leader of its original settlement as the possible capital of New York state. A bit laughable now, given that it still doesn’t even get cable, but I do believe that growing up in a place with history can affect you.

Pretty much everything I ever dreamed of came together in the musical Hamilton.

Not that Hamilton fever had gone away, but you might have noticed a definitely spike this week. First, a new Prizeo fundraiser sweepstakes was launched, where donations are rewarded with entries to win tickets to the opening night of the U.S. tour’s Los Angeles stop. The #ham4all viral campaign took hold, with people donating and singing their favorite song from the show, then challenging others.

As if that weren’t enough, they also dropped a music video for “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” a track (and my personal favorite, actually) from the Hamilton Mixtape album.

My own Hamilton story risks being yet another tale of my unbelievable good fortune, but that’s pretty much been my life, so why not lean into it?

Colonial and revolutionary U.S. history had always been a favorite of mine. In addition to my general interest in political and revolutionary history, it was also local history to me. It wasn’t until I was older and more exposed to the world that I realized that my awareness of things like the Battle of Saratoga or the intricacies of the French and Indian War were geographically-specific and not general knowledge. I also was, quelle surprise, a huge theatre geek from a very young age. One of the highlights of my amateur theatre career was playing the Anti-Federalist murder victim in a site-specific interactive murder mystery dinner theatre piece called “It Spoiled His Constitution.” (For you fellow Hamilton fans, the specific site was Schuyler Mansion in Albany.) This shit was running through my veins.

So when I heard that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and star of the recent In The Heights, was working on a project that was a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton, my favorite founding father?

I immediately refused to get my hopes up so that my heart wouldn’t be broken when the show got mired in development purgatory or, at best, had a critically-acclaimed and very short off-Broadway run, becoming a piece of elitist theatre nerd trivia. Even as the project expanded and each new bit that I heard excited me, I purposefully tried not to get too involved.

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It was surprising and joyful to me, then, when I heard that it was being produced at the Public and selling very well.

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Selling too well for my freelancing ass, in fact. One of the downsides to being a freelancer and working on a gig-to-gig basis is that I generally only know my work schedule a few months ahead of time and don’t have the luxury of being able to take time off. This can make being able to commit to future events, such as buying show tickets, quite difficult. With Hamilton at the Public being sold out months before it even opened, I pretty much gave up hope of ever seeing it.

And then one night in late January, I was alone in my bedroom of my apartment shitting around on the internet like the antisocial millennial that I am, when  friend messaged me, asking me if I was busy tomorrow. Well, I hedged, I was meeting another friend for brunch that day, which was way up on the Upper East Side, so that would take a while, but other than that, I wasn’t doing anything, what was up?

It turns out that her girlfriend had misremembered the dates of when she would be visiting family in California when she had bought them their Hamilton tickets. Her being in California? Now. The date for their Hamilton tickets? Tomorrow.

I threw myself into my computer keyboard to tell my friend that I was actually free as of six hours ago and would be so for the next week.

And so the next day, my friend and I caught dinner at Duck’s Eatery, which I highly recommend for Public-proximity dining, and just barely slid into our seats as the lights dimmed and the now ubiquitous first seven notes played. We didn’t even have time to read our programs or scan the audience around us, which would have told us that we were seeing Javier Muñoz (the current Broadway Hamilton) performing the role for the very first time and that Lin-Manuel Miranda was in the house with us, his first opportunity to see his work from the outside. The show wasn’t yet open – they were still in that preview period where they would rehearse during the day, integrating any changes from the writer or creative team, and perform the updated version of the show that night. So what we saw was not quite the finished version of the show’s off-Broadway incarnation.

Finished or not, it was one of the most moving, electrifying theatrical experiences of my life.

Shortly after seeing it, the production’s third and final extension was announced. My upcoming work schedule miraculously had one performance that I would be able to attend, so I sneakily bought a pair of tickets while at work and later called my mom to inform her that she was coming to see a show.

