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  • Writer's pictureCheeyang Ng

3: David Park // The Dichotomy of Being Korean-American

Last seen as Kenickie in Grease at Pioneer Theatre, actor-musician David Park made his Off-Broadway debut right out of college in Red Roses Green Gold, featuring the music of The Grateful Dead.

I got to know David's work from that production and he has sung for multiple projects of mine, including my composer debut at Joe's Pub in the Fall of 2018. A lot of our conversations while we collaborated had to do with the struggle of how he identified in America and how he combats the negative stereotypes of Asian-American men. So, I thought it would exciting to share that conversation in this podcast.

Full transcript of podcast: East Side Story, Episode 3.

Podcast also available on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast.

Photo Credit: Chad Batka for Red Roses Green Gold

Am I American Enough?

"When I'm speaking to my mom, I literally don't have the vocabulary to express the depth of my emotion to her." - David Park

Having not been back to Korea in over 17 years, David has always identified as American. But when faced with the world telling him that he's a "flavored American" as he would say, how does that affect his outlook on life and his journey in theatre?


Cheeyang [00:00:00] I wanted to call it. "Where are you really from." But then, I realized that someone else took the fucking title.

David [00:00:06] It's already gone?!

Cheeyang [00:00:07] Ya! I was like...

David [00:00:08] Oh my gosh.

Cheeyang [00:00:09] Fuck. So my other, my other option was "Fat Femme and Asian". Which is like...

David [00:00:13] Literally like that's why I'm the first guest.

(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Plays)

Cheeyang [00:00:21] 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 [00:00:42] This week's guest is David Park, an actor musician that has been seen on film, television, and the stage. He made his Off-Broadway debut in Red Roses Green Gold at the Minetta Lane Theater and is a proud alumnus of Pace University. I met David during his Off-Broadway run and I instantly fell in love with his charisma and talent. He has sung in multiple products of mine including my composer debut at Joe's Pub. I hope that after this podcast you will also fall in love with this unique Korean-American man.

(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Ends)

Cheeyang [00:01:13] So anyway, what's your name? Tell us more about yourself.

David [00:01:17] Uh... Did you get my bio?

Cheeyang [00:01:18] Yes I did. With the "L-O-L".

David [00:01:21] Did I say LOL in it? That's uh... Hilarious. Unprofessional. I'm David Park from Los Angeles. Live here now. Pursuing the... The dream as they say.

Cheeyang [00:01:33] Where is here?

David [00:01:34] Here. New York City. They don't know that? We're in beautiful NYU, the facilities here.

Cheeyang [00:01:40] Free.

David [00:01:40] Free.

Cheeyang [00:01:40] For life.

David [00:01:42] Just graduated. Yes. Clap.

Cheeyang [00:01:44] Yes! Work! And so you grew up in Los Angeles. And then when did you move to New York City.

David [00:01:51] I moved to New York in the summer of, fall of, 20... What year is it now 2019? So like 2013.

Cheeyang [00:01:59] Oh my God.

David [00:01:59] Yeah.

Cheeyang [00:02:00] Wait, you moved in the summer of 2013.

David [00:02:02] Well 'cause I moved here to go to school in the Fall, so like, the end of the summer, beginning of the fall like August.

Cheeyang [00:02:06] I moved here in the summer of 2013.

David [00:02:09] Oh my gosh. Wait really.

Cheeyang [00:02:11] Yeah. After I graduated from college so... I'm older. Well you knew I was older.

David [00:02:16] But I also went to school late, like I'm turning 28 in September.

Cheeyang [00:02:20] That's not old. You're still young. You're still in your 20s.

David [00:02:22] I'm pretty old dude. Wait. Yeah. I think I'm 28. I don't remember what...

Cheeyang [00:02:26] You think you're 28?

David [00:02:28] I was born 91 so twenty nine... Yeah. 28.

Cheeyang [00:02:30] Yea you're turning 28.

David [00:02:30] Math. Quick maths.

Cheeyang [00:02:33] Hashtag Asian. Um... Before we, we delve into all that why don't you talk a little bit about your experience growing up. You said you grew up in L.A?

David [00:02:41] Grew up in L.A.

Cheeyang [00:02:42] In the city?

David [00:02:43] So I grew... OK. Good question. Um... My, Like childhood. I don't know it's split, kind of. So, from ages like born to 10, I lived in...

Cheeyang [00:02:55] Ages born to 10!?

David [00:02:57] Yeah!

Cheeyang [00:02:57] That's like great...

David [00:02:59] I, um, I lived in an area called the Hancock Park. Which if anyone knows L.A., it's now right across from where the Grove is now. But the Grove wasn't there when I was growing up and there was like this really cute, like, apartment complex area that is now like super expensive and like bougie and...

Cheeyang [00:03:14] So you grew up bougie or?

David [00:03:17] M mm. I grew up poor and I'm still poor. Um... But it's like La Brea Tar Pits is the area kind of. And then it's really close to Koreatown, which is a really big area in Los Angeles. And then I moved to Burbank when I was 10 and that's kind of where I lived until I moved here. So, half in the city and then half like in a suburb outside of the main city.

Cheeyang [00:03:40] And you... How many siblings do you have?

David [00:03:42] I have two siblings. I have a younger brother Daniel.

Cheeyang [00:03:45] Daniel!

David [00:03:46] Yeah.

Cheeyang [00:03:46] But I have not... Not our Daniel.

David [00:03:48] Not our Daniel. I mean, he's still my Daniel but not our Daniel. It's funny 'cause people call me Daniel all the time. People that don't even know that I have a brother named Daniel. It's just like this... I don't know. It's this thing. And Koreans love to name their sons after like biblical characters. Koreans love Jesus.

