NYC, Hipsters and Background Actors

September 11th, 2013

I’m leaving the country in ten days for Africa.  I have nothing packed and I keep eating the Clif Bars I am supposed to bring over there.  I am doing 2.5 days in Turkey before I get to Uganda.  I have two grants, an essay, a shitload of work to do before I go!  I hope I can pull this off.  It will be a five week trip!

I am flying to NYC on Friday because I am going to be on “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” on FXX next week Monday!  That’s right!  All that railing about the Asian Fetish dudes got me a TV gig!

If you are in NYC, you can get tickets to see it live!

Two sketches I wrote and had planned to shoot and launch in July are finally up this week in September! One is going viral!

Sketch #1:  INSIDE THE BACKGROUND ACTOR’s STUDIO

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Sketch #2:  HIPSTER IS THE WHITE MAN’s N-WORD

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I am very proud of my work.  Video is not an easy process, and most of the magic is in pre-production and post-production.  The shoot is the easiest part if you’ve planned right.  If you don’t like what I made, suck it and try to do it better.

Time to go to bed.

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Category: Blog

I Prepare for a Month in Uganda!

August 15th, 2013

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This will be my home and the organization I work with for 3 weeks in October!

I booked my flight to Uganda and will be there in ALL OF OCTOBER researching a new show on the economy!

Who I’m going to be working with

I’m working with a fantastic NGO out there called the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund.  They put on a theater festival for local women in Gulu (a town of about 154K people in Northern Uganda). WGEF only give microloans to women and teach them  business skills, so that they can become more financially independent and self-determine their lives. They also produce a theater festival in early October that I am helping them put on.  The women write the plays and perform the roles of men.  The festival becomes a great source of education and empowerment for the audience and the women performing.

Uganda was in a horrible civil war and now is in recovery mode and rebuilding their economy.  They undoubtedly experienced a great deal of trauma, but there is also the desire to move forward. Apparently, there are a lot of Aid workers and volunteers in Gulu.

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I am inspired by video interviews with Gulu women like Grace (above) who participated in the theater festival.

Required Reading

I really appreciated that Karen, the Executive Director of WGEF has been talking to me one-on-one by Skype in preparation for this trip.  She told me within the first ten minutes of meeting by phone that I was required to read “The Challenge For Africa” by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai.  She insisted I read books about the African economy not written by white theorists, but instead from someone living in Africa.  I am also reading a book called “Poor Economics” by Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee and Esther Duflo.

On the flip side, I’ve also been doing non-required watching of reality tv to see images of the where I’ll be going.  I’ve gone through episodes of “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods” (worst, most racist name for a travel TV show ever, btw) to get an idea of what I’m in store for.  It’s very difficult for any US city to boast the culinary variety of Los Angeles, so I’m already gorging myself locally on food that I won’t have access to for my month in Africa (Asian food and anything with cheese).  I’m excited to try Matooke (the plaintain staple food) and taste the organically grown produce (many of which are sold by the clients of WGEF).

I’m Going to Say Something Unpopular:  Missionaries Freak Me Out

I have been watching whatever videos I could find about Gulu on Youtube. And I found one really disturbing video from a white Christian missionary who did work there.  I’m not knocking my Christian friends and what good has come in their faith, but I must ask… what “service” is it that Christian Missionaries in Africa provide? Because all I witnessed them do from this video is them talking about the local people in problematic god-complex colonizing ways.  For example:  “I see myself as a mother figure, and I want to love on these kids so much.  Their lives are so hard and I am here to give them the love they aren’t getting.”

Ugh, it just further proliferates the image of African people as dependent, starving and helpless and in need of religious solutions like Jesus instead of education, vaccines and clean water.

I much prefer the work I’ll be doing in economic development that does not see the local people as “pitiable” or “suffering.”  I do not believe I am there to “save” anybody.  I prefer to offer my time to aid the empowerment, self-reliance, and self-determination of people who are consistently given charity over the tools to succeed.  I want to work for an organization that encourages equity between men and women. And I believe that all marginalized people will be liberated when given the tools to lead themselves towards their own liberation.

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How I Decided to go to Uganda

A few months ago, I had no idea where in Africa I was going to go.  I only knew “I’m going to Africa to research a show!”  And believe me, I knew how dumb this sounded.  Like when people from other countries find out that I live in Los Angeles, and ask if I know their friend “so-and-so who lives in Texas.”

Africa is made up of 54 vastly different countries.  It’s 3 times the land mass of the United States.  And unlike what most of America believes from the news– not African politicians are corrupt.  There is a middle class.  There are not animals roaming freely.  Not everyone is starving.  You don’t get kidnapped or contract HIV just walking around.

