Letters From Home
Insights from the Artist Roundtable
Kalean Ung, Performer & Playwright
"I view Letters From Home as an opportunity for many different communities to have conversations about what it means to be a first generation American, what it means to be a refugee, and what it means to be the next generation after severe cultural trauma. Does our parents’ history write indelibly on our futures? Can stories release a community’s suffering?" As she contemplated her experience as a Shakespearean actress (which figures prominently in Letters From Home), she says, "It’s so interesting that I feel that I’m the most accepted doing Shakespeare. Really, in all honesty, I feel like Shakespeare belongs to everybody, and I feel like I am seen the most doing Shakespeare because it is so all encompassing...whereas right now, a lot of the stuff that happens in TV and film are so limiting or they try to write something, but I don’t actually exist yet in the breakdowns. I don’t exist."
Jenny Jihee Park, Stage Manager
“It’s hard to be a stage manager because you don’t see too many Asian American women in the field. And because of parents, or worrying about not making enough money, [Asian Americans will] often transfer over to something else and do art as a hobby. Then people think that we’re not serious enough, and that’s what makes it so difficult…But I want to get to a point where younger kids who look like me and are interested in being a stage manager [can see me] as a role model.”
Amanda Wing Yee Lee, Costume Designer
Amanda shared her vision beyond theatermaking: “Back home [in Hong Kong], art is only appreciated at an underground level…I’ve always known that I wanted to be in the arts in some respect. It’s a childhood dream of mine to study abroad and go back home to start a school that is prestigious, and you go there because you’re smart, but also because you’re artistic and creative. I want people to start thinking about art differently back home.”
Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh, Video Projection Designer
Kalean on connecting with Hsuan-Kuang: "I put in the universe that I really want a woman to do the video, and there’s not that many. But then you were recommended and you were also Asian and I was like WOAH because it’s all run by white men usually…I was shocked that your name came up, because when I was at CalArts, it was all men [in the video department]…I didn’t even know that I would get so lucky to have you."
Hsuan-Kuang: "In Taiwan, I didn’t do art…Here, I can express myself. I feel like I spent ten years reading about other people’s stuff but it’s just really nice to finally do things yourself…"
Marisa Tecson Johnston, ISC Communications & Development Manager
"I’ve been talking to my daughter a lot because when I was growing up, there were no Asians that you could idolize, someone cool to admire when it came to pop culture, but now it’s so different…For me, it wasn’t until I was much older that there was even an Asian [onscreen] that I could even feel like I had anything in common with…It’s really interesting to see how the conversation has changed and how people have been calling out the whitewashing that’s happening and has been happening for a long time…But these incremental steps are still taking a really long time. There’s decades in between."
Janet Lê, ISC Marketing Assistant
"I discovered I wanted to be a visual artist as a direct result of being a child of immigrants, because when I was younger, I didn’t know any English and I was in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. In kindergarten, the kids in my class were split into color groups, and the smart kids were in the “red” group. The “green” group I was in was the group with “learning disabilities.” I remember thinking that just because I couldn’t communicate in the language [everyone else knew], I didn’t feel like I had a learning disability. I started realizing that people thought I was smart because of my drawings, so that became my way of promoting myself."