6 Questions for Kyoung H. Park, HEARTBREAK/INDIA

Taking a break from his rehearsal schedule, Kyoung H. Park and VIP crew have a cyber-conversation to discuss his upcoming VIP workshop production, HEARTBREAK/INDIA, running April 15-17 at Schapiro Studio.

VIP QUESTION #1: So what was the seed of this play for you? was there a specific moment, or character, or event that launched the writing of HEARTBREAK/INDIA?

KYOUNG H PARK: I started writing this play when two awful break-ups in 2006 and 2007 combined themselves into this complete horror in my mind. I was dumped by someone I really fell in love with and sitting alone in the Hong Kong airport on Christmas Eve, I felt like I had completely failed at life. I started writing this play as a way to deal with what happened and initially called this play “The Problems of Dating Me.” I wanted to figure out what went wrong with these relationships and what I could do to make myself feel better. The pain was awful and anyone whose heart’s been broken probably knows what I mean.

Q #2:  You’ve been working on this play for a couple of years, starting with an initial draft written in New Delhi when you were an Artist Fellow at the Global Arts Village. Could you talk about how the play has evolved over the rewriting process?

KHP: I failed miserably to write this play, because I couldn’t get myself to write it with any sort of honesty. The first draft was called “The Little Bitch Play” and it was this crazy, sexual story I was too embarrassed to show to anyone. Then, I wrote this coded story about a heterosexual couple and the end of their marriage, but the story was really about gay men. While re-writing this play in India, I converted to Buddhism and thought religion would be my answer, but I remained skeptical and subsequent readings of the play made me feel like I was basically spouting a bunch of crap. None of the characters were named because I was too afraid of the repercussions, and I experienced deep shame with both of my readings because I realized I’d never allow the play to be what it needed to be unless I came to terms with my own sexuality and came out of the closet. Now that I have, I feel like I can write and actually talk about my experience, and I guess all my frustrations have paid off because I’m more open and confident about the work.

Q #3: In HEARTBREAK/INDIA, you have a number of characters of various nationalities all playing a single individual in the actual story–I’m intrigued by this element, and how it relates to the UN negotiations. Could you talk about your decision to break up this figure into various characters, and how you see that functioning in the play?

KHP: The original tripling of the characters originated from my experience being Korean-Chilean in America. I thought my background was so weird that perhaps that was a reason I couldn’t find someone to connect with. But then, things got really confusing because I wrote this three-character play between a married man, his gay lover, and his wife, but tripled the lover and wife characters into three different actors. Suddenly, the play required seven performers for three roles and I don’t know what the hell I was doing. I thought it was clever and theatrical, but now I’m reconsidering the entire situation and think I was dodging issues by confusing everyone including myself.

Now, the tripling of the characters has been reworked to create three specific individuals whom I’ve rewritten and tailor-made for the actors performing them. The only thing that relates between the characters and UN negotiations is how culture and geo-politics shape the way we approach a similar issue. All the characters negotiate with Rajiv their own interests in supporting, or not supporting, a UN plan for World Peace, based on their perspectives as an American, Latin American, or East Asian diplomat. The other component I’ve connected between the characters and international politics is how three major theories shape the way we understand and negotiate international affairs. Speaking very generally, you can deal with international issues treating an Other as an enemy, as a friend, or as someone with whom to partner, and the three men in this play adopt one of these tactics when dealing with Rajiv.

Q #4: In a recent reading of this play, I was struck by the presence of spiritual symbols and religious figures (i.e., divinities, the Bodhi tree). Do you think of this play as being a particularly spiritual play, or having a more spiritual message, than some of your other plays?

KHP: I think most of my work has some sort of religiosity and I personally do believe in spirits, cosmic energies, karma, and the supernatural. But working on this play, I converted to Buddhism with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhism has definitely influenced me and made of itself a presence in my play. The story centers around Rajiv, an Indian-American diplomat negotiating a UN Global, Non-Violence Peace Resolution and a lot of Buddhist spirituality is related to my interest in non-violent politics. While politics is a philosophy on how to live together as a society, Buddhism has helped me explore principles of inner peace. I think both go hand in hand in an interesting dialectic and since Snehal is a very visual and physical director, we discussed how to make the internal life of Rajiv visual and performative to theatricalize the relationship between these two different ideas and how they play out in his character.

Q #5: What are you exploring in this play, or what are you trying to figure out? Is there anything in particular that you want to leave your audience with, or that the play leaves you with, after experiencing it?

KHP: Writing this play has been a long journey and a lot of work. I’ve experienced so much confusion, depression, and emotional duress that I doggedly decided to throw the fourth version of this play out and rewrite it one more time. I had very interesting exchanges with Snehal about how to tell this story and I personally set myself the goal of making this fun. I just want people to have a good time and enjoy themselves with the play. It’s the story of a man who loses it all to find something new and different, and though I don’t wish this experience to anyone, I feel like this happens in life and that’s OK.