Cheeyang [00:04:05] That's a stereotype isn't it. Or like...

David [00:04:08] It's true in my... in my world. All the Koreans I know like either grew up in church or still go to church or like don't anymore.

Cheeyang [00:04:14] Did you go to church?

David [00:04:14] I did grow up in church.

Cheeyang [00:04:16] OK.

David [00:04:16] I did. So David and Daniel, which is like the most stereotyp... Like David Park? There... There were literally three David Parks in my high school when I was there. Like, let's get a little more original call me like Umbaku.

Cheeyang [00:04:30] D.P.! Ooo...

David [00:04:30] D.P.

Cheeyang [00:04:30] Mm hmm. Okay.

David [00:04:31] Well... Gay.

Cheeyang [00:04:33] Sorry. So I cut you off and so you have a brother. Just one brother? Younger brother?

David [00:04:37] No. And a younger sister who just graduated from UCLA and she's actually about to move to Korea.

Cheeyang [00:04:42] Oh my God.

David [00:04:43] Yeah yeah. She's gonna move there. Not for any, like, specific reason. It's not like she has like this career opportunity lined up. She just.... She grew up in L.A., went to school in L.A. and I think because she's not really, sorry Michelle for... I'm putting her on blast. To me it just seems like it's, it's an opportunity for her to expand her horizons and you know, maybe a little soul searching and just, it's somewhere she's always wanted to live and I'm actually really jealous of that 'cause...

Cheeyang [00:05:11] Do you want to do that too?

David [00:05:12] Yes. I haven't been to Korea and like 17 years.

Cheeyang [00:05:16] Wow.

David [00:05:16] Yeah. It's been a... I... Last time I went I was like eleven or twelve and... Wait. Have you seen the Farewell?

Cheeyang [00:05:24] No it just opened yesterday. Also I don't know when this is going to come out so whoops.

David [00:05:28] Okay well, I mean it's not going to come out in the past. So the farewell is still gonna be a thing. So what. But also if you're a real fan you would've seen it on opening day but no big deal. The weekend numbers matter so everyone go see The Farewell. It's not going to come out today. This is not radio. Great. Um... But it's amazing. And A24 is putting out some great films. Cast me in a movie. But what I love the most about it is, and I don't know if this is necessarily an accurate statement, but it just feels like, maybe the most important movie that I've seen for like Asian / Asian-American representation to it's western cultures and peoples. Because I mean, it just talks a lot about like, the culture and like, the importance of family, and, and, do you know the plot.

Cheeyang [00:06:21] I... I don't... All I remember when I saw the trailer and I remember like I think the grandma is dying and they don't want to tell her.

David [00:06:27] Exactly.

Cheeyang [00:06:28] Oh my God that's literally my life. My grandma passed like three years ago.

David [00:06:31] Yeah. And an aunt of mine had like a small cancer scare and she didn't tell us until after. And she was like, by the way, this happened and we're good.

Cheeyang [00:06:40] Oh it happens all the time.

David [00:06:40] Yeah. And I mean so that had happened in my life and I was like, oh that must be like a Korean thing. But I think it's like an Asian thing in general. And there's like this pivotal scene where it's you know...

Cheeyang [00:06:52] Spoiler alert!

David [00:06:53] OK it's OK. It's not a big twist. It's just. It's a cultural lesson. But Billi who is played by Awkwafina is kind of the, like, the avatar for, for kind of.

Cheeyang [00:07:05] The Western society...

David [00:07:06] Yes. Yes. And me as an Asian-American, like, I recognize the themes. But I consider myself an American and like, while I appreciate and recognize themes of like Asian culture, like, I'm much more familiar with American culture. So even though I knew this was the thing because I had experienced in my own life, I was still like OK, like, where are they going with this and like, how are they going to use this as a teaching moment, and like how are they going to tie this together? And her uncle was telling her about, like, we're not telling her because it's, like, it's our job to carry that burden for her. You know what I mean. Like what... What do you do by telling her. Like, the doctor say this is incurable, it's terminal. So there's nothing that can be done for her so why not just let her live her life blissfully unaware and like, happy, and we will carry this sad burden for her. And like, that is such an amazing sentiment. And he's like, yeah, he's like chastising her and he's like, "It's not my fault that you're too weak and like you're going to feel guilty about quote unquote lying to her, like it's, it's your duty to be strong for her." And like I felt so moved by that because, one, because it had happened in my life and I was very confused my mom told me what my aunt had done but I just feel like... OK. So you know that scene in Mulan, which the trailer for that looks amazing as fuck.

Cheeyang [00:08:28] Oh my god. With... With a bunch of problems... But we're not gonna go into that right now...

David [00:08:31] Oh okay okay. You're right you're right. As a... Yeah. You would know more than me. But. The scene where they're... There... After he's gotten his conscription to go back to the army and they're eating their little dumplings which always looks so good... Like the way they draw their food. It's amazing. You know when she like pours the tea into the cup. Oh my God. Like I could talk about that forever. But they're sitting there and like, she's talk, she's like you shouldn't have to go fight like, you already fought. And he's like, he's like, it's bigger than that. This is for China. It's not about the Fa family. It's, it's bigger. And like in a, in a weird way I was like... Oh The Farewell is like that family dynamic if she had never run away and like, if they had just like explored that, and like really gone through like, she, she has a very like, I mean, she's fighting for her father but it's also like from Western mentality. It's like, no, like don't fight, like you already fought. You're injured. You're probably gonna die. He's like,.

Cheeyang [00:09:23] Right. Individual. Individualism...

David [00:09:25] And he's like, "Listen I know I'm gonna die. But I'm gonna die for my country.".

