Right now The Public Theater is home to two brand new works with Patricia Ione Lloyd’s Eve’s Song and Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams. Lloyd, a black queer playwright, used, in part, her own identity as a foundational inspiration for her play about the coming out of a young queer black woman amidst a backdrop of the violence against blacks in America. Jung, a Korean playwright, used her personal experience of loneliness and her Korean heritage to inspire her latest production about a "goose father" whose wife and daughter moved to America and the ability for the internet to connect us.
Lloyd, the Public’s Tow Playwright in Residence for 2017-2018, is also the playwright of Pretty Hunger and lead story editor for television’s Love Is. Jung is also the award-winning writer of Wolf Play, No More Sad Things, Cardboard Piano, and Among the Dead.
Here, we let the two writers take the conversation into their own hands to talk about the first time they met, the growing pains of equal representation in our storytelling, as well as their fashion icons, favorite online quizzes, and more:
How Their Stories (and Their Story) Started
Patricia Ione Lloyd: I always write stories about women that people don't think about. I feel like I write about the parts of a woman's life that people forget. Also, I really had to look at what I consume as a person. There's so many forms of entertainment that are, here are all the bad things that can happen to women. As a premise, but they don't look at the lives of the actual women. When the church massacre happened, which was approximately three and a half years ago, and the people that were killed were mostly black women. It was something that I couldn't stop thinking about, even though I really tried. I really love puppy videos, I really love quizzes (as in what kind of princess you are, what vacation you should take) to stop thinking about how black women in America are forgotten. And I couldn't. I could write a play. That is my offering to society.
Hansol Jung: That's fascinating because I just had the flashback of you talking about this, when we first met. Was that when you started the play?
PIL: No, I started at New York Theatre Workshop. We were both the 2050 fellows of the same year and we did a three day retreat—
HJ: In the woods.
PIL: Not the woods. It was a college campus.
HJ: I mean, it was desolate.
PIL: I love people and friends and everything. But then when you're put into the woods or not, with a whole bunch of strangers, and the strangers are artists and then you have to tell them, "This is what I'm working on."
HJ: But that's what you talked about in that situation when we just met. I just had a déjà vu moment.
PIL: I gravitated towards you, because I was like, "Oh, you look like you like people, but you don't want to do ice breakers. Where, you have to massage people that you don't know. Still, retreats are great. That's how you make friends with Hansol.
HJ:We did a lot of sitting on benches, and not talking.
PIL: Together. Someone you could not talk with, is so wonderful.
HJ: It's so comfy. It was so nice. Wow. It's just crazy, that now it's at The Public. When you were just like, I don't know what to do with these feelings. ... One of my projects at that moment, was Wild goose dreams. That was the very first time we had a reading of that, I think and you were there.
PIL: I was there. As soon as I saw it, I was like, "Oh my god. I love this so much." I don't really think you like to talk to people, after they see a thing. I was like, "I don't care, I'm gonna hug you, because it was so good".
HJ: You did hug me, and it felt very nice. But yes, for me the play Wild goose dreams was a slow burn. I didn't have a "I'm gonna write about this, because this is my purpose". It was just a mixture of many things. I got an international play writers residency at the Royal Court. I pitched them a bunch of ideas. They were like, "Write something set in Korea." I'm like, "I don't think I can do that. It's so weird to write in English, for the people who I know don't speak this language". So they said, "Okay. Write it in Korean, and we'll translate it for you." The translator didn't have time, so I did it. It was like the first 30 pages. In that little exercise, I found a way to write about these people. During that time, I think it was 2014. North Korea was a hot issue. Having depression and committing suicide was a big issue. Then, I found this really weird article about a re defector. A couple of re defector's have been happening into North Korea. I'm like, "Oh my god. Why would anybody do that"? I don't know that I understand, why anyone would do that. So I'm gonna try and write it, and see if I can understand. That's how the first 30 pages happened. The building of it, had a lot to do with me. Not necessarily the issue these characters may be going through, politically, or culturally. I was feeling so f*cking lonely. My brain was breaking. I think that's why the structure of this play is so crazy.
PIL: When you say you were figuring out how you felt about it, by writing, I think that's something that I do too. I learned that I have to love every single character in my plays. Even, if what they're doing is wrong. Even, if they're flawed. Wouldn't it be interesting, if we approached everyone like that? Even politically.
HJ: Oh my God. What a total ask, right?
PIL: I mean, you can try.
HJ: As a writer, I totally agree with you. It's an exercise in empathy. You have to believe this character is human, for you to be able to write the many exciting, helpful, entertaining way. I had trouble writing Nanhee the main character. Because she was North Korean. For a really long time, I would just write her as a vision of my biases that I have towards North Korea, as a South Korean woman. It was only after Sandra, and Yunjin, and Michelle. After these women embodied this person, I was like, "Oh, you're not really talking like a human would." Or, "Oh, those perspectives are totally mine."
What Is a Play?
PIL: When you were talking about structure, the thing is, what is a play? In Eve’s Song, some people have said, [I’m] doing the most. I'm like, "Yes. Isn't that great?" Because there's so many things happening at one time. That's what it's like to be a black queer woman in America. There's so many things to navigate. You can be angry, and you could be sad. Then, you could be joyful, then you could be making love. That is in the span of a day. I feel we need to be more expansive on what theatre actually is.
HJ: I think we're definitely getting there. There's been a lot of really exciting work. That's not just a couch and kitchen. Yes, there's a lot of that too.
PIL: I mean, I have a couch and a kitchen. Actually, I don't have a couch. I have a chair. It's a really nice chair though.
HJ: Same thing. You're still the couch, kitchen type. Sorry. I don't know what to tell you. [Laughs] It's actually just about the experience. What is the experience you are giving your audience? I think that's what I actually learned through writing this play, too.