Q #6: What projects are you working on next? Where/how can people see more of your work?

KHP: You can see more of my work on my website, http://www.kyounghpark.com, and sign up for my sporadic newsletter if you want to keep yourself informed. For now, nothing’s really confirmed for next season and I’m enjoying the mystery.

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by Kyoung H. Park

a Workshop Production
Directed by Snehal Desai
…with choreography by Yin Yue

Columbia University, Schapiro Studio
April 15-17, 2011
615 W. 115th Street, between Broadway and Riverside
Friday and Saturday@ 8 PM
Saturday and Sunday @ 3 PM

Free Admission
To RSVP, email veryimportantplays@gmail.com

Synopsis: Set behind the scenes of the United Nations, HEARTBREAK/INDIA exposes the secret affairs of Rajiv, an Indian-American diplomat negotiating a UN Global, Non-Violence, Peace Resolution, and through contemporary dance, the quest of a gay man’s journey in search of inner peace and love.

To read a Q&A with the playwright, click here. (or go here: https://viplays.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/6-questions-for-kyoung-h-park-heartbreakindia/)

Cast: James Chen*, Stephen Hadeed, Jr., Tony Javed, Junior Mendez, Shetal Shah*, and Julian Stetkevych*
*appearing courtesy of Actor’s Equity Association

Creative Team
Costume Design by Elizabeth Groth
Lighting Design by Chuan-Chi Chan
Set Design by Yoon Young Choi
Sound Design by Chris Barlow
Stage Manager: Steven Rowe

More information:

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4 Questions for Naïma Kristel Phillips (TIME SUITES: CAMILLE ET RODIN)

Naïma Kristel Phillips, playwright of TIME SUITES: CAMILLE ET RODIN (running this weekend, April 8-10, at Schapiro Studio), took some time out of a busy tech week to answer some questions about the play from the VIP crew:

Question 1: Your new play is an adaptation of Pygmalion, based on the relationship between Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin. What the connection (for you, in your play) between Claudel/Rodin and the Pygmalion myth in your play?

Naïma Kristel Phillips: When I wrote a short adaptation of Ovid’s Pygmalion last year, I started with a question: what if years into the marriage with the man who made her into the image of Venus, the pretty woman revolts? What if inside that beautiful body, there is a monstrous voice that’s bursting to free itself from a body which it perceives as hideous? Then came the fantasy of setting a piece and a relationship in an art studio. The famous sculptors, Claudel and Rodin, and their tumultuous love affair came to mind. They were everything to each other – mentor, artist, muse and lover – at a time when that combination was an impossibility. Claudel suffered tremendously for it: she spent the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.

Question 2. Your play incorporates excerpts of letters of Rainer Maria Rilke to Rodin which you translated from the original French—what is the significance of these letters, for you, in the story and in the play? Also, do you often work with found text in your plays/theater pieces?

NKP: Using found texts is my attempt to bridge playwriting with my background in physical and image based theatre, where we draw from texts that aren’t purely theatrical (such as poems and novels).  What’s exciting about non-theatrical texts is you can fragment them, put them in a different context and mess with their tone. In the effort of finding their place on the stage, there’s a rich potential for physical and vocal exploration.

Rilke’s letters to Rodin were an exciting discovery for me because they were written in a language that he wasn’t fluent in, and at the threshold of his career as a poet. What’s striking about them – other than his self-defeating humor – is how closely Rilke’s awe for Rodin’s genius borders on the erotic. So I planted the letters in Camille’s world to find out how she would be affected by this indirect triangular relationship. The chorus of Dead Sculptures emerged out of that.

Question 3. The set itself for this anti-reading workshop presentation is an installation piece, created specifically for this performance by visual artist and anthropologist Minette Lee Mangahas. What has been your experience working with installations and visuals/visual artists in the past, and how has this particular relationship (with this installation) developed and influenced the play?

NKP: This is actually my first time working with an installation artist, and I’m really excited! But I guess the notion of working with visual artists feels natural to me because two of my theatre mentors were visual artists before they did theatre. I actually see this play as the foundation for an installation piece with performance. At the moment, I’m really excited about scenography and the interplay between text, movement and visuals. I see this workshop as a stepping-stone towards finding that kind of integration in my work.

Question 4. What is an “anti-reading, workshop presentation,” at least as defined in the context of this weekend of performances of Time Suites: Camille et Rodin?

NKP: I like the sound of an anti-reading because it reminds me of the word anti-chambre [antechamber]. To me, this anti-reading is an entryway into the world of a play. It’s my alternative to a reading: a way of finding out, from a three-dimensional point of view, and from my dialogue with fellow artists and the audience’s presence, where my play needs to go from here.

