Playwright Mia Chung is a member of New Dramatists and the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. She is a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) playwriting fellow and a Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Global Connections grantee.
Her work has appeared on many stages, but most recently can be seen at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s You for Me for You—a magical realism play about two North Korean sisters separated from each other against their wills. You for Me for You is the first show of Woolly Mammoth’s Free the Beast initiative, which aims to produce 25 new plays over a ten-year period (2013-2022).
Mia recently spoke with me about playwriting, Asian-American representation in theater, and what the DC theater world has done to encourage her continued success.
Joanna Castle Miller: What inspired you to write on the difficult subject of North Korea?
Mia Chung: I was inspired to tackle the subject because of two incidents that occurred during the summer of 2009: the detention of two American journalists—Euna Lee and Laura Ling—at the Chinese-North Korean border; and the reappearance of Jaycee Dugard, a woman who was kidnapped at the age of 11 and held in captivity for 18 years. Both of these incidents gripped me for the complex psychological battles being waged in each case.
JCM: How did you get started? Did you find it hard to break through America’s limited public perception of the “Hermit Kingdom?”
MC: If I am obsessed with a topic, I will conduct research and then start writing with the conviction that I will find some way to access the ideas and issues through human stories. Because I am not an expert on Korea, I did research to bolster my own understanding. I think the most important key to exploring unfamiliar countries and cultures through writing is to believe in a shared humanity.
JCM: You’re a part of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, which develops Asian American new works. Yet the entertainment industry regularly faces criticism for not showing the Asian American experience. How have you seen the arts world changing (or not changing) in the way it relates with and represents the Asian American community?
MC: It sometimes seems like a numbers game to me: the more Asian American writers, performers, designers, artists, etc. there are, the more visible the Asian American community is as a whole. I think what’s critical is that Asian American artists be as active and vocal as possible to be cast and produced in a variety of theaters, but also commit to making their own work.
JCM: This isn’t the first time you’ve developed new work in the DC area. How has DC played a part in your career?
MC: I’ve been so grateful to get support for two of my plays from two great DC theater companies: The Inkwell and Doorway Arts Ensemble. Inkwell invited me down twice—most recently to do a reading of my play You For Me for You at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival last summer. Doorway Arts Ensemble invited me down for a reading of a play called Exquisite Corpse. Additionally, in 2006-07, I spent a year in DC and got some storytelling experience with Speakeasy DC—a really cool, fun group of people who hold monthly storytelling events around town.
JCM: What advice do you have for young or emerging playwrights who would like to follow in your shoes?
MC: You should of course write as much as you can, learn how to revise, read plays, and see productions. But also: learn as much as you can about collaboration and find your theatrical community. Most of all: engage deeply with people and life and the world.
You for Me for You runs through December 2 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, located at 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. Closest Metro stop: Archive/Navy Memorial (Yellow/Green lines). For more information call 202-393-3939.