The Play’s The Thing: Reflections on “Say You Heard My Echo”

(Written en route from NYC to Shanghai 10/26/11)

What’s up world? Been a little remiss on my blogs as things began to heat up with the first public presentation of my spoken word poetry theater play “Say You Heard My Echo” back in early October.

The play explores the fictional stories of three APIA women (a Twin Towers survivor turned activist, a veteran returning home, and a young librarian who’s affected by detention and interrogation) in convo with female religious icons of their different faiths (Mary Magdalene, Guan Yin, Aisha) ten years after 9/11.

Whew! Emotionally, spiritually, and artistically, it was a lot….and I kept being visited by goddess spirits on the subway (not kidding) – while reading the script on the train…so that was pretty crazy as well, lol.

Artistically, this project helped me shift from seeing myself as a poet who does theater to a poet, playwright, producer, and actress – For me, wearing multiple hats on the production was so rewarding since each of my collaborators: co-producers, director, performers, dramaturg, design team – were so excellent at what they did that it inspired me to be even more daring with my problem-solving whether it was a plot point, character detail, or living with the work inside my body and giving it its truest expression on it’s feet.

In a world where everything is digital, instantaneous, and stays in perpetuity forever – theater folks are an interesting bunch – deeply committed to creating this body of work together that exists for this one live finite moment in time (and sometimes due to union rules against video recording) and then quite possibly never again. Sure, folks tour and the work can be reproduced, but it ain’t as simple to tour a theater show as it is to tour a solo spoken word poet – that’s for sure.

So why do it? Why do theater? When other means of expression have a greater lifetime like films, TV, or novels? A longer reach like music? A more explicit impact like community organizing? What I found is because the stories merit it, the worlds that I as the playwright strived to create on the stage deserve it, because to transport people to another world and human reality in a live context is worth their suspension of disbelief. It’s healthy, and maybe even crucial way to build a visceral sense of empathy in the world. As the old Chinese saying goes, “What if my heart were yours?”

Also, from a nerdy technological perspective – audio and video recordings can only pick up a fraction of the range of frequencies and bits of information that a human body does – so anything you watch or listen to is only a fraction of the physical experience and vibration of people live in a room together – vibrations that can change us by-passing our conscious intellectual processing of it all.

So thankful for Asian American Arts Alliance, Asian Women’s Giving Circle, Flushing Town Hall, NYU A/P/A Institute, and all the media partners for supporting this first iteration of the work. I’m looking forward to what’s to come and giving “Say You Heard My Echo” and the characters and worlds within it – the longest and broadest lifetime possible.

Kelly :)

P.S. If you wanna check out the NY1 interview re: “Say You Heard My Echo” where I perform a little piece of it in the end, check out:–echo–in-flushing-this-weekend.

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