2: Desdemona Chiang // Mortality and Your Mother
2019 Princess Grace Award recipient, Desdemona Chiang, is well-known around the country as a prolific director, who works primarily in Shakespeare and new plays.
I got the opportunity to work with her when she directed my musical, Eastbound, at the Village Theatre's Festival of New Musicals. I was not only struck by how insightful she is as a dramaturg, I was also completely enamored by how she worked with actors, myself included.
When we sat down for this episode, I was very interested in finding out where this sensitivity to people came from, and also how she developed her directing style. What we uncovered was so much more than that.
Full transcript of podcast: East Side Story, Episode 2.
Podcast also available on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast.
Instagram: @eastsidestorypod / @cheeyangmusic / @deschiang
Subverting Eurocentric Theatre
"Am I entering a field that doesn't have me in its legacy?" - Desdemona Chiang
Being an only-child shaped the lives of both Cheeyang and Desdemona. They connected over their shared over-achieving nature, big identity questions as theater artists, and their different views on mortality.
Desdemona [00:00:00] The analogy I always make when you're working on a new piece is that — I'm just the midwife — Like I'm the one that wants to make sure the baby comes out alive. Ten fingers, ten toes, breathing, you know, and like, full of potential, really.
(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Plays)
Cheeyang [00:00:17] This is East Side Story and I'm your host Cheeyang Ng. Each week I sit down with an Asian or Asian-American artist working in the New York theater scene and I excavate their life story — How they grew up how they got their start in theater as well as projects they've worked on and upcoming work that we should anticipate.
Cheeyang [00:00:37] This week's guest is Desdemona Chiang. She just received the 20 19 Princess Grace Award for her work at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. She is also the co-artistic director of Azeotrope in Seattle and her directing credits include the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Rep and Classic Stage Company in New York. I got the opportunity to work with Desdemona on my musical Eastbound at the Village Theatre's Festival of new musicals and we snuck into a studio in Seattle just to record this episode. Enjoy!
(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Ends)
Cheeyang [00:01:08] And we're gonna jump into...
Desdemona [00:01:09] Jump in!
Cheeyang [00:01:10] Jump right in. Tell people who you are, what you do, and a little bit, like a little tidbit about yourself.
Desdemona [00:01:18] Good gosh. My name is Desdemona Chiang. I am a theatre director based in Seattle and Ashland, Oregon. And I work primarily in new work and Shakespeare. Which I guess is kind of like everything I guess it's either classical work, it's either old stuff or new stuff. Yeah I guess I kind of do...
Cheeyang [00:01:34] Everything... Everything... And how long have you been directing?
Desdemona [00:01:38] Oh... I mean it depends on when you start calling yourself a professional really. And I would, I would comfortably say 15 years.
Cheeyang [00:01:49] Wow.
Desdemona [00:01:49] I got my first review in the paper about 15 years ago. And that was like, of course, you know, 99 seat black box production but that's... Out of college kind of, you know, that's pretty much when I started.
Cheeyang [00:01:59] So that's... This is the teaser. We're gonna... Before we delve... before we delve into all of that, we're gonna like backtrack backtrack backtrack...
Desdemona [00:02:06] Yes.
Only Child vs. Harvard
Cheeyang [00:02:06] To like... Tell me how you grew up. Where did you grow up? And what is like, that background? Do you have siblings? How is your family like? What was that like?
Desdemona [00:02:17] Woo! Ok. I'm an only child. Which means I'm very generous and very selfish at the same time. It means you can have anything of mine that you want to use but just know that it's mine. I was born in Taiwan and came to the U.S. when I was three and a half. My parents came on a student visa and I was raised by my grandmother in Taipei and I've very very faint memories. Like my first memories of being alive are of Taiwan.
Cheeyang [00:02:48] Wow.
Desdemona [00:02:48] Right... So it's like taxicabs and, you know, streets... And, and of course, you know, when I was younger we'd go back and forth during the holidays because at the time, my great grandmother was still alive. And so once she passed away, I was 9 years old. I think that's when my grandmother moved to America. So my whole family is now living in America, in L.A.. I'm pretty much an ABC even though I'm not technically born in America. I feel like I've been raised as... With American social values. Chinese home values but American public values... You know what I mean?
Cheeyang [00:03:19] Oh my God... that like juxtaposition is like, so real. So real.
Desdemona [00:03:25] Yeah... So... And you know, we would, you know, over the holidays, when I would be on winter break from elementary school, my parents and I would go back to Taiwan and, you know, and, and always was able to overlap somewhat with Chinese New Year, which is great, because then you got a little bit of... It depends on, it depends on what the year was right?
Cheeyang [00:03:42] Right. Right. Right.
Desdemona [00:03:42] Sometimes it's like great! Winter break is right up against January, right near Chinese New Year. You get all the hongbao and everything. It's great. My upbringing was largely in Southern California, east of downtown L.A. and a very immigrant heavy... Lot of Asian folks, a lot of Latinx folks, a lot of black folks. So I've always grown up in a very multicultural environment and then kind of didn't do, I mean as far as I'm getting into the world of theater, didn't really do a lot of theater growing up. Like any good Chinese kid, I was going to be a doctor because... I had this moment when I was, I'm, I must have been five or something, and my parents were in a car, and my parents were arguing about something. And apparently they're arguing about my college tuition.
Cheeyang [00:04:28] Wow! When you were a five!!!
Desdemona [00:04:30] Five years old, sitting in the backseat. And remember... And my parents had gone to Cal State Fullerton.
Cheeyang [00:04:34] Mm hmm.
Desdemona [00:04:35] Which was like, you know, a lovely state school in Southern California. And my dad was like, "Well she could go to Cal State Fullerton". My mom was like, "No she's not. She's going to Harvard." And she turns around and she looks at me amd she says, "You're going to go to Harvard, right?" I was like, "I don't know what's Harvard." She's like, "Yes! You're gonna go to Harvard."
Cheeyang [00:04:52] I can't believe you can remember this when you were five.
Desdemona [00:04:55] Well it's because it's such a pointed moment of my mom looking me dead in the eye and like, "Do not fail me. You're gonna go Ivy League." Don't fuck this up. You're five years old. Don't fuck it up. And I was like, OK, I had no idea that was. My dad was like, "Why are you pressuring her to go to Harvard, she's five!" But...
Cheeyang [00:05:10] Oh my God...
Desdemona [00:05:11] But from then I've always, I've always had this feeling of needing to achieve, right. And of course when you're the... I'm also the oldest of all the grandchildren in the family. And even though like my next cousin, the cousin who's younger than me is only younger by three months. Right. But they are still like, "You're the oldest. You have to set an example." Whenever we have like family things like, "You're in charge." Right. So I felt like, and maybe you know, that on top of being an only child, gave me a kind of tendency towards leadership.
Cheeyang [00:05:43] Hmm.
Desdemona [00:05:43] You know and...
Cheeyang [00:05:44] And it reflects in your work.
Desdemona [00:05:45] I... Thank you!
Cheeyang [00:05:45] It really does. It does. It really does.
Desdemona [00:05:49] And for whatever reason that also maybe is kind of adjacent to a desire to overachieve? You know?
Cheeyang [00:05:57] Oh... Yeap. I'm like yeah.
Desdemona [00:05:59] Yeah. And like. And I didn't even know what that was about. Other than I knew that I'm also like incredibly competitive, you know, and that helps.