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Time Suites: a note from the dramaturg

Time Suites: Camille et Rodin

A note from the dramaturg
Naïma’s gift to the theater world is not merely found in the poetry and the pastiche of narrative that she creates, but in the space that she composes around that text.  Words transform themselves into images, images to emotions, emotions into movement, movement into characters, characters into relationships…  Her interest in theater resides in its possibilities when seen as a hybrid art-form:  when a quality of liveness is given equal attention to the environment, the performer, and the text they are speaking.

Time Suites (in this instance for there are other suites that she has written) is a meditation on the role of the muse and identity of an artist, through the lens of the French sculptor Camille Claudel.  For this process the environment of an artist studio, (commissioned from Minette Mangahas) and our actors’ exploration of physicality and space became integral into finding a particular way into the rehearsal and telling of this theme. We present this as an anti-reading, workshop presentation because the role of the audience is invaluable to informing our process.

Jess Applebaum


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Time Suites: Camille et Rodin

You are invited to an anti-reading, workshop presentation of


an adapation of Pygmalion

Written by Naïma Kristel Phillips

Directed by Ashley Kelly Tata

Installation by Minette Lee Mangahas

Dramaturgy by Jess Applebaum

Stage Management by Amy Steinman

With Ito Aghayere, Mary Ellen Beaudreau, Alexander LaFrance, Wei Yi Lin and Danny Mitarotondo

April 8-10*

Friday at 7pm

Saturday at 2pm and 7pm

Sunday at 2pm

*Installation opens 30 minutes prior to performance times.

Schapiro Studio, Columbia University

615 West 115th Street, downstairs

New York, NY

RSVP at VeryImportantPlays@gmail.com

Info at viplays.wordpress.com

Tickets are FREE.

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What inspires a playwright to write a particular play? Wouldn’t we all like to know, to be privy to the initial creative sparks that formed the theatre’s great canon of dramatic literature – from the works of Sophocles and Shakespeare, to Hugo and Beckett. And where the monolithic realm of the American family drama is concerned, few creative impulses come as close to the scintillating crackle of Arthur Miller’s infamous real-life inspiration for A View from the Bridge: “Hey Art! I keep havin’ this dream where I’m fucking my niece…what’ya think that means?” Like most tragedies, Miller’s hopelessly myopic figure seems powerless to avoid his ensuing fate, moving with each and every step toward the very outcome he is so desperately trying to avoid. In this form of mimesis, the protagonist’s outcome is determined by his very own actions, however flawed or damning they may be. But this long-standing mode of human imitation begs a question: To what extent are our lives really in our own hands? And is life truly best represented on the stage as a series of connected events, of plot points, if you will? Or rather, is the human experience a profoundly liminal and ubiquitous encounter, comprised only of the here and now, the present moment continually repeating itself until we are each guided to a new and hopefully enlightened state of being?

In a recent discussion of her new play, Julia May Jonas stated: “I took the play’s title from a Buddhist text, and so I wanted to use the system of Buddhist realms as a structural device. I find the Buddhist realms fascinating because they function both as ways of describing the world as it exists as well as describing different states that we go through as human beings. It is said that the most privileged realm to exist in is the Human Realm, because there is the right balance of suffering and joy to study the nature of the mind, and therefore attain enlightenment.”

If so, then perhaps there is another road of theatrical representation to be achieved, one which represents the inherent passivity of human life, the acknowledgement of the chance-like currents that move us all and their dominance in determining the direction of our lives. Maybe all we can hope to achieve, in the end, is the stillness, the nothingness of the moment in which we stand – the only moment that ever truly exists. According to Jonas, “No One is Excused from the Trouble of Living,” was fundamentally inspired by a provocative idea: “to write about nothing.” Perhaps that “nothing” is the nothingness that is life — neither good nor bad, merely life, the life that each of us must endure…that none of us are excused from living.

— Jay Jaski, Dramaturg

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5+1 Questions for Julia May Jonas, author of NO ONE IS EXCUSED FROM THE TROUBLE OF LIVING.

Five ( + one) Questions for Julia May Jonas, from an email interview given by Caroline Prugh, about the production NO ONE IS EXCUSED FROM THE TROUBLE OF LIVING, premiering this Friday-Sunday, March 25-27 in the Schapiro Theater.

CP:  The multi-generational (and multi-species) spread of this play is epic in scope.  Where did this story begin for you?  Did you find yourself favoring one particular story line or character while writing it or were you heroically impartial and loved all equally?