Cheeyang [00:09:29] Right.

David [00:09:30] So...

Cheeyang [00:09:31] That's also kind of crazy because, like, as... I consider myself pretty young still. And I also have the mentality. I grew up in Singapore but I'm like, fight for your country? I'm not going to die for my country.

David [00:09:42] Right.

Cheeyang [00:09:43] Like that kind of like individualistic, Western notion of like, "me, me, me". And then you realize like Asian culture is a lot about "we". It's a lot about family. It's about how you navigate your truth but also like within the community.

David [00:09:57] Right. Right. And it's... The movie's so good because, Farewell, because like you see the, the adults that are more traditionally Chinese, like, you see them like they're not just robots that are like honor, like family. Like, the uncle he, he goes through it. And you see him have a sweet tender moment too. Like, it's not that he's not struggling with it. He's just operating in a system that kind of doesn't allow him to explore that publicly because he, he has bigger duties. It's very powerful. I can't wait for people to see it.

Cheeyang [00:10:28] Okay I have to go see it. I ended up having to go see Spider-Man because my friends really wanted to.

David [00:10:32] Listen that's a great movie too. But all,.

Cheeyang [00:10:35] But different!

David [00:10:36] All of that to say... It really makes me want to go to Korea.

Cheeyang [00:10:38] OK.

David [00:10:39] And like I mean I've al... I've wanted to do that for years and years. But...

Cheeyang [00:10:43] To live there? Like for a year or two?

David [00:10:46] I don't know if I could live there like... It.

Cheeyang [00:10:48] But you've you've never tried it.

David [00:10:49] That's true. But I think I mean, what probably a lot of people don't understand, about Asians that are born in America that have a loose connection to the motherland. But like, I would not fit in in Korea. I would very much be a foreigner.

Cheeyang [00:11:05] Talk more about that.

David [00:11:07] I mean, Korean culture is so different than American culture. Like. My grasp of the language is not fluent. There is, like, the vernacular that I have, like, someone saying lit and like you know, knowing like, like, slang vernacular like that. Like I know nothing of that in Korea and something as simple as that to kind of like demonstrate that there just a whole world that I'm not a part of there. But also like culturally I feel a tie to, you know, like those roots and I would want to explore that. It's, it's very, it's like the dichotomy of my life as a Korean American man.

Cheeyang [00:11:43] Did you grow up speaking Korean in your family? Did your parents... I remember we kind of talked a little bit about this before where like your parents sent you to Korean... It's like language school, and then you were like I don't want to do this.

David [00:11:53] Oh yeah, like I thought it was the worst thing ever because it was Saturday morning, and all my friends at school were like, not, you know, they were playing video games. And my ass had to wake up at 8 and go to "Hangeul Hakyo". Like all my Koreans out there know, I mean I'm sure a lot of like second generation kids of any, any country know. But yeah, I mean I would take my gameboy and just train my Charizard. Let's go!

Cheeyang [00:12:18] And your parents are first generation immigrants.

David [00:12:20] Mm hmm.

Cheeyang [00:12:20] And when did they move here? Did they meet here? Or did they meet in Korea?

David [00:12:23] So they... They technically met here. My... So my dad. My dad has this huge complicated story. He never met his birth father because my grandfather passed away while my grandmother was pregnant with my dad. He's the youngest of four. He has three older sisters. And during the Vietnam War, my Uncle Harvey, who was an American G.I., was stationed in Korea as a communications officer and he met my aunt and fell in love and they... He married her and then he emigrated them back to the states, but because of, well originally it was just her and my grandma. But he brought my dad with him when my dad was like a teenager. But because of kind of logistical issues he actually adopted my dad.

Cheeyang [00:13:08] Oh my God.

David [00:13:08] Yes.

Cheeyang [00:13:10] Oh because of like visa and like family and like siblings...

David [00:13:12] And my Uncle Harvey had to be honorably discharged because he was marrying an Asian woman in the Vietnam War. Like it, it was this whole thing.

Cheeyang [00:13:22] Holy fuck...

David [00:13:22] So my dad half grew up in Korea and half in America. So he grew up. He was fluent in English. So I think that kind of contributes to me not being as strong in Korean that I might have been if like maybe his English had been weaker? Like I would've been forced to use a lot more...

Cheeyang [00:13:39] Korean to communicate, yea...

David [00:13:40] Korean at home. Like I speak Korean exclusively with my mom but she's like kind of the only person that I feel comfortable using my Korean with because I'm so self-conscious of it.

Cheeyang [00:13:49] Right. Right.

David [00:13:49] So like I know she'll understand what I'm saying but it's like, it's truly like a second grade vocabulary.

Cheeyang [00:13:54] It is so interesting. I mean I'm a first generation immigrant.

David [00:13:57] Right.

Cheeyang [00:13:58] And it's like I never even realized until very very recently that I communicate with my parents purely in Chinese. Like we don't speak... The only time we speak English is when we text. And it's like...

David [00:14:08] Right you told me that once...

Cheeyang [00:14:10] What? And, and it's just, it's subconscious because you, you... I cannot imagine being a second generation American having grown up in America, but like, trying to think about your ties and what your... What your relationship with home country is. Because I grew up completely in my own country and then that's a whole different experience.

David [00:14:32] For sure.

Cheeyang [00:14:33] But... So...

David [00:14:35] Yeah I mean I get, I get this like pang of... It's a very complicated emotion that I don't know how to describe but the flavors are like guilt and sadness and regret of, when I'm when I'm speaking to my mom and like I want to tell her things I'm feeling and going through, but I literally don't have the vocabulary to express the depth of my emotion to her, because I just don't know how. And even if I tried to say it in English like she doesn't know how to receive that.

