Friday, May 27, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 843: Jason Tseng



Jason Tseng

Hometown: Potomac, MD

Current Town: Long Island City, NY

Q:  Tell me about Rizing.

A:  Rizing is set many years after the zombie apocalypse in Shelter, the last living city on Earth. Infected family members, friends, and lovers have been rehabilitated thanks to a daily regimen of drugs and therapy, but the uninfected that have brought them back do not trust them. Now the drugs are starting to wear off, and Shelter’s two-tiered society is poised on the verge of all-out war. Characters on both sides must choose between rebuilding the world as it was and creating a new one by force.

I've been describing it as "The Walking Dead meets Octavia Butler," specifically because I love the way that Octavia Butler puts a whole new spin on bedrocks of the genre. That's what I'm trying to do with Rizing. Take a new approach to zombies, mainly by making zombies protagonists of the story. In most zombie stories, the first thing the characters have to do is to deny the humanity of the zombies. From the moment of infection, they become monsters worthy of violence. I thought that this is often the same thing that happens to people of color with law enforcement, Muslims and refugees with the Homeland Security, or Gay people during the AIDS crisis. I wanted to explore the humanity of the zombie experience, and how much it might resonate with experience of oppressed communities around the world.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a queer Asian rom com that I've been working on called AirBnB. It's inspired by my experience dealing with my partner's coming out to his family. The story is about a gay Asian couple decide to rent an apartment on AirBnB as a cover when one of their parents makes an impromptu visit. It's more than a little melodramatic (two different love triangles!) but it has a heart of gold. It's also a little bit of an homage to The Wedding Banquet but for the 21st century.

I've also been doing research for another play that I've been prepping for. It's like Downton Abbey but set in colonial Hong Kong during the early 1900s. It deals with colonialism, nationalism, identity, and (surprise!) queer love. It's a super fascinating time period, especially because there has been hardly any media set in that specific time period. Most stuff I can find in Hong Kong is set in the 1980s during the economic boom, and during 1997 for the handover between the British and the People's Republic.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  My old AOL Instant Messenger screen name was kweenbtchgddess1. I got that nickname while serving as dance captain of my show choir. I was that kid in high school.

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

A:  Just like Bernie wants to break up the Big Banks. I'd break up the Big Theaters. And it's not that they're too big to fail (because they fail all the time)... it's that the way that way assets are distributed in the theater reinforces the exclusionary/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/etc theater-making system that we have today. When the gatekeepers are all old rich white dudes, no wonder the rest of us get shut out. I wrote a whole piece on that back during the whole LA 99 Seat Plan controversy.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  If you asked me this 10 years ago, I would say Tony Kushner, David Henry Hwang, and Matthew Bourne. But nowadays my heroes are decidedly less famous... and I'm too bashful to namecheck them here... but I'll simply quote June Jordan's famous line, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that isn't afraid of bodies. I love physical theater, dance theater, movement theater, however you like to call it. I started out in dance, so I really resonate with theatre making that really relishes in that ephemeral experience of bodies in motion. I'm also a sucker for a good costume drama. I know that those two things seem worlds apart... but I did say that I liked Matthew Bourne...

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

A:  I mean... I'm just starting out... so it feels a little strange to give advice. But if I could give myself advice eight years ago when I was toying with the idea of writing plays: Don't wait. Don't wait for gatekeepers. Don't wait for someone to discover you. Don't wait for the perfect idea. Just go and do! Even if it's grabbing ten minutes at a time on the subway, just start writing. I walked away from playwriting for close to five years shortly after first trying it out because I didn't see a place for my voice in what was being produced. It felt like such an impossibility that anyone would notice me that investing time in writing plays just felt like a bad investment. But when I started writing stories just for me... without any expectation that anyone would see them other than the audiences in my imagination, that was when I started writing shit that people actually liked.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see my show! Rizing is produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble and runs at the Access Theatre Wednesdays-Sundays through June 4th. Tickets at www.fluxtheatre.org/rizing

You can find more info at JasonTseng.com. I post my drawings and stuff at tsengsational.tumblr.com, and I have a monthly column where I talk and cartoon about the arts, politics, and stuff at The Clyde Fitch Report.

I also run two podcasts: I produce Play x Play-- the best plays you've never heard of-- (www.playxplay.org). We take unpublished plays and release them as radio dramas for free in a serialized format. I also run a podcast with my friend Anthony called Queer and Present Danger which is a queer nerd pop culture podcast and is available on iTunes.

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