It was important to me for her to see it. Not just because I knew that it was a brilliant work of theatre that would be historically notable to have seen. But also because in many ways, the show was me.

I had been obsessed with immigrant stories as a child. In my American Girl phase, Felicity’s Revolutionary War and Kirstin’s immigrant stories had been my favorites. I heavily favored historical fiction of tales of coming to America. Fievel was g-ddamn important to me. I would scream that Neil Diamond song at the drop of a hat.

And yet, despite there being the obvious commonality of, you know, coming to America, I had never considered myself an immigrant.

But Hamilton made me realize that maybe I am, and that felt right.

The night that my friend had messaged me had actually been the day after my arrival day, or the anniversary of my arriving to the United States. Maybe making the journey hadn’t been  my decision, but had it been for other young immigrant children? I just hadn’t had anyone in my immediate family who shared that particular experience. In hindsight, now that I’m older and understand more, I wish that I could have spoken more with my maternal great-grandparents, as logically impossible as that would have been. (I was either very young or not yet born when my great-grandmother died; I was still barely more than a toddler when my great-grandfather passed.) They were Armenian and had immigrated in the early 1900s, as one was wont to do. I wish that we could have shared more of that.

And that was a slightly more specific personal epiphany on top of the more general sense of reclamation of American history and identity that has been expressed by many.

Which isn’t to say that I discount criticism of Hamilton or its place within our culture. I can’t blame those who have no wish to claim part of an identity that was violently forced upon them. I understand those who would prefer see the stories that truly are untold (Hercules Mulligan smuggling information? more like his slave, Cato) rather than recasting the ones that are already floating in the American historical consciousness. But I think that Hamilton is just one exceptionally well-crafted show that has never intended to be the one answer. It’s not the show’s fault that the collective culture enjoys seizing upon a singular answer to all of our woes. Hamilton has clearly had a positive impact on many people who haven’t generally been the beneficiaries of such artistic, emotional, cultural bounties. What we need, then, is to treat this as the opening of the door to more stories.

I’ve written before (at great length) about the impact that Les Mis has had on me. Among other things, I recollected how I had unironically imagined a future career for myself in which I graduated through all of the roles in The King & I. Seeing Lea Salonga in the Tenth Anniversary Concert on PBS changed all that and literally changed my life. That was my first huge epiphany of identity, immediately and directly concerning my theatrical pursuits but also seeping into my overall being in more generalized ways. Having a place is something that was neither destined nor has always been expected. With my life of good fortune, I’ve always had that little bit of constant immigrant awareness of gratitude for simply being here. I know that the dice have not rolled so favorably for everyone, including those with originating circumstances similar to mine. But the elements of chance and change involved have left me all the more incredulously thankful for how my story has played out.

And so yes, may America sing for you. It’s a dark time for many who live here or are otherwise impacted by this nation’s actions. And it’s certainly not the first dark time, or even the darkest. But I claim this identity in defiance of those who would challenge my legitimacy, and I am determined to continue to strive toward those ideals that mean so much to me, even when we fall lamentably short of the very words declared by no less than the Statue of Liberty. We’ve always fallen short. We always will. But let’s do so while striving for something higher.

And that’s the story of tonight.

When I think of home

Last Monday passed in something of a shocked haze. No, “shocked” is too strong of a word for it. Perhaps “bemused” or “confounded” would be more accurate. Just the night before, the news had dropped that Delta Airlines was dropping their sponsorship of the Public Theater due to the Public’s production of Julius Caesar as part of their annual free summer Shakespeare in Central Park. Bank of America also dropped their sponsorship of the production, though they did not cut off their sponsorship of the Public entirely.

There has been a lot written about the incident and its implications since then, so I won’t rehash the entire affair. This NYT article gives a concise summary of the chain of events, this NYT article analyzes the production history/context of Julius Caesar, the Daily Beast opines on the wrongheadedness of portraying the production as anti-Trump, and the Public Theater itself has a cogent statement in response, as well as video of the artistic director’s live remarks on opening night.

