Feb. 17, 2020

Colored print of Interstate Concept Design Cover Page

Interstate Concept Design by Justin Humphres (12/2/2019)

I began recording on Tuesday at Interstate’s first rehearsal. Director Jesca Prudencio, writers Kit Yan and Melissa Li, and all of Interstate’s eight person cast settled around a table in the rehearsal space for the first script read through. I sat with Molly Brandt, Mixed Blood Theatre’s Program Assistant, on a couple of unassuming chairs by the doorway, coffee mugs and cameras in hand. After introductions, with MBT Stage Manager Raúl Ramos’s blessing, we slipped off our chairs and spent the next couple of hours circling the director/writer/cast table taking pictures and videos from any conceivable angle. Molly’s goal was to capture content for the theater’s social medias. My goal was to start building a photo collection for the documentary and archive. Halfway through the rehearsal, Molly asked me if I was getting good stuff. My honest answer – I have no idea.

Here’s a little more honesty. Last semester, I was fortunate to schedule a meeting with Charlie from the University of Minnesota Libraries’ SMART Learning Commons. Over the course of one hour, Charlie gave me an impressively comprehensive crash course on basic video and audio recording technique. The purpose of this was to prepare me to produce a five minute “digital narrative” for one of my graduate courses. In November, I borrowed a mic and camera from SMART, filmed this class project within the comfort of my apartment, and employed the help of precisely two additional people. From start to finish this project spanned about three weeks and pretty much sums up the entirety of my digital recording experience.

As soon as I began interning at Mixed Blood, I realized that this documentary would be… a little more intensive. Before my naivety surpasses redemption let me just say – of course I knew this project would be different. Of course I knew that within an established theater company populated by theater industry professionals, a multi media documentary project would call for getting to know a new environment, forming new relationships, and climbing an industry learning curve. Compared to these priorities, technical film and photography skills even take back seat while still requiring time and energy. However, despite all anticipated challenges at the time I entered MBT a few weeks ago I felt reasonably prepared. For the past few years I have worked in various capacities in a number of local arts spaces, ranging from creative literary centers to museums to volunteer run community organizations. I spent all of childhood attending a Chinese dance school in Saint Paul, a let’s just say formative experience which very much influences my fascination (academic and IRL) in the ways ethnic dance performances are inevitably sites of community, identity, and politics.

Theater, I am quickly learning, is a different animal! Growing up in Minneapolis, I was aware that the Twin Cities is home to a sizable theater community. But I had only ever attended shows and not been exposed to the production side of this world. Now I am learning, for example, that it is normal for a superhuman skeleton crew of theater house staff to manage set, sound, costumes, auditions, communications, community engagement, EVERYBODY’S schedules, and, most crucial for success, rehearsal snacks. It is not usual for a musical premiere in the upper midwest to fly their director in from California, the playwrights in from New York, joined by a cast assembled from around the country. Not to mention, none of these folks have all been in one room together until the first rehearsal just four weeks before opening night. Even more wild was the ability of the cast to rehearse the entire musical together on the first try. Granted this was the first script read through I have had the opportunity to sit in on, so I didn’t have much to compare with. But listening to them I could not believe this cast had never before practiced together. (If museum boards operated with this kind of speed and flexibility, oh my word I would not even recognize them as museum boards.) So while getting acquainted with the workings of at least this particular production, not to mention the norms of the theater industry as a whole, I am also distantly wondering, while fumbling with the exposure settings on something called a Vixia, if I am getting good stuff.

Thankfully – here is the beauty and the privilege of my internship – there is relatively little at stake and endless opportunities to learn. Furthermore, I am not starting on nothing. What really excites me about the chance to self-direct the work I do at Mixed Blood is that I am able to explore new ways of applying the class discussions and the literature I am immersed in as public history graduate student to a space that is not traditionally considered a site of public history. The making of physical, social, and political spaces (including performance spaces) always engages with histories of place and people. A large chunk of my personal motivation to intern at Mixed Blood Theatre is the organization’s self awareness as a site of history and community. Tim Komatsu, Mixed Blood’s Audience Engagement Manager, works close to 24/7 during shows to organize and facilitate audience Talk Backs, and to communicate with MBT’s three community advisory councils. A quick conversation with Kit and Melissa (Interstate’s writers) the other day gave me a better understanding of just how committed both writers are to Interstate’s relationship with local queer and trans Asian communities. They began forging friendships and tapping into Twin Cities activist circles over 10 years ago, when their 2008 cross country tour that later inspired Interstate made a stop in Minneapolis.