Cheeyang [00:15:05] Oh does she not speak fluent English?

David [00:15:07] I mean she's, she spoke a little English earlier, but like she's used it less and less growing up. So it's really just like like her English vocabulary is like a little, like I would say a little weaker than my Korean, but it's not not by much. So it's like my mom and I have a deep emotional... Like I know she understands me and whenever I go to her with issues and like I'm feeling things like, she'll just give me advice without me having you explaining what I'm feeling. That just always hits home and I'm so grateful for that but it's also like, there are times when I can't even speak to my mom in a way you know what I mean?

Cheeyang [00:15:43] That is so fascinating to be like... You grew up together, I mean she raised you.

David [00:15:49] Yeah.

Cheeyang [00:15:50] But there's this barrier of communication like you have a vast understanding of English and a small understanding of Korean. And your mom has a vast understanding of Korean and a small understanding English and then... How do you... How do you communicate?

David [00:16:03] Right. Like the person that knows me the most I can't talk to.

Cheeyang [00:16:07] Right.

David [00:16:07] About the things I want to talk to about the most. And I'm trying to learn better Korean. But you know, they say it's harder to learn a language as you get older.

Cheeyang [00:16:15] Oh of course.

David [00:16:16] I mean I'm familiar with it so. But. Like just, to be fluent in another language is like a whole other thing. Like the nuance that you, I don't know. But it's, it's wild. And I grew up. I remember having an epiphany like years back. Of realizing that growing up, I had subconsciously resented my mother or like judged my mother for not being able to speak English and being like, oh like, I, I think I realized that on some level I'd been like, "Is my mom dumb?" Like is, is...

Cheeyang [00:16:47] Wow.

David [00:16:48] You know what I mean? Just cause like... I was a kid! I was like, "I'm American. I'm growing up in America. I speak English." Like that's the standard I have. And my mom was like well... I realized that she grew up in Korea. Like she's fluent in like... She's this whole other person that I don't even know because I can't access it.

Cheeyang [00:17:05] Right.

David [00:17:06] Isn't that crazy?

Cheeyang [00:17:07] I'm just having all the feels because I'm like I can't. I just can't imagine being in a position... In your position. Because, oh my God. But also like latching onto like literally what you just said... You grew up and you thought hey I'm American. At what age or like at what... When did you realize that Ameri... Being American had all these subsidiaries?

David [00:17:28] Right that like... That I was a flavored American because I'm not white?

Cheeyang [00:17:33] When...

David [00:17:34] Yellow flavor...

Cheeyang [00:17:34] When did you realize that? Yellow flavor...

David [00:17:37] I don't know if I have like one moment that like is, is the one that in my pensieve, like you go to and it's like, Oh my God this is the memory. But there just have been moments my life where I was made to be very aware that I wasn't the white kid.

Cheeyang [00:17:54] Like throughout the time you growing up or...

David [00:17:56] Yeah I'd say there was like a thing, like in junior high, I think in high school and then like now that I'm an actor in New York and like pursuing a career in acting, it's, it's not like people are like "Oh you fucking Chink". Like, it's not aggressive, it's just like understanding how the world operates, and how the world consciously and subconsciously views me. Like what. So in junior high, I remember like there were these group of girls that were... We call them FOBs, Fresh Off The Boat...

Cheeyang [00:18:25] Lol. Lol.

David [00:18:27] All the Asians, all the Asians know what that is. Yes it's funny 'cause the word for plane in Korean is "bihaeng-gi", so it's the same b sound, so koreans say fresh off the "bihaeng-gi". That's a little inside joke. But they were like super into K-pop and stuff. And I was, I remember like having this reaction, like looking back I'm like wow. But being like, oh my gosh, like stop being such a FOB. Like can you just be normal?

Cheeyang [00:18:51] Oh wow.

David [00:18:51] I said that to a Korean person and like now that I'm older and have the the blessing of hindsight I'm like, wow, like you really were so hurt. Not 'cause of something that explicitly happened to you but just 'cause the environment you were in, you were told that like, you're abnormal, like get in line.

Cheeyang [00:19:07] Right. The idea of normality and, and that's also kind of crazy because that goes towards not just race, gender, identity, sexual orientation... It's everything. Everything seems to be geared towards a cis white male centric world. But the good thing is like everyone is talking about it right now.

David [00:19:24] Right.

Cheeyang [00:19:25] And the more we are aware of it, the more we can subvert it, the more we can open up discussions to have, to have a better, more inclusive society for people who are just not the same as you.

David [00:19:39] Hundred percent. And that's the beauty of Twitter. And like everyone has a voice, and like sometimes that can get a little crazy and out of hand on both sides I would say.

Cheeyang [00:19:47] Absolutely.

David [00:19:48] Because it always comes from a place of self-preservation. It's like. I have to say my voice and I have to protect my own because no one is standing up for me and like I totally get that. Yeah. It's like, it's, it's crazy like making up the rules as we go in an attempt to just fully embrace everyone. So, you know...

Cheeyang [00:20:07] Yeah.

David [00:20:07] It's unchartered territory.

Cheeyang [00:20:08] Yeah yeah yeah.

David [00:20:09] We've just got to lead with love, you know.

Cheeyang [00:20:11] Oh my God. Let's talk a little bit about your experience here in New York City. So you came here for school. You went to Pace University for musical theater.

David [00:20:21] Go Pace!

Cheeyang [00:20:21] And how, how was that experience?

David [00:20:24] Um... It was a really great experience for me when... When I decided to pursue theater, I had done a production of Hairspray at the community college I was attending back home.

Cheeyang [00:20:34] Yes Asian Hairspray!

