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A rarity: Hmong American actors playing Hmong Am characters

Theater Mu will be presenting the world premiere of Again (Mar 31 – Apr 16, 2023), a Hmong American musical created by Twin Cities based Hmong American playwright and theater artist Katie Ka Vang, and Melissa Li, a composer, lyricist, writer, and performer based in New York City. 

The production features internationally known singer Pagnia Xiong as Shia, newcomer Melody Her as Quest, Dexieng “Dae” Yang as Mai See, and Aaron Komo as Doc/Broc, who will bring their unique experiences and perspectives to the stage for the work that Vang started thinking about in 2017

The musical tells the story of cancer survivors Mai See and Quest, whose unlikely friendship is put to the test when Mai discovers she has relapsed. They navigate family dynamics, daily struggles, and moments of levity with each other as they both learn about what to keep, and what to let go.

Directed by Nana Dakin, a queer Thai American director of new work, classics, and devised performance based in New York City, who Vang credits with creating an open space for the actors to be able to flourish, the play promises to be thought-provoking and heartwarming, hoping to leave audiences with a newfound appreciation for the nuances of relationships, set to ballads and pop filled rhythms. 

AsAmNews had a chance to field some questions to some of the cast, as well as sit down with Melody Her, Dexieng Yang, and Katie Ka Vang over Zoom.

Below are the Q & A’s with each (some answers are abbreviated for length).

Image courtesy Theater Mu. Pagnia Xiong who plays Shia.

Pagnia Xiong

How did you get involved with the production?

My initial involvement was through an invitation from Theater Mu in 2021 to read the role of Shia. It led to a staged reading in the 2022 New Eyes Festival, a Theater Mu tradition for new Asian American work, with AGAIN being one of the new works.

How was it working with Katie Ka Vang and Melissa Li? What did you learn about the craft and their style to creation, rehearsals, etc.?

It was inspiring to work with Katie and Melissa. They are quiet and intentional creatives with minds that are working non-stop. In rehearsals, I always felt their work continued to evolve even as the days passed. That was eye-opening for me; that a creation is never fully complete. It evolves as others are invited to join in the process and in whichever role they play in the full production. I admired their respect for each other, and I could see their attentive way of dancing together to create an honest Hmong American story through words and music.

Why do you think this musical is important (from multiple lenses – Hmong American, Asian American, General audiences)?

“Again” allows general audiences to witness a genuine Hmong American story written by a Hmong American playwright. This statement alone is rare and powerful. Also, it is humbling and exciting to speak and hear my native tongue and see familiar experiences performed professionally on a mainstream stage. As a Hmong American, it’s like being in a sea of people and unexpectedly meeting the eyes of someone you love across the room. My heart is so content because my people are seen in this story. As an actor, being a part of the company and playing the role of someone of Hmong descent is so rare; it’s heartbreaking. Therefore, I am deeply grateful that Shia (Siab) is my first musical theater role.

Did you do any training for the role and to get into your character? Were there any inspirations?

I earned a fellowship through the Ordway called GreenRoom this past summer. It was an intensive six-week program with ten BIPOC fellows taught by incredibly talented BIPOC instructors of various creative backgrounds. My inspiration for Shia comes from all the older sisters I’ve had in my life. I grew up with two older sisters and many older female cousins who I saw as older sisters. I witnessed the burden they carried being the firstborns of new Hmong refugees in America. They are some of the toughest, most resilient, and hardest working women I know. They give tough love, but their love is deep and genuine.  

If there is one thing/idea/action you would like people to take away from the production, as well as your performance what would that be?

One thing I want people to take away from the production is the genuine care from the entire “Again” cast, creative team, and crew to bring the story of Mai See, Quest, Shia, and Broc alive. Our diverse team was intentional and worked incredibly hard during many 10+ hour days, and we genuinely hope you feel the love and care we have for the show. As far as my performance, I believe that emotions are energy in motion. So my goal as a performer is to move my audience emotionally. I hope people feel moved enough to reflect on their own familial relationships after the show.

