You've worn many hats in the past - director, playwright, performer... how would you describe yourself creatively?
Calling myself a ‘creative’ feels a little too classic millennial for me, in the untethered, undirected way I feel myself judging my own choice of this historically tragic career path. But at my core I’m trying to become an artist - even though I have been making art as my main thing for a while, have been working professionally for a bit now as well, and my motivation is to make and create, it is still hard to completely claim the identity of artist because of internalized stigma or maybe a fear of falling short of what I think an artist should be. I see myself as a maker, a facilitator, a… I’m not sure where I was going because the next word that came to mind really was artist and that feels a little redundant. Anyways. I would say that I’m at the intersection of a director, producer, and playwright. Occasionally, (rarely, rarely) I perform. Often I guide and teach other creatives to grow into roles (performing and production) that come together as part of a larger piece (that’s my vision of directing). I also spend a lot of my time writing - I write as a way of processing the world. Writing is how I feel like I can reflect all the conversations swirling around me on constant basis. In a way, I see myself ‘creatively’ as nurturing, both myself and the artists I’m lucky to have in my orbit and working with me on different projects and pieces.
You've mentioned in the past that you want your work to be political. Do you still feel that way, especially given the current political climate?
Yes. No question. I think now, more than ever, we have to resist; in our art and down to our personal lives. I was really distraught right after the election, and was actually taking a class on protest art that really shaped my thinking. The next quarter I took a class on manifestos. Reading the political thoughts of other women and people of color really inspired me and taught me about the history of the politics of inclusion and respect that I want to continue to honor. I really do believe that the personal is political, as Carol Hanisch says. And my world is full of politics - it's full of women, poor people, queer people, people of color. Humans I love and whose lives I care deeply about. So why wouldn’t I make work for and about them? As I see it, it’s the best time to be alive as a minority or underrepresented voice. Even if things are awful and could be better, we are part of a time where the internet has made it possible for us to raise our voices and stand up against a society that’s been privileging the wrong people for too long. But again, it always comes back to relationships, I think. And my relationships are with the people who are wronged by the system and I want to be a part of changing that. Art is healing and powerful. It gives us a space to process and love, to learn about injustice, to feel empowered and connected in a room with others who acknowledge the same truths. That’s why my work has to be political. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make a romantic comedy someday - but just existing in the body I exist in, as a North-Korean, Irish human who identifies as a woman… well, that romantic comedy is still going to be political. It’s going to be feminist, it’s going to be written/directed/produced by an Asian American woman. That’s just how it is.
Do you work better alone or with others? How does collaboration influence your work, especially in theater where there are so many people involved in productions?
Both. That’s not a necessarily straight answer but it really depends on the creative situation. Playwriting and directing are different beasts. When you’re directing, you HAVE to collaborate. Like I said before, it’s about working with others to bring out their strengths, whether that's with an installation designer or a performance artist. The interpersonal is the exciting thing about it, and brings a whole different kind of energy to a piece. As a director, you’re at the head of the collaboration. You have to manage the team, with the producer, in a compassionate but strong way, with vision and clarity. People need to trust and respect you, otherwise nothing happens.
When I’m playwriting, it’s really different. A lot of it is solo time at my computer, thinking. Most of it really is just stewing and thinking. It’s pretty awful, and I think most artists will agree and say that. Even if you love being alone, the process of writing is brutal. But there are collaborative aspects. I like conducting interviews to help with my process, which often helps me understand the voices and realities of my characters and fine tune the world I’m working in. Also, being a part of writers groups and exchanging writing is a good way to bring in collaboration into the process. And deadlines. Knowing that someone will be reading and judging your work (even in a kind way) every two weeks (or whatever your timeline is), is incredibly motivating.
What's a project you're currently working on that you're especially proud of?
Right now I’m writing a play titled Crane Wives. It’s about a found, queer family, and their relationship to memory and trauma. It's based partially on my experiences living in cooperative communities in California and also interacting with the queer scene in Berlin. I’m really proud of it because I see how much my writing has strengthened, even in the past year when I was focusing more on directing. And it’s sort of a love child because I’ve been working on this piece for about three years now and will finally, hopefully have something to show in December, when I’m planning a reading (which will be my first big thing in Berlin this time around). I’m really really excited to see where it goes but I also don’t want to say too much more because it’s still constantly transforming.
Tell us a little bit about your college experience. You just graduated from Stanford - are you anticipating a shift in the way you create post-college?
