勇氣

Day ten at Williamstown. I walk into the audition room and when asked the song I will be singing, I hesitate. “I was thinking –” I stop, “I am going to sing a song in Chinese.”

I’m finally at a point where I FEEL like “I am Asian, proud of it, and if who I am is part of my art, then this can and should be too.”

Let’s be clear: I am not a singer. I am not good at singing, nor am I good at dancing, frankly, but I am getting better at being myself. Two days ago, at a panel with Mandy Greenfield, the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, I raised my hand to ask a question. Eyes puffy from a night of crying and anxiety, I decided to air out all the insecurities I had been feeling, “I am struggling with something of a paradox in the industry. We are told, when we walk into a room for an audition, or when we send a script in as a playwright, or when we interview for a position as the director, or anything else, that if we are not chosen for a part or role it is because we are not the right type, that it is not about us and our talent but about what they need. But at the same time, we are told that if we are good enough we should be able to change anyone’s mind about what they’re looking for and what they want and need. So, to that end, how do you know when you’ve tried enough, when it’s not that you’re the wrong type but that you’re really just not that good and should stop?” It was a release of an insecurity I have been feeling, heavily, and which perhaps is an indication that I shouldn’t be doing this, but more than that, I think it is an indication of how well I need to know myself in order to gain resilience. Her answer was essentially that we have to trust the honesty barometer in ourselves to know when someone offers criticism, or rejection, or approval and affirmation, if what they are saying about you is true or false, deep down. And that requires a sense of self-knowledge and self-worth that I think I am here to find this summer.

The past week has been filled with new things – new friends, new auditions, new rejections, new artistic endeavours, and ideas too. From going to Walmart,

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to going to a pop up shop where I really wanted to purchase a useless shirt

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to going to Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachussets, on a beautiful sunny morning

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to going to Mass MOCA and seeing the incredible beauty in visual arts

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being here with new people, new faces, and new work has been really lovely, enriching, and also difficult, all at once.

Yesterday, one of the most important people in my life came to visit. Kristy, my person/Christina Yang/soul mate of sorts popped into my Williamstown life, and I was reminded of who I am outside of this place, and how that identity is not only vastly important here to maintain, but that it is who I am, always, regardless of where I go.

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we got to do a beautiful hike up Pine Cobble with two other amazing young ladies I’m so glad to have gotten to spend time with here, Julia and Haley

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(spot Julia’s small face under her bucket hat in the bushes here)

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and we had some AMAZING Indian food that I am still digesting, 16 hours later, as I sit at this coffee shop, writing this

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Something I am struggling with is the difference between who I feel I am, and how I am perceived. And I don’t mean just my race, my gender, sexuality, hometown, or any of that, though of course it all matters and is impactful in my daily life. But I often feel like I have an armour on, one that is polished, painted, colorful, vibrant, beautiful, and composed, while on the inside it is a wild, wild zoo of small chipmunks, rampant squirrels, and worms who are bumping into things because they’re blind and in the dark. This is probably one of the worst analogies I can make, but that’s how it feels, and I am trying very hard to air out the mess. I am trying to be myself in my art, not only in terms of culture, language, and background, but in terms of how I feel, how I am able or unable to express those feelings, and rather than only speaking when I have figured myself out, to use language and art to process them. Being here as an apprentice, I feel the need to do  so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. Excited to work on deck crew, to do a reading of a new play, to meet people, and see new things, but I am also excited to just fuck up. And do things that I need to fail at in order to learn about how to do things better for myself, and know myself better through it.

 

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Back to Massachusetts & Whiteness

It is 8:57 pm, I am in bed, wanting to go to bed, but no. A callback at 10:40 pm, and another at 11:25. I look down the callback list and the slots go until 1:30 am tonight (or rather, tomorrow morning). And so my next two months at the Williamstown Theatre Festival begins.

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~ on the road ~

I arrived here in the afternoon yesterday, which I owe to the wonderful driving skills of a girl, Chrissy, who offered to let me take up a spot, along with my belongings, in her car. We drove up from New York city and as we approached our destination, watched the landscape turn more mountainous, greener, and more like bum-fuck nowhere Massachusetts. (Pardon the language, that was meant to be endearing, because I love nature.) I figured no one else was bringing much, so I only brought a big suitcase, and some pillows and a fan. Turns out, I might have thought wrong?

