With Kyoung Park of Kyoung's Pacific Beat
Yura Sapi: Around the time I moved from Bogotá to Nuquí, which has been an extremely important shift for me, moving from a predominantly white city to a predominantly Black and Indigenous small town between the ocean, the river, and the jungle… Around the time I moved, the great Colombian uprising tracked on social media as #SOSColombia and #PARANACIONAL began. It’s now been three months in a national strike, daily protests all over the country to make a change after decades of government corruption and extreme poverty, especially in these Afro and Afro-Indigenous regions, only to be met with extreme police brutality. There’s already food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, education, and job opportunities. Please see the latest Advancing Arts Forward newsletter for more details on what’s going on and what you can do to support the bigger picture.
I’m especially feeling the connection to the energy of transformation, big and small, for globally Indigenous peoples around the world, and so in my efforts to think global and act local in my local area in Nuquí, we are experiencing a lack of access to food and all kinds of materials—and where you can find them, the prices have skyrocketed. Partnering with different individuals and groups here and beyond, we have provided free groceries and healthy, plant-based meals from local farmers with Mesa Justa Nuquí, and our next initiative we’ll be looking towards longer-term sustainability by creating a community garden, la Huerta Comunitaria, to provide space for the remembering of ancestral medicine and food-plant cultivation knowledge, and support food security to individuals and families here, offering free, healthy, plant-based foods grown here.
We plan to host workshops with elders and young people to encourage the transfer of this plant wisdom that has been especially difficult in recent generations to continue living and surviving through capitalism and colonization, which is much of what the national strike is fighting to change. It’s all connected. I would be so grateful for your support in sharing or donating to our campaign via GoFundMe at gofundme.com/f/protectoresdelatierra. We’re raising funds to clear the land and create physical structures to start inviting and planting seeds with the community. We’ve already raised over 50 percent of our goal, and we’re posting updates on the process on our GoFundMe and on Instagram.
Yura Sapi: Imanalla mashikuna. Imanallatak kanki. Hello, friends. How are you? Welcome to another episode of the Building Our Own Tables podcast, season two. I’m your host, Yura Sapi, recording from Emberá Native lands on the Afro-Indigenous coast of Colombia in Nuquí, Chocó, and the Gulf of Tribugá. The Building Our Own Tables podcast is produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide, and by Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion, and justice through the arts by creating liberated spaces that uplift, heal, and encourage us to change the world. I’m interviewing Black, Native, Asian, and other founders of color to find transformative solutions and ways of working together that are not replicating the same white supremacy culture we wanted to get away from.
With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from Black, Native, Asian, and other people of the global majority who have created arts organizations, movements, initiatives, practices, and beyond that are changing the game, making new things happen within, and building their own tables instead of focusing on getting a seat at existing white and Eurocentric ones. We’ll be learning from incredible arts-organizing visionaries on their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they’ve overcome.
In today’s episode I’m interviewing Kyoung H. Park of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat. Kyoung’s Pacific Beat [KPB] is a peacemaking theatre collective dedicated to working with artists, non-artists, and local communities to transform experiences of oppression into peace messages through public performance. KPB devises work with an interdisciplinary and multicultural ensemble of artists—“Mondragons”—to uplift communities of color to create a culture of peace through nonviolent practices that provide social cohesion, spiritual healing, and radical knowledge.
Since its founding in 2011, KPB has produced three full-length plays, disOriented, Tala, and Pillowtalk, and created over thirty-five community-based experimental projects, including performances for new media. KPB’s work centers stories of immigration, queerness, identity, and the ways these intersect in communities of color. It’s described as “intensely personal” by American Theatre Magazine and “very much of this moment” by the New York Times.
Kyoung H. Park was born in Santiago, Chile, and is the first Korean playwright from Latin America to be produced and published in the United States. The dramaturgical question behind his work is: Why make theatre in times of war? As artistic director of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, he writes and directs devised theatre by collaborating with artists, non-artists, and local communities to co-create a culture of peace.
Welcome, Kyoung, to the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I’d love to start off by having you introduce yourself a bit more, so please tell us more about who you are.
