Kyoung H. Park on PILLOWTALK by Declan Maloney Drummond

Kyoung H. Park Photo credit @andytoad.JPG

What is PILLOWTALK about?

PILLOWTALK is an intimate bedroom drama about an interracial marriage. Sam is an African-American, former Olympic swimmer, who is now settled in a corporate job following a public fall from grace. Sam is married to Buck, an Asian-American journalist hitting the “bamboo ceiling” at work. The play examines how race, class, and gender identities affect the lives of these two men, and how both queer liberation and White Supremacy inhabits even our most intimate spaces.

PILLOWTALK examines their relationship—and the social institution of marriage—through formal experimentations with form. Through performance, we dissect theatrical realism as a bourgeois dramatic form, and we’ve laid upon this performance borrowed elements from ballet’s pas de deux. Ballet, and its oppressive gender norms and narrative conventions, reflect the patriarchal and White Supremacist cultural codes of heteronormative marriage.

PILLOWTALK challenges its audiences to re-define their notions of ballet, as a way of re-defining our thoughts on love and marriage, and through this exploration, we dig deeper into the truth and beauty of queer relationships. How is radical love a form of resistance? How do we embody and express our differences with empathy? Is our liberation a transgression into social institutions and art forms that previously denied us? Is our occupation of these spaces truly a sign of progress?

JP Moraga and Basit Shittu Photo credit @andytoad.jpg

You describe your company as a "peacemaking theatre company". What does that mean to you?

I’m a playwright who self-identifies as a Korean-Chilean, immigrant, queer artist. I came of age as a writer witnessing 9/11, the War on Terror, and the protest theater that was created against the violence in the Middle East. These events challenged me to ask myself: why write plays in times of war?

This question has been my obsession since I started writing plays 16 years ago, and my life has taken many turns since then. In 2005, I lost my work visa and was deported. I pursued a graduate degree in Peace Studies in South Korea and was blacklisted as a Homeland Security threat after writing my thesis, “Peace Culture in America Post-9/11,” which was based on my interviews with family and friends of 9/11 victims. In 2008, I left South Korea to focus on my art, writing in companies such as the Royal Court in London and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, before returning to the US to obtain my MFA in Playwriting at Columbia University, while working with Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and Mabou Mines.

This trajectory led to the founding of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, a peacemaking theater company, whose mission is to create new, experimental work that promotes a culture of peace and non-violence. I’ve poured everything I’ve learned at a theoretical level into KPB and the company is the vehicle through which I’ve written, directed, and self-produced my last three plays—disOriented, TALA, and PILLOWTALK. This work has been born from autobiography—disOriented tells the story of my family’s matrilineage through a non-linear, family drama intertwined with post-modern interpretations of Korean fan dancing; TALA connects my immigrant experience in America with my childhood in Chile by linking 9/11 with the history of Chile’s military coup on Sept. 11th, 1973; and PILLOWTALK explores the internalized racism and homophobia I faced in my marriage, through the story of an interracial gay couple whose struggles are turned into a contemporary pas de deux. Each play has been about making peace with the way I experience oppression based on my identity, and how to transform these experiences into peace messages made public through performance.

Our company develops its work over the course of multiple years, in collaboration with artists from different cultures and different disciplines. Our creative process averages four years to come to fruition as our artists, projects, and research are fully embedded into the creation of unique productions in conversation with our community and audiences. There is no finished project date to what we do, as we intentionally focus in artistic inquiries that are deeply rooted in collaboration and process. Because we are a change-oriented company, our work aligns itself with the ebbs and flows of contemporary, social movements, as we also participate in the struggles to overcome cultural taboos and institutional barriers in order to serve and represent marginalized communities in the theater.

 

Through our community-based events, our goal is to provide a safe space for our audiences to have a public dialogue about the issues we are exploring through our work. As community-organizers, our priority is to be as inclusive as possible, by building bridges across class-differences and race/identity-based politics, while aesthetically blurring the lines between community, political, and experimental theater. This work is distinguished by partnerships with cultural/academic institutions and local, community/social-justice organizations, and rather than focusing our collaborations in providing political resolutions, we focus in making systems of oppression visible through the theater. By doing so, we challenge ourselves to seek artistic alternatives that empower our constituencies to take action in the dismantling of vicious cycles of violence.

PILLOWTALK Post-Show Discussion with Emily Harney, Kyoung H. Park, Katy Pyle, and Stephanie Hsu at BRIC Arts Media Center, Oct. 2015 Photo credit Irfan Prawira.JPG

How was PILLOWTALK developed to production at The Tank?

