Three years ago, Diana Oh was followed down wall street and viciously catcalled by a group of men in an SUV.
In the wake of that incident, the New York City-based actor and musician sat down in Times Square in her lingerie in front of a stack of paper bags arranged on a soapbox.
One bag read, “The world deflects over backwards to make excuses for male violence.” She stood there, silent, for hours, as passersby gazed, applauded, jeered, and, occasionally, joined in.
That installation, titled my lingerie play , garnered a raft of national media attention( in Upworthy and elsewhere) and spawned nine farther installments, which eventually came together in a raucous storytelling concert that follows Oh’s struggle to assert her voice and subsist without fear of abuse as a faggot woman of color in America.
Now remounted at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York after 2 years of growth, the concert seesaw between tales from Oh’s childhood and life in New York City and its anthemic chants, laid down by a hugely talented, synced-up band( full disclosure: Oh and I once collaborated together on a theatrical programme ). Where the fragment genuinely transcends are in its audacious — and plentiful — instants of audience participation, including an on-stage haircut and an electric make-out conference( more on that afterward ). Audience members are encouraged to write their own messages on paper bags before the evidence and take one home at the end, either their own or someone else’s.
Oh, who grew up the child of working-class immigrant mothers in Southern California, is a magnetic, open-hearted, and funny musician. She transforms the show’s wrenching subject matter into a celebration of life, difference, and voice. She considers the stage show, with its message of joyful opposition and predominately performer-of-color cast, a revolutionary statement.
“We do what we want, ” Oh says. “I do what I crave on that stage. And that is a revolutionary act, to watch a queer lady of colour who is Korean-American get to be … doing what I want on that stage.”
As the Harvey Weinstein scandal sinks toward an unknown bottom, and #MeToo tales continue to spread, I sat down with Oh to discuss the performance, its call to arms, her notion that white-hot reviewers often get art made by people of color incorrect, how much work putting together a diverse team necessitated, and why that work feelings worth it.
( This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity .) em>
There’s a moment, belatedly in the concert, where you talk about the frightening experience you had on wall street and how it led to the genesis of my lingerie play strong >.< strong> What was the moment like when you decided, “I’m going to stand on a soapbox in my underwear in Times Square” ? strong > em>
My roommate was like, “Do you crave this thing someone is throwing away outside? It’s a soapbox.” I remember I verified it, and it was become over, it was therefore was like an open container, and then I turned it upside down, and “its like”, “Oh my God. A soapbox. I know what soapboxes are. People used to use them. They used to stand up on them and talk about their feelings.” And I was like, “OK, I think this is something. And then that was it. Before I even knew, like knew ,< em> what a soapbox was, I primally knew what a soapbox was. My memory, my previous life or something like that. It was like a spiritual something, where it was just like, my spirit knows that I have to be with this thing.
I was well known that I wanted it to be silent. I knew that I just wanted to stand there and make a point, and I wasn’t going to yell, and I wasn’t going to get frantic.
How did you choose the site ? em > strong>
It was the most public location I could think of, and “its like” the center of the universe, and anywhere else would have been too subtle. I was done being subtle. I don’t want to be subtle anymore.
I was already writing this piece[ for the stage ]. And then eventually, I was like, “This is crap.” Because all the people who know not to treat people like shit are going to come to the theater and is just like, “I’m doing so great.” It came out of being frustrated that I was choosing a bubble — that my art form was actually a bubble. Knowing the things I had to say, I wanted it explosion to the universe. So that’s where wall street installations came in.
It’s very bold, obviously. You’re standing there and you know that the peoples of the territories go by you — it’s not necessarily safe. What was its own experience you expected to have ? em > strong>
I don’t even know. It was like I blacked out. It was like something came over me. I didn’t even have an promise. I only knew that I had to. I had zero expectations.
“Every step of the path, I feel like, I always have agency. Always. And that is the power behind this piece.” — Diana Oh
Being out there, it was a mix. A lot of people were like, “Thank you, ” and a lot of other people were like, “I don’t understand? Why are we envisioning more women in their underwear. I just don’t get it.”
In “ve been thinking about” the stage show, and selling it, was there something you came up with that was like, “This is how we’re going to get people in who wouldn’t commonly come? ”
I’m a theater nerd at heart. And I believe in accumulating people in a room together and having a powerful, spiritual experience. And that’s a gift that merely theater can give. So that’s what I knew. In words of marketing or selling it in any way, it was less about that than about “join in.” The revolution can’t be bought. I cannot sell the revolution. I don’t own the revolution, so it’s not mine to sell. But I can join the revolution, and they are able to taken together with me. And you can give your time and your supporting, and that’s it.