To deride people for misunderstanding (or having zero awareness, let alone understanding, of) the context and meaning of the imagery within Shakespeare’s play is, at best, unproductive and, at worst, intellectual self-back-patting. However, I also don’t think that the fact that the outrage comes from that specific image (a Trump-like figure being murdered) being divorced from its context (the play proceeds to conclude “oh hey maybe stabbing that dude was not such a good idea” quite unambiguously) is something to be brushed off without comment. What is implied is that the image of this authority figure is so sacred that enacting harm upon it is unforgiveable “bad taste.” This gets rather scarily into “insulting the dignity of the monarchy” and “Dear Supreme Leader” territory for me.

(And that’s not even touching upon the hypocrisy of the lack of outcry against similar imagery using other personages, notably Obama. Or the false equivalence between an image of violence that punches up and an image of violence that punches down with all of the weight of the history of a country in which the mob murder of black men has been a spectator sport.)

(There are also the disquieted ponderings about how this is not technically censorship, but at what point does a body outside of the government have enough power to become a sort of ruler? At what point is deciding for oneself to avoid getting on a ruler’s bad side due to vindictive past behavior on the part of said ruler actually the government’s hand?)

The other aspect I’ve seen discussed less is how the behavior of the corporate sponsors, who are certainly free to do what they want with their money and about whom we should not ever be deceived into thinking care about more than their own profit, demonstrates an understanding of and relationship to art that is superficial, consumerist, and hardly limited to corporations. Sponsors need to decide if they are sponsoring art – the continuous process of creation and subsequent community effect that I believe is vital to a functional society – or if they are buying a product: the theatre production, the painting, the published book. It brings to mind for me the issue of the drawing back from long-term investment in science and innovation. We need to be willing to invest in processes that, in the short-term, may create products that fail.

But more personally…

I was incredibly caught off-guard by the blow-up because I’d actually seen the show and was not particularly impressed.

The cast was strong as a matter of course (John Douglas Thompson is a living legend of classical theatre, as far as I am concerned), and the production values brought no complaint. I simply found it to be un-noteworthy to the extent that the last thing that I expected was a giant controversy and national argument about the value of art.

Was it worth seeing? Yes, I’d say so. Even before this controversy erupted, I would say that this production was effective in translating Shakespeare into something current and accessible. Was it a can’t-miss artistic event of the summer? Naaahhhhhh. I found the means by which the story was made contemporary to be by turns broad, superficial, and distracting. There are issues with how the production treats its traditional women. (Marc Anthony is played by a woman, whose funeral oration is one of the better executed moments, but Calpurnia and Portia don’t fare half as well.) But I do appreciate the civic ideal of free theater for the people that goes all-in with a big idea, even if the execution succeeds at maybe only 70%. I’d much rather see an interesting failure than the safe, polished success of a tiny idea that is intended to have no effect.

Once the surprise settled, however, I found myself still feeling unsettled, in a much more personal, emotional way that, while related to the Constitution and artistic freedom and civic discourse, was based out of something much more instinctual.

You gonna come for me where I live? In my own damn house?!

It’s like that gif of the white guy blinking brought to righteously offended, earrings-coming-off life.

You’re going to go after a play? In New York City? From the Public Theater?

It flashed me back to the January evening when my friends and I were in tech in Hells Kitchen, and we dropped into a bar after work that night… and found ourselves in the middle of a white pride meet-up.

In Hells Kitchen.

(That night was, incidentally, the closest that I’ve ever come to getting into a bar fight. Many thanks again to the friend who must have seen the intention in my eyes and grabbed my arm and dragged me out of there.)

