Greetings from New York!
This is my last Kyoung Update. I have some great news to share, and then I need to disappear and re-think what I’m doing. These past few months have been a whirlwind, the ups and downs of being a freelance artist have finally caught up with me, and this is about the time I need to take a break. For a while, my depression seemed so insurmountable that my friends became seriously concerned for me. It’s not been easy to have come this far, and while I do not regret my choices, I’ve learned some bitter realities about show-business that make it impossible for me to go on the way I have.
So the good news is that I finally got my Artist Visa. Three days ago my 0-1 Artist Visa as an “Alien of Extraordinary Skills” was approved. I knew my residency in this country would be subjected to the decision of a government bureaucrat and knowing that I needed to prove my “artistic excellence,” I’ve been working my ass off for too long. I kick-started this process four years ago from the day I returned to New York, writing plays and getting as much work produced/reviewed to garner the press that was needed for my application. I also spent the rest of my time applying to as many competitions I could apply to, to get the awards that prove my “extra-ordinariness” and dedicated my time to work with the best artists I could work with, because I needed to find a sponsor to support my application, and gather letters of recommendation from experts in the field that would be willing to state I was a playwright worthy of staying in the country.
Now that the application has been approved, I look back and reconsider how much work and time was dedicated to have the basic right to live and work in the country, and how grueling it was to accomplish this work within the parameters of my student visa, which highly restricted the way I could earn my living. Along with investing in my career, and my art, I had to make personal sacrifices to make ends meet, and whether it was spending less money on food, on my health and mental well-being, all those struggles were justifiable in my mind, because I was doing this to attain the “success” necessary to stay in the country.
But something happened along the way. I ran myself empty and then had to keep going when I had nothing else left to give. I bit the bullet and continued working with little prospects of financial returns, and recognizing that due to my nationality I am ineligible to apply for the traditional grants, funds, or awards available for my peers, I have struggled with the support of just a few who truly believed in me enough to help me continue making my art.
And while somewhere, deep in my heart, I was hoping that some miracle would happen to twist the rules from the theater so I could get the support I needed, the complete opposite was true—the rules of the institutions weren’t broken, instead, the rules of the institution were deliberately designed this way to marginalize immigrants like me, so that I’d be incapable of receiving the support I need to stay in the theater.
The consequences of this journey have been costly. By the time I had to apply for my visa I went broke and all of my savings and funds were depleted. An angel came to my rescue and helped me pay the remaining legal fees, and two dear friends have lent me money to keep me going so I can continue my commitments throughout the rest of the season. I have, in a way, dug my own grave because having done theater non-stop for four years, I am now incapable of fully balancing my life unless I pull the plug out, STOP, and re-calibrate.
The financial stresses and anxieties it has provoked in me are too much. Due to consistent struggles I’ve begun to feel worthless, cheated, sometimes outright taken advantage of due to my legal needs, and somewhere along the way, I stopped taking notice of all the things that have gone wrong. I just became so stressed that my left eye started to go blind, and most days I make it on one day a meal. Now that I’m expecting bills to arrive as if they were financial bullets, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. Not this way. And definitely not past this month.
A good friend of mine went to a large, national theater conference where she was told that theater weeded out the poor. When I re-tell this story in outrage, professional peers tell me that it’s true. That is the nature of any competitive business—including theater—and to have survived this far, is a miracle.
However, to succeed, which basically means to keep going, I need a lot more than what I have to work smarter—not harder. And truth be told, I don’t know if I have the energy, or the will, to continue being a starving artist. A huge chunk of my belief and trust in the system has gone to hell, and the rejection and betrayal from those closest to me has broken my will in ways that may be irreparable.
Luckily, I protected my work along the way. I didn’t sell-out, or gave my plays to an agent or producing theater, because my work has not been for sale. I kept my plays right where they needed to be—on my desk, in my hands—and found the ways to produce my work in my own terms because I didn’t want to make any artistic compromises. Since I started my career, I’ve been told that my work, and my story are not commercial or marketable, so why would I take any artistic advice from anyone, when it is so obviously clear that my work is categorized as some obscure, “unmarketable” play for those who know me, or find some interest in my work?
I don’t mean to sound angry or bitter about what has happened to me, because I knew I was going for broke and I went for it. All I know is that now, I am beginning a new chapter in my life and a lot of it feels like a re-start. Creative cycles go through cyclical journeys—Howard Grazner wrote how every ten years, creative artists achieve something grand and then resume their path from the ground-up. I’ve already learned that every play is a new play, but these days, I feel like I’m starting a whole new book—from page one.
I am grateful for what I’ve learned. When I think about what this means, I realize that I am now the first Korean playwright from Chile (probably all of Latin America), to have been produced, published and currently living and writing in the States. As an immigrant, that’s a big accomplishment and I could die proud of having gotten this far.
I also think about how I managed to do this as an artist, without selling out, and about how many great and inspiring artists I’ve been privileged to work with in the creation of good work. That’s also something I am hugely proud of, and I am so fortunate in knowing that theater can change lives—it has forever changed mine.
And the most important thing I’ve learned about theater is that during this time, I have finally found who I am. I am a gay, Korean-Chilean, immigrant playwright/director, and if you saw my last play, you would have seen that right in front of you.
I found myself, but in tragedies, that’s usually when the story ends. When Oedipus realizes he has killed his father and slept with his own mother, he blinds himself. I don’t know where else to go from here, there’s nowhere else left for me to go, so I’m pulling the plug on all of this because I no longer see the point. That’s the sadness and depression I’ve been battling with. I think I always knew who I was, but now that my truth has been spoken and made real, there are no more “stories” for me to tell.
I now open myself up to come-what-may. But I know a lot of it won’t have to do with writing a play. These days, I feel like my priorities are basically those of survival. I need to make sure I eat. Have a place to live. Hopefully, a place big enough so I can live with my boyfriend. Do the things adults begin to do at some point—something that more closely resembles life.
I don’t know if I’ll write again. I don’t know if I’ll make my writing public. I probably will, just because I have three years on my new visa to write/direct/produce a hit play so I can get my Greencard. But if Homeland Security is the motivation for me to succeed—that isn’t going to work for me.
With ominous words, I wrap up this newsletter. This is not the end, probably a new beginning, but for now, I celebrate the end of a grueling, bitter road.