The Public as a Partner
PIL: When I was first writing it, people were like "Well, I wonder who's going to [produce] that." I was like, "Yeah. Me too." The Public is an ingredient, because they've championed doing it. That is a huge risk to take. ... My work doesn't work, unless they're a diverse audience. So I got together what I was going to say to them, and I practiced. I went in thinking that I had to explain why diverse audiences are necessary. Because, a lot of people understand it only theoretically. I operate in more of an emotional way. I went in prepared. But no need. They've been my partner in opening peoples hearts, and giving people access. So they've definitely been an ingredient with me. Like a little salt... like a little sugar. I don't know what.
HJ: Salty sugar? I gotta say, they're a really special theatre. They care so much. Not just the artistic team, but everybody that I've met. The person at the reception is happy first preview. I'm like, "Why do you care"? The props master Sydney, like killed herself, trying to get this penguin toilet moment working. I'm just like, "I just wrote one line in italic, and here you are". You go into theatres and they're like, "Well, we did the best we could."
Parity in Theatre
PIL: There's this Nina Simone song, "Please don't let me be misunderstood." That, and then the whole Miseducation of Lauryn Hill [album]. I have been misunderstood before. Working with Jeanie O'Hare, who's the director of new work development, and Jesse Cameron Alick, who is the company dramaturg. They are not black, queer, women. We have conversations about things that aren't always clear to them. It's not the kind of conversation where it's like, this isn't clear. Fix this. It's the kind of conversation of this is what it meant to me, what does it mean to you? There's some pieces of my work, where I wanted to be clear to a general audience. Then, there's some pieces of my work, where this is culturally specific. And are, if you don't know, you can go home and do some research if you are curious, if you are inspired. Everything doesn't have to be understood by everyone. The way that my work is critiqued by the public, gives me license to be culturally specific, and to be me. That's not always the party.
HJ: It's very rarely the party.
PIL: This is a good party they got up in there.
HJ: I think just in terms of parody and productions, I've been extremely lucky, and probably a rare situation. Almost everything I've written has been produced. I'm grateful, but I also know it's very rare that it happens. I think in the last five years, things have changed very much. I think with the Kilroy's happening, and the count really bringing to visibility how bad it is. Sheds some light. Held a lot of leaders accountable. I still feel like there's a sense that, we're doing the minority person play. This is a diversity play. I'm already grateful for the change, that's happening. If I could charge one more thing to the gate keepers is to expand your thoughts. It's not a diversity slot, but a mirror or your theatres mirror of what the world is right now. There was this theatre that the season was white writers and white directors. I met one of the leaders in an elevator. I was like "Hey, dude. What the heck"? What was said back to me, was we have a lot of women. You can not say anything that is not straight, white, male is the thing that gives you leeway to not be accountable, for the stories you're choosing to tell.
PIL: I don't know if I'm the diversity slot, and I don't care, because I've made it my slot. The thing with equality is if one person has had all of it forever, but they really want things to be equal. That means, that they have to give up something, for it to be fair. No one wants to give up anything. That is where we are. I believe that it's changing. I will take my seat at the table, and if there's not another seat available, I'll just scoot my butt over, and say, "You can sit on this corner of my chair." Let's all do that.
Working With Women
HJ: How is it working with Jo?
PIL: I love Jo Bonney. She's the truth and the light. I do. My creative team is Jo Bonney, who's the director, and Stefanie Batten Bland, who is the movement director. All women. Jo is from Australia, and Stephanie is a black woman—American, who speaks perfect French. It's fantastic. Jo is not a black woman. She's not a queer woman. She can direct the hell out of a lesbian sex scene. I'll tell you that.
HJ: What was the surprise?
PIL: That was my bias. I was like, "What is Jo gonna do over here." I was like, "Well done, Jo." Jo was and is, the best person for this production at the Public Theater. We share the same vision.
HJ: A lot of the people in charge were women. It was Leigh [Silverman, our director], Charity Wicks was the music director. Yasmine Leigh was choreographer. We jokingly say, "This is such a great room, there's no ego. People get shit done." It's like, "How is this magical witchy sh*t happening?" We jokingly say, "It's because we're all ladies". I don't know how valid it was, but it felt fucking great. I don't know if it's just coincidence, that I've met people who work like alien level hard. But, they also happen to be women.
PIL: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
HJ: Sleep. What is your writing snack?
PIL: I try not to have one.
HJ: That's brave.
PIL: But it doesn't work. So whatever's there. What's the last dream that you had?
HJ: Anxiety dream. I had an anxiety dream about where to put my puppy. Bceause I just got a puppy, an anxiety puppy. Now I'm having anxiety dreams about my anxiety puppy.
PIL: The puppy isn't anxious, it's for you.
HJ: No. I have anxiety. I have anxiety right now, about the puppy I left at home.
PIL: Oh, no. Okay. Think of something else. The puppy doesn't know you're gone.
HJ: Where did you buy your opening night dress? I'm freaking out. I'm so stressed about what I'm gonna wear tomorrow.
PIL: This is my plan. I love Fashion Nova. I love Cardi B. Cardi B is mine, for Fashion Nova drops on November 15th.
HJ: Is that a plug?
PIL: Yes. Because I actually got invited to the party, but it's in L.A. I'm trying to be all up in the Cardi B Fashion Nova space. That is my goal in life.
HJ: I'm lucky if I can get myself to Target to get a dress. I'll just wear my onesie. I'll be that playwright. I'll stand out.
Eve's Song currently plays in a limited engagement run at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place) October 21 through December 9. Click here for tickets and information.
Wild Goose Dreams currenetly plays in a limited engagement run at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place) October 30 through December 16. Click here for tickets and information.