"MLCG (My Little China Girl)" is a new play by Soomi Kim which will debut at Dixon Place in New York City on November 3, 2017, and play for six performances through November 18, 2017. The shows, which brilliantly incorporates elements of dance, music, and text start at 7:30 PM and tickets range in price from $21 to $24. For tickets, you can visit the Dixon Place website.

"MLCG (My Little China Girl)" focuses on the experiences Soomi Kim had growing up in Oregon as a Korean-American in the “MTV Generation." This is the fourth piece in her series of theatrical performances about the Asian-American experience.

Soomi recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed this play, its origins, her experiences in theatrical entertainment, and more.

Theater, plays, and Asian Americans

Meagan Meehan (MM): What initially inspired you to seek a career as a theater professional?

Soomi Kim (SK): I came to NYC in my early 20s to pursue training and a career in acting. I attended Circle in the Square’s two-year professional workshop and training program. I then worked as an actor in addition to the service industry. Eventually, I felt that the acting business wasn't really where I was meant to be, for many reasons. Namely, I have always been interested in finding new ways to integrate disciplines of theater, dance/movement, text, and music.

I started producing and creating my own work in my 30s and haven't stopped since. Pursuing this track has been challenging, and I am a perpetual student. It took me a while, but I've found ways of working creatively that expands beyond simply my "acting" career-- ways that involve collaboration, processes of developing my own art practices, community as well as the broader scope of social justice and the political (Asian American female) body/identity.

MM: How did being the daughter of Korean immigrants influence your upbringing and your experiences growing up in America?

SK: Looking back, it had a tremendous influence and informed and shaped who I am. I can't go too long without eating kimchi (the staple Korean side dish) or Korean food. I think I have also developed empathy for the struggles and hardships of the immigrant experience.

My mother and relatives could not speak English well or at all, so I saw the difficulty of being understood and heard. I believe that we are different people in our native tongues. My grandparents’ and dad's family lived with us for a few years so I saw the importance of supporting and helping the family when you can. What also made an impression was the importance of Korean immigrant communities sticking together and helping each other. They have devised systems to support one another as well as to maintain their culture and Korean traditions- socializing through the church seems to facilitate this community feeling really. There are so many other stories- amazing as well as oppressive influences.

Some of them are in my show "MLCG (My Little China Girl)"!

MM: How did you come up with the idea for your Asian experience series?

SK: It wasn't a conscious decision to make work about Asian American visionaries-- it happened to me by chance. When I was in my early stages of devising and creating "Lee/legendary" (based on the life of Bruce Lee, the iconic Chinese American martial arts legend who died of a brain edema in 1973 at the age of 33), I collaborated closely with a writer, Derek Nguyen. I then discovered Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's brilliant literary collage, "Dictee." I was interested in finding compelling material that I could use to explore text, movement, and rhythm and to play with how they can co-exist.

Cha incidentally also died quite young-- she was murdered in 1982 at the age of 31. This piece became "Dictee: bells fall a peal to the sky." A colleague of mine who saw a performance of "Dictee" remarked how it reminded him of a political activist performance artist named Kathy Change. Once I learned about Kathy's fascinating and tragic life (she self-immolated on the campus of UPenn in 1996 at the age of 46), I felt drawn to make a work about her. This piece became "Chang(e)." Looking back at this body of work, which was all directed and co-devised by director Suzi Takahashi, it dawned on me that I had embarked on a trilogy of works about Asian American voices whose lives were all cut short.

In the end, it all sort of happened organically.

Themes, characters, creating, and performing,

MM: How does each play differ from the others and do you have any special favorite scenes or themes out of all of them?

SK: "Lee/Sunday's" subject, Bruce Lee, was the most famous of the three works. This involved very intense physical training in martial arts (I portrayed Lee) and was obviously a gender-bending portrayal. I worked with Wing Chun and martial arts specialists and also dove deeply into the research of his life. This piece included some re-enacted fight scenes from his films and very specific character study (physical and vocal). "Dictee: bells fall a peal to sky’s"challenge was extracting a narrative from a very dense, experimental and abstract text which involved hours of practice/collaboration and rehearsal with musician and vocalist Jen Shyu, as well as creating a structure for the piece with director Suzi Takahashi.

"Chang(e)" posed a new set of challenges: there was very little information about Kathy online, so again, it involved serious research and the time spent doing so was supported by an Artist in Residence at HERE Arts Center. I was able to connect with some of Kathy's close friends who helped me uncover some video, interviews, and performances. Suzi and I created a script that included transcribed interviews and re-enacted performances. The similarity in themes that emerged for me was exploring stories of lives lived fully; they all died young and existed in spaces between life and death. The process of creating relationships with incredible creative teams/collaborators/theater communities has been one of the most enriching parts of each process.

MM: How did you secure venues in which to perform these pieces and what has the reception been like so far?

SK: It is so exciting to have "MLCG (My Little China Girl)," commissioned by Dixon Place. Another thrilling experience that I’ve had the privilege of participating in has been premiering all three works (albeit in workshop form) in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists Festival (CAATA) in NYC (The Samuel Beckett Theater), LA (Inner City Arts Center) and Philadelphia (InterAct Theater). "Lee/gendary" also ran for three weeks at HERE Arts Center, "Dictee…" at the Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival (2012) at the Living Theatre and "Chang(e)" was an Artist in Residence project at HERE Arts Center and had its three-week run there in 2015.

The reception has been great. These works have been acknowledged and presented in some form at Harvard University, Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia, Oregon State University, The Hemispheric Institute's Encuentro Conference in Montreal, National Performance Network's Live and Onstage in Austin, Texas. Chang(e) will be presented by Boom Arts in Portland, Oregon, this coming December.

MM: What have been the memorable and rewarding parts of creating these plays?

SK: Probably the fact that my life and outlook has been forever formed and transformed by these experiences. The communities and worlds of art making, the collaborative processes, community engagement, political activism as well as my performance practices have all enabled me to grow into the artist and human that I am today.

One of the most memorable experiences happened at the 4th CAATA in Philadelphia, while performing "Chang(e)." One of the performances fell on Kathy Change's birthday, and so after the show, my cast and I met a bunch of Kathy's friends in Philly at the Peace sculpture on the Penn campus (where she performed daily for 15 or so years and also where she ended her life as a final "act") and made a toast to her life. I listened to stories about her and then my cast, and I went and had a fantastic dinner. There have also been many moments of serendipity that are too many to name.

MM: How do you want your career to evolve over the coming decade, are you working on anything else right now, and is there anything else that you want to talk about?

SK: I want everyone to come see my new solo show! It's an extension of sorts of the aforementioned trilogy of works. The show is called "MLCG (My Little China Girl)" and is my first full-length solo work (my other pieces involved other cast members.) I'm pushing myself to make work that is personal, relevant and also pushing my creative practice as a dance theater artist. I'm really looking forward to sharing my story about a first-generation Korean American story on stage! I am also hoping to tour this show and am interested in writing a book about these projects, but most importantly to share with the world that there are vital, rich, exciting and necessary stories about the Asian American experience that deserve a voice and a platform. I am grateful that Dixon Place has given me the opportunity to create this work.