Fellows Spotlight is our summer blog series that invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our Fellows program.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from all our 2018-2019 Fellows: Jay Adana, Rae Binstock, Zeniba Britt, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Mathilde Dratwa, Aryanna Garber, Charles Gershman, Nambi E. Kelley, Melissa Li, Benjamin Velez, Kit Yan, and Zack Zadek.
Each of the Fellows/teams were asked the same 5 questions, exploring where these writers have been, are now, and are journeying towards. Our Fellows took this gentle structure and ran, each submitting responses as unique and creative as they are.
(responses submitted by Kit Yan on behalf of the team)
What was your first experience with theater?
We became friends while performing at a Queer Asian cabaret at a divey drag bar in Boston called Jacque’s. Although Melissa had been writing and performing Queer theater with the support of The Theater Offensive, and Kit was already winning awards performing as a slam poet, we’ll never forget the first time we shared the stage together at that cabaret and how important it was to have a space that allowed us to tell our stories on our own terms.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
Both of us were writers at a young age, whether we were writing songs, poetry, plays, or movies. We always felt the need to share stories and pour our feelings out on the page. But it was at Jacques that we witnessed a kind of theater that was a new experience for us — the art was bold, messy, risky, and unafraid, as were the artists that created it. Today, we try to keep the essence of these formative experiences in our work together.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
As Queer Chinese-American immigrants with very different but rich histories and identities, our work constantly investigates and explores gender, sexuality, and race. Stylistically, because of our artistic backgrounds, we like to break rules and blend style and form. Our work is often peppered with poetry, sugary pop earworms, experimental percussive soundscapes, and other motifs. We use familiar tools, and tools we discover, to tell stories that reflect our experiences.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
We’ve been working on Interstate, a new musical that is semi-based on our own experience, and is very personal to us. It’s about two best friends — a transgender spoken word artist and a lesbian singer-songwriter — going on tour together for the first time, and the ways in which their journey changes the life of one South Asian trans teenager living in Kentucky. The show sounds stylistically similar to the work we used to perform together way back at Jacque’s, and is a love letter to our friendship and our community.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
Being writers is powerful because we get to dream about the worlds to which we want to contribute. We get to bring together communities of people who ache to see themselves represented on stage. We get to ask tough questions, be accountable to each other, center friendship and love, and keep hope alive in a world that systematically erases so many of us. It is rewarding work — to be able to write our futures into existence.