There's Nothing General About General Admission
With Rose Kim of Art Rat Theatre School
Rose Kim: And I was just like, "Dude, this department is doing nothing that really is speaking to our generation, that's why no one's here." And they can go off and say, "Well, these are general tickets for a general audience." And it's like, "There's nothing general about this audience. This is a very, very specific audience." And I really encourage all theatres and all producing artistic directors and associates to really look at who's in your house, who's here. You have to face the music that those are the people, whether you intentionally are or not, you're inviting them.
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 in 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 Rose Kim, founder of Art Rat Theatre. Rose Kim is a twenty-six-year-old first-generation Korean American theatre artist. They are the founder and producing director of Art Rat Theatre. Rose has been independently producing, directing, performing, and training for five plus years. The independent part has been crucial to their development away from these harmful historically white and predominantly white institutions that cannot teach what they seek to learn: sustainable structures, genuinely consensual collaborations, working in mutual drive, restorative production, and intercultural approaches to performance and process.
Outside Art Rat Theatre, Rose wrote and self-published her first book at twenty-five the book; teaches performance at Art Rat Theatre School; and freelances as an Instagram coach, helping self-starting dreamers manifest their real-life goals using the sustainable, authentic, and organic power of Instagram. Art Rat Theatre is a production vehicle dedicated to gardening anticolonial, anti-capitalist theatre for a truly diverse new era audience and catalyzing a greater network, independent institutionally marginalized, young adult creatives. Art Rat Theatre School (ARTS) is a new education platform teaching intercultural approaches to performance and performance studies in revolt against the unsustainable barriers of entry to impactful performance studies and training. ARTS prioritizes facilitation over consumption through co-learning and consent-based, autonomy-allowing strategies.
Rose Kim: Yes... What is Rose? I am currently, best place to start is now, I'm twenty-six . I'm located in Tongva territory in LA County, southern LA County. I am a first-gen Korean American. So my parents are immigrants. And there's a lot of experiences that just made me learn very quickly that if I was going to be going down the mainstream route for an actor or even a producer, even a director, any level, any hat, it would be me waiting to be allowed. It would be me for some reason, collapsing, them allowing me, versus my actual ability to do what it is that I know I can do. And that can be very gaslighty too. It's like, "Oh, you have to approve me for me to believe that I can do this?" It's so backwards.
In my undergraduate training, I found my training not in the classes being taught there. I actually found those classes to be very unhelpful and not that exciting. And I found my mentors in the fringes—people who you wouldn't realize that they could train you, but then you could. Because you could just start asking them questions, and asking them what they're up to, and asking to work with them, and just working with them in any capacity that was available. So, myself, I started as an actor, and I became very quickly enthralled with very physical and intercultural approaches to performance. Dennis Lavski is cool, has a lot to offer, has more to offer in his later years, but no one teaches that. But all the same, I really find this body-mind relationship to be fascinating and such a personal passion project to sharpen my instrument, mind and body, to get those moments of performance where you're in sync with yourself, the space, your others, electric, visceral.
But from there, I found if I want to be facilitating the types of productions that I want to see, then I'm also directing them. I used to be directing very like, "Well, who did I learn it from?" Like we said, a lot of unlearning to do. So I adopted the way I learned, which is the “dollhouse directing” where suddenly the actors are just told where to go, what to do, or if they're already doing something, how to look better, how to do it looking better, blah, blah, blah, blah, aesthetics. Very big emphasis on aesthetics. And it's almost like people are so afraid of not achieving any affect. So then they overcompensate with so much more glamor and tricks. Which is its own taste, but not really my taste. But thanks to Peter Lichtenfels, I worked with him, and he worked in such a radical way. To me, it was so different than any other way that I saw.
He would just leave so much empty space. He will not take up space as a director. And it was infuriating for a nineteen-year-old actor who has grown accustomed to being told what to do. So it's almost like, if they don't tell me what to do, then they don't care. Or like, I need more attention. It was so challenging, but it was actually so rewarding because he gave us the opportunity to devise our own from scratch, without any of the preconceptions of the director. And he worked in a way where he didn't even cast the company until two weeks into rehearsals because he really was concerned just about the energy between people and, I guess, his interpretation of the text always still. But I just learned a way of directing from him where it's not about being in control of the room.