What advice would you give to people and specifically BIPOC, Asian Americans, and Hmong Americans who want to get into theater, who may not know where to start?

I would start by getting involved with a local theater, whether that is volunteering as an usher or stepping into general auditions. As an artist, I believe it’s about showing up to gain experience, even if you’re uncertain and feel underprepared. You never know what can happen just by showing up as you. And finally, the GreenRoom fellowship by the Ordway for BIPOC artists is accepting applications through April 7th, 2023. I highly encourage submitting an application NOW!

Image courtesy Theater Mu. Helody Her who plays Quest.

MELODY HER

How did you get involved with the production?

So crazy story…I was a fellow at the GreenRoom Fellowship, at the Ordway  Performing Arts. It’s a program that centers BIPOC artists and musical theater. I was 1 of 10 fellows. And it’s a 6 week program and at the end of the program we do a closing session, and there, the Ordway invites playwrights and directors and people interested in signing new artists, and Pagnia Xiong who was also a fellow at the Ordway, she was like “Melody, I’m a part of this project and I really really want you to audition for it”.

So I sent in a video literally with no intentions of being a part of the production. I was like this is just for the experience. I’m not really expecting to get anything, but this is exciting and I love this project.

And they invited me for a workshop!

And I go in for the workshop. I had a lot of fun. It was like for the weekend. And then, I think two weeks later they were like “Melody, we’d like to offer you the understudy role”. Two days after that they were like “Hey Melody, we’ve actually had some casting changes and would like to give you the role!”

How was it working with Katie Ka Vang and Melissa Li? What did you learn about the craft and their style to creation, rehearsals, etc.?

I’m learning a lot as this is my first experience. I’m different in the sense that I really have nothing to compare it to. But overall I’m really really blessed. Melissa and Katie are extremely talented individuals. Working with Melissa has been an absolute breeze. Her songs–it brings the musical to life in ways that the audience is not ready for. The cast and us and our relationship with Melissa and Katie, there’s no tension, it’s not like strict. I don’t feel intimidated. They are just amazing people and make it so easy, and we have such great relationships with them and I really really want to honor Katie’s story. That’s when the relationship is really really important.

She makes it easy to do that. 

This is a work of art, absolutely a masterpiece in the making. She (Katie) hugged me (in rehearsal) and she was like “You’re doing such great work” and all I could say to her was “Thank you for your story.” It’s such a privilege to be working with both of them and bringing this story to life because it’s so important.

Why do you think this musical is important (from multiple lenses – Hmong American, Asian American, General audiences)?

I think it’s extremely important, because a lot of the time, when it comes to illnesses, whether physical or mental health (and I talk a lot about this with my family too)–it’s seen as a curse, or seen as like punishment from God…especially in our community…modern medicine is not…is kind of like, I don’t know if “taboo” is the right word, but it’s not like the first thing we turn to, right? We should pray…or do a ritual…for me as a Christian, it’s very much like “We should pray. We should do more traditional, or cultural medicine”, and there’s just a lot of stigma behind what mental and physical illnesses are in the Hmong community. This musical brings the stories into the light and takes away that stigma. This is real, and this is a thing that Hmong American people can deal with. It’s not a curse, it doesn’t make us different, it doesn’t make us monsters, it’s not a punishment from God. It happens. 

Just making those stories heard, and highlighting the nuances behind how that affects relationships, family dynamics, and how it affects what we choose to do in life, and making that story seen.

Did you do any training for the role and to get into your character? Were there any inspirations?

Music has been part of my life for as long as I remember. My dad is a musical artist himself. Both of my parents they actually sing. The singing part came a little bit easier to me. I’ve been a part of musicals before, back in high school. I’m always performing with my dad. We’re big in the Hmong Christian community so we’re always performing in front of people, on stages, in churches and things like that, leading praise and Lordship. I literally can’t remember a time where singing and music was not a part of my life. In terms of that,  training wise, maybe not formal training. It’s just been in me in the singing.

In terms of preparing for the character of Quest in general…I feel like I’m lucky in the sense that Quest and I are similar…we’re both dreamers. We both have things that we want to achieve in our lives…and really just going for it. And making that initiative. We’re both 20, in the same stage of life, trying to figure out what we’re gonna do. But of course we’re very different.