JMJ: I have a reductive and story-driven mind that I’m always trying to trick myself out of in the hopes that I will come up with something more interesting than my first instinct.  Working with that, when I started out on NOIEFTTOL I started with a. the title and b. the goal to write about nothing – in order to resist the urge to “clamp down” on a story, character, or dynamic.  So various situations and scenes started accruing with no preferential treatment, really.  That said, the character of Ryan certainly is my “sane woman in an insane world,” (even though I don’t think the world is that insane) and so, story-wise, I think we track her the most.  At the same time, I love every character and storyline, and wish I could make a Mahabarata-esque theatrical event with them – so that we could drift in and out of a theater for 24 hours watching all the characters explored in detail.  Brecht wanted theater in which one could smoke, I want theater in which one could take a lunch break.

But more to your question, this piece was fun to write because I could explore different sides of my voice/self in the variety of characters and realms based on what I felt like writing that day.  I wrote the Nutria, for example, when my now fiancé then-boyfriend and I were moving in together.  We were living amongst boxes like little burrowing animals in a tunnel of chaos.  We were emotional, irrational, stripped of any sense of order, and ruled by our need for food, drink and mutual reassurance.  Sometimes life is a beautiful sunset, sometimes life is a pile of shit you have to deal with.  I hope the vastness of the play touches that, at least a little bit.

CP: You’ve divided the world of No One is Excused… into various realms.  What inspired you to take this approach for this play?

JMJ: I took the title from a Buddhist text and so I wanted to use the system of Buddhist realms as a structural device.  I won’t go into descriptions, but if anyone is interested in researching for their own edification, the realms I used are: The God Realm, The Jealous God Realm, The Human Realm, The Animal Realm, The Hungry Ghost Realm and the Hell Realm.  I find the Buddhist realms fascinating because they function both as ways of describing the world as it exists as well as ways of describing different states that we go through as human beings (i.e. fighting in a war might be considered living in the hell realm).  Also, it is said that the most privileged realm to exist in is the Human Realm, because there is the right balance of suffering and joy to study the nature of mind, and therefore attain enlightenment, which I think is nice, and informs the journeys of all the characters.

CP: You indicate that if the casting isn’t age appropriate that you would encourage that the production “should point to this fact rather than attempt to hide it.”  Could you elaborate on what this has meant for this particular production?

JMJ:  For this production we made a firm decision even before casting that we would work with talented actors in their 20s and 30s rather than attempt to find 3 actors over the act of 50 and 2 over the age of 70.  Shannon Fillion (the fantastic director) and I have come up with all sorts of tricks that point to the fact that we’re having actors play the “idea” of a grandfather or grandmother rather than the real thing.  I would go into more detail, but some of it is kind of surprising and fun to see, so I don’t want to ruin it.

CP: You use music in various ways throughout in this play.  How would you describe its function in the world of No One Is Excused…?

JMJ: My mother was a concert organist/elementary school music teacher and I think music is interwoven into my narrative psyche.  To entertain ourselves on long car rides she and I will start singing about everything we see or comes to our mind.  This can go on for hours.  What I’m trying to say is that music seems a natural, non-specialized form of communication for me, and in the writing of stuff it just tends to come out.  In terms of its function, I will also say I’m a little bit of a show-biz hack, and I use song when I think we need some fun formal stuff or a rhythmic or tonal change.  NOIEFFTOL is actually the least musical piece of staged theater I have ever created (although I have never made a classic “musical’).  I guess when I make work I kind of feel like, “hey, we’re in a theater!  Everyone knows this is not real life!  Let’s do some singing!  Why the hell not!”  Lastly – philosophically I like chunky work with rough, weird edges that stick out all over the place like cowlicks on an otherwise orderly head of hair.  Can I say that in NOIEFTTOL, the music is kind of like a cowlick?  I guess I just did.

CP: I’d never heard of box hockey before No One Is Excused…, have you played?  If so, do you have any memorable victories?

Dude I have most definitely played. But I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it.  Box hockey is an invented game that is particular to one side of my family – the reason I wanted to include it in the play is that I find it to be really energetically thrilling to watch.  Now, I am a herb-ish writer, so I have actually never won a game against anyone in my otherwise Amazonian and athletically-gifted family (seriously they are intense) but I do pride myself on providing amusing play-by-play commentary that makes my brother laugh, if no one else.

CP: As a bonus question, I’d like to throw back a question you asked me about my play Estate since I had a great time grappling with it – The action of No One Is Excused… centers itself around a family, the touchstone of American (possibly all) drama.  What responsibility does a playwright have, if any, when writing about the family, given its high profile in American drama?

JMJ: Ha.  Well I think the responsibility a playwright has, whether writing about family or not, is to be specific, clear, personal (not necessarily autobiographical, but personal) and committed.  I think when writing about family, the touchstone of American drama, that responsibility increases exponentially.  However I don’t know if it’s because I’m just socialized, but I don’t think it’s very possible to write drama without writing, in some way, about family – either in its absence or presence – even if the family is a “created one.”  Plays are little societies, families are little societies and the exploration of one generally tends to shed light on the other.

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