Berlin: Point B

Writing this means admitting another period of time has passed. I hate when time passes. It’s been five days since I left Williamstown, and four since I’ve been in Berlin. I’m always so wary of talking about things in retrospect. Williamstown is now something I think and talk about in retrospect. I think that means I’m an unreliable narrator.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about Williamstown with a sense of honesty that actually conveys what my experience was like, and what I got out of it. And I think so little of it had to do with my experience in the “theatre” as normally defined.

There were several things that happened in my last few weeks that really hit home for me:

  1. I found an incredible group of artists who worked with me to put up a reading of my new play, delicacy of a puffin heart.
  2. I was asked to be a part of a reading involving characters I found stereotypical, problematic, racist, and sexist in their portrayal.
  3. I hit a deer with a car that belonged to someone I respect and care about.

And here is what I learned:

I love working with these people. I love being able to say, “what did you think of the draft?”, talk through minute edits, think about the things that may or may not make sense, make a timeline of a world that did not exist prior to its creation on the page, and to tell another group of people, of actors: here, take this, make something with it. This staged reading was, by far, the most wonderful process, to write, to act (because I was in it, due to the lack of Asians in Williamstown, to be discussed further down), to think about, and to hope will get further development. I worked with the best director I think I have ever had the chance to work with, the most thoughtful, hardworking, and caring actors, and found myself rewriting night after night with no complaints.

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I am no longer surprised when something racist happens. When I am asked to play “Mr. Ling, a 50 year old Asian math teacher” because there are only two East Asian actors in the entire Williamstown Theatre Festival, both acting apprentices, both women, and both barely twenty. I am no longer fazed by the logic of, “oh, but he’s such a big shot director or writer, he’s been on broadway, how could you turn that down?” Because the work I choose to be a part of and choose to support matters so much more. Because when you ask an actor to double as both Japanese and Chinese, you are saying, “all Asians are equal,” you are saying, “no one can tell anyway,” you are saying, “the languages all come from the same background, no?” you are saying, “quota is a convenience.” And I refuse to let that go. It also means that if the lack of representation means writing work that brings that forward, if it means having to play a character in my own work because there aren’t other Asian actresses, then that’s what I will do.

I hit a deer a week and a half ago, at six in the morning, and my body went into shock. I spent the next ten days crying out of the blue, and shaking at times when nothing particularly shocking or scary or sad was occurring. It was simply my body’s reaction to recorded trauma, remembered trauma. When the accident first happened, I had two thoughts: is the deer ok? (it was) will my friendship with the friend who lent me the vehicle be ok? (it was) but it never crossed my mind to think, am I ok? When I called my parents, and my grandparents, it only then started to dawn on me what this meant: another accident, another scraping past mortality. What a weird thing to think? That death is just constantly around the corner looking you in the headlights?

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Which brings me to Berlin. Now. Sitting at this desk in my studio space in Neukohln, I am bewildered by the lack of organization in my brain. I have no idea what I’m doing. When my mentor asked me, “how do you write plays?” I answered, “well, uh. I just sort of do it?” I have no methodology. So I’m coming up with something now. Mapping something out that might be more than I can take on for the next month – definitely too much, but perhaps crucial to the work I do for the rest of my life. I am finding an interest in what it means to contain. Whether it be in the form of a box, a jar, a cup, a glass, a sieve (yes, a sieve can contain if it is containing something it was not meant to be used for, i.e. you can put potatoes inside and they won’t sift through), the mind, a body, a house, a burial ground, an ambulance, a car. And what it happens when a container fails us? Is life just a series of looking for the right containers to keep things in? Is the body just a container in which we try to keep life in?

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On a less my-brain-has-been-grieving-for-three-days-now note, I love being here. Berlin is beautiful, and calm, and I have a routine, and a lovely place where I am living, and all this stimulation and interest in what I am doing. I am reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I am reading and listening to and watching all this material so many wonderful people have sent me about grief and bereavement, and loss, and containment. And I am so lucky to be here, even if the time passes.

 

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