In words of this year, 2017, with this concert, the thing I continue scratching up against right now is this concert is for the people and by the people. I can sense that there’s a great gulf in between the people and theater culture and the theater critic world.
What sort of divide ? em > strong>
The divide I feel is in what we’re doing. And I belief the people who come to it believe in it. And I believe the people of color who are in the audience are a direct result of us making sure that people of color are establishing the task. The culture of the room needs to be right for different cultures of the room. And I wish you could write off this dance move.
I’ll write down what you’re doing . em > strong>
[ Oh does a breaststroke in the air, as if releasing, then corralling, a litter of puppies .] em>
The chasm I find is — I call it the “theater helmet.” When people put on their theater helmet, that’s like, “Ah-ha. I know how to take this work in because I am unbelievably civilized. I come from a lot of privilege. I studied many many things. And I come from a extremely certain socioeconomic background. And now I am deemed as a professional philosopher in the arts. I know what good art is.” But when it gets to be the same people with the same backgrounds commenting on what good art is, you can feel that commentary. You can feel the difference in experience an audience member is having versus a theater commentator who has had a lot of schooling.
One of the things that I connect with is that many people of color have grown up in messy households. And I find that to be very true. Even if we’re wealthy, even if we’re growing doctors or whatnot, there’s any particular mess to our households by virtue of us straddling this dual citizenship in the world. And I think it’s this messiness that our trained theater critic cohort don’t quite know and understand. Understandably — because why would they? They didn’t grow up in these messy households. So there’s any particular starvation that I feel from them to have neatness.
Do you think there’s a solution? Do you think there’s something these critics and theater professionals can do to put in the work to come to a better understanding, or do you think it truly has to be a change in personnel ? em > strong>
Does it have to be a change of personnel? Sure. Perfectly. Do I want to see more of my artist-of-color friends being reviewed by novelists of coloring? Utterly. Because I feel like we would feel more visualized. It wouldn’t feel so dimming. It would just feel like, “Oh my gosh, you encounter me. Thank you.”
I reckon part of the nature of video games is, “I dispense my prudence from up on this perch, ” and that in itself develops a resistance to listening. Because you get so many people telling you, from slants, who are mad at you for affording their shows a bad evaluation, so I wonder if part of it is, you develop this wall . em > strong>
That sounds like a terrible life. I don’t know why anyone would choose it.
The nighttime I was there, at the least, you had a very young audience, very diverse, all genders and ethnicities and ages. Not the typical profile of a theater audience. What does that feel like, that you induced that happen ? em > strong>
That is like we did the run. That is like, I fucking fought for that. I’m done with subtlety, and I’m done with being silent. And if I’m feeling an instinct, I’m feeling an instinct. If these young people need to be reached out to, they need to be reached out to. And our collaborators need to represent the houses that we want. We have a big problem if the majority of our group is white-hot or cisgender or straight-out. We’ve got a really big, great problem. And so we have to queer our room so that we can queer our room.
You spent five months looking for a female bassist of color. Was it important to you to have a woman of color in that specific role, or was it because you didn’t have that represented already in the band ? em > strong>
It simply was important that it widened beyond parity, that it widened beyond equality, that it was more about just representing my upbringing. I wanted more than one Asian person because I was tired of being the token Asian. I craved that there, and I knew the bassist had to be a person of colouring, and I didn’t want to be the only female or non-binary or gay person in the band.
People often talk about, “If you’re really committed to find full representation, you just have to look harder.” What was that process like for you ? em > strong>
It was precisely that. So much digging, so many emails, so much asking friends of friends. And even with bass player Rocky Vega, we found her, we acquired this feeling, we detected a voice, we found her politics, everything. And we are continuing had to be like, “Let’s teach you the instrument.” Because we could find all these capable bassists, but likewise the ability to sing and do peace and stand up on stage with us in their underwear and be liberated.
Where did you find her?
Guitarist Matt Park had done “Peer Gynt” with her, and he was like, “Rocky is so awesome.” And for a long time, we were like, “Oh my gosh, but she doesn’t play-act bass, so we can’t.” And then eventually it got down to the end of five months, and “its like”, if we don’t find someone, I’ll be so sad, and we can’t do it. So we just asked her, and Ryan got in a chamber with her alone to play bass, and he was like, “She can do this. She can learn this.” And she’s incredible.