Kyoung H. Park: Sure. Thank you for having me, Yura. My name is Kyoung Park, and I am founding artistic director of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat. We are a peacemaking theatre collective dedicated to working with artists, non-artists, and local communities to transform our experiences of oppression into peace messages through public performance, and we are based in Flatbush, New York on ceded lands of Lenape and Canarsie Munsee.
Yura Sapi: Amazing. Can you tell us more about the origin story of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat? How it came about, what were your first steps?
Kyoung: Sure. So, Kyoung’s Pacific Beat began in 2011. It was founded at first as Pacific Beat Collective, and the mission and vision for our organization was to promote a culture of peace and non-violence through the performing arts. This came about after a few years of research into peace culture, which I sort of pursued as a master’s degree after I witnessed 9/11 and the war on terror here in the city. And before founding the company I went looking for experimental theatre models that were practicing these intersections of both politics and theatre in ways that could inform the way we made our work here in New York, and the biggest role model I’ve had since we originated the company was Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in Brazil, and our anti-oppression practice and lens is really heavily informed by the lifelong journey that Boal had as a theatremaker in his country, and then we translated some of those practices into a more downtown New York–based aesthetic to create more devised work in the city.
Yura Sapi: Wow, yeah, the peace and nonviolence aspect, I’m so curious to hear more about that and what that means for you and the organization. This is something that I’ve started to look more into when I went into this educative moment for myself, in, specifically, transformative and restorative justice last year when we were going through the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and the protests that were happening in the US and across the world. So, I started looking more into transformative, restorative justice, nonviolence specifically, thinking about how it’s connecting to our anti-racism work, our decolonization work, and what is it that we’re actually going to be implementing and doing instead of these oppressive systems. And yeah, also looking into my own work and thinking deeper and going beyond even the superficial.
An introduction to transformative justice:
“Transformative justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long-term healing and reparations while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities.” — From Generation Five in 2007
“It’s not about creating more harm and violence. Oppression is the root of all forms of harm.” — Mia Mingus.
“Restorative justice focuses on healing, harm, and preventing it from happening again, while transformative justice goes further to change the systematic conditions that caused the harm to take place. The harm can never be truly healed or restored if we don’t address the structures we live in. This is where harm reduction comes in.” — Learned from Erica Meiners.
So, yeah, I’d love to hear more about that. How does peace and nonviolence, transformative justice, translate into the art administrative side of the organization, working with others within your organization and the culture you’ve created?
Kyoung: Mhm, yeah. I’ll start with the big picture and then bring it down to the nuts and bolts. So, for me, the approach at the beginning was very theoretical. Some of the things that really informed my peace-oriented theatremaking are based on both the theories of Johan Galtung and then also how that applies to American history. Johan Galtung was the founder of peace studies, and peace studies is a very interdisciplinary research methodology, and the framework that he developed was that a lot of the violence that we experience, and I have experienced in my life, which includes war and political oppression and direct violence, is the tip of the iceberg of what violence is.
A lot of our conversations now about systemic racism are about the structural forms of violence that perpetuate direct violence in our society, and underneath all of those structural systems there’s the cultural systems that normalize violence as part of our everyday lives. So, when I thought about how I could make a difference as an artist, I realized that our work is at a cultural level, so what we had to tackle headfirst was really looking at: How does violence become perpetuated and normalized through our culture, and how can we create art and do cultural organizing that addresses that cultural violence and provides alternatives, meaning a culture of peace?
In our years of practice I’ve looked into how this practical, more theoretical approach can be applied more practically in the States, and being an immigrant and having to learn American history and understand the context in which we’re doing our work, the thing that has blown my mind is America was founded through violence, through a history of colonization, and from its inception it’s been a nation that’s been in a constant state of war. So, to imagine a culture of peace and to promote nonviolence, I think, is really to radically examine the history of America and American mythology, which is taught to us as history.