Cheeyang [00:06:09] Mhm...
Desdemona [00:06:10] And I'm an only child and so all the resources went to me. I never had to share. I'm very like narcissistic. My boyfriend I tell you that I'm very self... I guess he wouldn't say self-centered. Very like self actualized? This is what he would say. But there's very much like a me, me, me, the way kind of, the way I see the world. I'm very compassionate but I'm also very narcissistic. So growing up that way, I knew that success meant medical school.I knew that success meant, you know, for some reason, like, doctor happened to be the thing that was generically imprinted on me. That I never really questioned. And it just so happened that I was very good at science, right. I went to school. Public school in, in L.A.. And like, when it came to things like biology and calculus, I was like boom! 4.0. Like Top 10. Everything. And I did all the academic stuff like mock trial decathlon.
Cheeyang [00:07:02] I'm like... I don't know what all those things are but...
Desdemona [00:07:04] These are all like yeah... These are all... These are like extra curricular smarty pants nerdy programs...
Cheeyang [00:07:10] Amazing...
Desdemona [00:07:10] That kids in public schools do in America. And then so yeah I just, you know, was, did really really well. I did not get into Harvard.
Cheeyang [00:07:18] Aww...
Desdemona [00:07:18] My mother was very sad. But the good news is that, me, I went to UC Berkeley and luckily, in some ways, was very lucky to not going to Harvard, because I think I would have maybe not liked it? I don't know actually. I knew that when I was doing the tour of the various campuses that I want to go to... I went... My parents and I visited Berkeley and within like 30 seconds of being in that area I just, you know what, I gonna, I'm coming here. I'm coming here.
Cheeyang [00:07:44] Wow.
Biology vs. Theater
Desdemona [00:07:44] Well anyway I guess, yes I went to, I went to UC Berkeley, and I was going to get a degree in biology.
Cheeyang [00:07:50] Oh.
Desdemona [00:07:51] So that I can go, apply to medical school.
Cheeyang [00:07:53] Yes.
Desdemona [00:07:53] And then, the first semester of my freshman year, my undergraduate advisor said, "Desdemona you can't be taking all of these science classes. You're taking like physics, chemistry, calculus, you have to take an arts elective.".
Cheeyang [00:08:07] Aww!
Desdemona [00:08:07] I was like, "Okay fine. I'll take an arts class." And my friends in biology said, "Yo, you know there is this class in the theater department. It's called Intro to Acting. It's a fucking joke, okay. It's like, you stand in a circle, you play this game called zip zap zop all day. And you play charades. No papers, no lectures, right, no tests. You just show up you get an A for showing up. Dude, best class ever." I was like, "Sweet! Easy A? I'm going to med school!".
Cheeyang [00:08:37] Hahaha!
Desdemona [00:08:37] So I took this class called Intro to Acting in the theater department. And it was a class full of other engineers and bio people, like business school people, a lot of like non majors were in that class.
Cheeyang [00:08:50] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:08:50] And we did. We played zip zap zop and we totally played charades, and there are no papers, no lectures and no tests. And I totally got an A. But that class was also when you start doing things like make intense eye contact with people, and you're doing the mirror exercise, and suddenly you're being vulnerable, and I was playing in a way that was not playing when I was in high school or younger, right? Came from a very serious environment, very studious, very austere. And so this idea of like finding a kind of release or creativity was, was new and scary and kind of exciting.
Cheeyang [00:09:29] Wow.
Desdemona [00:09:30] And so after that I thought, "Well that was fun. I guess I'll take another acting class." And I would... So that, that began my relationship...
Cheeyang [00:09:37] Theatre journey...
Desdemona [00:09:37] With the theatre department where I would essentially...
Cheeyang [00:09:41] That's incredible!
Desdemona [00:09:42] ...spend my days in the lab in the bio department and then run across campus at 5:00 in the afternoon to like do tech or something for a show. And I was living two lives. I was living like, bio by day, drama by night. And all of my friends... I mean, the friends in theater were just cooler, you know?
Cheeyang [00:10:03] Hahahaha! You heard it here first!
Desdemona [00:10:04] The parties... The theater kids were cooler! They, you know, they were smoking cigarettes and like, we had, we had more, but, better booze... Like the crazier parties... Like my friends in bio were not having these ragers the way that the theater kids were. And so, I just, I mean, at the time I didn't know what, you know, the social value of theater... Like the life changing, transformative, all these, all that stuff, right. I was just thinking, "Oh this is fun. I love doing it. It makes me happy. It's a release. I don't have to worry about like, derivatives and integrals and calculus and God knows what else." Right? So I was doing a lot of that. It was the thing I wanted to... The thing I had to do during the day and the thing I wanted to do at night.
Cheeyang [00:10:43] Wow. You live such a dual lives.
Desdemona [00:10:46] Yes.
Cheeyang [00:10:46] You, like, there's so much duality, in terms of like, like you being an only child and you being compassionate but also like narcissistic, and then like loving theater but also like, like a science person. Like,.
Desdemona [00:10:58] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:10:58] It's beautiful.
Desdemona [00:10:59] It's a very, it was a very polarized... I've a very polarized psychology.
Cheeyang [00:11:02] I love it! I love it! It's like Oh my God.
Desdemona [00:11:06] This is why I like when I read Eastbound, I was like Oh Holy moly, I totally understand. I totally understand like the way the play is cut in half... And I, in some ways, I, I also do think, for me like philosophically, the world works when there's contrast.
Cheeyang [00:11:21] Yes. Yes.
Desdemona [00:11:21] Right. And this is also like the nut of like when I do... When you see good work, there's variety in good work. Like there is no... Without... There is no sweet without the bitter, right. There is no good without the evil. All of those things. Like you... It can't just be a one sided story you're telling.
Cheeyang [00:11:40] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:11:40] So for me contradiction and contrast... I tend to gravitate toward that. And I... And because I feel like... Then you, then you see the potential for what range feels like... What, you know, what a spectrum can be. Yeah I don't know. So that's...
Cheeyang [00:11:54] And that was your first foray into theater. So college was your first foray into theatre?
Desdemona [00:11:59] Officially yes. I mean I did like one school play when I was in high school because I thought it would be good on my resume.
Cheeyang [00:12:08] I love that it's like, "Because it will look good on my resumé, so that I can go, get into Harvard.".
Desdemona [00:12:12] Yeah. Pretty much like, I was like, "What else have I not done. I know what... I should do a theater thing. Yeah yeah yeah. I'll do that, I'll do that." And I...
Cheeyang [00:12:19] Diversifying your resume. That's great.
Desdemona[00:12:21] Yeah. We did a production of Midsummer Night's Dream and I played. I mean... I don't know if...
Cheeyang [00:12:27] I know Midsummer, yea!
Desdemona [00:12:27] I played the role of like Hermia's father, but really her mother, Egeus, but she, she has two lines on top of the play and then disappears at the end. So it was like, great! Boom! Tick that off! On my resumé, drama! It was a great resumé pad but I really... I really didn't take seriously all the things that were involved. And certainly was not invested emotionally in the role.
Cheeyang [00:12:51] And what do you think changed? I mean you just said that when you were in college, you started doing theater, right? And...
Desdemona [00:12:58] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:12:58] Even though that play didn't like change you or transform you, like... Was there a pivotal moment where it was like, "Oh this is what I need to be doing"? I mean, 'cause it's a huge leap!
