Friday, June 01, 2012

Leaving Youngblood: the lessons learned

I’ve made a list of all the wonderful moments I'll never forget from Youngblood: the laughter that comes from reading someone's new play out loud; the discussions in which a playwright snaps to verbalize what their play is about; RJ and Graeme's wise observations of what's core in a scene, in a character, in a play.

But workshopping our work was just a fraction of what we did. Every Wednesday, we met to talk about the shows we’ve seen, breaking down what’s working and not working in new plays, and during the breaks, we talked about our own challenges living and writing in New York. Fascinating were the moments in which these struggles were revealed in our work, or discussed 'till late-night over drinks at McCoy's.

If being a new playwright in the city is not difficult enough, being a foreign, young playwright in the city is rough. There's an incredible amount of barriers to face when you’re trying to cross borders, cross cultures, to become part of a new community. So I have to take this moment to thank Youngblood for giving me a home.

The popular story is that I’m the most MIA playwright in Youngblood because I was deported, and in truth, I was absent for 4 years of my membership. However, before I left the States, I asked RJ whether I could remain a member and while I was gone, I kept Youngblood in my heart.

Abroad, it was hard for me to identify myself as a playwright, so I held on to my membership to not lose sight of my creative needs. During those years, I'd manage to return to the city once a year and bring pages to the group. Once, there was a two-hour long melodrama, where I poured my heart out to describe all my frustrations with love, in often subversive or coded relationship dramas.

I was dealing with a sexual identity crisis, worsened by a tri-lingual cultural clash, and playwriting was what held me together. It was through my writing that I could identify my problems and deal with them, mostly in solitude, and if I didn't have the support of Youngblood, that period in my life would have been unbearable. 

I traveled a lot, and a lot of that was a means to escape. Escape my problems. Escape my frustrations. Avoidance was necessary, because I was too afraid to be who I was. But then I'd come to Youngblood and say to myself: well, one of the big problems I have is a sexual-identity crisis, so I emailed RJ and Graeme telling them that Youngblood needed to make a firm stance in favor of gay rights. So before the Marriage Equality law was passed in New York, Graeme got in a wedding dress and RJ married him in one of my brunch plays. That's one of the moments that I personally, will never forget.

Around that time, I was working on a play called "disOriented," which was directed by Carlos Armesto and produced by his company, Theatre C. Carlos and I met through Youngblood on my first year in the group, back in the days when Carlos was Associate Artistic Director of EST. Looking back at where Carlos and I started and where we ended, I am so thankful to Youngblood for introducing us, and planting the seed of one of my best collaborations so far.

Meanwhile, I had the privilege to learn the singular beauty of each playwright's voice, their unique personalities, and over the past eight years, it's been incredible to watch playwrights achieve incredible accomplishments. I'll never forget what I've learned from fellow Youngblooders: Qui Nguyen, Liz Meriwether, Zakiyyah Alexander, Edith Freni, Sharyn Rothstein, Amy Herzog, Annie Baker, Jon Kern, Mike Lew, Josh Conkel, Lucy Alibar, Rob Askins--but they're just a fraction of the talent Youngblood has nurtured, and it's just a matter of time before each Youngblood playwright will make me see something new about the theater and literally make me say: "whoa."

But the greatest lesson I've learned comes from looking back at the first play I brought to the group. After college, I was obsessed with the tragic form and I was working on a trilogy of tragedies called THE HOUSING PROJECT. The first play, HOUSE OF SOL, dealt with a young gay man, full of revenge and anger, that severed ties with his family. The play was read as part of UNFILTERED, and performed by seven men playing both men and women. The show was a drag show that never got produced, because I kept on self-censoring myself while writing it. On a retreat to the Catskills, I remember Graeme advising me to avoid self-sabotage. And after reading the play, I remember RJ acknowledging how hard it was to sever ties with your family.

This year, I’m finally facing the music, as I take the necessary steps to make New York City my permanent home. In my last brunch play for Youngblood's "Fellowship of the Brunch," I wrote about what’s going on to explore the personal challenges I’ve been too embarrassed to talk about in person. Sitting in rehearsals with Kel Haney (our director) and our cast, we talked about how my situation happens and how sad it is that it's true. Yet, at the same time, there’s something completely liberating about unveiling your personal wounds, and edifying to have a place to talk about them while being empowered.

Caryl Churchill once described playwriting as exposing your mind on stage, to then have it chopped up to pieces by the press. But in the art of making theater, I've been able to bring in these complicated, personal situations to learn how to deal with them empathically, and that has made me personally, and I believe artistically, a much stronger and braver human being. For this, there aren't enough words to express my gratitude to Youngblood.

For those that know my work, they know that I like writing political theater, because I believe that theater is a rehearsal room for social change. In that sense, Youngblood also gave me the home I needed until I could find the tools to build a home for myself. And for that, I’ll never forget how Youngblood taught me to stay true to my voice, to listen to it and use it to change my life. Many thanks Youngblood. These lessons, I'll always remember.

1 comment:

Patrick Link said...

Great post, Kyoung!

PS. Was there ever a Kyoungblood riff? I might be seven years late to the party.