And then, also, through our work especially addressing anti-Blackness and systemic racism, to understand that a lot of the nonviolent discourse that we speak about really comes from the great legacies we’ve all benefited from, from the civil rights movement and the incredible organization that Black activists and communities have done for people of color in America. Standing on the shoulders of great thinkers and leaders in communities of color, I’ve been trying to adapt what I’ve learned and what we discuss as the issues affecting our communities today into our practice, and our work responds more directly to the issues we experience in the immediacy of who we are in this moment now.
So, in the beginning, we really examined the immigration system and the economic disparities and lack of inclusion that was affecting both the artists who were part of our company, and also the communities for which we’re making our theatre. Then we went through some pretty heavy anti-racist training and thinking as an organization to address both our white-adjacency and our complicity in white cultural systems, to think about how we could more radically create work that was by us and for us without white institutions, and in that pursuit of self-autonomy we created a collective that was kind of workers-owned so that we could practice collective decision-making.
We chose to develop our work through long periods of time so that we could truly engage with our community and cultural partnerships and dialogue to really shape our work to make sure that we were representing and reflecting the stories we were hearing in our communities on stage. As the organization keeps growing, our organizational development has been greatly informed by the feedback we get from our community. Our previous show, Pillowtalk, which premiered in 2018, was our third show and our most successful show, and the thing that we were told when we went on our first tour by our community partners in Chicago was that we, as queer men of color, really had to make space for the lesbian, trans, and gender nonbinary voices in our community and to decenter ourselves in the work we were doing.
Since then, we’ve institutionalized further and given control of our nonprofit to an intersectional board of women of color, who are now leading the organization. With our next project, we’re committing to this anti-violence work, looking at the macro, imperialistic narratives that determine what a “state of a nation” play is and who gets to speak about the state of our nation, and inviting people of color to come together in this intercultural conversations to create, dismantle, and recreate the world we want to see, and sort of centering our cultures of origin and Indigeneity as part of our artistic conversations, and that’s sort of where we are now as artists in our company.
Yura Sapi: Wow, there’s so much in there I want to ask about, so I’m going to start with going back a little bit. You talked about white adjacency, and I’d love to hear more about that, what that means for you and for the group you’re working with through this anti-racism training that ended up leading you to see that you were having this white-adjacency. What does it mean to no longer be white-adjacent, or is that something that you have to just live with in some of these structures that we’re in?
Kyoung: Yeah. For me, I wasn’t really racialized until I came out when I was twenty-seven, and I think until then I really benefited from perpetuating that model minority myth of the overachieving, hardworking Asian person. I think it wasn’t until I came out and I experienced the discrimination based on homophobia from my family and my community that I understood that the intersections of both my race and my gender sexuality were affecting the way I was being perceived and my work was being perceived, and that’s when the notion of the privileges I had, being white adjacent, I became far more critical of, because I was no longer a beneficiary of that white-adjacency.
I think when we did our anti-racist trainings as a company, what became clear was not only were many of us seeking approval or trying to survive within white structural systems, whether they were white nonprofits or white theatre companies, but that also, by doing that, we were perpetuating anti-Blackness and racial hierarchies that were not in service of people of color in our community. And in that, I think there was a big shift that happened internally when some of us realized that, for our own professional and artistic reasons, we needed to lean in to working in those white spaces in trying to further discourse of diversity, equity, and inclusion within predominantly white spaces. I became far more radicalized in the sense that not only did I want to create a safer space for people of color, but that I knew that the community and our base through which we’re doing our cultural organizing were far more progressive people of color who really were not served nor centered in those white institutions, because they were designed to exclude us.
My commitment, and I guess our leadership’s commitment as an organization, has been to continue to advance the creation of a safer space for people of color in our communities, and that has led us to make, I think, some difficult choices about who we partner with and who we work with, and also sometimes sacrifice, right, the benefits of having access to white privilege and white resources, because we don’t always take it. That’s something that I kind of learned how to do, doing a lot of organizing work with the queer Asian community in the city. For us to really have our own space and to not be otherized or exoticized or exploited, we really had to create a radically alternative space that centered us and reject whiteness from being a part of it.