Yeah, I think because my training was kind of unconventional, despite being in a pretty conventional context, it just made me more and more believe that one, I don't need these institutions to learn what I want to learn. Two, they can't teach me what I want to learn. And three, genius is everywhere, everywhere. And for us to believe that the people who make it to the top are the ones who have been able to prove their ability is so nefarious, in my opinion, because anyone who has worked in this industry long enough knows that the people who make it, yes, they're talented, but more than that, it's political. And they're allowed there because it serves an agenda for moneyed interests. So it's very, very twisted the way these days it all trickles down to this idea that, "Oh, I have to be good enough to make it there," when it has nothing to do with how good you are and everything to do with, do you fit what they're looking for? And I'm just so tired of us being allowed, waiting to be allowed, for what?
And then I started Art Rat Theatre School in 2020 because I just realized—from being the producing artistic director and organizing these spaces and teaching almost more traditional level where it's not instituted the learning methods, it's authentically absorbed and even raised. Questions are authentically raised and it's not just what do I have to teach you, but what do you want to learn? Come to find a lot of people were trying to learn what I had to teach. So that's when I realized I am fully prepared and ready to start teaching what I know, especially because I realized in my own pedagogy. If I'm actively learning and challenging myself, there's no reason that I can't co-learn and co-experience that journey with people of various other experiences. Yeah, it's been a big, self-liberating journey. And then pretty soon you realize that I can't just do this for myself because it's way more joyous to do it with others and for others.
Yura Sapi: Wow. Snaps. So much incredible advice and wisdom you're offering. I think with what you just said about co-learning, I'd love to hear more about what that looks like in practice for you.
Rose Kim: Yeah. So, there was this hypothesis, if in a rehearsal process, if the actors are actually learning something through this process—and I know everyone listening you're going to know what I mean by actually learning, versus just learning to put up the show, you know? There's a difference when that rehearsal process feeds your craft—the hypothesis was if actors are able to interact with a process that is actively asking them to really learn something, not because there's something to learn, but because you are here, because you're trying to learn something. And what is that? And how can we make the space for that? Then, we have maybe an opportunity to co-learn with folks who are not in the rehearsal room, folks who are artists of other disciplines or actors themselves. With this hypothesis, we at Art Rat Theatre recently did a workshop performance. We teamed up with this other nonprofit because they had approached me about doing some kind of series there.
And then I realized, okay, I wrote this little play. It’s a pretty political play. We're going to do it on zoom. And here are these beautiful six AAPI talented as actors. And if we're really learning together as we devise this play, then they'll really have something to share. And so, every week we would have a rehearsal, and then at the end of the week, we would have a workshop where we would invite our friends and community members to come and devise with us based off of the things that were being actively discovered in rehearsal. And it was not perfect, for anyone wondering. It was not perfect, but it was beautiful, and it was real. And it was nobody trying to teach in that banking model that Freire has written about, but very much just honest. "I noticed this, what did you notice?" I'm pretty convinced that all learning starts with noticing. And it's kind of crazy how suddenly noticing has this five-, six-figure tuition price tag on it.
Yura Sapi: Yes. Awareness in naming things. This is something that Claudia Alick, in another episode, talked about. The power we have in naming things and pointing to something and saying what it is and bringing awareness to it, noticing it like you're saying. It also sounds like you're creating education spaces for the future that we want, right? Because the idea is that education spaces prepare us for jobs. But the jobs out there, a lot of them aren't providing the spaces you're talking about. And so we're creating leaders and artists who will be making those spaces a reality, which is part of what's difficult as an actor, as you named. And also in my own BFA program, I know I'm constantly going through different moments of unlearning things that I ... what I learned there.