David [00:20:36] I was Link, baby.

Cheeyang [00:20:37] Oh.

David [00:20:37] And I was like 210 pound it was lit.

Cheeyang [00:20:40] I love it! I love it!

David [00:20:41] Yo, I was like Elvis past his prime. The lights went off. Motion sensor.

Cheeyang [00:20:45] Pause pause. And we're back.

David [00:20:48] Yea, we're gonna keep that in.

Cheeyang [00:20:50] Okay we'll see.

David [00:20:51] So yeah.

Cheeyang [00:20:52] So yes you were saying... Link.

David [00:20:53] Hairspray.

Cheeyang [00:20:54] Hairspray. Link. 210 pounds...

David [00:20:55] Oh I, we got pictures at Davidhyunsoopark. But it, it's one of the only moments in my life for, like, lightning in a bottle. I was like, oh my god, I'm like, this is what I meant to do. So dramatic. But yeah I wanted to move to New York 'cause I had a dream and still have the dream to be on Broadway. But I wanted to go to school 'cause I'm like, I'm not going to do this without nothing. Like I need, I need experience, I need to... I just felt so behind 'cause I was hyper aware growing up with kids in Burbank, California, which is like where all the baby actors are in Socal.

Cheeyang [00:21:31] Yea.

David [00:21:33] That like, kids like grown up doing this. So, I looked into Pace and I really liked the vibe. It was just like up and coming, and like, RSO was on staff there, and he's like someone that I knew in my limited knowledge of like the musical theater world, and funny, like, that's the only school I applied and auditioned for and I was like.

Cheeyang [00:21:51] Wow. This bitch.

David [00:21:52] I was like, yeah, Imma leave it up to, you know, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it. I was like, I like, this random production had felt like fate to me so I was like, I think fake can do it one more time. I just needed that push.

Cheeyang [00:22:05] Sometimes you, sometimes you just never real... well... I think when you have faith, sometimes it works out and sometimes it's not. And sometimes, if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be and it's OK.

David [00:22:16] Yeah but see Cheeyang, I think in that sense, if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be, like that means Fate is always working whether it works out or doesn't.

Cheeyang [00:22:24] Right.

David [00:22:25] So yeah I mean for me, I think my life has shown me time and time again that like, things work out and when they're meant to work out for me.

Cheeyang [00:22:34] Right. Absolutely.

David [00:22:36] Because of like when I'm ready for it, when I'm not ready for it, etc. So... But yeah... Pace was great 'cause I, I was hoping for one, experience, two, training and I think I got plenty of both there.

Cheeyang [00:22:48] So you went to school in 2013 and you graduated in 2017.

David [00:22:52] Yes.

Cheeyang [00:22:53] Right. And what have you been up to since? The first time I saw you was in Red Roses Green Gold.

David [00:22:58] Red Roses Green Gold.

Cheeyang [00:23:00] Off Broadway.

David [00:23:00] Shout-outs.

Cheeyang [00:23:01] And that is with one of my very very close friends Debbie Christine Tjong.

David [00:23:05] Love her.

Cheeyang [00:23:07] She's killing it right now and...

David [00:23:08] Living the best life!

Cheeyang [00:23:10] Honestly, honestly.

David [00:23:11] Truly.

Cheeyang [00:23:11] And I'm like, "Why are you not on MasterChef?" Shout out to Debbie.

David [00:23:14] Okay wait. Quick tangent. She cooked me a literal beef Wellington. Gordon Ramsay's recipe. And it tasted freaking a... Like she's...

Cheeyang [00:23:26] I know!

David [00:23:26] What can't she do?

Cheeyang [00:23:27] Honestly.

David [00:23:28] Plays every instrument. Sickest voice. Like nicest person. Great Chef.

Cheeyang [00:23:33] I need her on this podcast 'cause I need to talk. Like I've known her for 14 years.

David [00:23:37] Yeah. That's crazy.

Cheeyang [00:23:38] Yeah.

David [00:23:39] How small of a world like. Insane.

Cheeyang [00:23:41] Insane. That's like before I came here.

David [00:23:43] Also good job Singapore. 'Cause y'all pumping out some real talent. I gotta say. Real talent.

Cheeyang [00:23:47] Represent, represent.

David [00:23:48] Isn't what's her face from Singapore? Julia Abueva? Or is she from...

Cheeyang [00:23:50] Yeah she's also from Singapore.

David [00:23:54] Listen. Singapore! Crazy Rich Asians. Let's freaking go.

Cheeyang [00:23:57] Haha! But. OK. So let's talk a little bit about when you first graduated. You started... You... Was that the first audition you went on again?

David [00:24:04] I. That's how I remember it. It was like, if not the first, like one of the first I got through CGF.

Cheeyang [00:24:09] This girl is insane. You.

David [00:24:12] Debbie.

Cheeyang [00:24:13] You! You!

David [00:24:13] Debbie... that girl. I'm not! Listen.

Cheeyang [00:24:16] It's like... First job out of school... Off-Broadway. So Red Roses Green Gold...

David [00:24:21] Which was a huge blessing. I'm like, I'm so grateful for that experience because I learned a lot. Just a lot. Like I can't even begin to describe all the lessons I learned from that production.

Cheeyang [00:24:32] You were so charismatic on stage. You played the guitar. You sang.

David [00:24:35] Oh thank you.

Cheeyang [00:24:35] You danced your face off.

David [00:24:37] OK. But here's the real lesson of that experience. That we closed February of whatever year it was?

Cheeyang [00:24:44] 2018?

David [00:24:44] And I didn't book another theater job until a full ass year.

Cheeyang [00:24:49] Earlier this year.

