|Second Generation recently spoke to Julia Cho to discuss her new one-act play, where she draws inspiration for her writing, and the state of Asian American theater. Here’s what she has to say.
2g: What is Round and Round about?
Julia Cho: Well, the blurb kind of says it all. It’s about a linguist whose wife is leaving him.
2g: Where do you get your ideas for the story of your plays?
Cho: This one came out of some reading I was doing on dying languages. Apparently, it’s not just species that are going extinct with breathtaking rapidity; languages are dying as well. It seems to me that words don’t just express our thoughts, they create our thoughts as well. Languages have different world views embedded in them and to lose a language means losing a whole way of looking at the world. All of this thinking about languages led me to reflect on my own life: I don’t speak the language my parents speak (Korean). I feel that loss acutely; it’s a source of shame and guilt. And somehow out of all this came a play.
2g: How has the play grown since the initial reading of it in TEN?
Cho: It changed very little. Maybe a few words here and there, but that’s about it.
2g: How did you get your start as a playwright?
Cho: Long story short, I studied playwriting with Constance Congdon at Amherst College. One day, I was telling her that I wasn’t sure if the end of my play worked (it was my first one ever). She said, “Well, why don’t you read it to me.” So I did. When I was done, I looked up and she was looking at me and there were tears on her face. She said something like, “I think that’ll be fine,” as she reached for a tissue. And I think that’s when I got hooked. I couldn’t believe my words actually moved her. And that’s pretty much all I still do: try to move people with words.
2g: Who are your mentors?
Cho: Connie, of course, but also David Henry Hwang, Chay Yew, and Gordon Edelstein.
2g: What was the last play you saw that made you go WOW!
Cho: Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?
2g: What other playwrights do you think people should definitely keep on their radar?
Cho: You know, I hate to say it, but I no longer feel like I have my pulse on the newer, emerging playwrights. Maybe I’ve just been out of school too long or away from the grassroots theater scenes. So maybe people out there could start telling me who the new writers are that I should know about…
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? Do you still face obstacles as an Asian American and/or female playwright?
Cho: I think APA theater still has the same amount to go as it always did because there really is no end point. There’s no one goal that we can reach and then say: “Ah, finished.” As long as there are self-identifying Asian American theater artists there will be Asian American theater, and whatever work these artists are doing, that is what Asian American theater will be. To that extent, I feel like the term is a kind of vessel–okay, maybe a tinted vessel. It colors the way we see what’s inside, but really, anything could go inside of it.
I think in the future, the term will expand; I think it has to. Demographically, Asian America is changing. It’s no longer just APA (“Asian Pacific American”). It’s Southeast Asian, South Asian, half-Asian, adopted. There’s a generational shift too. Asian Americans my cousins’ age (twenty and under) are so different from Asian Americans of my generation. These kids grow up in a globalized world: they drink Boba tea, go karaoking and eat sushi at the mall. Their stories are different and the work that comes out of this generation will be different too.
I think it’s interesting that you ask if I “still” face obstacles as an Asian and a woman because this assumes that I have had obstacles. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s been easy. Theater is incredibly challenging for a myriad of reasons and it does take a lot of persistence and courage. But I have found that theaters–APA and not–are hungry for good work. Have I gotten everything I wanted? Of course not. Do racism and sexism exist in theater? Of course; theater is not some magical oasis apart from the world. But I’ve never felt that I couldn’t be a playwright because I was Asian or because I was a woman.
2g: What role has Second Generation played in your career?
Cho: Under Lloyd Suh’s leadership, 2g’s been very inspiring to me. I love the community Lloyd has been building and the way he tries to give back to the Asian American community. It inspires me to try and do the same.
2g: As it is our Eleventh anniversary, what’s your 2g Birthday wish?
Cho: That Lloyd and the staff of 2g get a huge karmic gift from the universe for putting this all together and working so hard.
SIX is playing now through March 29.