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.