Picture of handwritten Community Agreements

Community Agreements, Interstate First Rehearsal, Mixed Blood Theater (2/11/2020)

All of this has been informing my reflections on the ways theater practices can challenge and contribute to the (slow but quickening!) transformation of the public history field, and to expand conceptions of where history can be created and witnessed in the first place. I feel especially inspired by the attention and intention that Interstate’s team places on language, consent, positioning and moving of bodies, and cultivating of community relations. It would feel revolutionary for museums and other traditional sites of historic interpretation to integrate such practices on the level of depth and sustained commitment that has been written into the production of Interstate. Ultimately, if I am able to “capture” and convey at least some of these inspirations in the documentary that would be nice! Though I am keeping things open ended for now, and feel it will be better for my sanity anyway to not fixate on whether I am getting everything I need.

The late winter season always has me feeling a little overrun, and this year is no exception. My wish for everyone including myself is to enjoy a bowl of pho this week. (If you are in Minneapolis, I highly recommend Phở Hòa on Eat Street.)

Warmly,

Andrea

Kit and Melissa

Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for the show? 

ML: It’s a semi-autobiographical show. Kit and I met in Boston a really long time ago when we both performed at a monthly Queer Asian cabaret where we became friends. One day he asked me to go on tour with him and I said “I’m in my early 20s, I don’t have all that much going on, sure!” and so we went on two tours (in 2008 and 2009) where we performed as “Good Asian Drivers”. It was sort of the beginning of social media “stardom” and we had a pretty big following. And then some things happened (some of which made its way into the show) and we broke up as a band and were actually like mortal enemies for two years. But during that time Kit was actually processing that by writing a lot of poems, and when we became friends again, he brought them to me and I was like “What are these? These are terrible!” 

KY: Hey! [Laughter] Okay yes so I wrote this shitty collection of poems and I brought them to Melissa and said “I think this should be a musical, what do you think?” because I knew she’d written a musical before. 

ML: Yeah, I usually never want to write a new musical, so it’s kind of funny that we ended up here. 

KY: As a job. 

ML: Whenever I do it, it’s always like birthing a child and then I think “I never want to do this again”. But even when we weren’t friends, Kit, I wanted to write something about our experience too. I think it just came together that we both wanted to process this through art. 

KY: Like when we were more mature. [Laughs] 

ML: That was in 2013, so this show is 7 years in the making. 

How much of an effort did you make to differentiate yourselves from the main characters? 

ML: Originally, it was much closer to us, but we found that can actually be really constricting and when we remove ourselves from the characters they can become more interesting and have more flaws and we can dig deeper into things that ring true for us but are also theatrical. For example, I think Dash has a lot of flaws (many of which have to do with toxic masculinity) but it would be unfair to say Kit had all of those flaws. [Laughter] But I think because we have that distance we can say more about the world. 

KY: You know what’s so funny to hear about that? Melissa has described the first five years of this show’s journey as essentially one long journal entry about that time via a musical. And then we spent all this time removing ourselves a little bit and incorporating people that we met on the road. But as we spend more time developing INTERSTATE on the stage, I feel like we’ve been coming back closer and closer to real life. We definitely fictionalize a lot of the plot points, but as we made the first couple of drafts we were trying to put in a lot of emotional distance, and now that I’ve processed that experience I feel like I’m able to get closer to that story and what it was like to be on the road and have tension with a friend, what it was like to have pressure of how we’re gonna make a living. 

ML: Yeah, once we were able to move some of the plot elements to be further away from real life, we’ve been able to get closer to the heart of the emotion of the show, which is what makes this show powerful for other people as well. 

The relationships between Dash and Adrian about their parents seem really rooted in the challenges of the young Asian American experience. Can you speak to the importance of including the band’s parents in the show? 