We have developed PILLOWTALK since 2014 while hosting long-tables addressing the “Queering of Gay Marriage” (Ma-Yi Theater), “Virtuosity of the Queer Body” (BRIC Arts Media panel) and “Post Gay Marriage Politics” (“After Marriage Conference,” CUNY’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies). We’ve developed PILLOWTALK with support from Target Margin Theater, the Lark, and produced a workshop production of PILLOWTALK as Artists- in-Residence at BRIC. Our journey continued with a Creative Mellon residency at the University of Washington (Seattle, Feb. 2017) and we produced a workshop production of PILLOWTALK at LaGuardia Performing Arts College’s Rough Drafts Festival (April 2017) with support of an artistic residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (Mar. 2017).

In June 2016, I began a conversation with Rosalind Grush (Co-Artistic Director at The Tank) about our need to find a home for PILLOWTALK. This conversation was part of a strategic plan developed for our company with support from The Field’s Leadership Fund Fellowship program, which was designed to address racial and cultural equity in the performing arts. It took us about a year to find a time which worked for both The Tank and our company so during this time, we developed the show to the point where I felt we had clarified what our needs would be to fully complete the script, choreography, and music, while drafting and mocking-up about 90% of our production design. Feeling so close to being done—Rosalind, Meghan Finn (Co-Artistic Director at The Tank) and I set dates for our Premiere this summer, while finalizing a partnership with The Exponential Festival, which is presenting our show.

While PILLOWTALK was conceived four years ago, these characters have more to say to us today, as we live in a time in which a white supremacist President calls the press a bunch of lies, jeopardizing our freedom of press, speech, and expression, while undermining racial and social justice in America. With a new cast (JP Moraga and Basit Shittu), a new script, new music (Helen Yee) and choreography (Katy Pyle) and design (Marie Yokoyama—set and light design, Lawrence Schober—sound design, Andrew Jordan—costume design), the show has organically shed its old skin to further the exploration of its original questions. Our show’s Creative Team also includes the incredible Jess Applebaum (Dramaturg), Shannon Matesky (Assistant Director), and Jamie Rose Bukowski (State Manager), who are providing us with fresh, and much needed, new perspectives into the work and process.

An important part of this project’s development has been our ongoing engagement with community. For our premiere, we have partnered with API Rainbow Parents of PFLAG NYC, BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance), CUNY’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS), GAPIMNY (Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York), and Indie Theater Fund, along with Cultural Partner the Korean Cultural Center, and Official Media Partner Culturebot with support from Peoplemovr, Asian/ Pacific/ American Institute at NYU and ART/NY-NYSCA Creative Opportunity Fund, to center the voices of queer people of color through a series of long-table conversations created in collaboration with our partners.

Through our performances of PILLOWTALK, Long-Table Conversations, transformation of The Tank’s Lobby, and a robust, communications strategy, it’s my hope that we can advance a public discourse on the issues affecting the QPOC community, while nurturing a safe space that celebrates radical love. Any ticket purchased for PILLOWTALK grants people access to all three, Long-Table Conversations scheduled as part of our run. My hope is that the The Tank will become a welcoming safe haven that people keep coming back to, so that we sustain an on-going dialogue about how change is still possible—even in these times of darkness—if we keep moving forward together.

PILLOWTALK will run January 11-27 at The Tank (312 West 36th Street) as part of The Exponential Festival. Tickets can be purchased in advance at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3179263.

Jenni Wales on Acting in New York by Declan Maloney Drummond

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How did you get your start in theatre and what brought you to the US?

I got my start in theatre at the young age of nine when I begged my parents to let me audition for a production of Oliver, which would be performed in one of Glasgow's biggest and best known Theatre's (The Kings Theatre). I was successful in my audition and since then I have performed in over thirty productions in many theatre's up and down the country. It wasn't long before I branched out and started to explore working in television and commercials. America is somewhere I have always been drawn to, it is the fast paced city that never sleeps where so many have come to peruse their chosen career, and at the age of twenty three I decided I wanted to be a part of that and so auditioned and was accepted to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts (New York) from which I graduated last year.

What have you been up to since graduating?

Since graduating from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts I have been lucky enough to be a part of many play readings, theatre productions as well as short films with different companies some of which include Origin Theatre Company, PunchDrunk Theatre Company, Mind the Gap, The Pond Theatre Company. I am also keen to explore the education side of theatre, bringing theatre to young audiences.

Tell us about working on Pondlife McGurk.

Pondlife McGurk is a short play written by Rob Evans about two young boys, their friendship through primary school and how their decisions then impact their future. I played the role of Sharon (the school bully) who makes Martin's life difficult and who gives him the nickname “Pondlife McGurk” which haunts him for years to come. I enjoyed playing the school bully as the character is not only so far from me as a person, but different any character I’ve played, a challenging and rewarding experience.

What is it like working on international work for American audiences?

