Not one, but many. All and more.


My sister, an actor and writer, invited me to go see Natsu Onoda Power’s newest work, “The T-Party.” Here’s a pretty good description from the Washington Post, which reviewed the show.

I was a tiny bit familiar with Onoda Power’s work previously, since she directed Young Jean Lee’s play “Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven,” which went up at Studio Theatre a few years back. My sister was cast in that production. She’s the one in the middle.

Studio Theatre-Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven 9-28-10That play deserves its own post, btw. I’ll try and do more posts about the DC Asian American theater scene.

Onoda Power is brilliant. Last year, she put up a show called “Astro Boy and the God of Comics,” which I TEAR MY HAIR for missing. SOB.

“The T-Party” opens with a series of smaller parties–a karaoke party, a birthday party, (the bridal shower wasn’t running last night)–to which you receive an invitation from a cast member. These parties take place in different parts of the theater. I attended the karaoke party, where we were all asked/invited to sing various songs that explored gender play (eg Kate Perry’s “I kissed a girl” and Aerosmith’s “Dude looks like a lady”).

After these mini parties, we were ushered into the theater, which was a Prom. Some of the cast, in eveningwear, were dancing, and audience members were invited to dance as well. There were a few staged interactions (a fight between a man and a woman over the fact that the woman was enjoying dancing with another woman) before the Prom Queen and King were announced. The Queen was trans, and when she came up to accept her sash, she gave a short speech on how bittersweet it was to win this award, given all the hardships she’d endured at high school. She described how there are some people who possibly voted for her in order to mock her. She elegantly refused the sash.

This short scene was a wake up call that we weren’t entering a gender-queer utopia.

What followed were a series of vignettes that made smart use of dance, story-telling, sound and music, all of which ran me through a whole gamut of emotions. They explored the various experiences of trans and queer identities, ultimately advocating for their plurality, beauty, and difficulty.

My favorite scenes were a dramatic reading of a scholarly summary of dolphin sexual habits, a live music video about a lost unicorn, a lesbian coming out story set to a tango, and a staged blog post. I loved how these various stories got at the diversity of experiences that are grouped together under the banner of “trans” or “queer,” and how challenging it can be for those who move within this community to relate to each other, given those differences. We’re all different. Our differences can lead us to misunderstand and hurt each other or ourselves. But we can still find ways to be together. We have to be creative. We need to be open. I loved this show.  I loved the variety of bodies that were performing. I loved the range of talents they all brought with them. There were some incredible singers, poets, and dancers. The boundaries between their lives and the production’s narratives was porous. We were all invited to be on stage, so to speak.

I was especially touched by the incredible humor that this production exhibited. Humor is a powerful tool. I don’t know how to access it myself, but I love seeing it. It reflects the absurdity of our condition so beautifully. It’s one of our most powerful responses to pain and hatred.

All of this has me thinking about my little craft, the sometimes hermetic world of experimental writing that I dwell in. I love poetry. I love writing. I love how it can transform thought. I love the way it challenges and moves me. I also struggle with how it can reach more people.

My mother, for example, is a native Korean speaker. She’s an incredible communicator, but her English is definitely non-standard, and she’s not a confident  reader. My siblings do a lot of translating and explaining for her when it comes to texts or forms, things like that. She’s always been supportive of my efforts as a writer. She’s been to a few readings of mine and has my books. But I know that she experiences the work quite differently because of our language barrier.

I’d like to make something that my mother can encounter and relate to. I’ve been designing some new work towards this end. I’ve been incorporating more images in my poetry over the years, but I’m also thinking about performance and the Korean language, etc etc. I recently performed a dance at a reading I gave in Philadelphia. My mother designed and fabricated the dress I wore, and my ex covered it in calligraphy.

Salpuri SJL1

So much of my work emerges out my experiences with my family and where I came from, but so little of it is accessible to them. We’re different, but I want us to breach those things and come to a new understanding. We are not one, but many. I want us to have all, more.

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