Everything is about this shift at the moment. At first after I graduated it was a constant go, heading to New York for a few days and reconnecting with a lot of artists I’ve worked with before and also good friends. Then I was in Venice at the Biennale for a month with long days and little sleep, and then I took the next month and a half to settle into Berlin and catch up on rest, which took a lot more effort than expected. Next month I finally move into my permanent apartment and have all my paperwork in order (German bureaucracy is something else), so I feel like my life in this city will really begin then. My college experience was somewhat unconventional - I realized I needed to make theater with my life around sophomore year when I visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which was a transformative experience for me. The following year I started directing seriously, training in performance, and learning more about the history of theater making and practice. I joined an experimental theater collective, The Freeks, who make a lot of immersive and site-specific work, where I had some of my most influential learning experiences, first as a performer and then as a writer and director. I started taking playwriting classes as well, writing my first plays based out of interviews I had conducted in Vienna.
Stanford is a stressful place, however, and I also felt like at some point I needed to actually get professional experience to figure out if this is what I really wanted to do with my life (I was really thriving in the student scene but wasn’t sure how sustainable that would be in the ‘real world’). So I took a year and a half away from campus, first working at theaters in the Bay Area, then in New York, and then in Berlin. I produced and directed my first show in New York while interning and assisting, which was a wild time with little sleep but really beautiful work. I loved being in the rehearsal room, and figured out that the professional theater world isn’t that different from being a student at Stanford making work on campus. Even down to applying for fellowships and funding, it’s fairly similar. People grow up a little but a lot of the issues and problems that arise during a show are the same. And the capacity for both good and bad work feels similar to me - of course students don’t have access to the funding that major production houses have, but based on my taste I’m actually a little more into the less polished-raw-experimental-weird-honest stuff, so I thought a lot of the work I saw on my campus was better than a lot of the shows I saw in the City. I saw around 70 shows while in New York, and wrote a play based out of interviews with female astrophysicists. In Berlin I kept writing daily and ended the summer with a public reading of the piece, which was a really exciting first creative step in that city. I also met really wonderful people - a lot of them also artists, working on beautiful and frightening and powerful work.
After that I returned to finish my senior year, write an honors thesis, and direct my final piece at Stanford, an immersive, queer retelling of Romeo and Juliet that was visceral and overwhelming and vibrant and so so queer and femme and intimate and dirty… I loved that project. I really love most of the projects I’ve been able to do, and the ones that were difficult taught me a great deal about how to be a better artist so I can’t really complain. So that’s pretty much how I ended my time. Halfway through Stanford I performed in a Freeks piece that led me to meet a lot of really interesting and loving humans who invited me to live in their home, and being a part of such a unique and creative and caring space really allowed me to grow into myself as an artist in a really strong way. With each piece I can hear my actual voice emerging stronger, and it’s exciting to see something and know that that is my voice on stage, in the bodies of people who are honoring my intention and work. Work is definitely going to be shifting and changing with this big transition. I’ll probably have a little bit of a harder time at the beginning finding funding, since being in college really sets up a lot of opportunities to apply for grants. Those exist in the real world, but I’m in the process of figuring out what that process exactly looks like. I’m also hoping to work in a few professional rooms, assisting directors and playwrights, although I mostly want to be focusing on my own work in the next ten years or so. I’m applying to graduate schools for playwriting, and I’m working on starting an interdisciplinary artistic collective in Berlin that makes immersive and installation art. I’m excited to have the time to throw into all of these pursuits, and to be making, daily. The daily part is really important for me and was very hard to keep up while studying. So I’m excited to return to that practice from my time away from campus that I sort of had to abandon a little during this past year. I’m also foreseeing it being harder to find collaborators, since I’m no longer part of my collective (who I am missing really intensely at times). Mostly, I have no way of knowing. But I’m open to changes and transformations, and have a lot of hopes.
Where do you find inspiration in your daily life? If you're feeling uninspired, is there something you do to kickstart the creative process?
Tumblr. Reading all the d*** time. Documentaries. Interviews. Seeing a lot of art. I draw my inspiration from observing what’s going on around me, having meaningful conversations, and scouring the internet. The internet is really my friend, because it allows me to sample, visually and literarily (and even politically) at a rapid pace. When I’m feeling seriously uninspired I use Tumblr, where I try to make a different account/page for every show. This helps me create a visual world in a fairly easy way, and I can just sit there and skim and click on this and that and see what roads I end up going down. And usually, after a little bit of time, I’ve gained some more understanding about the characters and the world and I can write again.
Is there a woman in your field that you particularly admire? What do you admire about her?