David [00:24:50] Yeah. So. In hindsight a year, it feels like nothing but I remember during it I was like woah.

Cheeyang [00:24:55] During it it's like. Oh yeah.

David [00:24:57] I'm like already like, I closed Grease at Pioneer three weeks ago and I'm, I'm already in that. Like woah. You know what I mean? Like as an actor we are so hungry to be present in the moment of like being booked and blessed, which like is not a bad thing to revel in but, it's just so crazy how like short term memory I have. You know what I mean? But, but I'm grateful for that year where I didn't get any jobs because it just taught me a lot about patience and, and understanding that it's truly, you know they say it's not, it's not a sprint it's a marathon, right. And I was like yea yea. Got it. Got it. Like, there'll be like, there'll be a couple months where I won't work whatever. No. A year.

Cheeyang [00:25:36] And also a year's not a long time.

David [00:25:38] It's relatively, no.

Cheeyang [00:25:39] It really isn't. There are actors who have not... Well... I've not worked in a long long time.

David [00:25:43] You're killing in other ways. Eastbound? Eastbound. Come on.

Cheeyang [00:25:45] Come on. But I'm like, you know, it's a whole, it's a whole thing. I have a lot of friends who have not been working for like, almost three or four years since graduation, and that's just kind of like that where the business is at right now, and I think everybody has their own trajectory, and there's no like... I mean there are people who succeed right away, and then when you start comparing yourself to that, it's like why am I not doing that.

David [00:26:09] Right.

Cheeyang [00:26:10] It's like you don't really have an answer to that.

David [00:26:11] Right. But also with Instagram where everyone is posting their successes, which like that's no tea no shade, like you should post your success.

Cheeyang [00:26:18] Absolutely.

David [00:26:18] You should be proud. But also with how small this community is, it's like, I have friends that are constantly succeeding, and I'm not unhappy about that at all.

Cheeyang [00:26:26] Yeah.

David [00:26:27] But there is that voice in your, in the back of your head that's always like collecting that, being like, "Why aren't you." Like what. "What's wrong with you?"

Cheeyang [00:26:33] Oh absolutely. And bringing it back to like being Asian as well, it's like the idea of like success to an Asian family, is... It looks a certain way because that's how we grew up. I hope this changes in the next generation. But success definitely looks a certain way. Every time I go home, my aunt is like, so when are you buying this car, when are you buying this home, when are you going to support your parents in this way.

David [00:26:52] Right.

Cheeyang [00:26:53] And some... It's not that, that is a bad sentiment to have. And I understand what that is. But going off of like... No... Success is defined by yourself. Like you define success.

David [00:27:07] I completely agree. Completely. I'm like... I think as, so what I'm grateful for my, my parents for is... They... Success to them is defined by me pursuing what makes me happy.

Cheeyang [00:27:20] Oh wonderful.

David [00:27:21] And what, what will make me feel like I'm living a life that I want to lead. But they... You know like, they don't want me to be starving and poor like.

Cheeyang [00:27:29] Yea. Absolutely.

David [00:27:29] Like it... When Asian parents like Tiger Moms Tiger Dads do that stuff like it's from a genuine place of like, I don't want you to struggle like I did or like I want you to succeed. And it's up to kids and parents alike that are still, you know, struggling with that, to like make sure that they know where that's coming from.

Cheeyang [00:27:49] Right.

David [00:27:49] And that's just like humanity in general. It's like, why are you saying the things you're saying, why are you doing the things you're doing. Like where does that come from.

Cheeyang [00:27:56] Don't you think it's like such a privilege too to be doing what we do?

David [00:28:00] 100%.

Cheeyang [00:28:01] There are people who have to worry about what they have to eat tomorrow. And like, we're here talking about our lives in the theater.

David [00:28:07] 100%.

Cheeyang [00:28:08] And sometimes. I mean, this is something that is kind of like weighing on me. It's like, where do I stand in the global scale right now. Like so much shit is going on, so many bad things are happening, how can I play my part? How can we play our part in making the world a better place. Is it changing people one step at a time? Is it... Like what is it? And then, you really have to like self reflect. Right? You have to think about the things that really really matter to you and the things that sometimes we get so harped on the littlest things that we get mad on.

David [00:28:41] Mm hmm.

Cheeyang [00:28:42] Do you ever feel that? It's like why am I angry over this like insignificant thing, like.

David [00:28:48] Right.

Cheeyang [00:28:48] I can't, I can't name it an example off the top of my head right now. But like...

David [00:28:52] Are you talking about like, political stuff or just like in your own life?

Cheeyang [00:28:56] Just in my own life. Just... I mean also political stuff. But political stuff is a whole other.

David [00:29:01] Right. But that's why you go out and vote.

Cheeyang [00:29:03] Oh absolutely. And I can't vote, right.

David [00:29:05] Right. Right. No, I know that but I think in, in a sense it's like, there's only so much you can do. Like you can, you can fucking share all the. All the videos on Twitter that you want like, that's not doing anything. That's just like you're preaching. Your followers, I guarantee that they think the same thing you do. Like I'm like your tweet's not going viral. Like what are you doing to make this world a better place? I'm like, me as an actor and as a, just a person like, I can vote. And then I can have meaningful conversations out of love with people, because yelling at someone, when does that ever made someone change their mind?

Cheeyang [00:29:41] Literally on that point, a lot of people, and this was something we talked about earlier as well. Like a lot of people engage other people by confrontation versus conversation.

David [00:29:52] Right.

Cheeyang [00:29:52] And I... I'm a personal believer that no confrontation is going to yield positive results in the way that conversation can.

David [00:30:01] Absolutely.

Cheeyang [00:30:02] Especially in politics I think. I mean one thing that I recently started doing is like started to listen to right wing podcasts 'cause I really wanted to understand...

