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.

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2 thoughts on “Back to Massachusetts & Whiteness

  1. emilyng1218 says:

    errrrmagherd at that interaction you recounted. have gotten all of those questions so much in Atlanta the past few weeks, so I commiserate with you. kudos to you for pushing for the space that you deserve. sending you strength stef!

    Like

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