Rose Kim: We got to talk about this unlearning. Because honestly, I don't think that is talked about enough, the cost of going through these systems, only to realize you have to unlearn everything that you tried to adopt that wasn't working and wasn't serving anybody, really, besides these concepts and constructs and people in power. There's such a cost to having to go through a schooling system where you have to then unlearn the very thing you paid for. And to learn how to empower us, that's the way to sustainable processes that can feed us and us feed back into it. Because I think it's just draining any other way. And it's just draining to receive ten weeks of just knowledge that they didn't even ask you, "How much are you coming to this space? What kind of experience are you already coming in with? And what are you curious about?"
Even if a teacher goes out of their way to be like, "What do you guys think?" And then there's silence. And then they think, "Okay, they're not interested. So let me just keep pushing," when it's really, one, maybe they're already drained from their last class. Maybe also you're draining them right now by taking up so much space. And I don't think that this thing of taking up so much space is given enough consideration. It's just kind of taking for granted, isn't it? Like, "Of course you're the teacher, so of course you take up so much space. Of course, these are institutions. Of course they take up so much space."
So what Claudia was saying about the importance of naming what is really ours—it's not for anyone else to name. Our creative processes are names like that. It's not for anyone else to name for us. And that's the biggest difficulty, is if we never know how to even empower ourselves to find our own process with things, we're just going to be looking at ourselves like, "Why aren't you able to make that process work for you when so many other people, quote unquote are?" When really, who is?
Yura Sapi: What are some of your strategies, your tips or tricks you have for navigating the unlearning and also trying to not put the same things you learned on to other people?
Rose Kim: When I was starting out, it was not sustainable, and it's not a way that I could ever recommend to anybody. And so that's why I need to just preface this. #Overworked. One of the biggest strategies I used to start independently producing was still keeping one foot in the door of all of the mainstage stuff. Thanks to my various able-bodied and otherwise privileges, I found that I was getting cast in these mainstage shows every quarter, pretty consistently.
And I realized that when people see me on stage and I have an effect, I might move them where they just respond to me in a certain way, they're going to look at my program. So I just started, in my bio, not even wasting my breath on credits. Why? Who needs that? If I'm thinking about the person on the other end reading it, what am I trying to say to them that I need them to know before they leave? Because it's the one chance I have you here.
And for me that was, "I'm working on a show. DM me. This is my email. I'm looking for more creators. I'm looking for more collaborators. I'm looking for people who align with what I believe in." And so that's what I would start putting in my bio. And that's how I started getting in touch with other students who were not even in the department at all, but it just resonated with them what they saw on stage, and something in them that wanted to do something like it. There was also student clubs. So that was also where I also had another foot in the door. So I just wanted to be really in touch with anyone who also just wanted to be making shows, with or without the department's permission.
From there I was able to meet people. And I think from there, from the very first show, you get friends of friends to come out, and it's lit. And then people just look forward to the next one. And in college, it's almost the perfect thing, which is why it was mind boggling why I looked out into our mainstage house, and you'd never see university students out there. You'd always see townspeople, and Davis is a very predominantly white town. I graduated from UC Davis, and yeah, I was just like, "Dude, this department is doing nothing that really is speaking to our generation. That's why no one's here." And they can go off and say, "Well, these are general tickets for a general audience." And it's like, "There's nothing general about this audience. This is a very, very specific audience." And I really encourage all theatres and all producing artistic directors and associates to really look at who's in your house, who's here. You have to face the music that those are the people—whether you intentionally are or not—you're inviting them. And if they're here, then it's not others. You know what I mean? It's not general, it's specific. It's a very specific group of people that gather in a lot of these high-ticket-cost theatres.
So that's one strategy that I used in the beginning. Let me keep doing the mainstream stuff that's in the program that has the budget to get publicity and things so that I can be seen. So then that can funnel people into what I'm actually trying to do on the fringe. But your work will pretty soon, I think, speak for itself in a way. And my other strategy was whatever anyone else can't do, let me try to do it. So again this wasn't sustainable, but with someone who didn't have the capital that other people did, that was the capital that I could put in—was my time, my own resources, my own abilities, and my will. I have a very strong will. So if I have a vision, I don't see it as impossible.