David [00:30:09] Where they're coming from.

Cheeyang [00:30:11] Yeah. Where, where, where the thoughts line and I'm liberal. But I'm also like, I kind of feel like I'm very centrist. I get it. I get both.

David [00:30:19] I completely agree.

Cheeyang [00:30:20] Like I have very liberal things...

David [00:30:21] That's the Asian in us.

Cheeyang [00:30:22] Yeah! Exactly, it's like, it's the dichotomy of like...

David [00:30:24] We're literally Switzerland like neutral as fuck but it's, you know what? And I don't mean to cut you off. But it's funny, cause I have family that lives in Texas. Koreans tend to be very conservative. So I grew up and I decided for myself what I believed, and what I think and that's changing everyday, you know, based on my experience and what I'm seeing and learning and reading. But I have family members who are very conservative and I know that they're not crazy, racist, bigoted, like, assholes.

Cheeyang [00:30:54] Right.

David [00:30:54] I know that they believe that for a specific reason. And maybe they're ignorant to certain things that I, that I am aware of that makes me think differently from them. But I think what happens when all the discourse happens over Twitter is, you don't get to know that about the person. You just see for all bold cap text of like la la la la. You know.

Cheeyang [00:31:16] Yeah!

David [00:31:17] I don't even know. But, then that dehumanizes people and that's like OK well, that's that person and I'm this person. Enemies.

Cheeyang [00:31:24] Right.

David [00:31:24] And it's like well... We're all... Everyone that gets mad is because they're hurt.

Cheeyang [00:31:28] Mm hmm.

David [00:31:29] You know what they say like hate and love are closest, you know, whatever, like yin and yang like that. That is true. Everything has another side to it that's directly connected. So why are you doing the things you're doing? Why do you say the things that you say? You like... I think that's imperative for people to understand that about each other. Or like this is never going to change.

Cheeyang [00:31:48] Right. What do you think... Living in New York. What have you learned, in terms of like your life experience living in New York as an Asian-American person, a Korean American person and acting in the musical theater world. What do you think you have learned that other people can stand to hear from? Like. Like... If I could tell you one thing, this is what I would love to tell you.

David [00:32:11] Okay. I think what, what I'm going through right now is... I have been, you know, so many people say like these things are wrong with this industry like X Y Z, and it's not that I don't see it, it's not that I even necessarily disagree. But I think for me, after hearing that so much, I was like, well yeah! It's everywhere. Like it's I... And I got indignant and upset and I started bringing them to the audition rooms and like being mad about something, being stressed about something, that has never made me better for it. It only makes me more confused. It makes me hurt and sad and self-conscious and I started realizing, this is actually a recent thing for me, of being like, am I projecting all this like, do, do... Are they really like sitting there with their arms crossed, being like, well impress me kid, like we have this white guy that we want to cast, but like maybe if you change my mind, like I'll cast you instead. Like, that could happen. But I don't know that that's happening in every room I'm going to. You know what I mean?

Cheeyang [00:33:11] You know... I totally understand where you're coming from as well because it's like... It's so easy to project... It's so easy to project your insecurities onto what's actually happening?

David [00:33:21] Exactly. And that's what I realized I was doing. Is like, oh, you know, I'm, I'm a very self-conscious person as it is.

Cheeyang [00:33:26] I think all all of us are. To a certain extent.

David [00:33:27] Right. I don't mean... I don't mean to put myself on a pedestal like that, but I just realized that like I wasn't doing myself any favors by like... Again it's, it's, and this is not me dismissing any of that. It's being like I understand that that's happening, but I just need to have... I need to find a better way of like logging that information in, and like, understanding that that's a goal of mine to help contribute to like changing, but also it's like I also have to live my own life and, and not let that like cripple me in every room I walk in.

Cheeyang [00:33:57] Yeah absolutely.

David [00:33:58] Because I think people want me to succeed and like I want to succeed.

Cheeyang [00:34:01] Yeah. I mean I think you are doing really really wonderful.

David [00:34:04] Thanks man.

Cheeyang [00:34:05] Like think about you just play Kenickie in Grease.

David [00:34:09] So fun.

Cheeyang [00:34:09] And you're Asian. So it's like how many, how many Grease productions have Asian people in it?

David [00:34:15] Yeah. Especially a role like Kenickie who is like the... made... You know borderline toxic masculinity presence in the show. But it's like, a lot of Asian men don't get to portray someone like, hyper masculine. They're kind of like the nerds or the sidekicks. And it's so funny because he, you know, in the show, he has Grease Lightning which like the super Elvis-y song... And my dad in college was called Korean Elvis, and he was in this like, like tech for like, engineering frat or something. And his frat, fraternity brothers would take him to sorority row and like, have him croon to sorority girls out onto the balcony. So, it really felt full circle for me.

Cheeyang [00:34:53] Did your Dad get to see production?

David [00:34:55] He did. He loved it. They loved it.

Closing Questions

Cheeyang [00:34:57] That's great. That's great. If you could give yourself one advice... To your younger self... What would you say to little David Park?

David [00:35:07] Oh man. I'm going to cry. I mean there is a lot. But... A lot of my issues today, my confidence issues, my self worth issues, come from like image issues. I grew up really chubby and... I grew up, like, I have really chinky eyes... All these things like, that compared to people that I saw were getting all the attention, I was like, "Oh well you're not that. So you're not... You're worthless." And like, it's years and years and like, current battles of, just like undoing that trauma. And so, I would tell little David that it's like, you are enough. And that's so cliche but it's just so true. And I I don't doubt that many people need to hear that.

