Name: Kyoung H. Park
Hometown: Santiago, Chile
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Affiliations: Artistic Director, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Human… a playwright… Korean-Chilean, queer, immigrant
Q: Tell me about TALA.
A: TALA is based on my immigrant experience in the United States post-9/11, and my story is intertwined with the story of Pepe and Lupe, two Chilean lovers going out on a bad date the night before Pinochet’s military coup on September 11th, 1973 in Chile. TALA was performed by Flor De Liz Perez, Rafael Benoit, Daniel K. Isaac, and featured original music by Svetlana Maras, choreography by Yin Yue, video design by John Knowles, installation art by Jason Krugman, set design by Marie Yokoyama, costume design by Elizabeth Barrett Groth, lighting design by Chuan-Chi Chan, and sound design by Lawrence Schober and Chris Barlow. TALA was developed over the course of four years at the Ma-Yi Writer’s Lab, Columbia University New Works Now Festival (at ToRoNaDa Theater), HERE Arts Center, before premiering January 2015 at the Performance Project @ University Settlement, a landmark institution that has served immigrant communities for over 100 years.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Chile’s military coup of “El Dieciocho” (or what Chomsky calls the “first 9/11”) have greatly shaped my work, as disparate histories blend in my experience and illuminate, for me, historical parallels on the effects of global neo-liberalism. I dug deep into Chile’s history through the lens of Pepe and Lupe, whose dialogue was based on letters exchanged by poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Chile’s only two Nobel laureates, as the history and legacy of these poets was being revised as we developed TALA between 2011 and 2015.
Neruda, who offered his nomination to Chile’s Presidency to Salvador Allende, died a few days after the coup. In 2013, Neruda’s body was exhumed, following decades of suspicions in regards to his death. Around the same time, Mistral’s relationship with Doris Dana (a former employee of the US State Department) was revealed, through letters, home movies, and recordings, documenting Mistral’s relationship with Dana in Long Island. The US’ relationship to Chile’s military coup has been written about extensively, but it is also worth pointing out that the CIA did not de-classify documents revealing the extent of US involvement in Pinochet’s coup until 2013.
As globalization brings us together, as artists, I believe we have a unique opportunity to bridge disparate histories and narratives to understand the ways these forces are bringing us together, and to provide a better sense of our histories which, growing up, were censured and omitted in Chile, and classified in the United States.
At the same time, I think we have the opportunity to share our stories from a subjective, and personal point of view, as these recent events clearly showed to me how history is constantly questioned and revised. Perhaps, as story-tellers, our power is to find truth (and beauty) through the work we create in the theater, and rather than providing history lessons, my objective with TALA was to illuminate, in this historical and political context, the struggles to find home.
To this effect, the premiere of TALA included an opportunity for all audience members to share their personal (or family’s) story about their immigration to the United States, and they were also asked to write down their American dreams. On the back of our set, we had a timeline starting with Columbus’ arrival to the Americas and ending on 9/11. The audience members were invited to pin their “time/point” of entry to the United States on this timeline based on when they immigrated to the US.
The timeline was created with multiple illustrations and names of immigration policies that shaped the American immigrant experience since its founding, and as TALA told my personal immigration story, the audience was invited to reflect upon the conditions under which their own families may have come to the US, and how immigration policies might have shaped their own immigrant experiences.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Currently, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat is developing Pillowtalk, a gay bedroom drama, staged as a contemporary pas de deux, that asks the question: can queer communities of color truly celebrate gay marriage in the times of #BlackLivesMatter? Pillowtalk is centered on the story of Sam (Raja Feather Kelley) and Buck (Daniel K. Isaac), an interracial, gay couple whose marriage comes to a crux. Pillowtalk features live music by Helen Yee and Lawrence Schober, set design created in collaboration by Wade Kramm and Marie Yokoyama, lighting design by Chuan-Chi Chan, and costume design by Andrew Jordan. Pillowtalk was developed through Target Margin Theater’s Institute for Collaborative Theater-Making, Ma-Yi Writer’s Lab, and Kyoung’s Pacific Beat produced a full workshop production of the play last September in residence at the BRIC Arts Media Center.