ML: It was important for us to see a glimpse of how they were raised, the people that influenced them at home, and how that caused a ripple effect to how they behave on tour. Like for Adrian, [you might ask] why is she so ambitious, what does she have to prove? And then you see it is her mom who is the person always saying she’s going to fail and that’s the thing that drives her to really prove her wrong. With the dad character, it was important for us to show an accepting Asian parent. And obviously with the dad teaching what he’s learned from society to his son about being a man and just perpetuating that sort of idea of masculinity. 

KY: We come from really communal communities, our families are really important to us. And I think a lot of time for Queer Asian Americans coming out doesn’t always mean breaking out on your own and being individualistic and rejecting your family. A lot of times folks in Asian American communities may never come out because it’s more important to maintain their home life and their identity in that particular arena. There are issues around wanting your family to be a part of your journey, even if it’s going to be a slow process. I definitely felt that no matter how hard it was going to be I wanted to have my family be a part of my queer and trans journey. In my view, it’s part of my responsibility to be in conversation with my family regardless of what it’s about. Being queer and trans is one thing, but being an artist was a whole other thing…even leaving home for college. It’s important for me to always talk to my family and my parents. Melissa and I started out in Queer Asian organizing and time and time again a lot of folks in our community do not want to reject our families and our parents just because we’re sharing a new part of ourselves. I think that’s a very Western narrative. It’s not bad, it’s just different. 

ML: And to add to that, the role that the parents play is really important in the exploration. One of the themes of the show is transphobia and homophobia and what that looks like depending on context and “who has it harder”. And that’s part of what we want to explore, like, Adrian gets a record deal because the music industry is transphobic but then at home her queerness is rejected by her mother whereas Dash’s dad is totally accepting. And then in terms of them going out on the road, Dash gets all these solo opportunities to perform for trans groups. And that’s something that just adds an interesting dynamic; the parent’s reaction to their kids. 

KY: Yeah, and this is part of the story we’re interested in addressing. Oppression doesn’t really work like that; you can’t have a cis lesbian woman and a trans man go at each other about who has it harder. Oppression is such a web and it’s so individual and it has to do with familial, cultural, even world history. And that’s something that’s so important for us to explore with this show. The characters are all individuals, but they’re in this pressure cooker to be representatives of their communities. 

Has the changing political landscape changed the show? 

ML: Through the years I’ve noticed more trans representation. I think we would still be fighting for this piece no matter what, but we wanted it to be set in 2008 because so many things that happened were so specific to that time period. We really were one of the only queer Asians that were out there talking about transness and queerness and being Asian. Now there’s a lot more of it, but it’s important to set it in that time period so people can understand the context now. 

KY: People keep saying that this show is so timely, but 2008 was over a decade ago and we’ve been doing this work all that time. The world is always changing, but we’ll always be making this art regardless of how the tide turns. I have found that people are more open to hearing our story now, and particularly exploring a trans world, but I have found that there is still a really sensational and tokenized lens of what it means to be trans. We really struggled with the fact that we’re still in a moment where people need trans people to be heroes (or sheroes) and to be really exceptional. Our characters are so far from exceptional, especially Dash who has so many issues. When we were first making this musical we would think “shit, if we have a trans character who’s not a perfect person or even a terrible human sometimes what does that say about our community?” But now I think the best thing we can do is to write fully realized characters. Our characters just need to be full people in a full world, and I want to assume that the audience can meet us where we’re at. We’re writing for now, we’re writing for the future, we’re writing to rewrite history.

Oh hey! My name is Andrea. I am an intern this season at Mixed Blood Theatre working on a documentary project for the upcoming world premier of Interstate, a Queer Asian American pop-rock poetry musical (yes you read that correctly!) written by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, directed by Jesca Prudencio. 

First, I will share a little about myself. I am an Asian American cis woman adopted from China and raised in Minneapolis by my Czech immigrant parents. As a public history graduate student, I am excited to explore new methods to narrate, connect, and remember histories of transnational family making. With this goal, I am extra interested in public performance as a powerful site for claiming familial, racial, and national belonging – which is why I am so excited to be at Mixed Blood Theatre this spring! I also (shameless plug alert) volunteer for MidWest Mixed – an amazing community org that hosts dialogues and arts programming centered on race and racial identity in the midwest. 