Cheeyang [00:35:52] Absolutely. Absolutely. I think you are enough.

David [00:35:54] Thanks man.

Cheeyang [00:35:55] Yeah.

David [00:35:58] I'm smiling.

Cheeyang [00:35:58] You one of the ones... the most wonderful people I've known because, truly, your work ethic is great and you have a great voice and you always bring this energy into the room that's like completely fresh and you. So it's like, whenever we get to work together, I'm like, Yeah, David's my guy.

David [00:36:17] I was so... In Grease, I was really close with our Sandy, Emma Hearn, who is amazing. If you ever need a white girl, she's your girl. But we were talking one night. It's like I get to connive so much in rehearsals, just 'cause... I... And this is like one of the few compliments I will give myself, it's like, I just know how to pick the spots man. Like, like the moments where like, I can do or say something really stupid and like it won't detract but it'll kind of like, refresh the room. So thank you.

Cheeyang [00:36:45] Yeah. Absolutely.

David [00:36:45] That is a compliment that like... There's a million compliments that I will not accept. And my heart... Because I'm too self-deprecating too, honestly. But that's one that I'll be like, "Thank you. I appreciate that."

Cheeyang [00:36:55] Yeah. A few other questions before we wrap this up. What will you want to do in order for you to say, "I've made it.".

David [00:37:08] That is a loaded question.

Cheeyang [00:37:09] It is. It absolutely is.

David [00:37:11] And because I... And honestly I think a part of me hasn't fully accepted what I deem as success yet.

Cheeyang [00:37:18] Mm.

David [00:37:19] When. When I had my first meeting with my agents. They're like, "What career do you see that you can model yours after?" And I was like, "Honestly. None." Because there aren't enough... There isn't enough diversity of, of Asian male actors that I've seen where I'm like oh yeah like I really see myself in that. Like I see a little John Cho in me, I see a little Randall Park, I see a little Daniel Dae Kim, but like, those are three men and I'm... I know I'm missing some but like, three men out of so many like, white and other race men that have such vast careers.

Cheeyang [00:37:53] Yeah. Just think about the Chris-es.

David [00:37:54] Different types you know. Yeah. I mean literally just the Chris-es. And like yeah so... But I was like... You know what... I want. I want to say that I want an EGOT. And like, that's not me saying that I'm gonna win one. I mean that be great, but it's 'cause... I said that because it would mean that I had a diverse career 'cause I've so many interests. And I just want to like work with people and like do things, you know, so... But that's so... That's like the, the success oriented side. But honestly, like, if I can make money being an actor and support a family and like, have a, have a wife and kids, that's a great life man.

Cheeyang [00:38:32] Yeah.

David [00:38:32] And Like I don't know if I need much more than that.

Cheeyang [00:38:34] Yeah. And I think just elaborating on that... For me at least what I'm picking up on is the idea of joy.

David [00:38:41] Mhm.

Cheeyang [00:38:41] You know, as long as you... You love what you're doing and you... Are succeeding at what you're doing. But, you know, making a living in and doing what you love.

David [00:38:50] Hey man. It's not what you do it's how you do it.

Cheeyang [00:38:52] Yeah. Absolutely.

David [00:38:52] That is the truest thing ever.

Cheeyang [00:38:54] Absolutely.

David [00:38:54] Also in The Farewell. Go see The Farewell.

Cheeyang [00:38:58] This... podcast...

David [00:39:01] Sponsored... Literally sponsored by The Farewell! Awkwafina...

Cheeyang [00:39:03] Sponsor us Awkwafina!

David [00:39:04] You can Venmo me @Davidparky. That's with a Y.

Cheeyang [00:39:11] Before we go. Do you have any questions for me?

David [00:39:15] Any questions for you.

Cheeyang [00:39:16] Anything that you would like to know... Anything you would like to say... Anything you'd like to find out...

David [00:39:21] Yeah so...

Cheeyang [00:39:21] Any deep dark secrets...

David [00:39:22] When are you writing this Crazy Rich Asians musical?

Cheeyang [00:39:24] Oh my God. Crazy Rich Asians sponsor us.

David [00:39:27] Literally. And can I have a part in it? I will be janitor number three in that production, I don't care.

Cheeyang [00:39:35] I already actually talked to my agent about this, and he was like, "You are not going to write this show." He didn't say that. He didn't say that. He was just like, "Well, the studios are gonna take a long time for this.".

David [00:39:44] Yea. Cheeyang said, "Bitch. Bet. I will write this show.".

Cheeyang [00:39:47] I was like how many Singaporean writers do you know?

David [00:39:49] Literate, like literally...

Cheeyang [00:39:50] Musical theater writers.

David [00:39:51] Yeah there is, if,

Cheeyang [00:39:53] Two.

David [00:39:54] Like. No I'm not going to name any names... But if a certain... If certain individuals that are obviously a higher profile, I just. If a white man writes this musical, Imma be pissed. Like if it's not Cheeyang, then someone. Like, make him black, yellow, brown, something.

Cheeyang [00:40:13] Anything.

David [00:40:14] Anything. I cannot have a white man write that musical.

Cheeyang [00:40:16] But then I should write the musical.

David [00:40:18] That's what I'm saying.

Cheeyang [00:40:20] All right we're making this happen you hear... you heard it here first.

David [00:40:22] @Jon M. Chu. I have added so many people. This is a PSA. I'm putting you out on blast!

(EAST SIDE STORY Theme Song Plays)


Cheeyang [00:40:32] Did you like that episode of East Side Story? If you did follow us on Instagram @eastsidestorypod and at @Cheeyangmusic. Go onto Apple podcasts, rate us, review us, and don't forget to subscribe. Or if you're 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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Mar 18, 2021

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