Desdemona [00:13:09] It's a huge leap. That... That didn't happen for me until after I graduated. 'Cause for a long time you kind of go like, great great great! I did... I finished school. I had four years of fun with my theater mistress. Now it's time to hunker down and actually like, get a job and like, be real, right?
Cheeyang [00:13:26] Right.
Desdemona [00:13:27] Like grow the fuck up and get a real job.
Cheeyang [00:13:28] Right.
Desdemona [00:13:28] So I... After I graduate and I graduate with a double major.
Cheeyang [00:13:31] I can't. I love that you're so over achieving and then you're like, yes, yes, I am doing all these things but also, I'm also killing it in my academic department.
Desdemona [00:13:41] Well, and at a certain point, I... The bio... I mean, clearly, if you, if you were to look at my transcript from undergrad... The number of drama classes started to creep in. By the end, I was taking the bare minimum to finish my biology major and I was taking lik,e 20th Century feminist drama and I was taking like all of these extracurricular theatre classes.
Cheeyang [00:14:00] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:14:00] So it was pretty apparent that like, I did achieve both things. But I wasn't like loving all the work in bio.
Cheeyang [00:14:09] Right.
Desdemona [00:14:09] You know... I finished it 'cause I knew that it was a thing I had to do and a thing I actually intended to do. But I did call my mom and, and I was like, "Mom I'm thinking about doing theater." And there's a silence on the other end of the phone.
Cheeyang [00:14:22] Like you came out.
Desdemona [00:14:24] I came out as a theater artist to my mom! Haha! And she was like, "Okay, okay I want to support your choices. I want to... See, I'm going to be a cool mom! I'm going to be a cool mom! I'm going to be an American mom. I'm gonna like try to like support my daughter's radical decision to do more theater." And I think for a... for a long time, she was hoping that I would just kind of get over it?
Cheeyang [00:14:48] Oh my God. This is such an Asian parent thing.
Desdemona [00:14:50] You know, like it's a phase. It's a phase.
Cheeyang [00:14:52] Yea.
Desdemona [00:14:52] Once she realizes that she'll go broke doing this, she'll give up and she'll go to law school. 'Cause there was a moment when I decided I wasn't gonna go to med school. And that was tough. That came actually while I was at Berkeley. I had a moment where I... It became clear that medicine wasn't going to work for me. And it was a very, it was a very potent moment. When I'm in my junior year. I was taking a class called Human Anatomy and anatomy was when you had to dissect cadavers.
Cheeyang [00:15:16] I don't know what that is.
Desdemona [00:15:18] Oh a dead body. Yeah yeah human bodies. So. So. So you had human bodies in body bags and, you know, it was a big group class, and you had to unzip the body bag... And there was a male and a female cadaver... Face... One was face up and was face down, and you would essentially go through and look at all the organs, all the tissues, and those, I mean, you have to. Because, duh, you're taking a biology class.
Cheeyang [00:15:38] I'm so in shock now.
Cheeyang [00:15:39] Oh.
Desdemona [00:15:40] Oh OK. Yeah but you have to do that. And. And I remember walking in class that first day and seeing to body bags in the classroom. I just kind of went. (gasp). Those are... That's two people.
Cheeyang [00:15:52] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:15:52] Two people. And... And the way that I found... The... I mean... To do the work well, you can't get touchy feely about it, right? It's tissues and cells and specimens and organs, and it's a very clinical approach at looking at disease and a very clinical way of looking at pathology. And for me that was what biology was about. And meanwhile I'm going to do theater where we're talking...
Cheeyang [00:16:17] Where you need to be all vulnerable and shit!
Desdemona [00:16:19] Yup!
Cheeyang [00:16:19] And like open yourself up and like...
Desdemona [00:16:21] Yup... Right.
Cheeyang [00:16:21] Oh my God am I getting like... Oh... chills...
Desdemona [00:16:24] All the feels...
Cheeyang [00:16:25] 'Cause I'm like... No...
Desdemona [00:16:27] All the feelings! So I always like... Try... So, so. So whatever bio... Biology was undoing the work theatre was doing and theater was undoing the work that biology was doing.
Cheeyang [00:16:39] Wow.
Desdemona [00:16:39] And it was hard for me to study things like human suffering without asking myself, "Why is there suffering in the world? Why is the world bad? Why is there cancer? Why do people get cancer?" Right?
Cheeyang [00:16:50] Did you find an answer.
Desdemona [00:16:51] No! I don't... I don't... I mean that's why we do art because we keep looking for that answer.
Cheeyang [00:16:56] Yea.
Desdemona [00:16:56] We don't know what happens after we die. We don't know when the beginning of time was. We don't know all of the big questions.
Cheeyang [00:17:00] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:17:00] But it was hard to focus on the details of the science when I was constantly being prodded by big questions in the arts.
Cheeyang [00:17:09] Right.
Desdemona [00:17:09] So that class... I mean, it taught me... I mean it taught me a lot about anatomy of course, but it also taught me a lot about my capacity to hold what I... Like the... My, my, my emotional vessel got so big because of theater and I would find myself in like anatomy class like, you know, looking at organs and like weeping. I mean in some ways a little embarrassing!
Cheeyang [00:17:32] No! It's human.
Desdemona [00:17:34] Yeah. And I would look at... I mean, 'cause of also, we had... Above these body bags were like the death certificates of the people... They would black our the names, so we didn't know the names of the individuals but you saw like, you know, male, African-American, 67, died of kidney failure. And so I would just like look at this information. And in my mind start constructing a narrative about who this person was, how did they die, how did they get kidney failure, if they have any loved ones, like where do they live. And I was like, this is not helping me with my studies.
Cheeyang [00:18:04] Yeah!
Desdemona [00:18:04] This is not a great way to be doing a science thing right.
Cheeyang [00:18:06] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:18:06] So that, that I think was what just happened to click for me at the time.
Cheeyang [00:18:11] And then you didn't think that that was the turning point you thought that... You personally think that your turning point was after college.
Adulting vs. Life
Desdemona [00:18:16] Yeah. So I graduated undergrad and then I didn't know what to do with myself. You know, I didn't want to... I didn't want to take the GRE and go to grad school for something I didn't really care about. And I fell into this, like, deep depression which I think a lot of... Which I, you know, when I, when I think about the number of folks I've talked to, who like in their mid 20s, go through some kind of, like, life crisis. It's not uncommon.
Cheeyang [00:18:44] Me.
Desdemona [00:18:44] Right yeah.
Cheeyang [00:18:44] Literally me.
Desdemona [00:18:45] Yeah. Between the ages of 20 to 25. There is that moment of, "Oh I've been institutionalized my entire life, from grade school, middle school, high school, university. I've known... I've been, I've been given a template for how to live...
Cheeyang [00:18:59] My life.
Desdemona [00:19:00] "For so long...
Cheeyang [00:19:00] Yea yea yea.
Desdemona [00:19:00] "And everything was always, I always knew what the next goal post was." And then once I graduated college it just became like this open field of possibility. That was like, very terrifying. I was financially like, I did not have any sense of financial intelligence, but for the most part just being thrust into like adulting was a little tough. And then, and then not knowing. And then for some reason being preoccupied with the idea that I had to be happy in what I did...
Cheeyang [00:19:28] I mean like, it feels like, that's what everybody is striving for. No?
