by Philip W. Chung
Writing is always hard. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s hard. If anyone tells you differently, they are either lying, soulless or just a bad writer. So it was with some trepidation that I approached writing my latest play Grace Kim & The Spiders From Mars.
After ten years of producing “edgy” Asian American theater, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, the Los Angeles-based theater company I co-founded, is closing down. It’s not because of financial difficulties or because we’re burned out. We made the decision to close a few years ago and it was purely an artistic one. We felt that we had accomplished all we could in our current incarnation and we should get out while we’re still on top instead of wearing out our welcome.
So we wanted to make our tenth and final “Beginnings and Endings” season as special as it could be. And the very last slot of the season-what would be our very last show ever-fell upon me to write. Deciding what I wanted to do was fairly easy. I had always had an idea for an Asian American romantic comedy and the themes I wanted to explore seemed perfect for this occasion. I even had a title already-Grace Kim & The Spiders From Mars.
It would be a play about love and family and taking chances and beginnings and endings. I would pay tribute to Lodestone’s history by including references to every thing we’ve ever done in the script. Hell, the whole play would embody the spirit of what Lodestone meant to me. It would be the perfect swan song. It had to be. We owed it to all our loyal supporters.
That was the plan.
But as I said-writing is hard. And this brilliant plan of mine made it almost impossible to write this script. Why? If you ask most writers what the hardest part of their job is, one of the top answers you will hear is simply getting started. Looking at a blank computer screen or sheet of paper and knowing that you must fill it with words that will be creative and moving and worth reading is an intimidating thing. You have to do everything and anything you can to build up your confidence so you can tackle such a daunting task.
However, by psyching myself to write a play that had to be the “perfect” ending to ten years of Lodestone, I had put so much pressure on myself that there was no way I was ever going to gain the confidence to write this thing. Having the deadline didn’t help either. If I didn’t finish an acceptable draft of the play in time, there would be no last show and we would be going out with a disappointing whimper instead of a triumphant roar.
But as things have a way of working out in the world of theater, the play did get finished and as I write this, we’re just a few days away from opening night. I think what helped was making the decision to just embrace the challenge of writing something that would encompass ten years of our history.
One of the things I decided to do was include references to each of our past shows in the text of the play itself. So the production is filled with hidden “easter eggs” directly acknowledging our history. But I think the main thing that helped was deciding to simply focus on what I felt made Lodestone unique and special and trying to capture that in this play. By taking a more personal approach to this daunting task, it provided a way to tackle what seemed insurmountable.
Whether audiences respond favorably or not to the work remains to be seen but if I, and my talented cast and crew, have done our jobs right, I hope people will not only walk out of the theater having been entertained, but that they also take away a little bit of what this company meant to the many people who’ve contributed their blood, sweat and tears over the course of a decade. That’s Lodestone’s real legacy.
Philip W. Chung is a writer and Co-Artistic Director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. He blogs at http://youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com/
Grace Kim & The Spiders From Mars runs November 14-December 20 at GTC Burbank in Burbank, CA. For more details go to: www.lodestonetheatre.org.