Yura Sapi: I really love that you’re making choices and decisions, especially after that kind of a training, because so often I hear anti-racism training in a group, in an organization, a board, and it’s a training, and that’s that. There’s a difference between something that changes after you get this information, after you go through this process of internal reflection, community reflection, and making choices and decisions around changes around transformation, and you talked about the workers-owned structure that your organization shifted to. So, I’d love to hear more about that and how that functions.
Kyoung: Yeah. So, when we started, we didn’t have much money, but what we did have was a lot of artistic agency, and as a collective we could advocate for one another to access spaces where we traditionally could not work in. For many of us, it was because we’re artists of color and, for some of us, it was truly legal. We were just immigrants and could not be employed by certain organizations. So, part of the way we designed the company was to create a collective, shared-ownership model of the work we make, and that was, in a way, to acknowledge the contributions everyone made into the process and into the creation and production of our works to enforce the fact that we all had agency in the way we made it, and that we weren’t trying to create a hierarchy where I was the boss or the employer, even though I was the primary administrator for the organization.
The model we used and the way we call our affiliated or resident artists is “Mondragons,” and that’s based after a workers co-op in Spain that’s a worker-owned factory, and I adopted that name for us as a group because, whenever we make work, whenever we decide to go into production, I’ll be very transparent about the budgets we’ve been able to raise, about how we’re going to allocate funds. And we decide together whether it’s worth it or not for us to be doing this work, and we don’t make decisions unless we can move together as a company. That’s allowed us to both maintain our individual careers, but then also maintain a lot of agency in the way we do our work and put it out there in community.
Yura Sapi: Yeah, and specifically thinking intersectionally here, when it comes to folks of color with different immigration statuses, marginalized immigration statuses, what are some of the ways that folks can stand in solidarity for those with these marginalized immigration statuses, specifically in the US?
Kyoung: So, I’m an immigrant artist, and I almost got deported, and I’ve been through maybe six visas over the course of eleven years. I’m still not a citizen. So, immigration status has greatly shaped my experience as an artist in the States. So that really informs the way I invite artists to participate in our work, and community members to experience our work as well, because I know that the immigrant struggle is real and that we don’t all— we don’t always have the same access to opportunities or the privilege to just experience or be able to make theatre. In terms of intersectionality, I mean, there’s immigration status and all of our different race and sexual orientation identities sort of affecting the way we see and make our work, and being tricultural—I’m Korean, born in Chile, myself—I think this idea of belonging in multiple communities and spaces really informed the way I expressed myself theatrically and the way I wanted our organization to work as an ensemble.
I wanted to acknowledge that there’s a multiplicity, not only of experiences but of ways of knowing because of the way culture informs the way we express ourselves, and that also... Based on our disciplinary practices as artists, our language as artists was also very different. So, our ensemble is very hybrid in the sense that we’re intercultural and interdisciplinary, and I think for me the fascination is about: How do we come together and find ways to tell each other stories in a common language when we come from different cultures, when we come from different artistic practices, and we use language in different ways?
So, the playwright in me is always really fascinated about that, and I think our ability to kind of come together can contribute to the ways we want to do intersectional community-building and organizing, right? Because it’s all about finding and acknowledging the ways we are different, but then also using our communicative and expressive skills to really come together at the same time. I think our theatremaking process is a reflection of how do we come together and how do we communicate with one another when we share a space.
Yura Sapi: Can you speak more about the ensemble organizational structure? Because I’ve heard you speak now, and it’s always been about we and us, and the organization is also called Kyoung’s Pacific Beat, so I’d love to hear more about that and how maybe it’s evolved over the years as well.
Kyoung: Yeah. This is one of my biggest regrets. When we began, we called ourselves Pacific Beat Collective, and the name came from the idea of really wanting to center the histories of all the peoples that were touched by the Pacific Ocean, and also sort of reminding ourselves and others that we come with a peacemaking mission. The Beat comes from the Beat poets and that generation of sort of experimental and alternative thinkers that also informed a lot of my literary passions. And the collective came from the notion that this company was never meant to be about one, but about the group, the ensemble.
