Friday, August 15, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 685: Jiehae Park

Jiehae Park

Hometown: This is the first year in my life I’ve lived in the same city for 3+ years, so lots of hometowns (or none?). My folks live in South Korea, and that’s got some hometown feeling.

Current town:  New York

Q:  Tell me about your play in the Kilroys List.

A:  HANNAH AND THE DREAD GAZEBO is about a woman who receives a mysterious FedEx box from her grandmother in Seoul, containing "a wish" and a suicide note— right before said grandmother jumps off the roof of her retirement home into the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The play is the family trying to recover her body and figure out why she did it…It’s weird and hopefully funny. The script won the Princess Grace Award and Leah Ryan prize last year.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m collaborating with designer Tristan Jeffers on a play about place/memory through the lenses of cartography, the internet, and John Harrison—the 18th century village clockmaker who invented a hyper-accurate watch that allowed sailors to calculate their longitude on the open sea. We just finished a two-week residency at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor (incredible, supportive place like no other-- everyone apply!). I’m revising my Soho Rep lab play, a trashy-dark-comedy adaptation of Macbeth set in a high school about scarily competitive Asian twins. And I’m in the verrrrrry early stages of my play for the Emerging Writers Group—it's about a group of young people trying to start a charter school…I think about this in terms of theater a lot—the fact that the blind optimism of well-intentioned young people is necessary for movements to get started, but can play out in funny-tragic-narcissistic-generous-helpful-unhelpful-complicated ways.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Time/money. I’m confused about them the same way an intro physics student might be confused about time/space. Are they the same? Are they just tangled up? Are they both manifestations of some third thing? Do people smarter than me know the answers?

That came out more glib that I intended…probably because I find those questions genuinely terrifying. I have a great dayjob (I jokingly refer to it as “my rich husband”) that gives me flexibility and funds, and it's scary to acknowledge how much my ability to participate in the arts—at least in this city— is due to that baseline stability.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Jenny Schwartz and Ken Schmoll for creating the gentle, perfect space that was this year’s Soho Rep lab, and because they are magical genius wizard people. Complicite— Mnemonic is still a high-water mark in my memory, Tim Crouch, Diana Son, Leah Ryan, Sarah Ruhl, Lisa Kron, New Dramatists the institution and the individuals who comprise it, Naomi Iizuka, Kyle Donnelly, Luis Alfaro, Prince Gomolvilas, Karen Zacharias, the writers in every writing group I’ve been in because they literally have been my heroes in numerous hours of need, folks who make work that doesn’t look anyone else’s in product or process—the Rude Mechs, Rainpan 43, Deborah Stein and Suli Holum, Improbable. And lastly but really firstly: Connie Congdon. I would not be a playwright if not for her.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Funny, surprising, sad, smart, warm, physical, music-loving, expansive, challenging. With no intermission.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  I feel like I don’t know anything! But that’s mostly what I’ve been working on—being okay with not “knowing” in advance bc everything I write/do/live in that state seems to be numbingly boring. I’ve really appreciated being in writers groups these last two years…and by “really appreciated” I mean “would have gone insane and/or cried a lot more without”…I feel relatively new to writing bc I slid into it sideways from acting, and my writing group peers have been both school and lifeline.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  This weekend (August 15-17th) I’ve got a short play up for an awesome kid/adult pair at the 52nd Street Project, and if you happen to be in Maine, I’m performing in a show by Jerry Lieblich and Stefanie Horowitz (aka Tiny Little Band) called GHOST STORIES which feels really special, as does the place it’s happening (Mohawk Arts Collective, started by impresario Andrew Simon). The show will be excerpted October 10th as part of the Prelude festival.
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