Idea for a new t-shirt: “I Survived API Heritage Month”
May 13th, 2009 → 1 Comment
My set gets filthier by the city.
Congratulate me. I have survived yet another Asian Pacific Islander Nervous Breakdown Month. (Technically, it is in May, but schools get out in May, so it if often pushed to April). Yes! The month in which my heritage is “celebrated” with Kristina Wong’s arrival to various campuses also coincides with when schools finally get it together to spend what funds they procrastinated on spending earlier in the year.
It’s been slow for all my artist friends, so I was very very grateful for April this year. And yet, I wasn’t actually being programmed as part of API Heritage Month, I was just being programmed.
I returned to Los Angeles last week, but I have yet to unpack. My apartment looks ransacked and I have yet to get back on schedule. Yep, welcome back to your normal life of chaos Kristina.
Three cities in three and a half weeks. Chicago, New York City, and Minneapolis.
I learned a lot during my travels this month. These lessons in short:
1. I will never fly to Minneapolis from New York City on ATA again (they stop in Atlanta which turns a two hour flight into a six hour flight) and they have all of two inches between rows. When I finally got to Minneapolis, I passed out in the hotel, woke up not knowing what time it was, my phone rang, and I started crying like a startled baby because I was so disoriented.
2. I am happiest when I am working (and being renumerated), making art, and helping others make their art. I get sad when these three things are not in place in my life. So all I want in my life is a constant influx of these three things, and I will be happy.
3. I still got it. And I always will got it. And I can never forget that I got it.
Chicago was the first city of this April whoring stint. I woke up the second night that I arrived and didn’t know where I was.
It happens so often from all the travel that I don’t panic anymore. This time when it happened, I pulled the sheets closer to me as my brain calculated:
“Ok, Kristina. You’re not at home. Are you in Los Angeles? No. You aren’t in Los Angeles because this isn’t your apartment. And there’s nobody next to you, is there? Nope, so you didn’t get lucky last night which definitely means you aren’t in Los Angeles. Ok, you are definitely in some city in America. Well, this isn’t a hotel room. It’s too small. It’s a dorm. Oh, that’s right, you are in Chicago. You are in Chicago at the University of Chicago where you are an artist-in-residence!”
The University of Chicago didn’t have any theater spaces available on campus to present the show. The only option was the non-denominational Rockerfeller Chapel on campus. (But really, can a cathedral architected in the shape of a cross actually be considered “non-denominational”?). So yes, I did the show in a church that was completely unedited. Talk about a one-way ticket to hell.
It was definitely not the easiest space to work in. It was a nightmare focusing lights during the day because we couldn’t get the sun to turn off long enough to see where our lights were focused. We had to run all the sound cues off a dying boombox with a lavelier propped next to it.
After I did a two minute orgasm in the first 20 minutes of the show, one guy walked out. I can only imagine he headed straight to the confessional to tell of what sin he witnessed.
Still, I would say it went well enough. I was surprised journalist Paula Kamen who was a college friend of Iris Chang showed up on her own to my show. She wrote a book looking at Iris’ death, and gave me a signed copy. I’d read about her book and totally knew who she was once she introduced herself.
I spent the rest of my trip reading the book and finally finished it when I came back to Los Angeles. This trip was rough at points, but when I read the first chapter and was brought back to the details of Iris’ life and tragic death, I cried and oddly, felt grounded again. It’s easy to forget that the reason people in cities all over the country come to my show. Because the topic intrigues them, and because beyond all of my theatrics, this show came from a real place.
On the Saturday morning, hours after my show, I woke up at 3:30am to catch a 6am flight to New York City (Thank you says my body). When I arrived, I had a few hours to prepare for hosting the showcase at the Asian American Student Conference at NYU. I was at my friend Jessica’s place in Brooklyn peeling through what odds and ends of costumes I had brought. Because of these new airline baggage limits, I could only bring odds and ends of various costumes and actually didn’t have complete concepts for characters down.
When I got to NYU, the students asked me to host their quiz bowl. That had to be the strangest, funniest, off-the-cuff performance in the world. It was a five teams of three kids each using those press-on lights from the dollar store as their low tech game show buzzers, and I was calling out questions like it was World Wide Wrestling.
Imagine me bellowing into a mic while standing on a chair: “And the correct answer for ‘who was the author or Orientalism’… Edward SAID!!!!!! You answered WRRRRRROOOOONNNNGGGG!!!!!”
The kids got so into it. Even from the audience they were jumping up and down in their seats whispering excitedly what the right answers were to themselves. And I really credit my own earnest overdramatic hosting of the event for how well it all went over.