It flashed me back to a few weeks ago, when I accidentally bumped a man with my bag as I was going down the stairs in at the 14th Street subway station. As he turned around, I realized that I must have made contact, so I apologized. He just stared me in the face and spat, “Fucking Chinese bitch.” I repeated my apology with no small amount of incredulity, and he just went on his way, calling “Go back to China!”

In the L station.

(Thank you to Jonathan Larson for me not being able to take anyone saying “Go back to China” seriously.)

But through all of this, as invasive and shocking as these things are, I nevertheless feel a certain sense of gratitude. Because the reason that these things do feel invasive is because I do otherwise feel a sense of ownership. My reaction to incidents like these is not to feel displaced, but rather to feel the urge to defend what is rightfully my own place. This comes not only directly from being fortunate to have had those who have strongly welcomed me to this country, this city, this life, but also indirectly from the support and love that have shaped me to be confident in claiming what is mine.

Not in my backyard, utensils. I live here. And I’m not moving.

I’m reviewing the situation–

Welcome to my first day without work since February 12! I’m currently one week into my newest project, which is working with undergraduate theatre students on a crazy-pants American premiere of a crazy-pants play. My brain is still decompressing itself from jumping straight from one ship to another, so this week is just the time for some scattered miscellania… which has turned out not to be so scattered after all.

I’m in rural New York state for this job, so it feels a bit like I’m back home. Lots of trees, lots of snow, lots of white people. Coming full circle, I had cribbed a chunk of my blog post about Les Misérables and me for a Facebook post the other week, and now I’m cribbing the Facebook post for the blog, as selection and framing tells its own story.

Today was my last performance. The show has extended through next weekend (go see it!), but I already had another project lined up. It feels weird. I’ve never before left a show before it closed, let alone one I’ve been with for nearly six months. I started working on it as soon as I moved to New York, my first show here, and I couldn’t have asked for better work or better people to do it with. A bunch of you have probably heard a variation of the following story, but I need to repeat it again, because of this show and the article I linked.

I grew up as an adopted Korean kid in a white family in a predominantly white town (97.66% white, according to the 2000 census), going to a predominantly white school through fifth grade (out of approximately 500 kids in grades 2-5, at the most diverse point, I was one of six non-white kids). And it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in media studies to know that representation is an issue in mainstream entertainment and culture, particularly prior to the turn of this century. However, I wanted to be in Broadway musicals. In fact, I had devised a practical plan for the rest of my life, completely sincere and free of cynicism or bitterness: I would find a production of The King & I, join the chorus of the King’s children, age up into Tuptim, go back into the chorus as one of the King’s wives, and finish my career as Lady Thiang.

That was my America, and how I existed within it.

My life was changed the day that I turned on the television and saw Lea Salonga performing the role of Eponine in the Tenth Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables on PBS.

That was when I made the first step, to “in spite of.” Where I could do what I wanted to do, and not be limited, in spite of being who I was. It would take many more years until I reached “because of” — when I would know in my soul that I could do what I wanted to because of who I was, that every aspect of me played a part in my being able to make my own unique contribution — but I needed that first step, and just seeing Lea Salonga’s face on my television like that changed my life.

So, storycreators and storytellers: you never know whose lives you may be changing, or how.

I hadn’t been expecting the response that the post received — from myself or others. It’s a story that I’ve tossed off often in the past, a tale for self-aware laughs with rueful but amusing pointedness. I found myself feeling surprisingly emotional when I sculpted it into that smaller post, however, in a way that I haven’t in the past (and certainly didn’t when it had just been one small section of a larger essay). And it apparently was very emotionally resonant for others as well. I had tagged my show-mates in the post, so I even ended up with responses from a lot of friend-of-friend Asian theatre people I didn’t know personally.