Now a little background on this project. The majority of Interstate’s production team will be flying in from out-of-state, including the director, one out of the two writers, and most of the cast. At the same time, Interstate’s materialization this March will occur in context of an increasingly visible queer Asian American community in the Twin Cities. My goal is to place Interstate’s production at Mixed Blood Theatre in conversation with local queer and Asian American spaces. The final format of this documentary project will be a mixed media digital archive of select materials from Interstate’s local production, interpreted as sharing space and history with concurrent productions of other queer Asian American spaces (both artistic and political) in the Twin Cities. This internship with Mixed Blood Theatre is funded by the Minnesota Historical Society in partnership with the Heritage Studies and Public History program at the University of Minnesota. 

So, why is this documentary project important? I pose this question out of formality, and hope that the answers won’t be too surprising.

  1. Cultivating community: Community awareness and involvement is central to Mixed Blood Theatre’s philosophy. I hope this project contributes to MBT’s relationships with local queer and Asian American spaces.
  2. Archives are history: Queer and Trans Asian American histories in the midwest are yet relatively hard to locate. I hope for this documentary project to stand as a resource for anyone interested in Interstate’s local significance in the Twin Cities.
  3. Personal interest: I am using this project as an opportunity to explore broader research interests in familial and national identity claiming in a theater performance space (very new to me!) while gaining skills in digital public history methods.

Because self-directed project accountability risks existing only in my imagination, I have committed myself to sharing a weekly blog update starting with this one! These can be viewed here at the Interstate Media Room page.

If it’s any incentive, my future posts will never again be this long (or so I say now). Looking forward to the weeks ahead!

 

Andrea

 

Mixed Blood Theatre building in front of apartment complex

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 19, 2019

Media Contacts: The PR Team, pr@mixedblood.com
Tim Komatsu, 612-338-0937

PHOTO LINK:
mixedblood.com/interstate-media-page

Mixed Blood announces the
World Premiere of the
Queer Asian Pop-Rock Poetry Musical
Interstate
as headliner of its 44th season

(Minneapolis/St. Paul) – Mixed Blood Theatre will premiere the new musical Interstate as the headliner of its 44th season. “Interstate is a glorious ‘pop-rock musical’ about inclusivity, queer and trans community, and the open road.” — Village Voice

Interstate
By Kit Yan and Melissa Li, Directed by Jesca Prudencio
March 6 – March 29, 2020

Interstate is a Queer Asian-American pop-rock musical about two trans people at different stages of their journeys, navigating love, family, masculinity, and finding community in the era of social media. It charts Dash, a transgender spoken word performer as he goes on a cross-country tour with Adrian, a lesbian singer-songwriter, as the activist band, Queer Malady, fueled by the allure of fame and a desire to connect with the Queer Asian community. The band’s fiercely political and deeply personal music touches Henry, a transgender teenage blogger living in middle America, who finds solace in their art as he struggles with his own identity and family.

Written by Kit Yan and Melissa Li, its development history has included residency at Musical Theater Factory, the 2018 New York Musical Festival, Dramatists Guild, Goodspeed Musicals Residency, and the MacDowell Colony Residency. Interstate won 5 awards at NYMF including Best Lyrics and was presented at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals in October 2019. Critically acclaimed Jesca Prudencio (How To Use A Knife at Mixed Blood in 2017) will direct Mixed Blood’s production and Natasha Sinha is the dramaturg.

“Mixed Blood, at its core, is about cultural collisions and is predicated on the premise
that people like to see themselves reflected on stage in important ways. So when
Interstate was presented to us for consideration, it felt as though it had been crafted for
this organization. A ‘road show,’ it traverses the country geographically, but also along
lines of race, culture, gender, generation, musical styles, and art forms. It is personal, professional, and political. Its remarkable creators – Kit Yan and Melissa Li – and its development pedigrees ready it for its Mixed Blood world premiere, and we can’t wait to share it!” says Artistic Director Jack Reuler.

