I hope this email finds you well. As 2022 comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the milestones Kyoung’s Pacific Beat reached this year and share some reflections for the New Year.
DISMANTLING WHITE SUPREMACY
KPB began the development of NERO in September 2020 to catalyze a conversation about white supremacy with our community. Following a series of “Whiteness on Fire” virtual dialogues, in response to the rise of White nationalism and domestic terrorism in America, our Community Engagement team, comprised of three local, grass-roots organizations, two Board members, and staff, decided to focus our work by uplifting abolitionist frameworks to practice community-care.
June 12, 2022 – Hillel Plaza, Flatbush, Brooklyn
Our care work took many forms: conducting mutual aid providing money and material goods to our community; organizing political education sessions and a Black & Asian Book Club with activists in our community; hosting online healing and trauma-informed sessions addressing the inequities of the medical industrial complex in America. While these direct services to our community have helped us serve hundreds of people living in our neighborhood and local vicinity, what we learned from this work is that those most in need are not our usual theater audiences, but the folks we fail to reach through our art.
Elders and senior members of our community, women of color – particularly mothers, homeless men, and local aunties and uncles attended KPB’s public programming and took advantage of our mutual aid work making me wonder: how do we bridge the gap between the community that needs us and the audiences who come to us for our theatrical work?
This summer, we had the privilege of gathering our company in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the Ford Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we were able to secure a residency at Pregones/Puerto Rican Travelling Theater to film an interdisciplinary production of our newest work-in-progress NERO. Our resident ensemble – Mondragons – comprised of 10 actors and 5 artistic collaborators working in music, theatrical design, and choreography, worked with 10 filmmakers of color to produce a filmed version of NERO.
August 2022 – Pregones/Puerto Rican Travelling Theater
Our crew of filmmakers became NERO’s only live audience, for the exception of an abuelo that lives next to Pregones who I invited to come see the work while we were filming. It was a strange experience to gauge audience responses from crew members who had to silence their laughter behind the camera monitors, but a crew member once confided to me after filming: “I’m not a theater person, but this project made me want to go see a play.”
NERO, which is currently in post-production, will have a rough-cut screening of our first act in January as part of The Exponential Festival 2023, and we’re currently raising funds to complete the post-production of this project. In the meanwhile, I’ve been spending evenings and weekends creating a rough-cut of NERO, going through 150 hours of footage we shot at Pregones and I’m feeling so grateful for this opportunity to work in the two mediums I love – theater and film.
A TIME FOR INNOVATION
At a time I see so many theaters re-opening and going back to normal, I consider the ways in which we’ve stayed away from doing theater the way we did before the pandemic. During the theater shutdown, when so many of my peers and artistic community were deemed “non-essential,” labor protests and America’s racial awakening required arts organizations to truly consider what equity means – both in terms of racial justice AND economic justice. We are fortunate to say that thanks to increased funding, our organization was able to provide union-approved wages to produce NERO and we hope that this support is continued, so that we can continue to compensate the labor of the artists that work with us in socially just ways.
December 10, 2022 – Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice
“Going back to normal” seems, to me, a problematic default when the “normal” never truly served our organization. It wasn’t until the pandemic that our organization was able to grow out of its “fail to launch,” start-up phase and experience a budgetary and organizational growth one could only dream of. In this state of “abnormality” KPB has thrived, making me wonder – how do we stay weird, disruptive, and working against the grain?
And that’s when I return to KPB’s peacemaking and anti-oppression driven mission for our true value. Before 2020, our company had been addressing white supremacy and taught workshops about it in Seoul back in 2017, we’ve been addressing anti-Black racism and violence since the beginning of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2015, and at a time in which anti-Black and anti-Asian violence was on the rise, I feel that it was our mission – and our connection to our community – that prepared us to meet this moment to shed light on the violence and oppression that still affects our communities.
The 2021 Global Peace Index ranked the United States as the 122nd most peaceful country in the world. The level of peacefulness in the United States is now lower than at any time since 2008 and over 32 million instances of violence were reported in 2021. The primary driver of this deterioration in peacefulness in the US was an increase in civil unrest and a rise in political instability.
In 2022, the New York Police Department (NYPD) reported a 41% increase in overall major crime and a 243% increase in hate-crime reports. Peace matters – and we must strive to create peace now more than ever.
We are thankful for our Board, funders, staff, community partners and artists for helping us model how KPB can work with artists, non-artists and local communities to transform personal and communal experiences of oppression into peace messages made public. Our organization received a 2021 Innovation Award from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) and a 2022 Innovation Award from NYC’s Office for the Prevention of Hate-Crimes. Our ongoing dramaturgical question is how can the performing arts create a culture of peace and non-violence? And our hope is that we can continue this exploration in the New Year to find solutions for the systemic oppression harming our communities.
August 2022 – Pregones/Puerto Rican Travelling Theater
2023 – A YEAR OF HEALING AND INTEGRATION
As a theater company working in hybrid forms, including bubble residencies inside theaters and public programming taking place both online and live in outdoor spaces, the way we relate to each other as artists, with community, and our audiences has evolved. This shift into alternate programming was intentional – I remember in 2020 deciding that KPB would “pivot” into the digital space and remain online for three years. For 2023, we are excited to announce that we received our first public grants from the New York State Council of the Arts for our digital programming and more details on our work for the New Year can be found here.
With increased support from public agencies, our organization will also need to deeply examine how KPB will serve the public in the new year, beyond our art-making and theater programming? This is a question we are deeply investigating internally. Acknowledging that our healing is collective and that the systemic answers we’re searching for are to be implemented with critical mass, it is our hope that next year we’ll be able to find the mission and value-aligned partners we need to make our work succeed.
We are an art-driven and community-driven organization – what our art needs, and what our community needs, is what determines our next steps. We hope you’ll join us next year as we expand our questions and interrogations in public – the premiere of NERO and new projects to be announced early 2023 will create opportunities for us to set our agenda. I hope you’ll join us!
Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season – peace!
Kyoung H. Park
Kyoung’s Pacific Beat