Nana and our assistant director Sunny, they came up with a research list (of symptoms) and that helped me get into a perspective of what that may be like.

And I studied that document.

They’re many layers to it that I had to learn.

What advice would you give to people and specifically BIPOC, Asian Americans, and Hmong Americans who want to get into theater, who may not know where to start?

I’m trying not to be super cliche and think that everyone can just jump in, but the thing that’s coming to my brain, is just do it. Especially in our community, you don’t see a lot of Hmong Representation in arts, period. Whether that’s like movies, commercials, magazines, whatever it is, you don’t see our faces and our features, out there. It’s very much like, for media, mainstream media, it’s very much like Chinese, or Korean. It’s very much well known. Not a lot of people know what Hmong is. 

But the great thing about the community is that it’s so big and we’re so connected. You go out and you ask a question and somebody is very much likely to be like “Oh, I know somebody who’s doing this, let me connect you. ”  

So really, just like putting yourself out there. And finding someone you trust. Making those connections is really important.

5 films/tv shows you like: 1917, Conjuring Movies (huge sucker for horror movies), Someone Great (also huge sucker for romantic comedies), Black Panther (huge Marvel fan), Lovecraft Country.

Image courtesy Theater Mu. Dexieng “DAE” Yang who plays Mai See.


DEXIENG “DAE” YANG

How did you get involved with the production?

I’ve known Katie Ka Vang for a couple of years already. I was sort of introduced to her once I started my acting career when I was 19, because she’s Hmong American and in the Twin Cities as well. So I already knew of her, we had already been connected. I had heard she got a residency at Theater Mu, and that she was going to do this musical. And then I really wasn’t a part of the process until I saw a reading of it at Theater Mu’s New Eyes Festival, last year, I was part of a different play, but I stayed for the reading of the musical and I was like “Oh My gosh, I really want to be a part of this!” I mean how often do we get to be our own ethnicity on stage? I feel very blessed and grateful for the 5 years I’ve been working, and I can say I’ve gotten to be Hmong on stage, this is my second time, but also only the second time in 5 years. So it’s kind of like, that’s great, because not of a lot of people can say they’ve been Vietnamese on stage, they’ve been Korean on stage, but for me to be able to say I’ve been Hmong on stage? I was just like I have to get involved somehow. 

I was honored enough to be invited to audition and then the balls just kinda got rolling from there. So I really wasn’t a part of anything, I just kind of like scooted myself in.

How was it working with Katie Ka Vang and Melissa Li? What did you learn about the craft and their style to creation, rehearsals, etc.?

Katie is very much…one thing that I’ve learned because I also really enjoy playwriting, and I feel like I’m a little loose on my work where if people are like I don’t like them I’m like “okay”, it’s easy for me to kill my babies essentially. But Katie has that air about her that’s kind of like “Let me take that into consideration” and I really like just the way she approaches her work because she doesn’t disregard our questions or comments, but at the same time she stands her ground, which I really admire and respect. But she’s not closed off to any suggestions at all. So I think I’ve definitely learned that from Katie and taken that from her. She’s flexible, but within her own bounds and how she wants to voice her story.

With Melissa, oh my gosh, she’s just so talented. Though I’ve been performing for a couple of years, I’m not a singer performer. This will be the first musical I’ve done in ten years. So Melissa has just been extremely gracious and I love how honest she is. And I feel like, maybe because I’m born and raised in MN, we have that slight MN nice, you know what I’m talking about, passive aggressiveness, but Melissa’s very blunt and very honest, and in a very direct, kind way, where it doesn’t come off cold at all, it just comes off as hard true facts. She’s very direct in the way her vision is, so I really like that, and to not be scared of that directness too. Again it’s probably the Minnesotan in me that’s a little afraid of that , but I really appreciate the way Melissa directs it in the music.

Why do you think this musical is important (from multiple lenses – Hmong American, Asian American, General audiences)?