Desdemona [00:19:32] I mean like yes. But I think there's so many people out there for whom work is work. And, and to feel like happiness...
Cheeyang [00:19:39] Is tied to your job satisfaction...
Desdemona [00:19:41] Yea it also feels like a very like, first world problem, kind of thing?
Cheeyang [00:19:44] Oh absolutely. It's such a privilege...
Desdemona [00:19:46] Like, "Oh poor baby, you don't love your job?" Like get the fuck off yourself. I don't know. I just didn't know what I wanted to do with my career. Like with my life, life, right?
Cheeyang [00:19:54] Hmm.
Desdemona [00:19:54] What... What is like the long game at this point. Once I, once I cut the biology cord, it was like my entire... The... My entire concept of who I wanted to be was like gone. And that was like blank slate and I was really scared. And I thought... Well, when was I actually really happy? I was really happy when I was doing theater. OK so it's not going to pay any bills but let me at least do some small shows during the day. Or I mean during the evening. I'll do a day job. And so, I was, I was like temping and then doing like, small black box shows at night.
Cheeyang [00:20:24] Right. As a director? Or as an actor?
Desdemona [00:20:27] I first got in to a... I first got involved the small theater company in Berkeley called Impact theater as an actor.
Cheeyang [00:20:33] Hmm.
Desdemona [00:20:33] I went to like a general audition and I got cast as Lady McDuff in a production of Macbeth. I had one kick ass fight scene and like four lines. That was fantastic. And there was a lot of strawberry jam as blood involved. It was a very campy, machine gun...
Cheeyang [00:20:46] Great.
Desdemona [00:20:47] ...basement theater Shakespeare. It was so much fun though, right. It was definitely not high art. But it was very fun! And I felt... And that was when I felt like engaged and connected again with people.
Cheeyang [00:20:57] Right.
Desdemona [00:20:59] And so I thought, "Great. I'll just keep doing that." And so I, and so then that, that led to like assisting on a show and then eventually directing for them. And then, meanwhile, I had gotten a job working in new media, just doing like marketing stuff, a very corporate-y kind of position.
Cheeyang [00:21:17] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:21:17] I did that for a couple years and then decided, you know, I think I actually want to do the theater thing for real, for real. And people ask... I'm like... My family are like, "Are you sure? How are you gonna make money? How are you going to eat? How are you gonna pay your rent?" You know?
Cheeyang [00:21:30] Uh-huh.
Desdemona [00:21:31] And my mom is like, "Oh my God! She's going to be a cabaret singer somewhere. She's gonna be like, you know, busking on the street." I can't sing first of all. But the equivalent of, you know, like you know, obviously, in some dingy jazz club or something. She was just so nervous about. Like my integrity.
Cheeyang [00:21:48] Yeah. I mean... My, my mom recently came for my thesis project and she said, "It's not too late if you don't want to do this anymore."
Desdemona [00:21:56] At your thesis project? Goodness, you're getting a master's degree.
Cheeyang [00:21:59] I know. And then she said.
Desdemona [00:22:00] I mean come on!
Cheeyang [00:22:01] She said, on the steps of Grand Central, she said, "if you decide that you don't want to do this anymore, we can always start somewhere new. Like just start afresh.".
Desdemona [00:22:10] Oh god.
Cheeyang [00:22:10] And I was like, "Was my thesis project that bad?!"
Desdemona [00:22:12] Hahaha! But yeah. But my mom was definitely a little like, okay so, you know, she's going to do theater for the rest of her life. I'm a little nervous. And she's like how're you gonna, how are you going to make it work? And then I decided, "Do I want to go to grad school?" You know I've been out of school for five years. It wouldn't hurt to get re institutionalized again into a program. It would give me some structure.
Cheeyang [00:22:35] Yes yes.
Grad School vs. The Future
Desdemona [00:22:37] So I applied and then, you know, got an interview with the University of Washington in Seattle and then came here for an interview. And within 30 seconds of landing in Seattle I was like, "I want to come here.".
Cheeyang [00:22:51] Wow.
Desdemona [00:22:51] I felt, I just you know, walked... I walked down University Avenue and it was really funny. I walked down University Avenue right by UDub and all, and all it was, I literally I just saw a bento restaurant and I was like, "There's a bento restaurant here. I'm coming here."
Cheeyang [00:23:05] I mean you said that you wanted to go to Berkeley this like, also 30 seconds, in 30 seconds.
Desdemona [00:23:09] It was very much...
Cheeyang [00:23:10] Wow...
Desdemona [00:23:10] And I didn't. I mean I didn't know if I would get in because, you know, I don't know if you know, but directing programs for grad school are pretty competitive. It takes... At UDub, they take two every other year.
Cheeyang [00:23:19] Wow.
Desdemona [00:23:20] So I was like, "All right. Fingers crossed." And I went in and it was a four hour long interview / you know, directing demonstration you do... Where they make you direct the first, first act of The Cherry Orchard or something crazy... But, you know, I, they flew me in, I did the interview, I went back home to San Francisco, and then you know the following Tuesday, I got a phone call that was like, "We want to accept you into the program."
Cheeyang [00:23:43] Wow. I mean I totally feel you there in terms of like, being out of school, having no structure, going into the world blind and then a craving structure and like craving... That's also why I went back to grad school. Like craving some kind of like, institutional, being like, you have to go to this... You have to come to school this time, and like attend this amount of classes...
Desdemona [00:24:03] Yea. Do not get drunk. Do not cut classes. Like it's funny because at the time, like when you're an undergrad, when I was in undergrad, I was not... Like... When I try to impart onto young people the value of education in academia, it's like you don't get it. You don't get it until you lose it?
Cheeyang [00:24:16] You really don't get it. Like I mean I'm the same way when... and... and it's cyclical. It just happens to everybody 'cause when you're in it you just don't know.
Desdemona [00:24:26] It's like ugh, I just want out. I want, ugh, this is awful. And once you're out, like, please put me in that sweet, sweet womb of academia. I just want to be cradled by the womb of academia again please.
Cheeyang [00:24:36] Yeah. Safety.
Desdemona [00:24:36] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:24:36] And doesn't have to... And if you fail. That's fine. Like it's just like...
Desdemona [00:24:39] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:24:40] Do whatever the fuck you want. Yeah. You know.
Desdemona [00:24:42] Yeah. So I missed that. So and so I went in to grad school in Seattle very, very cognizant of the inevitable graduation date.
Cheeyang [00:24:51] Yes.
Desdemona [00:24:51] And so from day one I was like, "Okay I got three years. I will not graduate and fall into a second depression where I don't have structure." And so really from my first of grad school, I was planning like, okay, internships, fellowships, jobs, gigs.
Cheeyang [00:25:05] We are so Asian. I feel like only the Asians will do that. I'm like... I'm seriously, I went into grad school. I said, "This is masterclass time. I'm going to take every single minute, every single second, as like a time to learn..." And then like figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life and like, plant the seeds so that I can, you know, take a step, at a step, at a step, at a step at a time, so that I can... Well I'm not succeeding in terms of like what I envision it to be, but I think I'm on the way, you know like plot... Like planting those seeds from day one of grad school.
Desdemona [00:25:35] Yeah that's how I felt. I just I just knew that I wasn't going to let myself graduate, and then be in this, "Oh-no-what-now place" 'cause I felt... I remember feeling so helpless when that happened to me, and feeling like I had no agency, which was complete bullshit, 'cause I had complete agency. And I just... Either I didn't know it, or didn't realize it, or couldn't tap into it, for whatever reason.
