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Feb 27, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1031: Yilong Liu

Yilong Liu

Hometown: Chongqing, China.

Current Town: New York City.

Q: Tell me about June Is The First Fall.

A: It’s a play about being queer in Hawaii, eating mooncakes on made-up family holidays, and learning to sing Frank Sinatra in China. It’s a story for those who feel they have to leave home in order to find their true selves - no matter how far we’ve gone, the weight and pride of the culture and family histories we carry is always in the room.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I’m working on the first draft of my EST/Sloan Project commission, which is a full-length play about online censorship and video games. I also wrote a short play for the EST science brunch about the first genetically edited babies in China which I am interested in developing into a full-length.

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

A: I was traveling with my cousins in Hangzhou when I was maybe 5 or 6. Growing up as the only kid, my cousins were like siblings to me. My aunt agreed to buy us those jade paperweights at the gift shop. There was a single Chinese character carved on each of them, usually something nice and auspicious, like “knowledge”, “health”, or “love”. I went through the pile of paperweights and finally chose “忍”, which means to endure, to put up with, or to have patience, etc… but I probably didn’t know all of the meanings back then. The character itself is quite fascinating too, because it is literally a blade hanging on top of the heart. I remembered my aunt telling me that she was a little shocked because it was not something a kid would normally choose. Looking back I guess that did make lots of sense. I’ve been quite patient as a person and a writer. And to live and write in American right now you kinda need patience and endurance.

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

A:  I hope there could be more appreciation and even a hunger for a diversity of narratives when it comes to stories about minority groups and other cultures.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker. I took my first few playwriting classes from her when I attended University of Hawaii. She writes in the Hawaiian language and her use of traditions, mythology, and history in storytelling shows so much pride in one’s cultural identity. It was really inspiring and empowering to me as someone who’s also living in another culture and writing in English as a second language.

Gregg Henry at Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I honestly think many of the amazing things that happened to me happened because of KCACTF. For me, theatrical heroes are someone who not only creates and makes things happen, but also connects, believes, challenges, pushes boundaries… and Gregg is all of them.

I guess this question is making me feel very grateful for the wonderful artists that I get to learn from: Alice Tuan, Prince Gomolvilas, Mark Bly… the list goes on and on.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that’s deeply honest and personal, where I can tell the story is haunting the writer so they have to get it out.

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

A:  I’m still new but I’ve discovered that supporting each other’s work has helped me grow as a writer and become part of a community, which is very important if you are new to New York. So I’d say, go to readings of new plays! It’s free. It’s fun. It’s inspiring. And you don’t know who you will end up meeting there!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  June is The First Fall is running at New Ohio Theatre March. 31-April. 20!

Upcoming: My play Joker is part of National Queer Theatre’s Criminal Queerness Festival at IRT theatre this summer. It’s a festival that explores global homophobia and pride for WorldPride 2019, showcasing plays from Egypt, Tanzania, Pakistan, and China. The festival runs June. 13- July. 7!

Know a theatre: if you ever travel to Hawaii, please check out Kumu Kahua Theatre. In my opinion, it’s one of the coolest theatres in America. They are dedicated to producing plays about life in Hawaiʻi, plays by Hawaiʻi's playwrights, and plays for Hawaiʻi's people.

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