Jesca Prudencio

We sat down with INTERSTATE director Jesca Prudencio to talk about the joys of creating a world premiere, the importance of community in theatre, and whether or not any Minneapolis DJs should be worried to see the show.

[This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.]

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your history with Mixed Blood? 

I am a director truly living bicoastal. I mostly live in San Diego where I’m a Professor of Directing at San Diego State University, and I’m a freelance director so I go where the work is. I knew Jack when I was at UCSD where I got my MFA in directing so we got to know each other during his visits there and then he invited me to direct “How to Use a Knife” by fellow UCSD grad, my good friend Will Snider. So that was my first time here and I always knew I was gonna come back. 

What drew you to INTERSTATE?

I just love the music, I’m really drawn to it. There’s so many big issues, big topics to discuss [in the show], and I want to find a way to look at these issues in a really complicated and human way. INTERSTATE examines queer identity, the queer community, Asian American identity, queer Asian identity, and even toxic masculinity using this epic American road trip journey and great music. It’s truly an intersection of so many issues, all through really powerful characters and relationships and really great music. This show is looking at gender in a really complex way, especially with Dash wrestling with his identity and what it means to be a man. He’s taking testosterone and he’s also maturing as a man in his transition, it’s like what does that mean when he is a man but testosterone-wise he’s a 13 year old boy, and then there’s Henry who’s just at the beginning of that process. It’s looking at those behaviours in a really important way of not only celebrating the queer community but also acknowledging the complexities. My artistic mission is to humanize issues and this musical does exactly that. 

Can you talk about some of the joys of a world premiere? Do you approach a world premiere differently than a production that’s been produced before?

It’s been so exciting to work with the writers and our dramaturg to deepen the story together. I really love the process of having them in the room making changes and listening and just bouncing ideas off of them. It’s truly a shared vision. My approach overall is the same for all projects, but knowing that there is some room to make adjustments with the writers is exciting to me, because I believe that what we make is a living breathing thing and it feels even more living and breathing when it can actually change and grow in the rehearsal room when we’re all together. We’ve done several readings now and I’ve been able to hear it with all kinds of different actors and being able to dig in to each character and each relationship and make adjustments to deepen that has been really exciting. It is loosely based on Kit and Melissa’s real life experiences, but it’s not a documentary. Not everyone is real. We have a scene in Minneapolis with a radio DJ, and that’s not based on a real life Minneapolis interaction [laughs]. 

A lot of this show is about identity and community. How much import do you put on seeing yourself in a show? 

The personal is universal. Kit and Melissa wrote a musical that is deeply personal, and because of their own vulnerability in their writing, I have found myself in the piece as well. That’s just me, I can only direct things that are personal. Honestly I might never say it to anyone, people may never know, but the projects that I’m drawn to are always personal. I’m able to find myself in relationships,  character struggles, and situations. In INTERSTATE, I see my own desire to leave New York City to live bi-coastally and connect with audiences and communities in a deeper way like the main character’s. Also the bravery it takes to live in my truth like Henry and act on it is something that I continue to embrace every new chapter of my life. I’m really excited to share this piece with Minneapolis and to see how this production strikes personal chords with audiences. 

Who’s this show for? 

I believe this show is for people who are finding themselves or feel that they need the permission to find themselves. It’s for the person who is on their journey to figure out who they really are. There are a lot of communities represented in this show which is so exciting and real and not done very often. There is such a variety of Asian American people who are represented in the piece, different cities, for better or for worse, even different Christian communities. Because it’s a road trip musical there’s so many people that we encounter. It’s for people who were raised by immigrants, too, living out the American Dream. It’s for people who are struggling to follow their own dreams rather than their parent’s dreams. And it’s for the person who’s afraid to choose themselves before other people. I believe it’s had the impact it’s had over the years and it’s been around this long because everyone is able to connect to it in some way. 

Is there anything else you want to make sure that we communicate to the audience? 

I hope that people leave INTERSTATE listening to their inner voice, I hope that they feel they have permission to live in their own truth, whatever that is. But it’s also about being kind to each other. In this day and age community feels like it’s about how many friends or followers I have online as opposed to who’s in the room who’s checking on with me, who am I connecting with, so I hope that people leave the theatre connecting with each other. I hope we create a new community at Mixed Blood, every night, at every performance of INTERSTATE.

Demo Track from INTERSTATE

“I Don’t Look”

Performed by Sushma Saha

Music and Lyrics by Melissa Li

Book by Melissa Li & Kit Yan

Poetry and Additional Lyrics by Kit Yan