Artists at Play co-founder Marie-Reine Velez interviews Julia Cho… not the writer, but the actor and fellow AAP producer. Read on for their conversation about the writer Julia Cho, her play 99 Histories (in which actor Julia Cho plays the role of “Eunice”), and what they think might happen if the two Julia Cho’s ever meet.

AAP co-founders Marie-Reine Velez and Julia Cho

Marie-Reine Velez: So, once more, you’re not the Julia Cho who wrote the play?
Julia Cho: NO, unfortunately. I wish I was that Julia Cho!
MRV: From the moment I met you, and especially since we started Artists at Play, I had a feeling that it was inevitable that you would be in a Julia Cho play and chaos would ensue, or we would create some kind of theatrical paradox. Did you also ever have this feeling?
Julia Cho and Julia Cho

JC: YES. I’ve always envisioned my meeting with the writer Julia Cho to be a colliding of universes, perhaps leading to a break in the space-time continuum – physically represented by Julia Cho and I doing the mirror exercise as everything around us collapses.

MRV: One of the main parts of our selection process is that the co-founders/producers all have to agree on AAP’s next production. What drew you to 99 Histories as a written play that helped you decide on a personal level for AAP?
JC: There are so many elements in 99 Histories that are eerily similar to my life. I couldn’t help but be moved as I read the play, reliving thoughts and moments that felt like my own. Perhaps it’s the Korean, growing up in L.A. experience I share with the writer. And of course, there is also that all-too-familiar conflict/friction between parent and child or the push-pull you have with someone when you love each other so deeply but also know exactly which buttons to push to set them off.
MRV: I love that the main setting for this play is in Los Angeles. Having grown up in Koreatown and other parts of the area, what kind of connection/similarities do you see between the Korean American community in Los Angeles?
JC: Throughout the rehearsal process, our director Leslie Ishii and the cast often find ourselves questioning certain moments or character traits with ‘Is this a Korean thing?’ or ‘Is this an Asian thing?’ or ‘Is this a parent-child (or family or American or HUMAN) thing?’ What is familiar to me is how my parents also didn’t share too much of their history unless asked. With immigrant parents, there is a sense of leaving that life behind in the country where they came from. Maybe it’s too painful to revisit; I can’t imagine uprooting my entire existence, leaving behind my friends and family, to start anew in a completely foreign land. And/or maybe that past life is considered of no consequence to the present and the future.
99 Histories rehearsal

MRV: 99 Histories is also a story about mental health, particularly how families address these issues internally. What has been your biggest takeaway from this process so far?

JC: It makes you wonder how many problems could have been alleviated sooner and more effectively had they been acknowledged and dealt with right then and there. When we feel isolated and alone, it feels almost easier to keep everything within. What I’ve learned more and more through working on this piece is how much we can learn and grow once we allow ourselves to share what scares us, what ails us. Because from even the smallest gesture of reaching out, wanting to connect, there is usually someone there who understands your pain or experience or at the very least cares enough to help you through it.
MRV: One of the things we haven’t really talked about in relation to this play is the impact of knowing – or in this case, not knowing – family history. How does 99 Histories build value in discovering events in our near and distant past?
JC: Mental health in this story is also connected to history. There is such a need from “Eunice” to discover more about her past, and in that process she also finds links to her own mental health. There is so much in this family that has been unspoken and untold. History is intrinsically part of who we are, whether it is hidden from or shared with us. Elders might think that they are protecting or shielding us, but there is no escaping the past. It will inevitably catch up to us because it is actually built into the genetic makeup of who we are. So we may as well explore and share and embrace it all.

MRV: Thank you for sharing all this with us! So, are you off-book yet?

JC: Not yet, but I’m getting there!


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