Minnesota is home to one of the largest Hmong populations (California beats us because it’s just a bigger state). To be able to have a story be told from the lens of the Hmong culture and a Hmong voice I think is extremely impactful–already a lot on social media, because we have quite a big name person in our production, Pagnia Xiong, she’s a Hmong celebrity okay ya’ll! Be excited! Just from the social media, people are so excited, to be like “I cannot wait to bring my daughter to this. For her to see herself on the stage.”

And that is the kind of representation that I feel like we need, especially in the arts world. To this day, like I have a lot of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, who are relatively young, they don’t understand theater, and they don’t understand what it is–we don’t really have a great word for it in Hmong. But Hmong itself, to me, I grew up with storytelling, and that’s what theater is. So to be able to see it represented on a more mainstream platform, because the truth is, theater is very White based, that’s just the truth of it–I think it’s going to be extremely impactful. It feels impactful already. To be able to be in a rehearsal room where I don’t have to explain my culture or myself, and there’s a baseline and we can just have conversations that make sense because they happen to us, and specifically to the Hmong people in the room.

And then just as an Asian American story–I don’t know many Asian American stories that are being told about health, and straying away from mental health, not that mental health isn’t important, I’m not trying to say that, but just like diseases, or cancer–we don’t talk about that a lot, there’s almost a stigma to it. I won’t give away too much, but there’s a line in the show that Quest says that a grandma says [translated in English] “Wow you had no luck. You got a daughter like this” because Quest has cancer. And I feel like that’s still very prominent today. When you hear someone has cancer it’s like “Ohhh, we don’t talk about that” or “Gosh, that’s so sad”. To be able to have the story we told in a hopeful light, and in a “I’m going to conquer the world even with this” is extremely important.

Just in general I feel like this story is so rich in its relationships. I really think it’s beautiful that Katie wrote Mai See to be a lot older than Quest. And I think it’s important because Quest comes in with a new fire that isn’t necessarily unknown to Mai See, but it kind of gives her a push to be like, hey, it’s okay that you’re almost forty. You can start over. And it’s okay to start over. And I think that’s a message I feel a lot of people need.

Did you do any training for the role and to get into your character? Were there any inspirations?

I was taking some voice lessons for sure [Dexieng who had a foundation in choir in the past, met once a week for two months for voice lessons]. Just to up my stamina and strengthen my voice. I like to say that my family karaoke nights prepped me enough, but it’s a little different when you have  to be belting, like five nights in a row. So definitely did some voice lessons, the technical side of that–because I was very very nervous, and still am very nervous about it! 

In prepping for the role of Mai See. I actually took some inspiration from Katie. I read over Mai See and I was like gosh, I feel like I know who this person is, but how do I emulate them? And then I was like, honestly, Mai See reminds me a bit of Katie. I took inspiration from Katie (who I really admire) and was like I’m just going to channel my inner Katie Ka Vang and then mix a little bit of “Dae” spunkiness in there. And then Mai See was born! 

That’s kind of how I prepped–I just watched a lot of videos of Katie, and studied her mannerisms to be quite honest! I would just kind of study her in the rehearsal rooms, a little bit when she’s writing, and when she’s thinking, and when she’s serious, or also the way she jokes.

If there is one thing/idea/action you would like people to take away from the production, as well as your performance what would that be?

I kind of touched on it earlier, but I think it’s so important that if there’s a relationship in your life that you want to rekindle, or you regret not having a relationship you hoped to have, to pursue it. To go ahead and jump in the hot waters, have those uncomfortable conversions, just because again, I do feel like, and I don’t want to speak for the whole Asian American community but I’m sure they can relate–but in the Hmong community we just don’t have those underlying conversations often. We kind of learn to be like “OK, well I’ll just let time blow it over” and then you just move on, and then you just sort of try to start a relationship again, but you never talk about it, and you never have the hard conversations. And sometimes those hard conversations are needed. Just so that we can hear and understand one another a little better.

Really learning how to just listen to one another, and try to love each other the way we can receive it.

What advice would you give to people and specifically BIPOC, Asian Americans, and Hmong Americans who want to get into theater, who may not know where to start?