So then I realized I could only be working that way for maybe three seasons with my theatre company at the time, before Art Rat Theatre, it was Millennial Theatre up in Davis. And I just realized I was doing too much, because it took too much to do something like that. And I was losing grip on my heart. My heart was starting to become so brittle. It was to the point where I couldn't run into my friends during passing and half the time to catch up with them because I was just needing to go to the next place, and never even get myself breathing room. So I was just a mess. I was starting to become so impatient and high irritability, not in a good place for me. My soul was just disturbed.
So I was just realizing, what's my true love? And it's performing. And do I feel like I've been feeding that? And the answer is no, because I've been producing and focusing on that and making the spaces and doing all this work on managing a company.
So I took a hiatus and then I just focused on my training again, but I wasn't going to get the training I wanted from my department's curriculum. So I was fortunate enough to start just snooping around what the grad students are doing. So any undergraduates listening, definitely snoop around what the grad students are doing, because those are the folks who are not coming from the Davis bubble or… Usually they're mid-career professionals, and they come with a lot of more worldly experience. And so they can really expand your world, even if you find yourself stuck and landlocked like I was in this little town of Davis. And they were doing really interesting work and talking about performance in a way that I'd never been exposed to.
And working with them, I just got introduced to so many different processes. I just witnessed, all of these artists all have their own process. They all have their own disciplines that they've took it upon themselves to invest their time in. And so I just started synthesizing, trying to expose myself to as many of their processes as possible. And I was fortunate to have two grad students really take me in and really invite me into a very big explorative process they were doing, which would culminate into one of the grad student's thesis performances. And so I trained with her for well over a year.
And there was another professor who caught onto my appetite for beyond what this white institution had to offer. For one quarter, he met with me every week and just started giving me texts that were not necessarily Western-centric or Eurocentric way of looking at theatre. I had another mentor who just told me about this residency opportunity pretty soon after graduation.
I think once I was approaching graduation, I realized I need a place to synthesize everything that I've been able to learn for myself. Because ideally it's a classroom setting, theoretically, that helps you do that. But I didn't learn what I learned in a classroom. I learned what I learned all outside of the classroom, really.
There was some important, very classroom stuff that I learned. The history stuff, especially decolonial theatre, what is anti-colonial theatre. There was Lynette Hunter and Álvaro Hernández, who taught those classes at UC Davis. And no one really wanted to take it because it sounds boring. But for me it was like, "What? That's crazy that you're teaching this." But yeah, I needed to synthesize.
And so this residency was really enormous. So I encourage everyone else as a strategy to, if you're able to, it's going to be priceless, time and space alone. And I went off grid for two months, no electricity, no plumbing. And I just had my body, my nature, and this wooden stage, and the dirt, which ended up becoming way more my stage than the stage. I was able to devise, and it was really terrifying because there was nobody to validate what I was doing. But in the end, when you perform something that is your blood, your bones vibrating, and it's other people, their reactions to things afterwards, it says everything. So that can be validating in and of itself.
And it's not even like you're trying to get the validation. It's just you're being true to your process and you're offering the audience something actually that you're working through, something relevant, I suppose, in a really grounded, immediate way, not in a cerebral way. There was nothing to get about these performances that I was devising. They're all meant to be experienced, and we're breathing together, and I'm going to mesmerize you for five minutes. But yeah, time and space to start creating a daily practice for myself and realizing that I had everything I need to do that in me.
Yeah, it would be cool to go to grad school and have them fill me up with what my daily practice could be. But I struggled with this. This is what I struggled with. I struggle with, dang, I hate that I'm stuck with all these private loans, and I hate that I had to go through that UC Davis. But it did give me the way to meeting these mentors and stuff. And I really had to decolonize that for myself because now I realize—no, you get zero negative credit for what I was able to make out of your broken systems. You gave me brokenness, and I found—with help from other people and with my community there—we made it work. So you don't get any of the credit for that. Because if you were already working, there would be no need for all this. You know what I mean? "But it's because you don't work that we had to make it work."