There are two big minutes in the evidence where you engage in reasonably intimate audience interaction. There’s one whatever it is you shave someone’s psyche and one where you make love with an audience member as part of a consent workshop. And I’m pondering how you went about creating those minutes — and the guardrails around them . em > strong>
There was a lot of work that went into it, into framing it, into how to term it perfectly so that we are naming enthusiastic approval. So that we know that we are constructing sure it is like an invitation and not like hazing. So that it feels like a talent for the purposes of an audience member and not like they’re a prop. And each night, it changes. I generally share my head-shaving narrative. And some darkness, I don’t want to share it when I’m shaving a person’s chief. I just want to honors it and be with them. And then I’ll share my stuff afterward. And it’s just about being genuinely present.
The make-out workshop came out of so many revisions and so many things being thrown away, being like, “We can’t do this. We can’t do this. It’s not working.” There is an issue where there was a version of this concert where there was so much trauma in it that it was like, we’re not here to exploit trauma. And the make-out session was born out of a conversation that our dramaturg Mei Ann Teo[ tone: a dramaturg is basically a theatrical editor, though the scope of the role varies from production to make .] and the administrator Orion Johnstone had. I think they were having a exchange about the text, and they came to me the next day and was exactly, “We have a proposal for you. What if you make out with an audience member on stage.” And I was like, done. Yes.
You were super enthusiastic about that from the beginning ? strong > em>
Yes. Huge. I was just like, life of my dreamings. Let’s freaking do it. We’re does so with intricacy. Orion, Mei Ann, and me were all aligned in the notion that our sexual liberation is so intertwined with social justice. Oftentimes, the disgrace or the hiding or the silence or the questions or the feeling that surrounds my sex expres, it wasn’t born out of nowhere. And I wasn’t born with all of that. And it’s something that I feel like was piled on me as I have lived “peoples lives” through this world-wide, determining the route I do sexually.
I don’t want to feel shame in the street. I don’t want to feel chagrin in the bed. And I find that to be true of so many people. To think of how much hiding we do, of the kind of friendship that we want and who we want to have it with and all this stuff, and all the conceal that we do, and all the breath-holding that we do, and how that’s actually intertwined with, “Well, if you would just let us be who we are, perhaps we wouldn’t close in so much.”
The nighttime I was there, two people volunteered really quickly to make out with you. Do “youve been” have a moment where you felt uncomfortable during that part of the demonstrate? Where you had to be, like, this is not working for me at this moment ? em > strong>
This is why working with a sex and relationships tutor[ director Orion Johnstone] on your artistry is astonishing because they literally had to tell me, “Take your time to choose.” I have been conditioned to be like, “Make a option. You have to love it. I’m so into it. Yeah. Do what it is you want.” Where it’s like, “No no no, we’re going to disrupt that and be like, ‘let me take this in and see who it is that I actually want to share this moment with.'”
From there, I have that time to sit with them in the Super Sexy Hot Enthusiastic Consent workshop to be like, “How is it that I want to kiss you as I’m looking at you? ” And some nights I want to, like, make do with the person. And some darknes it’s like, I want to give them a really soft, greeting kiss. And some nights, it’s like, I want to kiss you everywhere but the mouth. But every step of the mode, I feel like, I always have agency. Always. And that is the power behind this fragment. And that’s something the dramaturg has given voice to. That the darknes is actually about watching you, about organization in the chamber.
You’re performing this at a moment where these issues are exploding into public life in an inauspicious space — with previous accusations against the president of the United States and, of course, more recently in your industry, with Harvey Weinstein. What sort of tools do you hope people walk away from the show with ? em > strong>
My hope is that people walk away seeming like they have complete and total bureau to act and speak out and honor themselves and honor their truth and honor their strength. That any time they feel that urge to be like, “I feel like I can do something but I don’t know if it’s like this, and I don’t know, ” that it’s like, “You can. You can and you are able to. And you must.” You just have to put one paw in front of the other to do it.
You said you’re training one more installation ? em > strong>
On Oct. 28, at a to-be-disclosed location, at 4 p. m ., we are going to be inviting all the past audience members of such demonstrate to stand outside along with the paper bag they left with. And if you don’t have a brown paper bag, we’ll give you one of the leftover ones that we have with the hopes that between now and then you will have given some thought to how we can make this thing possible in whatever small-minded and big course. And it’s only a chance for us to stand outside together, be together, convene each other.
I is considered that community is built by shared experience, and we will have shared its own experience. And each night is so different.
In the meantime, we want everyone to see the indicate because we believe in it so much better. We believe in the charm of it, that it’s genuinely utilizing our civic duty.
my lingerie play 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS. The Final Installation passes through Oct. 28 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in New York City. Tickets can be found here.