Julia Cho and Min Kahng

Julia Cho: Alright there, Min Kahng. (laughter) First of all, thoughts on our upcoming collaboration of The Four Immigrants?

Min Kahng: Mmhmm.

JC: Mmhmm, we’re excited, rehearsals are about to begin …

MK: Yeah!

JC: Yeah! What are your immediate thoughts as that event is coming up, what are you looking forward to, what are you concerned about?

MK: I think there are two kind of realms in which I’m thinking about it. One is from a just as a writer development standpoint, I think this is a very interesting opportunity to revise a couple things from the previous version, as well as presenting it in this reading format takes a lot of pressure off of it being about how it’s being presented and let’s me focus in on how the words and the songs are flowing. There have definitely been some revisions made to this version and this will be a chance to hear how those revisions are working, both in the rehearsal room and during the presentation itself.

And the other realm that I’m thinking about this event is just spreading the word about the show. I think just being able to work with a team, a production company so to speak, plus a new group of actors—basically new people working on it that I have not been connected with before is exciting and will help spread the word in a region I’m not really known in. So this is also a chance to invite some folks to get to hear about the show. But even after the event, my hope is that whoever else was involved will be able to tell other people who might be interested in this project.

JC: In terms of you not being known in this region, you do have your South Coast Repertory show coming up … I kind of feel like you’re maybe on the verge of becoming a much more well-known artist in LA. I mean, how did that South Coast Repertory workshop come about?

MK: Um, well, I hope that’s the case is my first response. (chuckle) I hope that’s the case because I think I’m pretty known here in San Francisco and part of my focus has been on trying to reach national recognition. And so in LA, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the show that South Coast Repertory will be producing in February, but that came about purely through my Theatre for Young Audiences circles. I have a few works that been produced by
Bay Area Children’s Theatre

When Bay Area Children’s Theatre was remounting it, that’s when South Coast Repertory was interested in producing it themselves. So that honestly happened through the TYA circles that I’m in, not so much that I was in LA and trying to get my name out there. So it’s just kind of a lucky thing that has happened, it kind of is happening in close proximity to this upcoming reading for The Four Immigrants. Hopefully both of these events will get people just interested in the work that I do.

JC: Let’s talk about how this Artists at Play/Four Immigrants collaboration came about in the first place.

MK: Mmhmm. Well, I ran into somebody named Julia Cho, not the playwright (laughter) at the CAATA conference, the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists, which has a bi-annual gathering. In 2018 they gathered in Chicago and I ran into somebody who I went to college with and we were in the same Rhetoric—I think it was Rhetoric and Theater class, The Rhetoric of Theatre class? …

JC: Oh, it was cross-listed?

MK: I was a Rhetoric major, but you were …

JC: No, I was both!

MK: See, I wouldn’t have been in that class if I wasn’t a Rhetoric major. But that’s where you and I met. And I was also further aware of you, just ‘cause even in college I had secret longings of doing theatre and I think I saw you in The Vagina Monologues. Right?

JC: (laughing) I definitely did my fair share of Vagina Monologue productions.

MK: And I believe at CAATA, I didn’t understand why, but it seemed like both of us were nervous around each other. In my head, I was like ‘oh, she’s in LA. she’s been on stuff, I’ve seen her on TV’ She’s gonna be like, ‘Who’s this guy trying to talk to me, like trying to get something out of me…’

JC: (laughter) Min Kahng and I had been keeping tabs in your career and to me you were a legit multi-hyphenate and here he is in the flesh! Will he remember me from Cal all those years ago? (laughing)

MK: And I did! I absolutely I did, because I had been low-key following your career. So that was nice that we both kind of entered into the conversation and got over that kind of awkwardness and just catching each other up. So that was the reunion piece and as a result of those conversations you had said ‘send me your’—I think I gave you the cast album for The Four Immigrants.

JC: You did, and it was on repeat in my car for the longest time and I was like I am so in love with this music, I am seeing the show in my head—There was the world premiere with TheatreWorks, but there was just something—

The music really kind of makes or breaks a musical, does it not? And these songs were immediately catchy, and there are some that moved me to my tears, and it was just such a fun fun show. And I, with my producing cap on—I mean, Artists at Play we’re always looking for artists and shows that deserve to be seen by a wider audience and this definitely fit that bill.

