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.