Cheeyang [00:25:55] Right.
Desdemona [00:25:55] I just was determined to not feel like... I didn't want to wake up the day after graduation and go, "OK... Now what?" Right? I want to be able to go, day after graduation, "Great. I'm going to my next project or I'm going to go into rehearsal in like, a week or a month." Whatever it was, I just wanted to know that there was a next step in front of me after I graduated.
Cheeyang [00:26:13] But that 100% is Asian though. It really, it really is. I am generalizing and that is not a good thing to do but I... It's true... It's... That's my experience. In my experience.
Desdemona [00:26:24] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:26:24] Do you think, I mean, this is this is quite a life story... And there's still more to go.
Desdemona [00:26:29] Oh my gosh.
Being Chinese vs. Eurocentric Art
Cheeyang [00:26:30] But do you think being Chinese has shaped that progression in any way?
Desdemona [00:26:37] I mean I guess it has to 'cause I don't know what it's like to not be Chinese?
Cheeyang [00:26:40] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:26:40] You know. All I have is my point of view with... Oh I was just quoting lyrics to the song I just realized. I mean, really, my, my, my... The lens on how I see the world is inevitably Chinese. People ask like do you have any regrets, right? The only regret is I didn't start sooner. And also it's tricky too because then you get into this question of like, "OK. Am I entering a field that doesn't have me in its legacy too, right?".
Cheeyang [00:27:04] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:27:04] You're talking about, you know, I'm studying like Shakespeare, and Chekhov, and Ibsen, and the entire time, and it never occurred to me that the train that I was getting was a very Eurocentric... 'Cause you don't question the things that you're taught. when you're learning them. And so you make these like subconscious agreements around, you know, what value is, what constitutes good art, what constitutes legitimate art. And so, I mean, we hope I, you know, right turn into a different conversation around identity and things like that, but those little, there was a little anxiety too around, like, once I... If I were to like... The thing I love so much doing theater, like, is does it... Is there room for me in that world?
Cheeyang [00:27:42] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:27:42] Will they take me? Because I don't look like the history of what that institution is, you know.
Cheeyang [00:27:50] And how did you grapple with that?
Desdemona [00:27:52] I... It's... That's actually one of the reasons why I started directing. It's because I auditioned for things all the time and never got cast. And just was like I must really suck as an actor. And I think on some level, I probably, I'm not a very good actor? But the fact that, like, why am I not being cast in Streetcar? Why am I not being cast in Noises Off? This is real... I must really suck. You know what? If I... And I so wanted to hang out with the same people. I wanted to be around those people so I said, "You know, if you're not going to cast me, I will find a way to be the one doing the casting."
Cheeyang [00:28:24] That is also so Asian!
Desdemona [00:28:28] And it's hard because, you know, like, how do you become a director? How do you get into that? Well, I mean, a lot of it is, you know, the right person has to entrust you with a project. Or you have the money, you save enough pennies and you make it your damn self, right? At the end of day, how do you... How do you end up becoming the person in charge.
Cheeyang [00:28:47] Mhm... Having been in the room with you for... How many days now? Four days now.
Desdemona [00:28:51] Four days.
Cheeyang [00:28:51] But also more than that, because we've been having conversations for a while.
Desdemona [00:28:52] Yeah.
Directing vs. Being Human
Cheeyang [00:28:53] I, like, the way you work is so sensitive to every single human being in the room. And I think that's, I mean, I think a lot of good directors are like that.
Desdemona [00:29:04] Right.
Cheeyang [00:29:05] But to be able to balance all the energies that are flying around the room at any given time, not be flustered, be able to take in everything and process that, I feel like, that is a gift in itself. And you said that grad school gave you the tools to like, do that. Would you want to share a little bit about that?
Desdemona [00:29:26] Yeah. I mean a lot of what you're talking about... The people management part of the... I think that has a lot to do with who I am as a, as a human. You know. I'm not... I'm not not emotional but I'm not prone to, like, extreme emotional reactions. So I tend to temper feelings really well, I tend to work well under stress. I don't... I don't flip out. I don't panic. And so, I think because of that, I'm able to handle high octane material, I'm able to handle...
Cheeyang [00:29:59] Is that... And like, that's you.
Desdemona [00:30:00] That's me. That's me as a human.
Cheeyang [00:30:02] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:30:04] Like we had a moment today in rehearsal when I was talking about, like, when people, you know, like, we're talking about the character of Qing and whether or not she, when she gets angry, does she hit or does she cry?
Cheeyang [00:30:14] Right.
Desdemona [00:30:14] I... I don't have a really bad temper. So when I get really upset... If I get truly, truly upset, I'll start crying.
Cheeyang [00:30:20] Wow...
Desdemona [00:30:20] I don't... I don't externalize my... I don't like lash out, you know.
Cheeyang [00:30:25] What do you think are good qualities that a director should have? Other than what I was discussing.
Desdemona [00:30:30] I think, I mean, honestly, the thing the director absolutely needs to have, is the ability to make choices.
Cheeyang [00:30:36] Mm hmm.
Desdemona [00:30:36] Like the ability to make decisions. A director is a person who makes choices. Right. And, and to make them and be accountable for them.
Cheeyang [00:30:46] Mm hmm.
Desdemona [00:30:46] Right. For me there's a... There's a responsibility that comes with the job. And so. The director's job is to take a piece of work, reduce and clarify it, through a series of choices, and be able to defend those choices. Everything else is, is personality. Everything else is like... Sure. And through that, that... That can involve nurturing, that can involve things like collaboration. But at the end of the day, if you tell me X or Y and I'm staging something, I should be able to tell you X or Y. And then to... X or Y, and then say why. Or I mean... Not Y, the letter Y. W-H-Y, why. That's a horrible example but you got it.
Cheeyang [00:31:28] I mean you can be like A or B and then why.
Desdemona [00:31:31] And tell, and then be able to, right... 'Cause I think the irresponsible director is the person who doesn't make a choice, and then by default, a choice gets made because that person didn't intend to make a choice, right? There... There has to be intentionality and accountability with the work. If I make this choice, I'm gonna make this choice, and I have to stand behind it. And if I fail I have to, like, be accountable for that failure.
Cheeyang [00:31:53] But also, like, going through, like, the duality of your life, I feel like being a director, it's also, you have to be a really good collaborator. And, and, and you're saying, like, you have to make all these decisions. Yes. These decisions have to be made. But there's also, like, so many other people that are involved that you have to work with, and like, you have to, like, take into account all their suggestions, and their thoughts, and their feelings, and basically everything, and their expertise too! Right? Because everyone has their strengths. And then making a clear decision on that.
Desdemona [00:32:25] Yea! It only benefits me to get all the feel... All the feedback I can get. Because at the end of the day, I get to pick. You know what I mean? Like, I don't understand directors who don't listen to other people because, like, what's the threat? I'm the one... I mean, I'm the powerful person in the room. Like I don't know what the fuss is about. Like I, directors can't listen other people? Like the worse thing that happens is, I hear you then go, "Okay. That was wrong. I don't want to do that. Moving on."
Cheeyang [00:32:48] It's very similar to writing when you get so many opinions, so like inundated with, like, so many opinions. At the end of the day, you're making the decision. You're... You're the ones putting the words on the page, right. So listen to yourself, but take into account all these other factors that, I mean, all have valid reasons for existing.
