Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.
This series of interviews put the spotlight on individual DGF Fellows and invite you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.
As we wrap up the 2019-2020 Fellows calendar year, we are pleased to feature Kyoung H. Park and Melis Aker, and we hope you’ll revisit the collection of Spotlights .
Each writer is asked a series of questions to help us get to know them better, while exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.
Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on Kyoung H. Park!
What was your first experience with theater?
Growing up in Santiago, Chile, my first experience with theater was acting in middle school plays: I had small roles in David Ives’ “All in the Timing” and played Dracula in Tim Kelly’s “Seven Wives for Dracula.” I was a rather shy kid and a school nerd that often got bullied, so acting in plays helped me stay social and make new friends. In high school, I played the Marquis de Mascarille in Moliere’s “Two Precious Maidens Ridiculed,” Jean in Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” the Poet in Strindberg’s “Dreamplay,” Haemon in “Antigone” and the Nurse in an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” where all the characters’ genders were reversed. I think my drama teacher knew I was queer before I was able to admit it to myself – I found acting quite liberating and an opportunity to express myself and be seen! I mean, I was also a high school cheerleader – maybe I was just living in denial.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
I moved to New York to study film directing at NYU, but after a year, I dropped out of film school and switched majors to Dramatic Writing. My first one-act play, PLAY FOOL, which was about a lesbian woman handcuffing a male escort over Christmas dinner so he could impregnate her, won a student writing competition and was produced in a basement theater in the West Village. Seeing my work produced changed my life; I decided to leave my film ambitions aside and figure out how to be a playwright. I became obsessed with tragedies – mostly because I came of age living through 9/11 – and Edward Albee’s “THE GOAT, or Who is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy)” influenced my writing, for sure. Mr. Albee was actually my first mentor – I wrote to him after seeing THE GOAT, and he offered to talk with me about tragedy, read my plays, and he even invited me to write at his Barn in Montauk, which is where I wrote my first full length. Mr. Albee also taught me the importance of the Dramatists Guild’s work in protecting the rights of American playwrights, and how critical it is for theater artists to see and read as much theater as we can. Especially Brecht.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
Because I am an immigrant, I didn’t have access to traditional opportunities to develop and work in theaters. In fact, during my mid-twenties, I was deported so I spent a few years making theater abroad, working with companies such as Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro and the Royal Court Theater in London. By the time I felt ready to give New York a second try, I made a commitment to myself that I’d immigrate to the States and write, direct, and self-produce my own work, to make sure I’d see my plays up on a stage. I founded my company, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, eight years ago and in collaboration with artists from different cultures and different disciplines; we devise our work and center stories of (im)migration, queerness, identity and the ways these intersect in communities of color. Our company distinguishes itself for being a peacemaking theater company – our work values boundary-breaking discourse, aesthetic rigor, and non-violent, social change.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
I’m working on a new play called NERO, which re-tells the story of George W. Bush’s War on Terror as an anachronistic rendition of Nero’s Roman Empire. NERO centers a white, male actor embodying white supremacy in the middle of a diverse ensemble representing a rising minority-majority vying for power. For me, I think this is my everything play—a play about peace and war; about the history that has shaped me; my inner conflicts becoming part of the American experiment—which can also be a violent, racist, Empire; and reconciling truth, memory, and history in a way that reflects my post traumatic experience of being alive in these times. In performance, the play asks: how do we center our cultures of origin, heal our (broken, migrant) relationships to land, and dismantle white supremacy to co-create a new “state of the nation” play? During my fellowship, I went through research materials I gathered from the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas and I’m currently collaborating with composer Helen Yee, our lead actor Dave Gelles, video designer Marie Yokoyama, sound designer Lawrence Schober, and vocal coach Rachel Kodweis to create original songs for the show. Over the course of the next ten months, we’ll continue to collaborate virtually to develop a Zoom version of the play with support of a grant from the MAP Fund. As a peacemaking theater artist, I feel like this is an appropriate time to tell the story of a narcissistic tyrant who blissfully plays the lyre as his Empire catches fire.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
I’m a survivor of childhood abuse; I’ve endured and witnessed physical, verbal, and sexual violence. I discovered my voice journaling in the fifth grade. My journal became the only safe space where I could express myself. A few years later, theater taught me how to wear a mask that allowed me to be heard and seen. Since then, I’ve worked as a playwright, director, and facilitator in order to live in my skin. I’m still healing from complex PTSD; if I don’t do this work, my memories fade into darkness. The way memories manifest in my plays is my way of processing the events of my past and my inherited, intergenerational trauma. I write to live because I’ve survived. I find this reminder utterly rewarding. Also, I’d like to express my gratitude for being part of this fellowship program. For two years, I couldn’t write a word and thought I had lost my voice. Lucy, Migdalia, Allison and my fellow fellows saw me crawl back to life through my writing. This opportunity could not have come at a better time.
Thank you Kyoung, for contributing to the blog! You can stay up to date on Kyoung’s work by following him on social media:
Instagram: @kyoungspacificbeat, @kyounghpark
Facebook: Kyoung H. Park, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat
(Featured Image Credit: Tahir Karmali)