And so I think I want to just say I think that applies to any institution, grad school, otherwise... Don't think that you need to thank them for giving you the opportunity, because what they give you is this broken system. And it takes everything in us to make it work. And we make them look good eventually. Right? Because now I'm like, people will ask me, "Where did you train?" And I'm like, "Well, technically I went to school at UC Davis." And that says nothing about honestly the quality of training you're going to get, because I had to fucking pry that with my own bare hands, desperately. So I would say there's really a lot less for us in these institutions than we think. If we had the people around us that could affirm and ourselves with our own eyes see in the mirror, I have everything I really need to continue to develop myself.
Yura Sapi: Damn. Yeah, absolutely. And I think about all of our ancestors as people of the global majority who just continuously are making it work with everything that white supremacy has given us over these lifespans, over these generations, just continuing to make it work in whenever traumatization we end up finding ourselves in.
Rose Kim: That's why we've got to stop paying attention to so much of what these institutions are doing. I just got to say it. adrienne maree brown has written this book, Emergent Strategy, and in that book is this life-changing line for me, just changed my whole outlook on... I'm a natural optimist, but sometimes the optimist gets challenged AF because of just what we are exposed to and also what we come to understand, but she said, “What you pay attention to grows.” That was the gas for my optimism. It was all I needed because I was like, “Oh, yes there's so many things that are shit, but if I pay my attention to the things that I want to see more of, they can't help but grow.” Now I imagine us just on that way of taking up space, but also us creating our own space as you are doing, Yura, and pretty soon they will become obsolete because the very definition of unsustainable is you have no future. If you insist on going through these unsustainable ways, in my eyes, you're already a fossil. I already see the dust.
Yura Sapi: We have to be putting energy into the ways in which it does work out because I do think that we end up putting up way too much energy into thinking about the ways that it doesn't work out—apocalyptic visions of the future, and that's just manifesting that. I've definitely experienced that in my mind. When I start preparing for the worst, the worst ends up happening, but when I'm preparing for the best or putting energy towards things working out, it ends up working out. Maybe there's just also some magic in there, but also part of my personal spirituality and culture.
Rose Kim: Yeah. It starts with us being able to recognize our neighbor as so full and so full of potential and, like, is enough. I realized when I encounter people who that doesn't come naturally to them, or it takes more effort for them to really recognize their peer without that person having to prove and pull up with a CV that's like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah—I realized, okay, that person, that person needs to be able to recognize themselves because you can’t recognize other people if you're not even able to recognize how full and full of potential and enough you are.
I think we have to ask ourselves, why am I not willing to give this person their flowers? Am I willing to give myself these flowers without having to prove it because I promise there's nothing to prove. Prove to who? If we're able to like dislocate ourselves from these institutions and what they promise to bestow upon us, then suddenly the concept of needing to prove yourself is just obsolete. It's just discovering yourself then. Allowing yourself then. Allowing others then. Discovering others then.
Yura Sapi: I wanted to name the solution you're offering in terms of overworking because this is something that I've noticed now in myself and other founders. We end up having this phenomenon where we're really putting everything and more into the projects we're starting, at the start, financially with our effort, with our time, which ends up being financial in the end in terms of this "unpaid labor", but it's really an investment in the organization, into the collective, into the movement. I think about my own journey and knowing it feels like I'm always going to be super busy, I'm always going to be working, and that I get passionate about the things I do, and that I come up with different projects that I just have to do. Finding a way in which this can work for me and knowing that I'm interested in having projects and putting passion into the work I'm doing in a healthy way. A solution here is, you know, if we find ourselves in this rut of overworking or having a reflection moment where it's like, “I'm not talking to any of my friends”—like you said—or “I'm not taking care of myself health wise,” taking a pause and doing a residency or having a moment to really focus on one thing and organize my thoughts, organize the plan. Really important strategy there.