List of things I should have brought that might have been helpful or would have made my stay minutely more comfortable:

  1. my tempurpedic extra-long twin mattress pad from college
  2. my shower caddy from college
  3. zip lock bags (I spent all of today looking for some and refused to buy a $10 box of 15 ziplock bags, so now I just have some of the things I need in ziplocks in free red solo cups)
  4. some sleep so I can compensate for the sleep I won’t get here

It has been a long day and a half already, since being here. I am beginning to get used to this room and this place, but I am still quite shocked by the lack of diversity here. Upon arrival, I started a joke instagram photo stream of the extreme whiteness I witnessed arriving on campus, talking about how I had yet to see a person of color walk by me.

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At orientation, however, I sat down in the auditorium and looked around. Of the 70 apprentices who sat in the same area, it seemed only around 10 were people of color, including myself. That’s not a pretty percentage. Only 2 were East Asian. Only 2 were international. Yikes. I sat there, in the auditorium, looking around, when the girl next to me asked, “what are you looking for?” “Oh,” I bumbled, “uh (do I tell the truth?!) I’m looking for people of color. Counting, I mean.” “I hope you’re having fun?” She laughed. Well, that was awkward. Ten. I counted. And the dorms were segregated by gender. That’s also very heteronormative, isn’t it? We spent the evening at orientation and then at a barbeque, which was then followed by an evening of me trying to memorize my audition monologue for today.

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Disclaimer: I love my monologue. I love Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. I love Young Jean Lee. But I always feel a little bit too bold for myself, a little bit out of place when I go up to do my monologue about the pervasive whiteness of the theatre industry and world, and my own innate desire to be white (is this the character or me speaking?), and about the impossibility of being a minority and wanting to be able to just enjoy white privilege, even for a split second, when the audience is almost entirely white. Maybe that’s the point. I think that’s what I gleaned from today, that maybe the point is to do pieces that are a little too bold for myself in front of an audience that is vastly more uncomfortable than they make themselves out to be.

As I looked around the auditorium last night, I wondered to myself, why in the world am I here? In the Berkshires? With all this whiteness? And maybe this is why. I was encouraged today by the number of people who asked me about the piece and the play after, and who talked to me more about the content of what I performed. There is such a difference between good art and important art, the best ones are both. And I want to be making both, constantly. I had an infuriating conversation today, with a girl who came up to me and said (to my Yale sweatshirt), “Oh, you go to Yale? Do you know (so-and-so)? He just graduated and he tends to date a lot of Asian girls? Wow, that sounds a little racist, haha?” But she was dead serious. And the infuriating part wasn’t what she said, but that I had no idea how to respond in a way that wouldn’t sound like what my monologue was talking about today. As Young Jean Lee says, “the truth is, if you’re a minority and you do super-racist stuff against yourself, then you’re a cool minority and white people treat you like one of them.” And it’s sort of true. Here are the things that I heard in this conversation:

  1. A white boyfriend’s mom will be like, “let’s bake bread!” An Asian boyfriend’s mom will be like, “what are you career goals and aspirations?”
  2. I don’t really date white people. I date out of my race.
  3. How do you speak English so well?!
  4. Since Hong Kong is so homogenous, racism must be much less of a thing?
  5. Is it hard to be an actor as a non-white person?
  6. I like to write plays that are sort of fantasy-esque, so I think it contributes to opportunities for people of color because those roles aren’t grounded in reality and can be played by people of all ethnicities and I make it a point of saying so.
  7. Are you sure you don’t know this person? He recently took a photo with his ex-girlfriend who was in a Japanese kimono and he was wearing Japanese clothes too.

And my response to all these things? Mostly smiling, and laughing, and fending them off because I was so shocked I didn’t really know how to respond. These things hurt. These things hurt in conversation, on the stage, on the page, in the theatre, outside of the theatre, as human beings. This is why having diversity matters. This is why listening matters. This is why art can be important, but also so divisive if an audience is only listening selectively.

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I am nervous for this summer and these two months, but perhaps it will be one of intense reflection, of voicing painfully important opinions and understanding why they matter, even in times of isolation.