I don’t know if it’s still happening, but I definitely was told by my parents, hey you should be a doctor, lawyer, a dentist, and now a business person, because business makes money, right? We’re always told that. I have a cousin who wants to go into Pre-Med, so obviously you have to go through your undergrad, Pre-Med, and then you have to actually apply to medical school, so it’s not guaranteed you’re going to become a doctor, let’s just be honest. But when you’re saying “I’m Pre-Med” your entire family is like “Oh my god that’s so amazing!” and they really put you on a pedestal, but then when you say “I’m a Theater major” it’s like “Oh…”. Why can’t we have the same thing? You don’t know if I’m going to succeed or not. You don’t know if they’re going to succeed or not. 

If it feels like it’s your passion, if you feel whole doing it, then give it 200%. Make it your Plan A and go all in. Just go ahead and do it. Why not? Like why not? Who’s to say you are to fail or succeed? 

A quote I’ve been following is “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine what success means.” 

5 films/tv shows you like: Your Name (Anime Movie). The art is gorgeous. The storyline is fantastic. It’s all fantastical. Robots with Robin Williams. Bridges of Terabithia. Me Before You (read the book first and liked it better). Safe Haven (read the book first and liked it better).

Image courtesy Theater Mu. Playwright Katie Ka Vang.

KATIE KA VANG

You started writing Again in 2017, and then it was featured at Theater Mu’s New Eyes Festival in 2022, and now in 2023 it’s getting its World Premiere. How much has changed since 2022?

I started to have an idea, because what I normally do as a playwright is, I always try and infuse personal lived experiences into my stories, and so because cancer had touched my life, like so many years of my 30’s was about just battling cancer, I’m like how do I do this? And so I started to write about it but I think I wasn’t ready to write about it yet, or maybe I needed to write about it from a different way and I didn’t know what that different way was. So I got really frustrated with myself in that time, 2017, trying to write different iterations of this, not knowing what it actually was, and then–I think the pieces came together, and last year, we had a public reading at New Eyes Festival.

What’s changed? I think we added four more songs. Four of five more songs. So many new iterations just between last year at New Eyes to now. I think there’s a little more depth for the characters. Each character has a little more depth. And I think…I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s another character that was not very present in the New Eyes Festival.

This is your first musical, and you had said in a recent article that during the pandemic you were studying musical theater. What shows/films did you see and study to gain more information and inspiration?

I saw my friend’s screening in 2017 (early in the process) and there were maybe two or three songs at the time, but who she was doing that with, was a theater company in St. Paul. That theater company really does new work and they really train playwrights and musicians on how to collaborate. How to make new musical theater work. So after seeing that show I was like “Oh shit!” I think this might be a good way for me to maybe approach this thing I’m trying to figure out. So that theater company (Nautilus Theater) has a program called the Composer Libretta Studio and literally is like a 2.5 week intensive musical theater training where he pays six playwrights, and six musicians, and six musical theater actors to come together, and we learn how to collaborate. Within the two and half weeks we write six songs. And so we have to setup the scene, what would happen, and so it really is a super crash course, and we have to write these songs in 48 hours. And turn it around, and perform it. So it really was the practice of how do you collaborate with each other? How do you not be so precious? When do you compromise? When do you not? So it’s really exercising that muscle. 

And then I watched a lot of musical theater movies. I think Hamilton also came out at that time on Disney. I had saw Hamilton when it was touring here, but the Disney version was like “Oh my God” up close and so I studied that, bought the soundtrack. I watched Sweeney Todd. I watched Waitress. I saw “The Band’s Visit”. 

Working with another person on the composition/songwriting–was it ever hard, or did you feel like you had to give up some of the story? I’m curious on that interaction and the collaboration

It really is a different art form. Even though it’s on the stage, it’s similar to a play with music, for me it really is a different art form. In grad school I had a professor say to me “If you can write musical theater you can write anything” and I was like “What do you mean? I don’t get it” but I think I understand what he means now. It really is teamwork and I think as a playwright you are sort of in charge of everything you write and you get to make all these decisions. I think with musical theater it’s more collaborative for sure. I think the thing with musical theater and I think working with Melissa too, you have to be very precise, right? And what would normally become really intense moments, would now become songs, and then it’s finding the balance.  