I was introduced to WGEF through a play called “Cooking Oil” that was produced with actors from Uganda and Rwanda, and presented in Los Angeles a few months ago.  I was asked to be on the panel after as a community based artist. Just meeting Ugandan people working as full time actors in their country, seeing how their economic issues explored through that play, was myth-busting alone.

Working independently of a university, it was tricky to figure out “the best way into Africa.”  I kept staring at a map and reading up trying to figure out how to go in.   I started to treat different people to dinner from the Cooking Oil production and  explain what I wanted to do.  “I want to better understand the global poverty and the global economy by doing research in Africa.”  A few introductions later, I met WGEF and was booking a flight to Uganda.

 

 So far, this has been a great and educational challenge

Nothing will get you reading about the politics, conditions, and economy of the other side of the world like the prospect of having to live there.

When I told my mother about this trip, I thought I needed to clean out my ears because she said something I never thought I’d hear from her:  “I am so proud of you.”

What?! Is this the same woman who told me during the middle of my Southeast Asia trip to cut my trip short and come home?

I am really nervous about this trip.  The instability of the region (as compared to the US) does worry me. At this stage in my life, I have no choice but to take risks.  Creatively and as a human being.   I don’t really have much holding me back (just money… but isn’t it always money?).  No kids.  No spouse.  No desk job.  A few years ago when I was climbing the ruins of Angkor Wat and barely catching my breath getting my legs up the steep steps, I realized, I was not going to wait to see the world when I hit retirement age, but I was going to ENGAGE the world now, while I still have my health.

After being a self-help reading junkie for many years, I realized, I needed to just stop wishing my life would be more creative, ambitious and adventurous, and just start stepping in that direction.  If you’ve read my blog the last few years, you may know how much I would complain that arts administration sucks all the joy of making the art.  I complained about how hard it was to tour the same show again and again.

So I let go of all the things that emotionally tied me down. Even the theater shows I once loved so much.  It’s incredibly freeing and has given me a lot of perspective on how lucky I have been to have this life.

$$  So far this has been a very expensive challenge $$

No, I’m not a trust fund kid and while I’m a self-supporting artist who is decently good at money, I was not prepared for how expensive it would be to go to a very poor country.  Because things like cars or western style hotel accommodations are so difficult to find, they are also very expensive.

Here’s a peak at the expenses so far…

*$380 Vaccinations
*$2000 Accommodations, Volunteer fee (most NGOs in Africa will charge them), and ground transport to Gulu for 3 weeks
*Flight would have been $1300 but a friend helped me figure out how to do a combo of buying Airline miles, and then using my credit card miles to cover most of that expense. So flight was more like $400.
*5 weeks of no income in the US.

I have yet to account for things like the costs of living for 2 more weeks in Africa, layover stays, lunch and dinner, stuff I have to pack to survive, and tourist things.

I was fortunate to receive a small playwright commission and some very generous donations last year towards this journey.  I’ve also been saving for this trip.  But I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do with my time and money than something so far from what I’ve known.

Bonus!  I’m going to Istanbul!

It’s a 25+ hour journey in each direction.  Three flights to get over there.  And on the way over I will stop 2.5 days in Istanbul!  It’s so exciting because I never thought I’d get to see Turkey out of this!  I had the option of stopping in Ethiopia, Cairo, London, or New York City on the way back.  I really wanted to stop in Cairo, and thought I could skirt around the multiple travel advisories that said to not go there… and after conferring with people who do live there… guess the pyramids will have to wait.   I’ve heard mixed things about traveling alone in Ethiopia, so I think I will get this initial Uganda trip down and grow braver to see other parts of Africa in the future.  I decided, I probably would be too exhausted (and mostly, too broke) to make any more stopover trips after this big one.

And then… this could happen

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Birds do it. Bees do it.  Gorillas in Rwanda also do it.  Still debating whether or not to do “Gorilla Trekking” in Uganda as it’s expensive as all hell.

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Category: Blog

LEVY TRAN SPEAKS! ASIAN FETISH DUDES! VIRAL MADNESS!

August 3rd, 2013

Nunchucks from my “Ninja pussy”– see videos below for more info.

It’s been a busy few weeks in the life of Kristina Wong going off on white men.  It’s like my career from my BigBadChineseMama.com days has been reincarnated.

I find humor on the Asian Fetish old hat but people are still eating it up.  How far we’ve not come.

My Essay “10 Wack Things White Guys Say to Deny Their Asian Fetish” went viral and is currently the 2nd most talked about essay on xoJane.  The firestorm of reactions prompted me to write a follow-up essay to that one: “10 More Wack Things People Say When You Write an Essay About Wack Things White Guys Say to Deny Their Asian Fetish.”

