By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Seattle’s Sister (SIS) Productions presents “Insatiable!” a festival of plays and plays-in-progress from Asian American playwrights, January 25-27 at Seattle’s Pocket Theater. The playwrights and organizers took some questions over email.
NWAW: What led you to get involved in SIS Productions?
Kathy Hsieh: I was one of the original founders of SIS Productions. SIS is a company founded in 2000 by Asian American women (SIS is short for Sister) as a way to create more visibility for Asian American artists with a focus on the perspective of women. We create opportunities for Asian American women to take on leadership roles through mentorship and hands-on experience primarily through the production of theatre. The SIS Writers group was established as an important program of SIS in order to give voice to Asian Americans interested in writing plays.
Maggie Lee: I have always had an interest in theater, specializing in lighting design. But I remember being totally blown away by the first episodes of [SIS’] “Sex in Seattle”–I had never seen anything like it on stage, and I loved the original serialized play aspect of it. I went on to become a volunteer with SIS and did some lighting design work for them. I had also started writing plays on my own, and was very grateful when the SIS Writers Group asked me to join in 2007.
Roger Tang: I was a long-time associate of Kathy Hsieh with the old Northwest Asian American Theatre. At some point during their unprecedented run on “Sex in Seattle” (the longest serial for stage I could uncover for American theatre), they must have been desperate for help, so they had me do stuff, first as a designer (props, then sound), then as a producer. Eventually became Literary Manager and a writer.
Celese Mari Williams: I saw Kathy Hsieh speak at a panel discussion on women of color in the theatre arts. I was inspired and wanted to be a part of that.
Seayoung Yim: I was involved in community work and really missed the arts. I started taking playwriting classes and almost all my work features Asian American characters. Folks kept telling me to connect with SIS and Kathy Hsieh in particular, because they know all the API artists in town and how to make great theater!
I am so grateful for all the opportunities my involvement with the SIS Writers group and for the other playwrights for their support. SIS Writers group and SIS Productions have helped me find a way to merge community and the arts, and my heart feels full.
NWAW: How was the Playwrights Festival organized?
Kathy Hsieh: In 2005 when the SIS Writers Group was formed, the original members of the group decided to create the festival as a way to showcase the plays they had been developing over the course of the year. It gave them a goal to strive for and an opportunity to share their writing with an audience so they can get the feedback needed in order to continue developing their work.
Each festival is unique to the needs of the members being showcased.
Some years it’s all full-length plays, one night for each play. Other years it’s one long day with a variety of pieces from scenes to short plays to one-acts to full-lengths playing back to back. Last year it was one evening of short plays from each writer. This year, the first day is excerpts from full-length plays, the second night is two one-acts, and the third night is one full-length play.
NWAW: How did you go about writing your play? What are your themes? What were the easiest and most difficult parts of completing the work?
Kathy Hsieh: Plays usually come to me via an image or a scene or a character that pops into my head that I’m curious about and I use the structure of the play to learn more about that image or scene or character. Some plays feel like they write themselves – when I sit down to write, it literally pours through me onto the page. Others take much more time and come to me in fits and starts. For this play, [“Moms & Their Sons”], a few specific scenes formed in my head and so I started with those. The challenging part is connecting those scenes together into a cohesive play.
Maggie Lee: This year, I am presenting two one-act plays, both inspired by themes from H. P. Lovecraft. “A Silver Key” is based on one of Lovecraft’s stories. It’s actually one of the first plays I ever wrote, and was read as part of Insatiable! 2 back in 2007! I recently rediscovered it and thought it would be an interesting challenge to rewrite it now that my writing style and general outlook on life has (mostly!) matured. The piece is about what it means to be an adult, and if that means having to give up imagination and wonder.
My second piece “The Roots Run Deep” has more of a darker tone, steeped in the horror genre. It’s about two sisters who discover some secrets about their ancestors. I enjoy using genres like horror and science fiction to explore deeper issues, like exactly how much does your bloodline determine who you are as individual? I hope to tackle that question with this play, and have some good creepy scares for the audience as well!
Roger Tang: [“The Jade Con”] started as an homage to the old TV series “Leverage,” but my show is part of a longer work about an Asian American con woman and her family. I deal with the idea of a con artist playing with society’s ideas of roles it has for women and minorities; in a lot of ways, the con artist fights back and exploits society’s preconceived notions for women, youth and minorities.
Celeste Mari Williams: The idea for my one-act, “Someday My Prince Won’t Come”, came to me when I was thinking about some of my personal life lessons. Ha-ha. So I ended up with this, hopefully funny, dark comedy. I realized that no matter how intelligent and independent the modern woman is, there is still this fantasy of finding true love with our “prince”. This fantasy is quickly dashed by the reality of imperfect relationships.
There is this fantasy of having this fairy-tale romance but many fairy tales (especially Grimm’s) are actually very moralistic, dark, full of unsettling imagery, and often have sad or gruesome endings.
Seayoung Yim: I wanted to start a new play and my brilliant playwriting teacher Stephanie Timm suggested I try writing a revenge tragedy. I looked up elements of this and decided to write my version as sort of a strange comedy set in a convenience store. She also helped me brainstorm ideas for scenes. Also, Live Girls! Theater commissioned me to write a short play about Risk and Reward which helped shape “Do it For Umma.” I felt so supported by Live Girls! and Stephanie that I decided to make it into a full-length play.
The themes I want to explore in this piece are the costs of revenge, empire, parental approval, and cultural loss for children when a parent dies.
NWAW: What’s in the future for SIS and the Festival?
Kathy Hsieh: Besides the Festival, SIS’ next project is as a producing partner with ArtsWest in their local premier of David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish”–a comedy about miscommunication in business and personal relationships between America and China that will open in March. SIS is also finalizing getting the rights to a play that we hope to produce as a touring production that will go to colleges and different theatre venues.
SIS is also one of the original founders of “Represent! A Multicultural Playwrights Festival” with The Hansberry Project and eSe Teatro. And each year SIS also does a theatrical tour of the International District under the title “Revealed.” Each year we take sold-out tours of people on walking tours of Chinatown where we bring the stories of the people, history and places of the District to life using theatre.
Maggie Lee: I hope that the “Insatiable!” festival will continue on for many more years, and that it helps to showcase more diverse voices in Seattle theater. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.