MK: Yeah, and I appreciate that and I remember kind of, you know, I shared with you but in my head I thought ‘eh,’ You know, I don’t know what—because Artists at Play is a smaller company, I don’t know if this means anything to her but here it is.

JC: It kind of just seemed like here is an example of my work so you know I’m legit. And I was like yes and yes.

MK: And I so appreciate that. I think I’m so impressed and excited about the fact that—It was like you and Artists at Play started to look for ways to support me and look for ways to help me. It wasn’t—You know, oftentimes a company that may be smaller and I have a show that’s like a larger cast size they can’t handle or a musical element they can’t handle, it’s like ‘oh I love your work but keep me updated’ and that’s where it ends. But I feel like with Artists at Play the conversation moved forward to ‘we want to help,’ what can we do and that’s where the conversation led next to this partnership with USC and Visions & Voices.

I was just so honored and impressed by that, that it wasn’t just an end of the conversation how we do figure something out to help me and help this show, to get to its next level.

JC: Thank you for that, And we’re just as excited and that’s kind of what propels us, right?  Because none of us are really making any big bucks off of this, so I think it’s that passion and excitement for the work that keeps us going towards that finish line. If anything, because we are such a smaller group, because we are so limited in our resources, it forces us to be more creative and a little more resourceful to what can we still accomplish. And this is a great example of that. And it’s something new for us! Once our mainstage show is done in the fall, okay, taking a break, let’s regroup and plan out next season. So the fact that we’re tacking on one more event for the year and it’s a musical …  I mean, yes, in a unique version and capacity. But tackling a musical has always been something we’ve wanted to do. We know we are not able to put on a full production, but again how can we tackle presenting a musical? And The Four Immigrants came along and now here we are about to launch into rehearsals. And we’re already at capacity for the venue!?

MK: Yes. That was crazy. Like within a week really.

JC: I know! And I know we wondered about maybe moving into a bigger venue? I hope this isn’t the last occurrence of this piece in LA. So I mean fingers crossed for a fantastic event and hopefully life beyond.

MK: What I guess I’m proud of—maybe I should wait until after the event (laughter)—is the fact that this is an event that has been made free to students. And that’s always been a thing wherever I go—My career right now has brought me to a place where I travel a lot and I often find myself in situations where I’m connecting particularly with other Asian American artist types. Like I was invited to speak at Harvard University once, and then this musical theatre writer who is Asian American, she just reached out to me and we had coffee and I got to share bits and pieces of my career. And in New York recently, somebody I had taught when he was in middle school, I taught a theatre class, he reached out to me and he wanted to pick my brain about what it was for me to make a career in the arts. So similarly, I feel like making this available to students fulfills this mentorship element that I like to bring into my work and what I do.

And I think it’s awesome because this isn’t the first time AAP has done community-oriented, right? Sure, there’s your mainstage stuff and that’s always community-oriented in that sense of putting Asian American representation before audiences. But also you’ve partnered with other organizations before. So it was totally in just the fabric of your organization to partner with USC to make this something that’s not just an opportunity for us as theatre artists but also an opportunity for audiences to come. ’Cause it’s also going to be preceded by a conversation about the show so there’s a little bit more of a glimpse into the artistic process. So I’m excited about all of that and that this isn’t just me scratching my own back (chuckles) but it’s hopefully going to be a meaningful thing for audiences to come and see.

JC: Yeah, yeah, I hope so as well. And something that’s important to us, and something we’re not always able to do, is to make theatre as accessible as we can. But just the logistics of producing and funding from our end, it does make it hard. We wish we could more, we wish we could do better. But yeah, this partnership with USC is very exciting for us as well. Because of our various USC connections, we’ve been able to have students and professors come see our shows but this is very unique, being on campus … Yeah, we hope everyone who comes enjoys it.

You’ve said lovely things about Artists at Play, which I very much appreciate. Anything else you’d want to add?

MK: No, not really, other than that … you know, I recognize that you’re a small budget organization with limited but very excited, involved staff and people—I don’t even know if you have a staff technically—

JC: (laughter) It’s just us! What is it, like four producers and two associates.

MK: To anybody who comes to this event or otherwise gets connected to you, yes, support your smaller local theatre companies. (laughter)

JC: That works. Thanks so much, Min! Okay, now going off the record …

MK: (laughter)

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