If you’ve been living away from YouTube for a while, you may have missed the “Most Racist Music Video in History” controversy.  A yuck hipster band called “Day Above Ground” thought that “Satire” meant “Blatant Racism.”

I was cooking eggplant and felt taken by the muse and proceeded to spend the next 36 hours putting together a response video (I’m not the fastest video editor).  HELP ME GO VIRAL!

I play LEVY TRAN, the import model featured in the Asian Girlz Music video.

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And I ended up making this awesome BONUS VIDEO where LEVY explains the meaning of her Tattoos…

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Anyway, here are the original lyrics to that song if you want a little taste of horror….

Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, You’re my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
Yes, my Asian girl, You’re my Asian girl

I love your sticky rice
Butt fucking all night
Korean barbecue
Bitch I love you
I love your creamy yellow thighs
Ooh you’re slanted eyes
It’s the Year of the Dragon
Ninja pussy I’m stabbin’

Asian girl, You’re’s my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
Yes, my Asian girl, You’re my Asian girl

Superstitious feng shui shit (what)
Now lay your hair by the toilet
I’ve got your green tea boba
So put your head on my shoulder
Your momma’s so pretty
Best nails in the city
Pushing your daddy’s Mercedes

Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, You’re my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
Yes, my Asian girl, You’re my asian girl

New Year’s in February (February?)
That’s fine with me (I guess)
Yeah, shark soup (What? Fuck it, we’ll eat it)
Oh, tradition, tradition, tradition, yeah yeah
Baby, you’re my Asian girl
You’re legally (best kind)
So baby marry me
Come on sit on my lap (right here baby)
Or we’ll send you back
And you age so well
I can barely tell
17 or 23?
Baby doesn’t matter to me

Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, You’re my Asian girl
You’re my Asian girl, She’s my Asian girl
Yes, my Asian girl, You’re my asian girl

Arcadia
J-Town
Alhambra
K-Town
Temple City
Don’t forget Chinatown
Get down
Happy endings all over
Bruce Lee
Toyota
Spicy tuny
Sashimi
Tasty Garden
Fried Lice
Sailor Moon
Wonton soup
Spring roll
Tibet
Foot rub rub a down down down
Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra
Tofu
All over you all over me

(Google it if you want.  The band says they will take the video down by midnight tonight, but I’m sure plenty of Youtubers have mirrored the video.)

 

 

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Category: Blog

Thank you George Zimmerman and the American Judicial System…

July 16th, 2013

Ruben Funkahautl Guevara

To George Zimmerman and the American Judicial System:

THANK YOU for reminding me why I became a community based artist.

Here I was last week, hemming and hawing, thinking that “social justice” issues were passe, that the world was sick of hearing about race, and especially, art about race.   Here I was, trying to figure out what art I could make next in a world that “had moved beyond race.”

Here I was trying to shake off the backlash of 80s multiculturalism.  You are probably familiar with the sound of that backlash.  It often comes in the form of comments from whites and non-whites.  It sounds like….

“You only get work/grants because you are a minority woman.”
“Of course you work a lot, they need you for their diversity numbers.”
“Can you make shows that are ‘more Asian’?”
“Can you make shows that are ‘less Asian’?”
“Do people really need diversity education anymore?  I mean, if you look at TV, it’s pretty diverse.”
“You basically get paid be yourself, right?  That’s not work.”

Here I was, internalizing the hatred and jealousy from other people who don’t understand that working as an artist is more than the fun they see onstage.  Here I was denying myself the privilege of acknowledging that what my work really does is  teach what classrooms can’t, free others to write their lives and histories into existence, bring together communities, and initiate dialogue about the social issues nobody knows how to talk about.

I have worked very hard to do what I do– living in constant financial peril, with no job security, in constant public scrutiny, being the black sheep of my family.

I have come so close to giving up so many times this month alone.

Here I was, contemplating what kind of profitable non-confrontational “mainstream” work I could make (essentially, work that didn’t make white people feel threatened).

Here I was, trying to figure out the next Grumpy Cat.  The next great viral video about nothing.

All these jaded thoughts and then….  you come along, deliver this “verdict” and give me the ugliest of reminders that racism is still alive and well.

Racism never left.  It’s just hidden itself better than ever.  Racism is not people wearing KKK hoods.  Racism is not segregated bathrooms.  Racism is institutionalized.  It’s in our textbooks.  It’s in police response time. It’s in our healthcare system.  It’s in the quality of inner city public schools.  It’s in our environmental policy.

