I’m excited to invite you to the first workshop production of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s PILLOWTALK, which will be developed as Artist-in-Residence at the BRIC Arts Media Center in Brooklyn. PILLOWTALK is an intimate two-character drama centered around Sam and Buck, a newlywed interracial gay couple. Using inventive staging incorporating elements of ballet’s pas de deux, the play looks at the evolving values of gay marriage through the shifting priorities of a young couple.
I have been writing and developing PILLOWTALK over the past two years, and the company and I will present the first, fully-staged, workshop production of this play on Sept. 26, 2015 at 7:30pm. Tickets are now available online ($10 in Advance, $14 at the door) and I hope you will be able to join us at the BRIC!
For many years, I wrote plays about how I wanted to get married at a time it was illegal. I knew that those plays wouldn’t stand the test of time, because at some point, the laws would change making all my struggles a matter of the past. So when DOMA was repealed, I got engaged, and once marriage became a real option in my life, I dove back in to this subject matter to write a play about gay marriage.
PILLOWTALK received its first public reading at the Ma-Yi Writer’s Lab a few weeks after I had my wedding, and following the reading, Stephanie Hsu (Assistant Professor of English and Gender & Women’s Studies at Pace University, Board Member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and the NY Association for Gender Rights Advocacy) moderated a long-table conversation with our audience called “Queering Gay Marriage.” I knew, from a political point-of-view, gay marriage was an ongoing debate but that within the queer community, gay marriage was just one (of the many) issues discussed in our struggles for safety, equality, and justice.
I also wanted to write a play that didn’t make a political statement about gay marriage. I wanted to write a play about the embodied, human experience of being gay and married. Marriage–whether gay or straight–is a social institution that is frequently explored in public discourse, and I thought gay marriage presented us with an opportunity to expand our notions of what marriage is, and what it really could be in our culture.
The surprising result of this first iteration was the fact that straight/gay/bi, male/female/gender-non-conforming, married/single/divorced people in the audience responded quite positively to the play. The feedback I received ranged from men telling me: “I’ve had these conversations with my girlfriend in bed” to friends telling me: “it’s almost as if you were in my head.” And now that I am married, I finally feel like I can talk about this experience with anyone, resulting in a level of social connectivity that makes me feel less isolated about my journey.
PILLOWTALK is set in real-time in the bedroom of Sam and Buck. Excluding sex, the play focuses on the intimate conversations of two men who are figuring out their lives over the course of 70 minutes with nothing but words. It was my intention to zero in these two characters, to examine gay marriage with a critical lens, in order to magnify the inner lives of these two characters in the search of something new.
However, working back-stage for the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition that culminates in a grand finale at Lincoln Center’s Koch theater, I fell in love with the way ballet dancers would perform the pas de deux. I fell in love with ballet so much that I started asking myself, what if my play became a ballet?
I tried this idea out during my fellowship at Target Margin Theater’s Institute for Collaborative Theater-Making in March 2014, with the help of the four fellows who were part of the Institute. We looked into balletic compositions and Meisner techniques, overlaying this work onto my text. While the experiment was just a test-trial, enough was discovered to help me decide this was the direction I wanted to pursue.
A few months later, I started doing some research, collecting materials on a Tumblr. I also returned to the Youth America Grand Prix to work behind the scenes, this time paying closer attention to not only the classical ballets performed by the students, but also the contemporary ballets performed by professional dancers, who were often premiering new work during the finale of the competition. Having this inside look into new choreography, I realized my own conceptions of ballet were radically changed, and that this was an opportunity for me to embark in totally uncharted territory by making my own ballet.
Then again, having absolutely no training in ballet, I started to freak out, as I was committing to an idea I didn’t know how to execute. I started holding phone interviews with friends and dancers who had trained and/or danced ballet, and during this period, I was guided to speak with Katy Pyle, a contemporary choreographer who has developed a unique perspective of ballet through her company Ballez—which has the mission to “explore the gender-binaried, Imperialist movements of Ballet, to radically re-image these oppressive tools within a space of liberatory queer play.” For a few weeks, I took Ballez classes, as a way to prepare myself for the rehearsal process, and for the past two months, I have been re-writing the play, while working with a creative team of performers, artists, and theatrical designers to stage PILLOWTALK this month.
WHERE WE ARE
I am now in a place where I can articulate the questions I was asking myself when I started writing this play. Through the creation of PILLOWTALK I am asking my collaborators: what is it that we think is ballet? And this question is standing in for a larger metaphor of the play, which is: what is that we think is marriage? And more profoundly, what is love?
There is so much to discuss based on these questions, and I am fortunate to be working with Daniel K. Isaac—an amazing actor who has collaborated with me in every show I’ve made with my company—and Raja Feather Kelly, an incredible dancer, actor, and choreographer. Together, we have been rehearsing for the past two weeks, putting PILLOWTALK on its feet, and on our own, we are beginning to explore and define for ourselves how PILLOWTALK can be transformed from text, to an experimental performance piece that incorporates balletic language into its story-telling.
I am also collaborating with Wade Kramm (visual artist), Marie Yokoyama (set designer), and Chuan-Chi Chan (lighting designer) in the creation of the world, and through our powers combined, we are abstracting and crafting a set for PILLOWTALK which resembles a bedroom, but shifts our perspective to help us interrupt our normal definitions of a “bedroom drama” and subvert our expectations of what we would normally consider a “naturalistic” drama.
Helen Yee (composer) and Lawrence Schober (sound designer) are creating the music and soundscape for this show, while Andrew Jordan (visual artist) is framing the bodies of the performers with costumes. Together, it is my hope that we’ll externalize the emotional landscape of these two characters and the conflicts that surface in their marriage over the course of this play.
HOW TO SUPPORT US
I hope you’ll be able to join us for PILLOWTALK and support our work. We will have one performance on Sat., Sept. 26th at 7:30PM (followed by a moderated artist-audience dialogue) at the BRIC Arts Media Center, which is located at 647 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Tickets are $10 in Advance, $14 at the door, and available for purchase online.
If you cannot come to our performance, I hope you will donate online to Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s on-going $10, online, fundraising campaign. As an independent company, most of our work is supported through individual contributions and all donations received this month will be used to support PILLOWTALK’s production costs. Donations can be made through our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, and your donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Happy Labor Day!