Desdemona [00:33:06] Yeah and the only reason why a director, I mean... The only... The only reason... I think the only reason why I would not listen somebody is 'cause there's not enough time. Time would be the only obstacle to me being able to take into account all the feedback in the room.
Cheeyang [00:33:18] That... I feel like time is always, like, the least, like, you have to dig for it. You have to, like, really fight for it, you have to find it, and... And... Because if we have like a two month rehearsal process, so much can be done.
Desdemona [00:33:31] Right. Yeah. The only two limiting factors are time and money to get in the way of the doing thing you want to do. You either can't afford it or you don't have time to do it.
Cheeyang [00:33:41] And that also applies to life.
Desdemona [00:33:43] Right?
Cheeyang [00:33:43] Just thinking about that for a second
Desdemona [00:33:44] Time and money. Time and money. Either I can spend an hour cleaning my house, or I can pay someone to clean my house.
Cheeyang [00:33:51] Oh my God.
Desdemona [00:33:52] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:33:52] Such first world problems.
Desdemona [00:33:55] I know because we have running water and antibiotics.
Cheeyang [00:33:58] But it's, but I sometimes. OK. Like today, we were in rehearsal and, and Daniel was kind of, like, on his phone... Shoutout to Daniel and being on his phone! But, he said this line, and it made me think a lot. "The world is falling the fuck apart. People are dying. Shit is going down. And we're here in a fucking rehearsal room doing theater."
Desdemona [00:34:19] Yea, lucky us, right?
Cheeyang [00:34:19] And it, like, makes you feel, like, helpless and little, in a way, but then you know, like, what I said earlier, like, you know when a work works. There's, like, an infinite way and path to healing. But how do you justify doing theater? Like you... You know what I'm saying right?
Desdemona [00:34:43] This is what I plague myself with so often. Right? 'Cause we go... I mean, the more you become aware about how, about, you know, the many other ways... If I wanted to save lives, I would've been a doctor.
Cheeyang [00:34:55] Exactly! Which I... So full circle. I love it. Like, yes. Yes. Exactly that.
Desdemona [00:35:01] Yeah right. If I want to save lives, if I wanted, if I wanted to cure cancer, if I really wanted to do these things... I mean, at the end of the day, if I were to be really honest, it's because I'm selfish, right? And I, I to hate admit it. I mean in a weird way, like, why does anyone do art? Art as an expression. And what makes my expression more valid than anyone else's expression?
Cheeyang [00:35:21] Mhm.
Desdemona [00:35:21] For some reason, people have decided that they want to see the things that I express. Like I make people, for some reason, think that I'm the person they want to hire to tell the story. I think storytelling is super valuable. It's not the same thing as, you know, it's not as immediate and tangible as, like, medicine or surgery or, you know, funding someone to, you know, build a house? I don't know. But there's so many ways you can actually do practical service or good.
The Art of Storytelling vs. Trafficking in Feelings
Cheeyang [00:35:50] But storytelling has been around since the beginning of time, right, for mankind at least. I don't know about animals but... For mankind...
Desdemona [00:36:00] I bet dolphins tell stories.
Cheeyang [00:36:01] Oh my God.
Desdemona [00:36:02] Wouldn't that be great? Centrifugal...
Cheeyang [00:36:02] Those are my favorite animals. Honestly. I can't go into that. But, but storytelling has been around forever, and it's still persisted. And then you question, like, why? Why? Is it because we need to tell stories in order to escape from the disasters of the world, and the, like, the truths of the world? Or do we do it because we're telling the truths of the world, in a way that maybe is a little bit more accessible to people?
Desdemona [00:36:31] I think it's because by nature we're wired to be social creatures. I think... And if there is... What is news but storytelling? Right. The Daily News is telling, "Oh my God this happened me today." I think it's because our brains are wired to be social creatures. And it's, it's the reason why solitary confinement is prison... Is punishment. Time out for kids is punishment. You don't get to play at recess. You don't get to be with other people.
Cheeyang [00:36:57] Right.
Desdemona [00:36:57] I think and that's why we talk about people who are sociopaths, who can't empathize... We can't connect. Right? This idea that punishment is about divorcing an individual from his community, from his society. And so I think storytelling... It's not, not necessarily fiction. But just storytelling is the act of communicating. It's the act of exchanging thoughts and opinions and feelings between two individuals. And that can be something as great as, "Oh my god, the world is fucked we gotta fix it." That can be Shakespeare. And that can also be, "Oh my god, I saw this great thing at the store today. Or, like, I saw this cat. Here's this cat meme." Right? That's storytelling. Like Instagramming is storytelling. So I think for me, it's, it's that simple. It's the exchange of ideas. Ideas, opinions, feelings,.
Cheeyang [00:37:43] Because we're social creatures?
Desdemona [00:37:44] Because we're naturally social creatures. I think that's kind of where I am with it. And theatre is, you know, the most archaic version of that. And that just somehow hasn't been contaminated. I mean, it has clearly been contaminated by technology, but it's still, it's our version of gathering at the fire and sharing an experience. It just so happens that now it's taken the form of, "Sit in a theater, be quiet, watch these lights, and people, and people get to, you know, reenact stuff, right? That's just a particular form of storytelling. But theater is the art of communication. We just communicate and you know...
Cheeyang [00:38:18] And you've worked around the country... All over the country regionally, directing project after project. And talk about what that experience is like? Like going around the country and sharing your vision, on work that has been existing for a long time, like Shakespeare, or like, new work. Like Lauren Yees' plays. And new musicals. Like what is the difference between all these processes? What is the similarity? And what's the best thing that you love about your job doing this?
Desdemona [00:38:48] The best thing. Okay. So I'll start with what I love about my job. I get to travel, which is great. And that varies from, like, big cities to small towns. I also... There's... This is probably not the most noble thing to say, but when you're a guest artist no one ever gets sick of you. You're always... They're always excited to see you, they're always sad when you go.
Cheeyang [00:39:11] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:39:12] So you're always, you're so, you're always so deeply valued. And this constant feeling of gratitude and appreciation is like, I can't get enough of that!
Cheeyang [00:39:21] Hahaha!
Desdemona [00:39:21] People always love me when I show up, and are always so sad when I go! And they...
Cheeyang [00:39:24] But you need to know, like, that's because you're doing good work. Right? Can you imagine if you're not? Like... why would anyone...
Desdemona [00:39:28] Then I wouldn't get hired! I'd be... I'd be at home and depressed and not working. Directing in particular, and I'm sure acting too, is a very promiscuous craft. We have to practice promiscuity and we have to practice this idea of intense vulnerability and intense engagement. I have to go... I have to meet these strangers, you know, mostly strangers, some friends, right, first day of rehearsal, you go into a process, you throw yourself into it, you love really hard... Four and a half weeks later and I leave.
Cheeyang [00:39:58] That is so... That is actually something...
Desdemona [00:40:00] And it's, like, it's constantly, like, meeting and loving and breaking up. Meeting and loving and breaking up.
Cheeyang [00:40:06] Does that wear on you a little bit? Because I know that I... That process always drove me a little crazy.
Desdemona [00:40:13] Like the saying goodbye part or the...