It was interesting working with an American audience, as I became very aware of the Scottish slang words and phrases that Rob had written and worried that the audience may not understand. I realized that It is my job as an actress to take the words written and translate it so the audience understand, which I feel myself and the rest of the wonderful cast did very successfully.

What are your plans now?

My plan is to continue to do what I love here in New York... to Entertain, Inspire and Create. To learn more about the arts community in American and in turn bring some of my culture and knowledge to create more theatre and film for all audiences.

Addie Johnson Talbott on Parenting in the Arts by Declan Maloney Drummond

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The day after our son Bailey was born, lo these twelve years ago, my love/husband/partner Daniel decided we should get up and go outside with him. I panicked—raw in every way, aching with love and fear for the new being we created and were left in charge of. He insisted, gently. I balked. We went out for a walk. He was right, of course, to get up and go out. To be in the world. We’re still walking, the three of us out in the world together. It turns out that being a parent, making a life in the theater, and parenting while making a life in the theater are all insanely hard. But parenting is the absolute best cockamamie idea we’ve ever had. Still, my heart explodes daily in crippling fear and ecstatic joy.

I have a running joke with one of my best friends, Wendy (who also happens to be one of the greatest people and moms in the whole world), that we’re going to start a podcast. It’s going to be her and me talking about all the shit we wrestle with – family, the state of theater, making art, teaching, politics, social justice, economics, parenting, partnering, producing. How the backdrop of the world stage seems to get more warped by the day – shredding at the edges and bubbling at the center. How hopeless it can feel. And at the end of each session, we will have reached a fevered pitch, winding ourselves in knots discussing and dissecting the problems and issues that are vital to being alive today. “Surely there must be some way forward,” we will proclaim, “a light at the end of the tunnel!” Then we will wrap up with a resounding – NOPE. The podcast, we joke, is going to be called This Intractable Life. And because we both believe in progress – somehow, still – the coda will have to be something like what economist/artist Carl Richards says: do it anyway.

DO IT ANYWAY.

Messy, wayward, wild, willful, tough, unruly, stubborn, and tenacious. Intractability, it turns out, contains some of my favorite multitudes.

Theater itself can be intractable. So can toddlers. And teenagers. This is not for everybody – this life in the theater: making it work with 30% less than we need, embracing instability as a given, valuing things that the wider culture might not. Parenting is not for everybody either, and economic and socio-political realities bear down hard on the decision to be a parent – especially for women. However, for me, there are some parallels between theater and parenting, and some ways in which embracing the intractability of it all helps me navigate both things.

I love theater parents; I stand in awe of them. In that spirit, I tried to write down some of the things that keep me going as our family ventures out into the world together.

Ways that parenting is like making theater:

1. Best approached with beginner’s mind, as the Buddhists say. Staying open, free, and eager. This is exciting, and hard.

2. Collaboration is key.

3. The biggest triumphs are sometimes the least appreciated.

4. Imagination = invaluable.

5. We don’t have enough money, time, energy, etc. to make it work.

5a. We have to make it work.

6. It’s messy and exhausting.

7. One of the ways we fuck it up is by making it about ourselves. We all do this sometimes, and we can always correct course.

8. We don’t own it and we can’t control it. It is ancient and ephemeral – existing only in the space time of the present moment.

9. A lot of it is tedious and repetitive. See beginner’s mind, above.

10. We have what we have. Time, space, collaborators. Wishing otherwise might not be the best use of our energy. Better to embrace what we actually have, and make magic with whatever it is.

11. Imperfection is a gift. Really really. Owning our faults and limitations is catnip for kids and audiences alike.

12. We can save our own asses by going back and figuring out what story we are telling – to ourselves, our kids, etc. – and figuring out if that’s the one we want to be telling. (And if it is, how we can tell it better.)

13. We will be saved – in the particulars and in the grand gestures – by the love of it. The love for it. The love within it.

Secrets that have helped us parent, and might help others too:

1. We don’t have to do it the way they tell us. There is a whole industrial marketing complex generating a steady stream of guilt and scarcity just for parents. We all consume it daily. (Extra bonus! You don’t even have to be, or want to be, a parent to be subjected to the massive amounts of shame and fear bombardment.) Within pretty wide parameters, we can and should do it our own way.

2. We know how to do a lot of this stuff already. We are devoted to an art form that rests on the pillars of community, empathy, imagination, and communication. We’re already ahead of the game in the parenting sphere.

3. Balance looks different at different times in our lives. I wish people would stop asking mothers how they achieve work/life balance. They probably don’t. But if they are teetering in this moment in an upright way, that’s huge. If they are tipping, we can probably help. A little goes a long way.

