Tonight on Medium Cool we will be talking about She Devil of the China Seas, written and produced by Balloon Juice commenter (and playwright) gwangung.
In case you missed the post that introduced this piece a couple of weeks ago:
I asked gwangung if he could share a bit of his backstory for our discussion of She Devil of the China Seas. What motivated him to write this play. What he’s trying to accomplish with the play. The various roles he played in this particular production. And anything else he wanted to tell us.
Straight from gwangung:
Well, now….that’s an interesting question (and might make me drone on a bit, so bear with me).
I’ve spent most of my artistic life being an advocate for Asian Americans on stage and telling Asian American stories on stage (it’s not hard to fall into this when one of your college dorm mates is David Henry Hwang, and you helped him stage the world premiere of his Obie-award winning play in our dorm lounge)(unfortunately, I can’t claim any credit for his subsequent Tony Award winning play M. Butterfly).
In particular, I want to promote stereotype breaking stories for Asian American actors. And that’s why I founded my company, Pork Filled Productions, where we specialized in breaking the expectations, whether it was doing comedy when there were no Asian American comedians, or in genre work like SF or steampunk (you noted it took Ke Huy Quan 30 years to get cast again after being in The Goonies and Indiana Jones).
And one of the stories I was REALLY jonesing to see was the story of Ching Shih, the woman who rose from prostitute to wife of pirate leader to leading that pirate fleet, that some people said numbered over 10,000 ships and 70,000 crewmen.
But nothing ever came. There was a rumor of a mini series starring Maggie Q (good choice). There was a side mention of her in Pirates of the Caribbean—but they showed her as a dowdy middle aged matron—and Ching Shih became a commander in her 20s, fresh off her rep as one of the most beautiful women in Canton.
Clearly this could not stand. And I had the cojones to think I could do it myself. So I sat down and began to write. I’ve been produced before (the aforementioned sketch comedy and I’ve done a number of short 10 minute plays around Seattle), but I had never done a full length show before. Well…no time like the present….
After some fits and starts (one theatre company chose the play for production, but demanded to replace the director, which I didn’t do) and some last minute changes (I changed all the names from the Mandarin pronunciation to the arguably more accurate Cantonese)—don’t ask me, I’m more of a Cantonese/Hakka bastard speaker,
I finally had a script I was happy with (folks who saw an earlier reading will note I changed the godly presence to Yuen Loh, the goddess of war and erotic arts—which was an irresistible choice for patron of this pirate queen.)
Folks will note there’s a lot of resonance with Marvel comics in this script, in particular, with Marvel’s 1970s Conan the Barbarian and his female counterpart Red Sonja. All I can say is…write what you love. And there are fights. Lots of fights. I share that love with another Asian American playwright, Qui Nguyen (who some may recognize as co-writer of Raya and the Last Dragon); I’ve had a long relationship with him and produced the Northwest premieres of some of his shows.
I decided to go with my own theatre company to produce my script—there’s an inherent advantage in that (no arguments with the producer on artistic intent, fewer arguments with the director). But that also means you do a lot more work—you’re not just the playwright, you also do the PR, the grant writing, the administration, the finance and budgeting, and even the graphic design and photography for the show. (Don’t worry, I saved enough for other folks to do work—I lucked out and got great lighting design and fight choreography.)
But enough about me—what do you guys think? And what else you want to know?
We’ll let gwangung moderate this post about She Devil of the China Seas, but don’t be surprised when BGinChi chimes in with comments.