So here I am back in rural New York state. The only non-whiteness that I’ve seen anywhere so far has been on our stage management team — myself and my three P.A.s, who are one Asian woman and one black woman (as well as one white woman). I’ve made dry comments about it, and to which my director has responded with ruefully aware grimaces. He’d wished for a diverse/international cast for this show, which wants to be on a world-scale, but he only had one non-white student audition and unfortunately, they weren’t a fit for the show’s demands. And just as a culture, it’s odd. The school I attended for undergrad was also a small, rural, elite private institution, but I don’t recall the student body as being anywhere near this homogenous. I think that one factor might be that this school’s campus is so spread out, so we basically see only the performing arts students, who are clearly overwhelmingly white.

The last time that I was struck by such overwhelming whiteness was, funnily enough, when I attended one of the Brooklyn live shows of Welcome to Night Vale. I actually refer to the live show as “Welcome to White Vale” in my mind. It was pretty darn dramatic. There is no exaggeration when I say that I looked around as the room filled up and said to myself, “…damn, look at all these white people!” Because when you look around and except for you, the black guy a couple seats in front of you, the East Asian woman over there, and that maybe-Hispanic dude, the entire fucking room is full of white people — that does not reflect real life. And I say “funnily enough” because, in comparison to mainstream U.S. arts and entertainment, Welcome to Night Vale is one of the most diverse shows out there, with some of the most well-written representation that I’ve encountered to date, and it even actively deals with the issue of cultural appropriation (i.e., it’s asshole behavior, don’t do it). I really am curious about Night Vale live shows elsewhere. Is it just a Brooklyn thing? Is Brooklyn just swarming with white people? Or is it a fandom culture thing? Sci-fi and fantasy have never been high scorers on diversity and representation. And when I’ve attended fandom conventions (anime, specifically) in the past, they’ve been pretty much entirely white and East Asian people. Really, it’s just something I’m curious about.

And from here, here are some links to and quotes from things I’ve read in the past week or so, which, presented collectively, all seem rather related.
Continue reading “I’m reviewing the situation–”

What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–

Oh gentle reader, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’d originally had some Ambitious But Sensibly Realistic plan to write one full post per week once school started, but then allergies killed my soul for nearly two weeks, leaving me scrambling afterward as I was swept up in the relentless socializing that is the beginning of the school year. During the course of which I was roped into working a show that had lost their stage manager and ended up being an awesome, epic and absolutely huge undertaking. I was generally working straight from 4:00pm to 3:00am for that last week, with classes during the day.

It wasn’t pretty.

But we had a giant snake puppet track all the way across the ceiling of the theater above the heads of the audience. No regrets. Take that, Phantom.

Aside from being debilitatingly busy — I’ve been mildly sick ever since we closed this past weekend, running a low-grade fever at night — there has been one thread weaving its way through from orientation before classes to me sitting here now.

As I was sitting there in the audience of the theater, waiting for the next person to talk to us about IT or turning our receipts into the business office or whatever else we needed to be re-oriented about for the new school year, I saw some of my friends a bit farther down the row crowding around the screen of one person’s phone. They were all watching some video, as the owner of the phone pointed out the mechanics of the dance moves happening. I was far enough away that while I could see the brightly colored clothing and energetic movements, I couldn’t make out who was performing or hear any of the music. Ah, well, I thought, another trend that I could only hope would be performed at some party or another at some point during the year.

I didn’t give it much more thought than that, though I noted its ubiquity over the subsequent couple of weeks, with even the producer for the show I was stage managing telling how she had gone home one night only to find her 18-month old dancing that dance which is all the rage for the babysitter.

On a completely separate track, my Facebook feed had been peppered by some K-pop Youtube video that apparently a lot of people had been watching.

It was only when the “Gandalf Style” parody was posted that I was hooked by geek bait and then, that lightbulb slowly began glowing over my head. And it took a while for my brain to integrate the information that this K-pop song and this raging trend that was sweeping through my friends and across the world were the same thing, finally culminating in shock.

The reason was this: based on the limited glimpse that was my first impression, I had assumed that all of the people involved in the song were white.

Continue reading “What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–”