4. Depend on the kindness of strangers. We don’t have to do it alone.

5. Connect, connect, connect. We can get through almost anything if we close up ranks and really focus on seeing and hearing the people we love the most.

6. Give everything. Expect nothing. Move on. – Harold Pinter

Addie Johnson Talbott is an actor, producer and non-fiction writer.

This piece is featured in issue 004 of The Dionysian.

Shawna Wigney and Natalie Donahue on sad indie love song by Declan Maloney Drummond

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The Dionysian is producing Steve McMahon's sad indie love song at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill on December 1st and 2nd. We spoke to cast members Shawna Wigney and Natalie Donahue about the show.

What was the rehearsal process like?

Shawna: The whole process has been so much fun.  Since the play is so enigmatic and obscure, there was a lot for us to all explore and discover collectively as we moved forward.  The first thing that we did after the first table read was sit and discuss what the heck the play was about. We had to find a way to make things make sense for the arc our characters, and I think it made it easy for each us to individually have our own “secrets.” Though it could be quite a maze at times it gave us all so much to play with.  The fact that each scene really had no specific time or space gave us such a blank and unrestricted playing field.  Ben (Viertel) was so open and flexible with us, and honored any personal choices we made as actors.  It is the utmost pleasure for rehearsal to be a collaborative process with other talented people that you trust, and this was definitely that. The combo of having a really beautifully unique play, an innovative director, and other dynamic actors to work off of made every up and down worthwhile.

Natalie: Very exploratory. This is the kind of play that you can do a million different ways. There are so many questions with so many possible answers, so we had to decide how we wanted to present it all to the audience.

What's your favorite moment in the show?

Natalie: Probably the “dance” (as we refer to it) to “Love More”. It’s a very dramatic shift at that point in the show and I always tend to feel that in this play where the characters are constantly searching, this is a big moment of connection.

Shawna: I think my favourite moment has to be scene 9.  It is completely physical, and in the script the stage directions were for Cat 1 and Cat 2 to keep coming out of the fridge one by one as each other. The whole idea is creepy and weird to wrap your head around as written, but Ben turned it into such an equal parts disturbing and fantastical spectacle.  There’s an element of being in some kind of sexy Bossa Nova club in the 1950s, alongside paranormal crime noir. The fourth wall is kind of broke down with the audience in this section too which is always a fun dynamic to play with. As one of the actors (alongside Natalie) driving the show at that moment, it feels a little like psychologically torturing the man that we torture throughout, and the audience at the same time, which is really enjoyable (Don’t worry guys, I go to therapy).

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Erica Pappas & Will Pullen on Daniel Talbott's Nick and Zoe by Declan Maloney Drummond

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THE DIONYSIAN: How did you get involved in Nick and Zoe?

ERICA PAPPAS: Daniel had directed me in a show back in 2016, and he asked me to come read his new play with Will, Shira-Lee, and their friend Lucy Thurber last June. We got together and read it at Shira-Lee's apartment and shared a plate of mozzarella sticks. Then Daniel asked if I'd take the role, and it was an obvious yes; who could say anything else to this play, this role, and the team behind it? I was hooked immediately, and I haven't stopped being grateful for the opportunity.

WILL PULLEN: I got involved with the project when Daniel Talbott called and said he had written a new play that he was going to send me and if I'd be interested in reading it and potentially doing the production. Daniel is one of my closest collaborators and like a brother to me so the answer was a yes for me as soon as he asked. Once I read the play, and saw how complex the two characters were and how tragically human, I knew it was something I had to be a part of.

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THE DIONYSIAN: Tell us a bit about your character.

EP: Zoe is the kind of girl who appears to have it all. She has an impossibly wealthy family, the perfect apartment, and a long-term boyfriend who was more or less betrothed to her since childhood. Everything about her screams stability, but when she meets Nick, her whole world is shifted. It's like learning that everything she thought she loved was just a plastic version of the real thing. He's just the exciting and gritty and completely vulnerable force she didn't know she needed. Letting go of everything she considered an absolute truth about herself is scary, but once she does, she finds a new version of herself with him she never knew existed — complete with both that thrilling vulnerability and new emotional blocks she never knew were there. Zoe is so exciting and challenging to me because a lot of the walls she has up are so similar to mine, so playing her forces me to confront my own humanity, too.

WP: The thing that's central to Nick is his honesty. I think he believes in the truth, no matter how it sounds. He has a deep love and loyalty to his family, especially his brother and sister. Nick grew up very poor, in an abusive home, in rural upstate New York so coming to New York City to go to college is like a whole new world for him, and not in the bright, shiny Disney way. The way that is harsh, judgmental, and deadly. He has grown up always feeling less than, and not good enough and these feelings are heightened when he goes to New York. 

http://bridgest.org/whatsup.htm

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3137826

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