Kit Yan (he/she/they) is a Yellow American New York based artist, born in Enping, China, and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kit is a 2019 Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, 2019 Lincoln Center Writer in residence, a 2019 MacDowell Colony Fellow, 2019-2020 Musical Theater Factory Makers Fellow, and 2019-2020 Playwright’s Center Many Voices Fellow. Their work has been produced by the American Repertory Theater, the Smithsonian, Musical Theater Factory, the New York Musical Festival, Diversionary Theater, and Dixon Place. They have been a resident with the Civilians, Mitten Lab, 5th Avenue Theater, and the Village Theater. In 2018 Kit founded Translab, an incubator for Transgender and Non-binary voices in the American Theater, along with MJ Kaufman and supported by WP Theater and the Public Theater.

Melissa Li (she/her/her’s) is a composer, lyricist, performer, and writer based in New York and Baltimore. She is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award, a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, a 2019 Lincoln Center Theater Writer-in-Residence, a 2019 Musical Theater Factory Maker, a 2019 MacDowell Colony Fellow, and a former Queer|Art|Mentorship Fellow. Musicals include Interstate (New York Musical Festival, Winner “Outstanding Lyrics”), Surviving the Nian (The Theater Offensive, IRNE Award Winner for “Best New Play” 2007), and 99% Stone (The Theater Offensive). Her works have received support from The 5th Avenue Theatre, The Village Theater, Musical Theater Factory, National Performance Network, New England Foundation for the Arts, Dixon Place, and others.

Jesca Prudencio (she/her/her’s) is a director and choreographer focused on creating highly physical productions of new plays, musicals, and documentary theater nationally, and internationally. Directing credits include Will Snider’s How To Use a Knife (Mixed Blood), Calling (La MaMa ETC), Anna Moench’s Man of God (East West Players), Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap (Steppenwolf), PDA (La Jolla Playhouse’s WoW Festival), A&Q (Philippines), and FAN: stories from the brothels of Bangkok (Thailand). Her critically acclaimed productions of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone and Anna Ziegler’s Actually at San Diego Repertory Theatre received multiple Craig Noel nominations including Outstanding Director. She is a recipient of The Old Vic’s T.S. Eliot US/UK Exchange Fellowship, The Drama League Fellowship, and the inaugural Julie Taymor World Theater Fellowship. Jesca is Artistic Director/Founder of People Of Interest, dedicated to creating community specific documentary theater works. She is currently Head of Directing at San Diego State University. BFA Drama: NYU Tisch, MFA Directing: UC San Diego.

The cast includes Kai Alexander Judd, Rose Van Dyne, Lily Tung Crystal, Brian Kim, Tom Reed, Zeniba Now, Oriana Lada, and Sushma Saha. Musical Direction by Raymond Berg and choreography by Brian Bose. Designers include Genoveva Castaneda (props), Paul Whitaker (lighting), Justin Humphries (scenic and media), Amber Brown (costumes), and Scott Edwards (sound).

Mixed Blood aspires to be the destination for people with disabilities. Patrons with disabilities are eligible for free advanced reservations and free transportation to the theatre. All performances are captioned in English with projected supertitles for patrons with hearing loss. For people with vision loss, audio description is available for most performances. Lobby, auditorium, and restrooms are fully accessible.

Tickets can be obtained in two ways: 1) Through Radical Hospitality, admission is FREE on a first come/first served basis starting two hours before every show, or 2) Advanced reservations are available online or by phone for $35 per person. Visit www.mixedblood.com or call 612- 338-6131 or boxoffice@mixedblood.com for more information All Performances in Mixed Blood Theatre’s Alan Page Auditorium, 1501 S. 4th St., Minneapolis, MN 55454

About Mixed Blood Theatre:
Mixed Blood Theatre has invited the global village into its audience and onto its stage for its unique brand of provocative, inclusive, and predictably unpredictable theater since 1976. Using theater to illustrate and animate, Mixed Blood models pluralism in pursuit of interconnections, shared humanity, and engaged citizenry.

Interstate previews March 5 and opens March 6, with performances Wednesday-Friday at 7:30, Saturdays at 4:00 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00.

March 5 7:30 Preview
March 6 7:30 Open
March 7 4:00 & 7:30
March 8 2:00
March 11 7:30
March 12 7:30
March 13 7:30
March 14 4:00 & 7:30
March 15 2:00
March 18 7:30
March 19 7:30
March 20 7:30
March 21 4:00 & 7:30
March 22 2:00
March 25 7:30
March 26 7:30
March 27 7:30
March 28 4:00 & 7:30
March 29 2:00