5 Questions with Playwright Heidi Park
This weekend, Heidi Park will debut her first play, Black Sheep, at 18th & Union. It’s a story of her journey as a Korean adoptee, from her childhood in Minnesota to her time living in Korea, in an attempt to recover her roots. The show has garnered considerable attention — before its opening tonight, the whole run is already sold out (though you can try your luck on the walk-up wait list).
Theater-maker Corinne Magin, who has also written about her experience as a Korean adoptee, talked with Park about her burgeoning interest in writing about her background, and the process of developing the show. Plus, a quick interview with Seayoung Yim, dramaturg for Black Sheep, in a bonus segment.
Interview content is condensed and edited for clarity.
Can you tell me a brief history of the process of developing your piece — crafting the script and collaborating with Seayoung Yim?
After I graduated from college, I moved to Korea and wound up keeping a journal for the whole two years that I lived there. I took bits and pieces from my journal that had themes that I could group together or if it was just really funny. I wound up collecting these short stories and share them with Seayoung. She read through the material and pitched writing the short stories into a dialogue. From there, it seemed pretty natural to turn it into a play.
I am also a Korean adoptee. I avoided and dismissed my feelings towards my adoption for a long time and didn’t start to process them until I was in my late 20s. Was there a specific catalyst, moment or event, that inspired your interest in connecting to or exploring your Korean identity?
I can’t point to one singular moment or event that sparked my interest in my Korean identity. From a very young age, I was fully aware that I was different from the rest of my adoptive family since I was the only kid of color. One time when my dad came home from work, he saw someone with black hair out of the corner of his eye and said, “Hi Jackie.” Upon hearing this I retorted, “I’m not white! I’m Korean!” My dad chuckled and said he thought I was my mom because at the time we both had black hair.
There were a few other Korean adoptee women who were in my school and community but we tried to focus on fitting in, which really meant assimilating to white culture. Throughout my childhood, I had to process a lot of complicated emotions and concepts, like racism. No one in my family could help me process because that was never their lived experience. Because of this, I decided what better place to blend in than in Korea.
This story is obviously very personal, but in many ways, the themes are entirely universal. What do you hope audiences take away from this piece?
I hope the audience takes away some good laughs and that moments of a certain scene speak to the humanity of wanting to belong.
What do you love about theatre as a vehicle for story telling?
I love that I get to tell my story and the director and actors also get to tell my story using their own creative faculties. It’s incredible seeing professionals do what they do best with a script that I wrote. It’s surreal.
What advice would you give to artists who have a story to tell and would like to produce their own work?
It’s okay to have conflicting feelings throughout the process. And be proud of your story that you tell.
Corinne Magin talked with playwright Seayoung Yim, who served as dramaturg for Black Sheep, about the process of developing the show with playwright Heidi Park.
What drew you to to be a dramaturg on this show?
Heidi is a great friend of mine, who has supported me over the years with my writing. We met through a circle of Korean American activists — many of whom have felt they were never quite accepted in mainstream Korean communities — including adoptees, mixed race folks, and LGBTQ folks. It was in this activist space that I first learned about trans-racial adoption and its roots in racism and U.S. militarism, since the Korean War was a catalyst for overseas adoption.
I felt Heidi’s personal story as an adoptee is one that we rarely see on stage, and we need to see more of. I knew her first as an activist and political whiz, but through this dramaturgical process I learned so much about her childhood for the first time, like growing up on a farm. I never knew she had this unique rural upbringing until years later. I am so honored and humbled to have been part of her writing process and am so proud of what she has accomplished with this work. Heidi is a dynamic, brilliant person, who is also funny as hell.
What do you enjoy about dramaturgy vs. playwriting?
I enjoy that I get to urge/push people to finish a script, versus as a playwright I feel that pressure to execute. It’s more relaxing being a dramaturg. I also love talking with the writer one-on-one to troubleshoot, brainstorm ideas, and support their vision. It’s really wonderful to try to see inside of someone else’s brain, especially a brain as cool as Heidi’s.
Black Sheep is written by Heidi Park; directed by Mario Gomez; and features Aimee Decker and Anna Saephan. With dramaturgy by Seayoung Yim.
Black Sheep runs 5/2-5/6 at 18th & Union in the Central District. Tickets are $15-25 (sliding scale for all); no advance tickets remain, though some walk-up tickets may be available; info here. Accessibility notes: restroom is single-stall and gender-neutral; theatre is accessible through ramp access, though restroom is not — please contact venue ahead of time to ensure smooth access.
Corinne Magin is a Seattle theatre-maker, actor, costume designer, and writer, whose work has appeared on many area stages. Among other recent projects, she has costume-designed MAP’s Trevor at 18th & Union; starred in Peerless at ArtsWest; and, as part of this year’s Represent! Multicultural Playwrights Festival, debuted her work on her own journey as a Korean American adoptee.