|Second Generation recently sat down with Carla Ching to discuss her upcoming World Premiere, where she draws inspiration for her writing, and the state of Asian American theater. Here’s what she has to say.
2g: What is TBA about?
Carla Ching: The play is about a young Korean American writer, named Silas Park, who writes a book of autobiographical short stories which capture the public imagination. Then, just as he’s on the verge of becoming the next big thing, his brother Finn shows up on his doorstep and accuses Silas of stealing his life. It’s also about increasingly complicated notions of identity. A Korean American writer who grew up in a Chicano household. An African American chef in a Japanese restaurant who spent a good deal of time in Honolulu. Everyone straddles boundaries and exist in the area that Gloria Anzaldua coined “the borderlands” -belonging everywhere and nowhere.
2g: Where do you get your inspiration for your plays and how do you begin to write a play?
Ching: I always start with a question. It always stem from something I see, sometimes a specific instance, sometimes a pattern or behavior, sometimes a social phenomena, which bother me. So, inevitably, they bother me to the point that I have to write a play, and I write the play to figure out the answer to that question. For this one. . . I’ve always known people who tell stories. Wonderful, colorful stories. People who were very very good friends of mine. And, sometimes I would start to capture discrepancies– changes in the stories. And it made me wonder. So, it got me to thinking about the tricky nature of memory and story telling, and how we all remember things and tell stories. And I wanted to explore how we connect to each other by telling each other stories about our lives. And where the truth lies. If in fact there is a singular truth.
2g: Second Generation commissioned the original script for TBA. How has the play grown since the initial draft?
Ching: TBA started off as a one act with a trio of friends that I wrote for 2g about 2 1/2 years ago. I was encouraged in the Q&A to take the story further and I did like the characters and the question, so I decide to keep going. Then, 2g was nice enough to give me another developmental reading to figure it out some more with a cast and director, about a year ago. Then, they were kind enough to tell me they would produce it, so we started with a workshop in Dec, then I’ve been working on it ever since. It’s wonderful to have the cast and director here to help me in the development. Ken, Nedra, Michi, Dustin, Julian, Lloyd and Denyse have helped me to find so much–the things you can only find on your feet with the work.
2g: How did you get your start as a playwright?
Ching: I wrote and performed with Peeling (the Banana) for around 3 years, and started writing performance poems which shortly became scenes and I started to experiment with dramatic forms–I came from poetry first. I had acted in college, but not written drama. Somewhere in that work, I realized that there were things I wanted to do that needed more of a tool belt than I had. So, I decided to take a workshop with Julia Cho at the Asian American Writers Workshop in Summer of 2001. She was incredibly generous and taught us everything from format to storytelling and even called her actor friends to give us a reading at the end of it. That was my first long one-act, called “First.” That gave me the curiosity to want to continue on and I decided to go back to school and study playwriting after that, and so I went to Actors Studio Drama School.
2g: Who are your mentors?
Ching: In addition to Julia, I was extremely lucky that Sung Rno asked me to work with the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. He’s a very easygoing but astute facilitator and he brought together a really tremendous group of people and helped me to find a home from which to work. Ralph PeÃ±a has also helped me to learn that there is a word which we live in and come from that we should explore and speak to and write about. I know that sounds basic, but it can be so easy to be naval gazing and I think Ralph’s idea is to fight against that and to look outward. The Lab also is a crazy, wild, wonderful group of people who I continue to learn from and grow as a result of being in their presence.
2g: What was the last play you saw that made you go WOW!
Ching: I was lucky enough to see Passing Strange at the Public and I was moved by Stew’s story and music. But what I found most amazing was the response of the audience. They sang along, clapped, were just riveted. And it’s the last full standing ovation I’ve seen in a long time. I think it may have been because Stew and the actors were telling the story to us, so there was a true sense of a communal theatrical experience, a journey together. We weren’t an audience just sitting passively by –we were asked to be part of it, to bear witness.
2g: What other playwrights do you think people should definitely keep on their radar?
Ching: I think Qui Nguyen is doing things no one else has done, and he has these two wonderful playwriting selves that can bring death defying drama and ass kicking genre-smashing plays out all at the same time. I don’t know how he does it.
I also think that A. Rey Pamatmat has a vision of the world and an art as politics sensibility that I haven’t seen done well in a long time. But he’s irreverent and funny and relevant all at the same time. He has the Kushner sensibility which makes you think and feel deeply at the same time.
2g: After roughly 40 years of APA theater in the United States, how far do you think Asian Americans have come? And what direction do you see Asian American theater artists going?
Ching: I think we’re trying to break boundaries and bust down walls. We owe a debt to those who’ve come before, but the people I know who are writing now are trying to embrace the intersectionality of identity and look out into the greater world. I like that the writers whose work that I’ve seen who are Asian American all have incredibly different stories to tell, and very different ways of telling their stories. So, sky’s the limit.
2g: What role has Second Generation played in your career?
Ching: 2g has given me a place to workshop my plays and they’ve given me my first full-length production, which has been such a learning experience. It’s the only way to really learn how to do this -to be on your feet and in rehearsal for a show, to be making it for an audience.
2g: As it is our Eleventh anniversary, what’s your 2g Birthday wish?
Ching: For many more years of developing and producing new Asian American work and continued work in bringing together Asian American artists at all stages of their careers, to work together and learn from one another. I hope there are twelve more lovely years on the horizon, and then twelve more.
TBA is playing now through April 5.