I think part of that collectivism comes from the fact that there’s a part of my identity that’s very Korean and really is about the “we” rather than the “me,” just because in a high-context society, individualism is sort of frowned upon, and it’s really more about maintaining the unity of the group. Then, there was one moment when we were institutionalizing, and because I was the primary administrator of the organization and someone had to be the one to sign the contracts and get the insurance and be the one who was going to put his name out there for taxation purposes and things like that, we renamed the company Kyoung’s Pacific Beat and we dropped the collective. But internally, we kind of still operate as a collective, and we actually have this set of rules of the way we come together in process to make work.
Some of the things that I experienced as an arts student that we kind of shared was that we were always divided by who was the playwright, or the director or the designers, or who were the theatre artists versus the filmmakers and the writers, and we really didn’t want to divide ourselves as artists. So, that was one way we became an interdisciplinary kind of ensemble. And then the second thing was we really wanted to create a process where we can flow in and out, just also understanding that we weren’t cogs in a machine, or we weren’t employees to an organization, so we all have the liberty to sort of step in and out of process and to support one another when we couldn’t be there. Our ensemble’s very fluid for that reason. People come in and out as they can.
Then, we also invite and challenge ourselves to really work in different disciplines that we traditionally don’t work in, so I’m a self-taught director. Our lighting designer is also our set designer, and in different ways we’ve had people who have never done theatre before doing theatre with us for the first time, although they’re practicing artists in their own disciplines. That has allowed all of us artistically to be able to flex new muscles or develop skills that traditionally we wouldn’t be able to in more professional settings, and I really enjoy that, that sort of idea of us being a devising company that really invites experimentation and amateurism, in a way, to say that we’re making art, but we don’t necessarily need to be professionals at it to make it.
Yura Sapi: Yes, absolutely, and that situation that happens with being the person who kind of puts their name on all the financial documents, all of these things. This happened to me too, actually, with Balistikal, the LGBTQ+ arts and healing organization based out of Bogotá, now serving all of Latin America and people all over the world. We’re right now in a moment where I’m actually transferring the accounts and a lot of things out of my name and putting them into different people’s names from the team. So this is something that’s happening right now for me, and this process is something that I know happens for a lot of folks, especially those who are creating maybe temporary projects, one-off smaller things, collecting funds from Venmo or PayPal or other crowdfunding sites. This often has to be connected to a singular person’s information, even email sometimes, creating a Gmail account.
So, yeah, there’s maybe not a whole need to incorporate, a whole need to create this big organization for a project. So, I’m wondering if there’s any tips you’d like to give folks who might be going through this process or situation.
Kyoung: For me, the way we began our company was acknowledging that we needed a kind of mechanism or vehicle for us to be able to mobilize financial resources, which were not the only—but an important—resources that we needed to make our work. We started really small. We opened a bank account, we were fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas and, in a way, that was enough for us in the beginning. And then, as we grew, we became eligible for institutional funding, and that is when things began to change, because all of a sudden, the way we did our work had to conform with the expectations of funders for us to be able to receive funds. That’s when I think the nonprofit industrial complex begins to inform and shape the way we run our organizations, because all of a sudden, now we have to administer and organize the work we do in a way that fits the practices of the nonprofit industrial complex.
So, I guess the first sort of advice I’d have is to really consider to what extent you want to work at a grassroots level and to what extent you want to be a part of this larger system of arts funding, because that will begin to require you to do work in a different way. Let’s see, between 2014 and 2021, we spent about seven years as an unincorporated entity, and we didn’t necessarily need to become a 501(c)(3) to do our work. It certainly would have helped us, but it wasn’t necessary. And I think during that time, the only thing that was crucial was for someone to be able to be the one to be responsible for the accounting and the financial management of the organization, mostly because at the end of every year, someone has to file taxes for the company, and that person became me.