Cheeyang [00:40:14] Just like coming together and being like, "Yes I love you" and then... It's also a very American "I love you". It's not like, you know how like Chinese people don't like immediately go like "Yes!" You know and, like...
Desdemona [00:40:24] Totally.
Cheeyang [00:40:24] And then, and then, it's like, okay wait... But do you actually love me? Or like, is it just, like, you're just doing...
Desdemona [00:40:29] Just practicing the motions of I love you.
Cheeyang [00:40:30] Exactly. And then, like... And then you always will have, like, one or two that you really, really... People... That you connect with, right, on your contract. It's like...
Desdemona [00:40:37] Right. When you're friends after the show's over. Right.
Cheeyang [00:40:39] Yeah. Then you know...
Desdemona [00:40:40] There's these showmances and then there's the ones that, like, last beyond the showmance.
Cheeyang [00:40:43] And then those, that actually last last, will be forever. Really. Really.
Desdemona [00:40:48] Yeah. They're your friends.
Cheeyang [00:40:48] But then it's like. That is a process that's like... I haven't gotten used to it.
Desdemona [00:40:53] Yeah. It's something you... I've learned to... I mean it's probably why I don't get super reactionary in rehearsals? I've, you know, I learned to traffic in feelings. I learned to traffic in, in that world of intense vulnerability, intense availability, and then be able to set, like, reasonable boundaries around it?
Cheeyang [00:41:12] For yourself!
Desdemona [00:41:12] Yeah, for myself, and you know, I, in my process, once we hit tech, I slowly start backing out of the room. I mean not literally but I mean, oh my god, actors don't listen to this, right? But it's, it's, it's useful because it's part of, it's part of the detaching process. Is so that when the show opens, the actors are like get out of here director, this is our show now. We're going to take it, we're gonna run with it, we're gonna, like, do the thing.
Cheeyang [00:41:40] Mhm.
Mortality vs. Your Mother
Desdemona [00:41:40] Great. What they don't want. Again, it's that, it's, it's a version of, "I'm going to grad school, there's gonna be an end. Get ready for the end." Right? You have to prepare for that moment when you leave. It's bittersweet but they're ready to go. And by god, hopefully they don't need you there anymore. What I'm trying to practice now, in my life, is a greater embracing of impermanence, you know, 'cause... So this is something about me that I don't really... I mean... Yea I could talk about it. I'm like deeply afraid of dying.
Cheeyang [00:42:10] Oh wow.
Desdemona [00:42:11] Like mortality... I have like, I mean, partially has to do with, like, my biology thing and the whole, like, cadavers in a bag.
Cheeyang [00:42:17] Yea.
Desdemona [00:42:17] But I remember, you know, attending... When I was eight years old, my great grandmother passed away in Taiwan, and we went back to Taiwan to her funeral. And I'd never been to a funeral before.
Cheeyang [00:42:29] So that was your first one.
Desdemona [00:42:30] My first one and it was a fucking, like, the Buddhist funeral?
Cheeyang [00:42:34] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:42:34] Cremation?
Cheeyang [00:42:35] Yeah.
Desdemona [00:42:35] Chanting? Wood blocks. I mean the ash in the air. It was traumatizing for me to be like...
Cheeyang [00:42:41] Wait! She was created in front of you?
Desdemona [00:42:43] I did not go.
Cheeyang [00:42:44] I was like woah.
Desdemona [00:42:44] But apparently, I mean I didn't go. Like, my grandma and I stayed behind. But there was... They went up to, like, at the crematorium and...
Cheeyang [00:42:51] Yeah yeah. We go to crematoriums too but we don't see it burn. Like we don't, like, have the ash, like, flying on your face. Is that a thing?
Desdemona [00:42:59] I don't know. I mean it was definitely there.. And we... I didn't go. My mom was like, "You and Grandma sit here. We're going to go." And I don't know what happened. All I knew is that I was exempt for those two hours. And we, and we carried her clothes, and we're, like, throwing her clothes into, like, fires... Throwing, like, her things... And it was, it was so... I mean, it's part of the culture and that's what they do. But for me it was so harrowing, and such a, like... This idea of... The people... The things... This woman that I loved and us burning her things, and she's dead, and we had... I remember, like, my parents took me to, like, view the body beforehand, and it was, like, in Taiwan, and there other bodies around, like, covered in mosquito netting. It was just not a very, like... It was not a funeral of, like, polite tears. Right? I think, I think in America, funerals are very austere and polite, and they're like tears and it's a coffin, and there's a lot of white flowers. It was this loud, clangy, wailing, Buddhist funeral.
Cheeyang [00:44:00] Wow.
Desdemona [00:44:00] Right? And so after experiencing that, I, I've been very terrified of death... Of mortality and, and all the things that are... I think that... I mean, humans are naturally afraid of anyway. But for me that fear was super amplified after that. And so, I've been... And part of the reason why I love theatres, is this, is because it's perpetual creation. But...
Cheeyang [00:44:21] Birth.
Desdemona [00:44:22] Yeah. And then finding ways to, like, dealing with ending. Right? If I, if I can constantly expose myself to ending and termination, I start to embrace of this idea, of the idea that the world is impermanent, and that I can't... Nothing is forever. And I haven't, I'm trying to, like, flex that muscle more. I want to flex that muscle, like, nothing's precious. It can't be precious. You know, you will die someday. That world will go... The sun will burn out someday. Like, find peace with that soon, because it's... The more you latch onto it, the more it's going to suck when it has to happen.
Cheeyang [00:44:52] I love that... I love that theater is giving you the process. And it's a process for you right? And it's like, for you to discover that idea of impermanence. I mean, I, I, I say it now, but. I've never really been afraid of death.
Desdemona [00:45:08] Oh lucky.
Cheeyang [00:45:10] And I think it's weird. I think it's not that I'm not afraid of it. I think it's like, I don't think about it constantly and, you know, and I kind of, like, live my life where I'm like, "If I die tomorrow, will I be OK? Like, will I be ok with where I am today?"
Desdemona [00:45:25] Right. Yes and that's ideally that's what we want to do.
Cheeyang [00:45:28] And I answer that every day with like, "Yes." Like, "I am where I need to be today. I am doing everything that I wanted to be doing.".
Desdemona [00:45:34] No regrets.
Cheeyang [00:45:34] Yeah. And, and just like, seizing every moment and just going forward with it. And the idea of impermanence. I am such a small tiny speck of dust in the whole concept of the universe. I mean, every time you go to a fucking museum, they show you, like, the timeline, history of the world. And then you're like...
Desdemona [00:45:54] Yeah, the last speckle.
Cheeyang [00:45:55] Humans are. Yeah. Excuse me? Hello. We've not even existed for any time. I mean, there's huge existential crisis, like, crisis questions that I, like, live with daily where I'm like, "Why are we here? Why are we doing the things that we do?" But if you, if you live your day, if you live your day to day, like, being like so weighed down by all of that, how are you gonna... How are you going to find joy?
Desdemona [00:46:19] Like how are you available to those things. Yeah yeah yeah. And so that's, yeah.
Cheeyang [00:46:24] I love that theater is helping just, like, unlock that for you and exploring that.
Desdemona [00:46:30] Yeah, I just, I, I think a lot of what I'm trying to do, ultimately, is like, ugh, how do I, like this... How do I, like, escape the suffering of life?
Cheeyang [00:46:41] Yeah. What's the dream? Like what's the dream?
