Today is the UN International Day of Peace. In celebration of this day, I’d like to share with you some of my reflections based on some recent travels to Chile, South Korea, and my work in New York.
I think the greatest challenge as an artist has been to address the new Presidency and what it means to live and make work in the United States. As an immigrant eligible for citizenship, I have been struggling with whether I want to become American and choose to be led by a President whose moral authority I question.
Pres. Trump, for me, represents the fear, ignorance, and arrogance of White power in America. It fuels a culture of White Supremacy and its impact is global.
Teaching a seminar on “Literature and White Supremacy” at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul this July, what I heard was a greater need to address the ingrained patriarchy and misogyny experienced in society, which fosters ever-growing violence in the world. The escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula made me realize that North Korea would become one of Pres. Trump’s targets. Echoing Pres. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” Pres. Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” North Korea at his first speech at the UN General Assembly comes as no surprise.
I wonder whether America’s global power is Imperial and whether White Supremacy fuels such violent thinking. With this question in mind, I’ve decided to move forward with the development of my play NERO, as a way of investigating this question further to reflect the ongoing racial violence and war mongering that reigns both foreign and domestic policy.
NERO is a re-telling of Nero’s Roman Empire, based on the history of George W. Bush’s Presidency and War on Terror. The intent of these dual stories is to challenge the history we think we know, while questioning why powerful, political figures believe in a culture of dominance and war.
This season of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat was originally planned as a season that would dig deeper into the community-engagement work of “Creating Peace,” a series of talks that were tested last season to build a creative public forum about peace in New York City. However, due to the election results, I shelved this idea because greater resistance, and a space for braver conversations, is needed to actually address the way Trump’s election is eroding America’s social contract. Given our company’s limited resources, I cannot hold this kind of space, and I feel like at this point in time, “Creating Peace” is not possible.
Tensions are running high as the news of domestic politics, natural disasters, and war cover up the shrinking expenditure in public services, staffing of federal government positions, restriction of civil rights, and an overall decay in American democracy and the upholding of its institutions in good faith. From civil unrest to the recent fires and hurricanes, it’s terrifying to follow the news as an annunciation of the apocalypse.
It’s been imperative to analyze how Pres. Trump’s new regime propels its citizens into action. Undiplomatic, hateful, and violent demonstrations from a fringe, white minority that does not acknowledge how the environment, economy, and politics are changing has led to anger and disengagement. The silencing of artists who propel a critical discourse in the public sphere has come in tandem with the dismissal of the press as “fake news,” resulting in the curtailment of first Amendment rights, granting artists like me the freedom of speech, and for its citizens, freedom of information.
How do writers engage with our history and for what purpose do we tell our stories? This has been lingering on my mind as I’ve worked with Caborca, a company adapting Roberto Bolaño’s novel “DISTANT STAR.” This unique production is now running at the Abrons Arts Center, and I invite you to a panel I’m moderating with Caborca and Roberto Brodsky, Cultural Attache of Chile, as we’ll talk about how political oppression and tragedy can be manifest through art on Thursday, Sept. 28th.
This summer, I was also in Chile to teach a course on “Experimental Collaboration” at DUOC. With a group of three student ensembles, we explored the different aspects of theatrical collaboration and what struck me by this experience was the idea that artists are thoroughly trained in craft, but provided with little support to reflect on why we make theater. These questions led to a frustrating need for definitive answers and I felt like a deeper understanding of investigatory, experimental work was necessary to truly consider how socio-political, economic, and cultural systems are evolving to either further progressive, social change, or preserve existing structures to distract us from the real history and social injustices that need to be addressed in public. With life and massive death so imminent, the existential question of “why live?” needs to be explored almost scientifically, to creatively experiment with “how to live in peace.”
With all this in mind, I am happy to announce that Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s PILLOWTALK will premiere this January in a co-production with The Tank. We’ve been developing this show for three years and while the times have changed, the story still resonates today. Behind this gay, bedroom drama that explores racial, sexual, class, and power differences, I feel like this project is about how we can talk about politics without having to “win” debates. How can we truly listen with empathy and be mindful of how our differences make us feel? Underneath the liberal politics of “agreeing to disagreeing,” I feel like we’re currently tearing ourselves apart, refusing to re-commit to our social contract, and given these circumstances, I feel it necessary to rekindle trust through the language of love.
We are in the process of creating our definitive incarnation of PILLOWTALK. Donations in support of the production can be made online here.
In the meanwhile, enjoy these videos about PILLOWTALK and an interview between my husband and I, shot during our workshop of PILLOWTALK at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and LaGuardia Performing Art Center’s Rough Draft Festival, following a Creative Mellon Fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle. The third video is part of an ongoing series documenting the stories of queer men of color, and in this video I speak about my background and how this led me to make the work I’m making today.