You know, I have an MFA in playwriting. Around the time I got my MFA, Outrageous Fortune was published, and it was this heartbreaking book, just accounting for the fact that playwrights can’t make a living doing their own practice as artists, and I think as a theatre company we would always sort of zero out, financially speaking. We were a nonprofit even when we didn’t have a nonprofit status, because this wasn’t a way we were making a profit. We were just making theatre and, at some point, we became, I guess, better known, and now, with ten years of work and history under our belt, it’s become time for us to institutionalize. When we went through the process of creating a board…. What we used to have was a leadership circle of volunteers and counselors who would advise us, primarily me, on different business practices or artistic practices and how to further our work.
But at one moment it became very clear that we had developed relationships with our community and leaders within our community who could support the leadership of our organization at a board level and to support our practice and our organization without perpetuating a hierarchical nonprofit theatre company system, because there’s so many places where you can go and learn how to become a nonprofit, but a lot of those models are to perpetuate white institutional models. As an arts organization of color, we just knew that we needed a different kind of structure and flexibility to be able to really serve our artists and communities in the ways we wanted to, and to also not have to dilute our sort of positionality and community or politics.
We went through a process of just really inviting leaders and supporters of our work who could make a commitment to our board to really support our institutional growth and advancement in a way that wasn’t going to create whiteness within the company all of a sudden. So I guess, in that sense, my advice would be if you do need to become a nonprofit and you do need to become a board, don’t go for the ones who have access to financial resources, but the ones who are really going to align with your work and your practice and your values, and are going to challenge you to maintain authentic and true to them.
Yura Sapi: Yeah, and there’s also this phenomenon that happens with board of directors in the arts and nonprofit arts, specifically where being on the board is a position or a role where you often have to be donating or giving funds to the organization, because I know in the for-profit world there’s a board of directors, and people, actually, usually are getting paid to be there, and that’s something that we see different in the arts and nonprofit arts. So I know, especially for people of color, this ends up being volunteer work, and it’s like, we want our people to get paid. We want people to get paid. So, I wonder if that’s something you’ve been thinking about as well.
Kyoung: I think with our board in particular, we have a give-or-get what you can, so people support our company financially within their means, and when I invited our board—which we formed last year—to officially join, I let them know that we had raised a meaningful amount through grants that would allow us to operate for the first year, and that their commitment would be to just help me form the board, but not really have fundraising practices, because what I wanted was to create a board that really got to know each other and work together in a way that was true to what they wanted to contribute in the organization.
I think the folks who are part of our board are people who are already deeply rooted in our community and have played different leadership roles in the arts or in the queer Asian community, or in the presenting arts field. So, I think for most of them, they already have a stake in the work we’re trying to do as a community. So, in a sense, it was a kind of reciprocal relationship where there weren’t much financial expectations, and more about practicing solidarity and mutual support of each other’s works and goals in our communities. Then, during this year, which has been really challenging for the arts, we actually grew exponentially, which has been a real blessing for us.
So, we’re kind of in a fortunate position where we’ve had access to institutional funding that is allowing us to really dream of our next steps without feeling the pressures of being in a financial crisis, which is a real blessing. And then, also, it’s giving us the time to really imagine the long-term of the organization, because the other thing is you can get real close to your board and perpetuate a kind of autocratic system at a leadership level, and I think all of us are really trying to think about: What is this organization going to be without them or without me? And to really try to create an organization that can be sustainable without any of us.
That is where decentering my leadership and decentering all of our leadership is becoming really important, because what we want to be able to do is to create an organization that can have a life of its own. That has been this amazing thing for me to be able to witness because, after carrying this organization under my name for seven years to separate myself of it legally, financially at this point, and to see it have its own life without me is this incredible thing. I’m used to birthing plays, because that’s what I do as an artist, but to see this organization sort of have a life of its own that is now completely separate for me is a beautiful thing.
Yura Sapi: Yes, that’s incredible. I’m thinking about as well in terms of my own reflections and what Lauren Turner said in the second episode of the podcast, season one. This idea of founder syndrome that happens with organizations in the process of not being able to let go, and actually setting up the organization for success in the next stage, which is another thing that Xemi Tapepechul in another episode of the podcast talked about. Being able to do this, to have this transition of leadership, is actually a sign of success. Being able to have success as a founder in the creation, and to be able to have success as a founder in the creation and continuation of the project.