Desdemona [00:46:42] Yeah. Oh wow. I don't know.
Cheeyang [00:46:46] Like the dream job. The dream project. The, the dream. Like, the goal. Like, I mean, this is a question I do ask all my guests. And it's not what's the dream, but how would you define success? But I... But I'm also, like, on the parallel, like, what is the dream? How do you define success? I think those two things are very much tied together a little bit. So what do you think?
Desdemona [00:47:10] I feel like I'm, I... I'm on the verge of some kind of change. I don't know what that is. Probably because I'm approaching my midlife crisis, whatever that means. But I, I feel like I've been doing theater for, like, 15 years and I'm very happy regionally. And, you know, New York... For a long time I thought I wanted to do, like, New York and be on Broadway, and I think if that were to happen, then I woul,d I would absolutely welcome those things. But it's not... That, that's no longer the goal for me. You know, I think for a while, I would say if you asked me like five years ago, the goal would be like, "Oh yeah! Something commercial and big and impressive." And I don't know what that is now. 'Cause I want, I think it's... Whatever it is, it's gonna be beyond the scope of theater?
Cheeyang [00:47:55] Hmm...
Desdemona [00:47:55] And I don't know what that is. You know it's... And I only ask myself this because, you know, there's been a kind of cycling of hires around artistic directorship at regional theaters, and people have asked, "Do you want this job? You want that job?" And I kind of go... I, I keep thinking I do until I get turned down for one, and then I'm relieved I didn't get it? So part of me feels like, so it feels like emotionally or spiritually, I'm looking for some kind of change. Or looking for some kind of leveling up. And I don't know what that is right now. So I don't have a hard answer for the dream thing, 'cause I... 'Cause it was just... A bigger version of what I'm doing today! Or a bigger project! And I'm like, "No I think of whatever it is, it's, it's beyond that.".
Cheeyang [00:48:39] Great.
Desdemona [00:48:39] I, and I think I just maybe need to go to, like, Tibet and find it.
Cheeyang [00:48:43] I love it!
Desdemona [00:48:44] You know what I mean?
Cheeyang [00:48:46] Absolutely. Or that pod. That sensory deprivation pod.
Desdemona [00:48:47] Yeah! I'm gonna go, like, I'm gonna go like float in a pod and find that. Yea.
Cheeyang [00:48:53] Great. And if you could tell yourself one thing... So, like, today... Desdemona today, if you could tell Desdemona, you know, when she was three, or when she was 9, or when she went to high school and did Midsummer, or when she went to college. Like, if you could tell yourself one thing, what would that be?
Desdemona [00:49:16] Oh God. It's almost like, I don't want to, like, out my family, right? But in some ways it's like, "It's OK that you're different." You know. Or... Or like don't... I don't know. It's something around like, "Don't let the disappointment of other people define the choices that you make.".
Cheeyang [00:49:41] That is a fucking great quote.
Desdemona [00:49:44] You know... I mean... It's, it's, in some ways is like, the only agreement you need to make is the one with yourself, right? And it's hard because all we do is make agreements with other people all the time. And I think the... For me, the thing I'm most proud of about myself, is that I feel like, at least at the moment until I'm proven wrong, I feel like I'm in a place right now in my life, where not a lot gets to me, 'cause I've been, I've, I've come to a place of... My parameters and my goals and my successes are mine to define.
Cheeyang [00:50:16] Right.
Desdemona [00:50:16] And this is hard when it comes to praise too. Praise and criticism, right? The only person who I can't do this with, is my mom. When my mom comes to see a show, I'm like "Oh my God, my God, my God." I'm freaking out in the audience. You can put... You can put Charles Isherwood... You can put a thousand Charles Isherwoods into my theatre, and I wouldn't give two shits.
Cheeyang [00:50:35] Wow.
Desdemona [00:50:35] If you put my mom in the theater, I'm like, (panic) biting my nails, biting my nails, hyperventilating in the corner. And that's... I think that's... And it's just crazy 'cause my mom is the chillest person ever.
Cheeyang [00:50:45] Right.
Desdemona [00:50:45] But that is something I still need to, like, loosen up for myself. But my mom, like, you determine...
Cheeyang [00:50:52] Mortality and your mother.
Desdemona [00:50:55] Pretty much. That's a book. That's a book right there. Mortality and your mother.
Cheeyang [00:51:00] I will read that book. I would absolutely read that book.
Desdemona [00:51:03] Yeah.
Cheeyang [00:51:03] All right. And we're gonna wrap this up. So one last question for you...
Desdemona [00:51:08] Okay.
Cheeyang [00:51:08] If you can ask me one question... what would that be?
Desdemona [00:51:11] Oh my God. I wish I prepared for this one! I didn't know! I would've done my homework! But what do I want to ask Cheeyang on his podcast?
Cheeyang [00:51:16] I know. Nobody, nobody comes prepared for this and it's always like, "What?! What?!".
Desdemona [00:51:19] What? I was prepared to be the interviewee!
Cheeyang [00:51:23] Yes...
Desdemona [00:51:24] This is going to be a really... It's a very superficial question. Right? Rice or noodles or bread?
Cheeyang [00:51:35] (gasp) That's actually a really easy question for me.
Desdemona [00:51:37] Is it rice?
Cheeyang [00:51:37] Noodles.
Desdemona [00:51:37] Oh what? Okay.
Cheeyang [00:51:39] I love noodles.
Desdemona [00:51:40] Why noodles?
Cheeyang [00:51:40] I... Okay. This is really weird. So... I don't really like bread. I know my parents really love bread and they eat bread every morning. And of course we eat rice for dinner a lot. But then, if I can, if I get to choose between all of them, it's always going to be noodles and I don't really have an answer for it like why? Like any kind of noodles, right? Like yellow noodles.
Desdemona [00:52:03] Rice noodles.
Cheeyang [00:52:03] Yea. Pad Thai. Yea. Rice noodles.
Desdemona [00:52:04] Pho.
Cheeyang [00:52:04] Yeah. Any kind of.
Desdemona [00:52:06] Pasta.
Cheeyang [00:52:06] Yeah. Pas... Yup! Any kind of noodles.
Desdemona [00:52:08] But not like macaroni.
Cheeyang [00:52:10] I do not like macaroni. How do you know that?!
Desdemona [00:52:12] You want... You want the long stringy.
Cheeyang [00:52:13] Yes! Yes!
Desdemona [00:52:14] The long stringy thing.
Cheeyang [00:52:15] Yes OK. I mean like, Pad Thai is fine. But like Pad See Ew fine. Hor Fun is fine. You know, like, flat noodles is fine. Like, anything that's, like, noodles based. And my mom's always, like, "Noodles make you so fat." But it's true.
Desdemona [00:52:30] Very carby. But so is rice! Rice and bread too. But that... Like the three categories of carbs, right, is like: rice, noodles, bread.
Cheeyang [00:52:36] But, like, noodles I think are the worst out of the three and then I'm like, of course I'm the one that loves that.
(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Plays)
Cheeyang [00:52:44] Did you like that episode of East Side Story? If you did, follow us on Instagram @eastsidestorypod and @cheeyangmusic. Go onto Apple podcasts, rate us, review us, and don't forget to subscribe. Or if you are a Spotify user, you can also click the Follow button. Even better, you can tell someone about the podcast. And the best part — They don't even have to be Asian. Thank you so much for your support and I'll see you next week.
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