Rose Kim: Yeah. As people who are always doing too much, it's so interesting. I found that I've got to unhook my brain from this linear thinking, this thinking of my work in linear models where I'm just doing this task and task and task and task or project, project, project, project. Because it's never really functionally linear. It's always this nexus of other people who are involved and how are we feeding each other in terms of at least the energy? I think people who do too much know from our experiences just intuitively, too, we don't just work to do all this work. We work because if this a specific thing that we want to do, and we're able to do it. It gives us so much energy back. I think people who are of different dispositions might look at people who are constantly busy or doing too much like, “Dang, how do they have it in themselves to do all that?” I'll tell you what, on my end, I don't have it all in me to do it, but it's because the work feeds me that I'm able to have a more sustainable relationship with that. But more than that, because I'm a theatre artist and a community organizer, I did this by design. Because I don't like working alone. It doesn't feed me to work alone. I'll just get bored of myself.
It's the other people too. Suddenly you add two more people into the mix, and now there's all this energy for all of us to share in. When there's a lot of things on my plate, one of the things is not just how much stuff do I have, but do these things involve and contain and consist of the things that are going to feed me back? Yes, maybe monetary, but more importantly, just your soul, your spirit, the thing that's actually quite fragile and needs to be protected and fed. When I do a project and it's in this mutually sustainable way with each other, because I'm working with collaborators who understand the same principles as me and also are working towards the same things, not just in an idyllic way or a conceptual way, but very practically.
For example, tardiness, lateness, absences, these things where we police each other and people's time, and we've come to normalize policing our time, policing other people's time, when really it's a language of capacity. And I think when we use the word capacity it's very powerful because then it's not about anything other than how you are today and do you have the capacity, and the fact that capacities change. I like to work with people who get that. I need to work with people who get that because my life is not stable, so I need understanding, but I'm looking to work with people who may also have very unstable lives, so I need to have that understanding, too. If I'm able to work with people in this way, it's so restorative, it's not even funny. It's regenerating. It's not paying the bills, but it gives me the drive and the inspiration to continue daydreaming about what will, on another side of my life. If these projects can restore us, it can be sustainable, even if there's a lot of them.
Now, I don't think that you could have an unlimited amount of projects, period. T here's a cap, but too often we just think of projects maybe in terms of how much, and what's the time commitment, how many meetings is this going to involve. But you could have the perfectly aligned schedule with just enough breathing space, but if you're working with people who don't get you, that's draining. If you are working with people who can't understand you, that's draining. How can we start doing projects that don't drain us? What is everyone's experience with… have you been in a project that was very challenging, but wasn't draining? Art Rat theatre is always trying to create these opportunities where I know it's going to be challenging, because what we're here to do is to keep reimagining our new future, and it's a work that the white powers that be can never do. They can't. You need the faculties for this. You need the lived experience to do this.
This whole by us, for us movement that started with the Black community—activists and scholars and artists—there's true restorative power in that, not just for the concept of it, because the concept of sound, but in practice when we work with our community for our community, it feeds us. It sustains us because now it's not just a timecard to check in and out because afterwards we're going to keep talking. We're going to hang out. We have things to catch up on. I've got a rehearsal, and it might be three hours, but yeah, we're going to probably spend the first thirty, forty minutes checking in with each other so that we can start our work from that pure place where no one has to escape what they're trying to escape from, that we can all face while we all are carrying into this room before we even begin the work. And then in doing it that way, after rehearsal, I'm not drained. I'm living.
Yura Sapi: I love that way of thinking about it in terms of just exchange as the founder, as the person making the decisions, acknowledging how we're putting our time into the project. In terms of community-centered work, I think it transitions pretty well into a conversation about mutual aid and creating initiatives within the arts around mutual aid. I'd love to hear more about your particular experience.
Rose Kim: When I was learning more about mutual aid, I think one of the first things that I realized was the difference between mutual aid and charity. I came to find that charity has very much the giving emphasis. Someone is giving to somebody else. Someone is receiving things that are given. Charity is nice because of course give, of course please give. The world is abundant. Please give, but is it in a way where that person you're giving to can imagine a future where they no longer have to rely on these institutions that aren't working, which is why you're giving to them in the first place?