I’m also checking my ego, but then I’m really thinking about the work. What’s needed for the work. What is the story I’m trying to tell? If I’m trying to write as a musical theater piece, what’s the best way to do that?

It is a test of pride, collaboration, putting egos aside, really thinking about the project. It’s been a practice in all of that.

Why do you think this musical is important from a Southeast Asian American and Hmong perspective?

I think it’s important for representation. I think it’s important for Hmong folks to feel like “Oh, we can do this. These are our stories too.” I also feel like my personality is, I’m not very precious. I think certainly the work I do can be seen as poetry, but you know, I’m not very precious. Like in the musical there’s a song called “Are you fucking kidding me?” I wanted it to be representative of my true, raw feelings, emotions, because it started out as a play about cancer, and it still kind of is, but when you tackle something like that, it’s like who wants to come see a show about cancer, you know? It was important to me that it had levity, a lot of levity, and I think the component of music makes it a lot more accessible when you’re tackling an issue around cancer.

And also, why not a Southeast Asian American woman writing a cancer play? It’s like why not?

What was it like working with Nana Dakin?

She’s great. Nana, she has this really innate skill to hold a room and make actors feel very welcome and vulnerable, and I think they’re vulnerable on their own account because she’s created such a safe space. I think for me, in a rehearsal room, that is the most important especially when you’re working with newer actors. 

What was it like working with a Melody Her who was very new, to someone like Pagnia Xiong, who’s an internationally known singer?

I think it was exciting for me just to have all these people in the room. I feel like my background is most closest to Melody’s, because we both grew up in the Hmong Church circuit, and a lot of times within that circuit you get exposed to praise and worship, which is music, band, and so you get this chance to lead in singing, and I think for her, she’s been doing that for a long time, but the context of what she’s doing now is different. The fact that those skills can actually transfer to a different industry, I think is something different.

And with Pagnia, she’s like an internationally known vocalist, so she writes her own music, she sings it, but the thing for Pagnia is she’s not an actor. It’s different when you’re emoting a song you wrote, versus singing a song someone else wrote and thinking about what is the context of the scene, and all these other acting things come in to play. I’d like to think they’re all getting a crash course in musical theater, and getting paid to do it.  

From a technical perspective, how did you collaborate with Melissa Li? Did you do it over phone and video? Did she send you mp4 files?

We did a lot of Zooms. I think the very first time, Theatre Mu was like “Do you know any composers?” I said I didn’t so they kind of set me up on what I call “dates” all through Zoom [and that’s how she met Melissa and they decided to work together].

We did have one retreat where I went to D.C. where she was at, during the pandemic. Mu rented out an Air BnB for us for about two weeks and we just got together and ate, pushed around ideas, outlined, talked about ideas. It was really collaborating.

You’re a McKnight Fellow Playwright (MN), Playwright and Theater Artist for Civic Ensemble (Ithaca NY), Playwright at Theater Mu–how do you balance them all?

I wish I could be more organized. I think working with Melissa has helped a lot because she’s so organized. I’m very much, I would say, I’m a Leo. I’m the youngest of seven children, so I’m pretty much all over the place. So I would say I try to really organize my time now because it’s like you’re freelancing.

At some point you just get used to it. But I would say deadlines help a ton. I’m definitely a deadline person. I tend to start off slow and then I sort of sprint to the finish line.

Balance continues to be a practice.

You were also a member of the East/West Players from 2021/2022 and East West players has had a storied history and now with Everything Everywhere All At Once–with James Hong getting his first Oscar and finally getting his star on the walk of fame–can you speak to the importance of groups headed by Asian Americans and giving venues for creating our own stories?