This season, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat is hosting a Long-Table to examine the intersections of queer and racial politics at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies’ “After Marriage” Conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and we’ll be part of CUNY’s Prelude Festival, curated by Tom Sellar and Antje Oegel. Another workshop production and World Premiere of Pillowtalk are currently in the works for 2017.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: There are probably four defining “time periods” that shaped my journey as a playwright. The first was my time living in New York City between 2001-2005. Witnessing 9/11 and its aftermath, I started writing political theater and learned the craft of playwriting working at the Lark Play Development Center, while writing my first, new plays as a member of the Ma-Yi Writer’s Lab and Ensemble Studio Theater’s Youngblood. This is when I knew I wanted to be a professional playwright, but my “career” was halted when I lost my visa and had to leave the United States before I got deported.
The second time period followed my graduation from Kyung Hee University’s Graduate Institute of Peace Studies in South Korea. During this time, I was in search of political-theater models that could help me integrate my passions for peace studies and playwriting. I was part of the Royal Court Theater’s Young Writer’s Programme, was in residency in New Delhi, India twice (once as a UNESCO-Aschberg Laureate), and for six months, I was an international, exchange fellow with Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro. During this time, I did community-based theater in favelas, criminal psych wards, and training in Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed methodology. In Brazil, I realized that all of my training in playwriting, and peace studies, was completely useless unless I learned how to engage with communities to make my own work.
The third period was my graduate training at Columbia University’s MFA program in Playwriting with Chuck Mee and Kelly Stuart. During this time, I took as many independent courses to learn how to make my own work and I interned for two years at Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and was mentored by Lee Breuer to write and direct my thesis show—TALA. I joined the Lee Breuer/Mabou Mines bandwagon for two years, while immersing myself in the experimental, theater community in New York City and doing queer, advocacy work in support of gay rights. The combination of grass-roots activism, experimental theater, and community-based, devising theater-making practices, are the pillars that currently support my practice, and the mission of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, which is to promote a culture of peace and non-violence through challenging new works of theater.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Edward Albee, Sung Rno, Eduardo Machado, Jane Bodie, Chuck Mee, Kelly Stuart, Young Jean Lee, Lee Breuer, and David Herskovits have definitely shaped my practice in both playwriting and direction. While many other playwrights, theater makers, and ensembles have influenced my work, these artists have had the most direct influence on my craft.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Find your voice and find the way to tell the stories that live inside yourself. Within us, there’s a never-ending source of stories, memories, experiences, emotions, and ideas that serve as the raw material for our work. And if you, like me, have found institutional barriers that do not allow you to enter the “mainstream” theater—make your own work, find your own audiences, and tell your own stories. There is no need to find permission, nor acceptance to make theater, and even though this sounds like a lot of work, it’s worth it.
Also, get involved with your community. The Latina/o Theatre Commons, in particular, has created an exciting, national theater movement connecting Latinx theater artists across the country, and providing an outstanding platform for collaboration, resource/knowledge-sharing, and advocacy for our work. I’ve been involved with the Commons for over three years now and became a co-founding member of The Sol Project, which is a new initiative dedicated to the production of new Latinx works in New York City.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’ve experienced great psychic dissonance for being an artist in a society that does not value its art. While there’s tremendous racial inequity in our field, larger studies such as Outrageous Fortune have illuminated how only a few, anointed playwrights, make a living as an artist, and for how limited a time this happens, if it happens at all. Making your own work is double, triple, quadruple the work, and the scarcity within the independent arts scene is just as staggering.
I struggle with the poverty of being a working artist every day. Luckily, family, grants, scholarships, day jobs, community, and friends have all contributed to help me get to where I am, and with time, I’ve found a way to balance work, life, and art-making through resilient survival and the occasional, grand opportunity to make my work come true.
***For more on Kyoung Park, see:
- Kyoung’s Pacific Beat
- “An Aesthetic Meditation” – Kyoung Park (Culturebot)
- “Creating Outside The Box” – Kyoung Park
- Kyoung Park’s Personal Website
- The Sol Project