Mutual aid becomes giving in a way, giving in a way where your understanding it’s not giving, it's a sharing. It's a reciprocation. It's a belief that if I'm investing in my community, then one, it slowly moves the needle on how much my community needs to rely on institutions, and it moves that needle in our spirits too, I think. But more importantly, it's taking really seriously that there are people who are going through poverty and having these needs that are basic needs not being met, and what they're asking for is what they need. It's not, oh, what they're asking for then gets filtered through what the charity thinks that they need, and then the charity says, “You give us the money and we're going to decide what they need.” It's us now with the technology being able to be in direct contact with these people who need help, straight up. These mutual aid pages are doing that. They're in touch with the folks and posting their flyers so that it can be circulated and reach more moneyed networks or anyone who wants to just help because they know what community service really means. It means you're serving yourself.
We're setting ourselves up to be taken care of too. Us not believing in mutual aid is us not believing in the people around us are going to take care of us when everything else fails. That's what mutual aid is working towards, is these systems are about to fail, so how do we get better and good at using our resources and redistributing whatever wealth that we have, if so, or other resources that we have? Getting used to it. Getting used to not trusting that the charity's going to do the work, and just validating that if people are saying. "I need money for rent, whatever, whatever," that that's what they need. No doubt about it. You know better, right? And also it's kind of like, I know sometimes there's these delusions about like, "Oh, my God. What if they use the money for things that are not what they said?" But it's, again, agency. Right? They are allowed to have agency over how they distribute their resources, you know, just like we do. And it's very “holier than thou,” you know, to be like, "Oh, I don't think they're going to use the money in the 'right way.'" How do you know?
I'm sorry, do you have the lived experience of this person does? And if you don't, then you don't. Then it's about how do you relate to the other when you don't understand them? Do you invalidate them, or do you believe it? Just because you believe it, because you want to believe it, because you believe that there are things that you don't understand but are true and valid and existing. So, I think mutual aid is such a exciting, powerful way for people to be taken care of because it just gets rid of so much of the fluff and the miscommunication or the opaqueness that sometimes community work through another org doing it for you through donations and giving can be. Yeah, there's a book by Dean Spade called Mutual Aid.
Yura Sapi: Great resource. Yeah, I got into the understanding of mutual aid as a concept through the pandemic, I would say. But I also already was in this world from when I decided to no longer be a part of the predominantly white theatre institutions as an employee, and I started my own thing and traveled to the other countries where I hold citizenship, Ecuador and Colombia.
But my experience with mutual aid has been so much of what you're saying. For me even, it's knowing that community will be there to take care of me when I need it because it did need it and I will need it, especially in terms of the communities that I'm supporting in these countries. So, here in Columbia, where I'm at, a couple months ago we were in the heart of this national strike. It was very intense. It's still going on now. But in that time, in solidarity with the strike, we were not able to receive certain food and materials that come from boats, and you can only get here by boat or airplane.
So, it was difficult to get specific vegetables that over the years had become to be imported instead of grown here. Yeah, didn't really have the food I needed to stay healthy those weeks. But we did organize specifically offering free meal shares for the community, and that transformed now into a community garden project that we're developing. And in that way, too, getting away from needing the dollar or the peso, and thinking about futures where we're sharing resources more, and it's not focused so on the dollar on the currency.
It's not really that we need the money. We need the resources. We need the things that we ended up putting value to with money. And for me, experiencing these different currencies and just seeing these different things happening, I can see more in which the ways that this is all made up.
Rose Kim: Yeah. When you said the money is not the money, it's the people—really it's that part. Money's only good for what?
Yura Sapi: Yes. And the money comes in, but is it actually being used for what we're asking for, for what we need? This is something that Iyvon E. talks about in another episode, the idea that there are funders giving grants to predominantly white institutions for diversity. These different organizations getting funds to center different particular marginalized communities, but are we also checking up on whether these different marginalized communities were harmed in the process in these predominantly white institutions? Sure, maybe a few get a paycheck, but what is actually happening? Is they're more bad than good being done in the long run? What is the accountability there?