I think there’s just a level of understanding that you don’t have to explain. And that is the best thing. Because I’ve spent all my life doing that growing up in a White school system. And it’s like sometimes you get into a room you start doing that and they’re like “Oh you don’t need to do that, we know.” And you’re like okay, great, it kind of minimizes all the historic-splaining, all the cultural translation. Because sometimes when you go into White institutions, and if they’re the ones who are guiding you, it tends to stop at the history part. But that’s not the story I want to tell. But when you do go into cultural organizations like Mu, or East/West, it’s like “Great. We get it. Tell the story you want to tell now”, with a staff that understand the context. It’s been so great.

What’s the future for “Again” after the run at Mixed Blood Theatre? And maybe in general for those that don’t know, what is the typical run for a show like this–will it play in other venues?

I think it happens in so many different ways. I think because I’m a McKNight Fellow, and it really depends on your connections too, the folks at the Playwright Center will be calling in folks to come see the show, like potential producers. And then also what they’ll do, because I’m not represented, I don’t have an agent, they’ll start sending it to other theater companies. To see if they want to pick it up as well.

And I think Lily (Lily Tung Crystal, the artistic director of Theater Mu) has also been doing that work as well. Calling in some potential artistic directors with some different theater companies to come and see the show, or she’ll extend out the script.

It does take a team.

What would you like people to take away from the production?

I hope they find something that resonates with them. I hope they reach out to their loved ones. I hope it inspires them to call someone they love.

What advice would you give to people and specifically BIPOC and Asian Americans who want to get into theater, and who may not know where to start? Should they get an agent?

I think the agent thing should not happen until later. Agents will not look at you until you actually have a body of work. I’ve been in it so long, and I’m just starting to have those conversations.

I think anybody who wants to get into it. Just do it because you love it and just focus on the storytelling. That’s what’s going to get you to a different level I think.

You have a lot of projects going on in a number of different places. How would you categorize the local to national community?

I do feel like the Twin Cities is very special. In the way that I feel like it might be the only place where you can make a living as a theater artist, and not hold any another job. Because it’s so robust here. Minnesota has the highest theater seats next to New York, so I think that making a living, it makes it more viable here. I also feel like there’s just a different way of mobilizing the arts in Minnesota, the way that we do it in the Twin Cities. I think it happens in other places, but it’s very connected here. Everyone’s very connected here.

I also want to say, because I’ve been here for twenty plus years, I have friends, playwright friends who have been here, through the Playwrights’ Center, and they have not had the same experience. They often tell me it feels very insular. It’s hard for them to break in. So I will also say that. 

What projects do you have planned in the future?

The project I’m working on with Civic Ensemble in Ithaca NY is a play called Fertile Grounds, and that has a world premiere in June. It was really based out of holding story circles within the Ithaca community, which is a rural area, and they wanted it to be around BIPOC healing. So for the past two and half years, I’ve been going to Ithaca and I had two residencies up there where for a week, two weeks, I sat and listened to community story circles. Out of that we crafted a piece for their ensemble, which is based on grieving, and really about this farm, and co-op farm, and how one of their members is grieving the loss of another member and really, I think centers on how do we help someone grieve while we’re also grieving ourselves. 

5 Films/TV shows you like: Everything, Everywhere All At Once. The OA (I know it’s controversial. People either love it or they hate it). Juno. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Bajirao Mastani (They’re so many problematic things with it, as far as political, but the beauty of this film is like “Ahhh”).


AGAIN
book and additional lyrics by
KATIE KA VANG

music and lyrics by MELISSA LI
directed by NANA DAKIN

Mar 31 – Apr 16, 2023 (previews Mar 29 & 20)
Mixed Blood Theatre
Wednesday-Saturday evening shows at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets for Again can be purchased at https://www.theatermu.org/again.

Special performances include:
ASL interpretation (Apr 1)
Audio described (Apr 16)
Captioned performances (Saturday evenings on Apr 1, 8, & 15)
Masks-required performances (Sundays on Apr 2, 9, & 16)
Thursday actor talkbacks (Apr 6 & 13)
AAPI Affinity Night with pre-show reception (Apr 14)—email [email protected] for more information and tickets\

(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the characters played by Melody Her and Dexieng “Dae” Yang. We regret the error)

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