So, what is next for you and your organization?
Kyoung: Sure. So, currently we’re working on a new play called Nero, and it’s a retelling of George W. Bush’s war on terror as the rise and fall of Nero’s Roman empire. I began writing that play as a way of exploring white male privilege and American exceptionalism and imperialism and the way those are all interrelated. We’re in the process of workshopping it now through Zoom, because we’ve had to find a way to continue working virtually because of the pandemic and because also the pandemic has displaced our ensemble, and now we’re not all geographically in the same place. But as we’ve been developing the piece, we’ve been having a series of conversations with our community called “Whiteness on Fire,” because the artistic question we’re trying to investigate is: How can we dismantle white supremacy and further their kind of work as theatre artists?
As I shared with you in the beginning of the interview, in our room we’ve been talking a lot about how to center cultures of origins as a way of re-centering ourselves as people of color in the cultures we come from, rather than perpetuating white narratives and white mythology. But with our community partnerships, we’ve identified a more specific strategy we want to do in community, which is really about adopting an abolitionist lens on how to address state violence and the way state violence is being perpetuated in our communities now. Being surrounded by not just the uprising for Black lives, but also these discourses on defunding the police and dismantling the carceral systems we live in—
Yura Sapi: —land back for Indigenous people!
Kyoung: Land back for Indigenous people. The thing that sort of has resonated with us as well is sort of the kind of work you’re doing too, Yura, about looking at what is going to take the place of whiteness when it’s dismantled, when these carceral systems have fallen the way monuments are now falling. How are we going to live, and what will that world be? The question we’re asking ourselves is: What does community safety look like to us?
Because that is a guess where we want to start with our imagination of this future world, and it’s not so future in the sense that I think a lot of organizations of color and communities of color have already been practicing and embodying a different way of being with one another in community, and I think that is the kind of way we really want to do our work as artists and how we want our work to connect with community. All of those questions, I guess, are part of our making of Nero, just because we have to just reimagine the way theatre is going to be moving forwards if we don’t want to go back to what it was. We just cannot do it the same way anymore at all. So, that’s sort of where we are.
Yura Sapi: Yeah, which can be a good thing. I love what you said about origins, looking towards the origins, especially as Indigenous people of the world, looking towards our origins, our cultural generational origins to create the liberated future in front of us.
Yura Sapi: Exciting stuff.
Kyoung: It’s so exciting, it’s so exciting. I think a lot about being a third-generation North Korean and how my family was displaced and I’m a third-generation of a diaspora, and returning to the homeland is returning to a police state. Crossing borders, for me to cross a militarized line that cannot be crossed because it’s heavily weaponized and militarized… And this return to origins is not an easy question. It really begins to surface so much history of our family and our ancestry in ways that requires us to also center narratives that aren’t always presented on stage and the theatre.
So, I think when we share these stories within our company, what’s been interesting for me is to see the ways we preserve our culture and our traditions in basic things like welcoming people to our homes, or the sharing of meals, and to holding on to artifacts and objects that our parents give to us, and examining our relationships to family. Some can remember histories that go back generations, and some like me just can only go back two generations and that’s it. So, it’s a kind of fascinating place to be in. Not always necessarily emotionally easy, but it’s so empowering and fulfilling when all you need to be is more of who you are inside in yourself, and that’s been very healing as well.
Yura Sapi: Yeah. Starting with self. Absolutely, I hear that, especially with the project I’m currently working on, a community project to create a huerta comunitaria, where I’m at in Nuquí, Chocó, Colombia, really thinking about how I need to be doing all the things that I’m talking about, encouraging and wanting other people to do, so growing our own food, connecting with the earth, being in right relationship with the earth, and so I need to be starting with myself, and then reaching out into the community as well, so I hear that.
This has been another episode of the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I’m your host and producer, Yura Sapi. Our editor is Daniel Umali. Original music by Blackos the Producer and Julian Var. This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this series and other HowlRound podcasts in our feed on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search “HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts” and subscribe to receive new episodes.
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