Because I didn’t actually pack full costumes to the show, I had to improvise with what I brought. So I created a new character named “Kristina Kamikaze, Tila Tequila’s taller and also bisexual sister.” I wore my pajamas, used safety pins to give it shape, and shoved a tote bag in my butt. It was fun and a hit.
Then 48 hours later, I was off to Minneapolis to do a two and a half week residency at Pangea World Theater. Can I stress AGAIN how I will never fly ATA, or at least try to save a few bucks by doing the flight that stops in ATLANTA?!
Some of my favorite friends in Minneapolis include Nadine and her husband Michael. Nadine I met completely by accident. She sent me some books off of my Amazon wishlist, along with a nice note, and I gave her a call to thank her. As it turns out we were linked by arts groups and were only separated by a couple of degrees by other artists we knew.
When I was in Minneapolis last June at the Asian American Theater Conference, Nadine and Michael took me and my friend Sam to the Mall of America. They told us about their extensive collection of board games. They have thousands of board games including weird ones like the “Spiro T. Agnew American History Challenge Game.” I never thought about the phenomenom of board games until I saw their extensive collection in their basement. Board games to point to our American obsessions of “winning” and sometimes reveal specific moments of history and even problematic conceptions of race. See below…
And here’s another gem from their collection. No, you don’t need to be Chinese to play Chop Suey. But it’s ok if you are a douche wearing a child’s cop hat.
One day when I become a middle aged married white couple living in a nice modest house in the Midwest, I too will find something to obsessively hoard. Oh wait, I am just looking at my yarn collection in the corner of my office. Well, I guess I have found something to hoard. I’m getting over yarn. It’s been almost a year since I’ve really knit or crocheted anything. I guess it really was a biproduct of my obsessing over making my show. And the sad thing is that much of this collection, I have already hidden up at my parents’ house in San Francisco.
They put us up in these hotel apartments in Downtown Minneapolis. And we finally checked out what they call the big shameful eyesore of Downtown– a three story building called “Sex World” which boasts the title of largest sex store in the Midwest. Yes, there is a 12 foot gold penis you can ride. No, I won’t post pictures of me with it.
The run in Minneapolis was wildly successful. Standing ovations every night. Post show discussions that were intelligent and sensitive. A few people who came up to me and told me that the show changed their life. It was so gratifying and humbling.
When people asked what my impressions were of Minneapolis, I could only say the same thing over and over again: “This town really has surprised me.”
If you don’t know, Minneapolis has some of the greatest per capita spending on the arts. So a lot of amazing artists flock there and the audiences are pretty cultured. I visited my friends who live in an artists loft. And surprisingly, it’s actually artist friendly. It’s not like in Los Angeles where “artist loft” really means, “Overpriced dump downtown that no artist can actually afford.” My friends, Katie and Katie pay about $1100 total for this totally fancy artist loft with access to rehearsal space, kilns, community rooms and a rooftop garden.
Folks were trying to convince me to move out there for a couple years so I could apply for the Bush and McKnight grants. I told them I need to prepare myself for the Minnesota winter first.
When I went for a look at the Best Yarn Store in Minneapolis (above), I not only found a creepy Asian mannequin but the ladies there were like, “Oh hey! Are you the one doing that show this weekend?”
I was all flattered that they recognized me just from the postcard, and then realized that I had my name on a sticker on my dress.
The biggest highlight of my trip was looking out into the audience the last night and seeing one of the Asian students from the high school matinee (the high school audience was so saavy!) had returned to see the show again! And brought five friends with her, also Asian. That was definitely one of those moments where I saw myself in high school and realized that beyond all the bullshit of being “post meta post meta” in grant applications… that there was a reason I came to doing this work. That it has importance, that I am good at it, that people connect to what I’m doing and their lives are changed for the better because of it.
I’m feeling much better as an artist. I feel inspired. And it was nice to have a few weeks to not have to panic about the economy. Sure, when I came back home there was a rejection letter waiting for me for a 10K grant I’ve gotten the last four years (due to City budget cuts, not a lack of merit thank you very much). I was reminded this last tour that I’m really good at what I do. That people’s lives can be made better by what I have made from nothing. And nobody can take that pride from me (but they can unfortunately, yank my money from me.)
I’m not a trust fund baby. I don’t get handouts from my parents (I don’t condemn those who do, more power to you!). I built this life from scratch on willpower and a dream. When those audiences filled with strangers who stood and applauded show after show, I knew and could accept finally, that I’ve been doing something so right to keep on dreaming.
I am proud of myself.
Category: road wong