So many. Seriously, there are so many incredible women out there. If I have to pick one… hmm. Can I pick someone who isn’t alive? Because then I pick Joan Littlewood, who ran a political protest theater collective in the mid 20th century in England, who is sort of the mother of modern theater. She was super fierce and treated her collective like family. I feel a deep kinship with her, and love reading about her life and her process. She brought out each of her actors' strengths and was deeply invested in creating powerful and meaningful work that had to be on stage. As for someone who is alive, I think there’s too many people. I guess I’d say Lynn Nottage because she’s inspired so much of my process (interviewing people and then never looking at the interviews again, but really listening so that you can reflect their voices in your work). She started out by working for international non profits in human rights work, and writes pieces that are highly political based on people’s real stories. I think that’s so incredible. She seems to have a genuine love for people and for bringing emotional truth to the stage. I admire the strength it takes to love like that.
You've written several plays in the past. Which one was the most meaningful for you, and why?
Mm, this is a tough question, but my mind immediately jumped to Space Monkey Super Star, my meditation on the patriarchy, the Universe, and astrophysics. It is based on a series of interviews with female astrophysicists and their relationships to being women in male-dominated spheres and the intensity of being in PhD programs. I wrote it while considering who we label as genius (specifically, how gendered this term appears), and how the personal is political right down to the food we put in our body on a daily basis. This was largely inspired by the documentary Amy, which depicts a musical genius and her tragic experience. I would say that this is the most meaningful play I’ve written to date, even though others have been performed as full productions, because after the first full length reading I experienced this intense sensation of calm, filled with the silent knowledge that I had created something important and beautiful. There was a quiet in the room for a little bit while we all caught our breaths and it may be one of my favorite moments to reflect on when I’m feeling discouraged. That moment happened again at the public reading of the piece. There’s something in it that touches people, and what allows me to call myself a playwright and an artist. I’m proud of making this work, this deeply personal, political, raw, and stormy piece. There’s definitely still work to do on it but I am so satisfied that I was able to accomplish what I have with it. It’s also the piece I’ve received the strongest feedback on from bigger theaters. It’s allowed me to start relationships with them and begin conversations about sending them more of my work. All things I’m happy to be able to do at this point.
Why is creating important to you?
The women in my family are powerful, independent, and all-around badass women. I say this to answer this question because they are the reason why creating matters to me. One of my grandmothers escaped North Korea with an infant, then immigrated to the US and worked as a cleaning lady and in a candy factory to support bringing her five children and husband to American to become citizens. My other grandmother lived in an all-Irish neighborhood in New York with immigrant parents and became a secretary at major corporations, eventually educating her four sons and inspiring me to become a storyteller by writing a book about her life. Both of them worked incredibly hard so that I could follow my dreams and do whatever I wanted with my life. It feels like it would be a waste if I didn’t take advantage of the freedom to travel, work, and make. If my Halmoeni hadn’t left North Korea, I would not have any of the opportunities I’m so privileged and lucky to have. So I value freedom dearly, the freedom to speak my mind politically and be independent and feminist and to chose to be an artist. It’s a really amazing thing.
How do you see your craft evolving going forward? Is there something new you'd like to try that's out of your comfort zone creatively?
I want to work collectively, with other artists who are passionate about their individual crafts. And definitely keep working in immersive art, which is what I was doing with the Romeo and Juliet I just put up this past May. I’d love to learn more about making installation art, and including installation in my immersive pieces. And working on my visual artistry. I’m actually taking a sketching class, which is way outside my comfort zone, but something I super stoked about.
What's next for you? What are your biggest short and long term goals?
Right now it’s all about settling into Berlin. Most of my cuties and people I love are back in the US, which is pretty difficult. And I think post grad is generally hard for people. But I’m giving myself a year to see if Berlin is my city and whether I want to live here permanently, and I’m pretty hopeful that I’ll spend a good portion of my life here (probably on and off, not all the time as there’s so much of the theater world in various cities in the U.S.). So my short term goals are to set up my home - painting my room and my kitchen, finding furniture, making it a haven. Additionally, I’m applying for a program at the University of the Arts here in Berlin. It’s highly competitive so I’m not going to talk too much for fear of jinxing it, but that’s one thing I’m spending a lot of time on. And working on Crane Wives, for a reading of that this December. Conducting lots of interviews and meetings lots of humans who are also interested in the ideas of found family and memory!
Long term, I’m working on setting myself up professionally in Berlin and finding/forming a collective that makes work that is experimental, immersive, political, honest fresh and strange. No big deal… (rolls my eyes at myself). Ultimately, I want to support my life only with my artistic work, but it’ll probably be a bit till we get there.
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