Racism is internalized in everyone.  We are all racist.  We have learned that “racism” is a word so dirty, we have to hide its most visible markers.  Racism scares us that much we can’t even talk about it.

And the hiding of what scares us the most is what has made us a sick, sick country.

In the most awful, heartbreaking way possible, you have encouraged me to re-evaluate those small drops of impact of my work on the world.  You have reminded me of the shared struggle between all marginalized people.

You have reminded me that the biggest purveyor of racism is the denial that it still exists.

You’ve lit a fire under my ass to work harder.  You reminded me that the playing field is not equal but we legislate as if it is.  There are so many silenced people every day in this world who’ve only known a racist system and all they know to do is to live within it.

Thank you for giving me and so many Americans the diagnosis of just how sick we’ve become.

Those of us who want to get better.  We will speak up.  We will stand up for each other.  We will dialogue about what’s difficult.

We will not go quietly.

Sincerely,

Kristina Wong

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Category: Blog

“What’s Weighing On You?”: On Gaining 6.2 Lbs in 10 Minutes

July 4th, 2013

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Two nights ago, I got a long festering performance art itch out of my system and gained 6.2 lbs in 10 minutes in front of a live audience. Above is a video of the performance taken from an IPhone.  It’s shaky and doesn’t capture how totally difficult this was on my body or how tense the audience was.  I wish you were there live because I will never do this again.

Initial inspiration for this piece:  At the Ethiopian Market two years ago, I saw this giant tub of shea butter and thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to rub in that whole tub of butter at once and then weigh myself after?”  I’ve been obsessed with the idea of gaining weight in front of an audience ever since.  I don’t know why.  Was it just the act of watching accumulation?  Was it because my mother told me I was getting fat last year?  Was it the curiosity of how much weight we took on daily from little things like lotion, make-up, a breath of air?

What the hell was onstage weight gain a metaphor for?  I was going to find out.

I don’t know what the point was, I just knew I was really interested in pursuing this idea and figuring out what it all meant in the process.  Everything in my career has been me pursuing these bad ideas and learning new things in the process.

It was a true performance art experiment.  Was this stupid premise going to be possible?  Did it mean anything? Would I die?  I decided that before the performance, I’d ask the audience to write about the “weights” in their life on the slips of paper that Rich handed out.  This would be a thematic parallel to the action.  My performance collaborator Rich Yap was so great in helping me collect these little slips of paper and read them at an even pace.

I spent most of the day leading up to the show terrified that I might die from this. There is no good information about rapid water consumption.  In fact, there are quite a few stories about people dying.  And there was a lot of concern from Facebook friends that I was going to hurt myself.    I came up with a “safe word” with the show producer (“Traci Help Me.”) in case I really was sick and everyone might think I was still performing.

So my strategy for rapid weight gain was:
32 oz of Gatorade (for electrolytes and sodium)
Some water
Lentils (because they are so dense and cheap to cook)
More water
Body lotion
More water

DO NOT TRY DOING WHAT I DID.  I didn’t throw up but I did feel sick the minutes after and was dry heaving.  But then I was ok and ate a full dinner an hour later!  I am not back at 143lbs though.  Still holding that water weight!

Things NEVER to say to me after a performance when I am doubled over on the staircase trying to recovery from a performance that could have killed me:

“I thought I was going to see you do your comedy.” (Actual Audience reaction)

Oh, I’m sorry. Was challenging the limits of my body and doing something you will probably never see anybody ever try again in your lifetime not interesting enough for you?  Did you want to see me tell jokes about my mother’s accent like every other Asian American stand-up?  You want me to talk about dating? Or the original comedy topic of sex?   Guess what fool!  This sick experiment IS my comedy!!!!  LAUGH IT UP!

I am tired of what I feel to be the complete inability of most audiences to experience art without explanation.
As I was telling people about this weight gain performance I was going to do, I was consistently met with “What does it mean?  How?”  People were intrigued by the premise but it was like they needed me to explain to them how it would happen and what it meant in one clear sentence. And then there were other people who would challenge me that I was going to die.  The same thing happened when I showed up at the LINSANITY premiere dressed as Jeremy Lin’s bride.  People couldn’t deal with it and kept asking me, “is this real?” and “Why?”  It’s like the only way they could deal with me is if I said, “I’m an actor. This is a performance.”  I kind of love that it was driving them crazy that I wouldn’t create that line for them.

I always think the magic of performance art is watching the execution of crazy ideas and wrestling with the discomfort of what you are seeing.   And most importantly, trying to find your own meaning in the work, rather than be delivered a didactic agenda of what to think about what you saw.  (Even though asking, “What’s Weighing On You?” hit the thematic point way over the head.)

 

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Category: Blog

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