We have “known” gwangung here at BJ for a very long time. I think of him as one of our two playwrights here on Balloon Juice, and I know he’s involved in Asian American theatre. But until now, that’s about all I knew.
On Friday afternoon I happened upon a comment of his, where gwangung mentioned that there would be a Zoom reading of his play, She Devil of the China Seas this Saturday at 10 pm ET.
I thought it would be interesting to get to know gwangung a little better and find out more about his play, so I asked if he would be willing to whip up a little something for this post. And he did, even though he had rehearsals on Friday night!
Take it away, gwangung!
Hi, there. This is very much a last minute thing…but, then again, that describes so much of my artistic life. My name is Roger Tang….I’ve been involved in theatre for a long time …but I’ve only considered myself a theatre artist for the past fifteen years. I’ve mostly organized and been a producer and I’ve dabbled in other areas…and I’ve managed to write a full length play, She Devil of the China Seas…but more about that later.
I’ve mentioned my background in bits and pieces over the years around here. I was a dual major in college – Journalism/Geology – and there was a tradition of dorms at my school producing plays in the lounge. Generally, these were Broadway musicals (WITH orchestra, singers AND dancers from the dorm). My final year at school, though, a dorm-mate said he wrote a play, and it struck all of us that it’d be fun to produce that play to make us stand out from the other productions.
That dorm-mate was David Henry Hwang (who won a Tony for M. Butterfly), that play was F.O.B. (which won an Obie for best Off Broadway play later) and that started a four decade career in Asian American theatre that’s covered being on the board of directors for various groups, helming my own group (Pork Filled Productions) and starting a website that’s the foremost authority on Asian American Theatre (the Asian American Theatre Revue), which earned me the nickname of “Godfather of Asian American Theatre.” (oh, and the iconic line from F.O.B. is ” Gwangung, god of warriors, writers and prostitutes!”, hence my nym).
Now I don’t have any hard and fast artistic philosophies, except, maybe, to write what isn’t there. So in the 90s, me and my group wrote sketch comedy. That changed in recent years, so we moved to genre fiction, about larger than life Asian American figures, like James T. Kirk, Peter Parker, Indiana Jones and so forth. That launched a decade of shows about families of Chinese American con artists, Thai American ghosts and, most successfully, a trilogy of steampunk plays.
Enter She-Devil. I’ve written sketches and full plays in the past. I had always been intrigued by the real life story of Ching Shih, a Chinese prostitute in the early 1800s who rose to command the largest pirate fleet in history, defeating both Chinese and European fleets. There were rumors of a Maggie Q-led miniseries a few years back, but nothing ever came of it. I got tired of waiting. And wondered…what if I added a bit of Marvel’s Conan…a bit of Lois McMasters Bujold….and that evolved into She Devil of the China Seas…an origin story of sorts.
It was originally set to be a full and proper production by another company…but the pandemic took care of that. So I took the same gang who would have been the company and had them do the reading, as a taste of what might have been (and might still be when we get past it). We’ll be presenting the play live on the 18th (tickets on Eventbrite). If we figure out what we’re doing, we’ll get a recording up for folks who can’t make it then…
Thanks for letting me ramble.
Now we get to see one of gwangung’s plays being performed, from the comfort of our own homes! As gwangung put it, folks can rustle up a ticket here. ~WaterGirl