Rose Kim: Right. Is it the money you need, or is it that you need the people to be okay? Because the people are not okay. There's a weird way of making a producing theatre where it just starts to become about a lot of other things that have nothing to do with, are the people okay?
If we're not doing it so that the people are okay—more than okay, arriving—then what are we congregating people for? What are we putting all these resources and actors and all their work and their vulnerability on stage, for what? If it's not to help people be all right, more than all right, happy, what are you inviting people to? For them to just marvel at the talent? Oh, how beautiful this show is. Oh, how impressive everyone is, how clever the director was. We're coming into the theatre to exhibit and have this museum of talent?
Yura Sapi: Yes, snaps. So, I'd love to hear from you about your visions for our future. Everything that we're investing in right now to see in the long run, maybe some of the things that we won't actually get to see in our lifetime, that we're planting seeds for, I'd love to hear more about what your vision is for us.
Rose Kim: This is a fun question. I'm a big dreamer. The possible dreams. Right? Whether they're in our lifetime or not, exactly like you're saying. I am just seeing so many more indie theatre companies and ensembles, really ensembles, coming together and popping up. And for us, our future is not brick and mortar theatres. I dream of us being able to, first of all, buying land on stolen land is already really complicated, especially now. And it will only ever become so much more complicated as, you know, people really need that land for other things like housing.
There are already then organizations that have places, and I know this is already happening and been happening in a way where theatre companies will take residence at a community org space, or with that org community, or integrate that theatres company with theirs, and it becomes just a beautiful hot pot of a lot of possibilities and restorative things.
But that's really how I see the future more and more is instead of us trying to find the best place to pay rent, it's more the spirit of like, "I would love to give you this money because this money is going to people who, not are landlords of this land, but are using the land to provide a community service." Because I just imagine soon, if I'm able to have the capital to Art Rat Theatre be able to have walls sometimes, when things are safer, would we want to have our own space? I'm like, I don't really see that being ethical.
And alternatively, I find it potentially very restorative and exciting to be able to support existing community work on land that's already being taken care of by these people. They need resources. They need capital. They need supplies and things. So, why pay money to a landlord when you can pay money to these orgs and share the space in a way that's mutually beneficial?
I also think that theatre doesn't have to be as freaking rough and exhausting as we've normalized it to be, because at Art Rat Theatre, I've found that if you just get a couple hours with people every week, you can make something really beautiful. And if the people in power are able to poke holes the way that I think we as founders do need to do, we have to acknowledge our power in this place and then poke a bunch of holes in it. How can I set up my process so that even I am managing my own how I'm taking up space? And how can I empower other people and just show them, you can interrupt me? You can say things that are incomplete outside the ballpark of where I am.
And when one person starts to do that, everyone else starts to do it kind of thing. And building this culture, it doesn't just come naturally. As a person in power, you can't just be like, "All right, everyone. I really want an equitable space. Let's do it." The person in power has to be the one responsible to poke the holes in their control, in their power. I think that's the test of a sustainable effort is if the people leading it are able to do that.
Rose Kim: Right now, if y'all are interested in Art Rat's up to, our Instagram is pretty active and the place where everything goes first. So, that would be @artrattheatre. I teach intercultural approaches to performance and theatremaking at Art Rat Theatre School, and I'm getting together just a proper pages of websites where people can watch some of our work that's happened in the past few years, excited to be able to share our work in a not-live way, because industry people are curious. They're like, "What is the actual work they do? What are the shows like and things?" So, yeah. Our audience is eighteen to thirty-five-ish people of the global majority. It's very specific, and I think I really urge a lot of other theatres to take really specifically who your audience is now and who you say that you want it to be. Yeah.
Yura Sapi: Yes. There's nothing general about general admission. Thank you so much. It's been an honor and pleasure to chat with you. 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 podcast. Be sure to search HowlRound Theatre Commons podcasts and subscribe to receive new episodes.
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