Monday, 22 June 2015

Kim Chinh talks Dramaturgy: Reclaiming Vietnam

A young woman arrives in the homeland of her father. Vietnam represents a part of her identity she has rejected for most of her life, wishing to be seen as an American (like her Caucasian mother) and not "the other" (like her Vietnamese father). A spontaneous moonlight ride on a motorbike ends in a crash and old memories surface. The play alternates between her present-day search for identity in Vietnam and flashbacks to her attempts to confront her personal history. Each experience strengthens her resolve to speak the truth and in the process, reclaim what was lost.

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?I started with a rant that I’d done in my acting class just after a trip to Vietnam with my father. It was my dad’s first time to see his country again after 40 years. 

Kim Chinh: It was a lovely trip but I came back to the US feeling cheated. I was really angry that I didn’t speak Vietnamese and that my knowledge of the culture had been so limited. I loved Vietnam and was so full of pride after my visit. At the same time, I felt very sad that my early association with Vietnam was filled with so much shame.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?A close friend of mine who is from Edinburgh came to see my show and really loved it. Lorinda is an actor who participated in the Fringe for many years. She’s convinced me that the Edinburgh Fringe is the best place for this show because of the global exposure. 

It was definitely less intimidating to come to Edinburgh because Lorinda has told me about the festival’s format and explained the different venues. I also called the people at the Fringe to ask a lot of questions when I was first thinking about coming. They were unbelievably kind and encouraging. Thank you, Barry!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I think they’ll be blown away. It’s the sort of play where once it starts, you lose track of reality because you’re so drawn into the world of the play. 

You’re on a motorbike in Vietnam, with balmy breezes and the ghost-filled nights. You’re on a roller coaster ride with the extreme ups and downs. There are some very dark scenes and then there are some really funny parts, too, when you least expect it. 

I think people will appreciate the high emotional stakes. It’s suspenseful and also greatly empowering. It’s an important story and has so much relevance, especially at this point in history.

The Dramaturgy Questions 
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
The relevance of dramaturgy within my work?

This is such an interesting question as this is a solo show that I have written from direct experience. There is not a lot of research necessary for this show. The main idea behind this piece is that theatre can be transformative.


One out of every three girls and one out of every four boys suffer some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. Rarely are these events ever revealed let alone explored and understood through the eyes of both the victim and perpetrator, and even more rare are these atrocities viewed through the eyes of compassion and wisdom with an intention to heal.

Entire countries around the world have also suffered abuse in the midst of war and it's aftermath... leaving their people with hidden wounds and scars that can take centuries to heal.

The weaving together of one woman's search for healing and the recovery of her true identity embodies our human condition and our search for understanding, redemption, and renewal from the past that haunts us all.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Theatre, film, poetry, travel, visual art. The clash between growing up in Texas, discovering oneself in New York City, and the return to Vietnamese religions, cultures, and the disenfranchised living in orphanages or isolation due to circumstances far beyond their own control.

I’m inspired by solo artists like Marcella Goheen in The Maria Project as well as Sarah Jane Johnson in Devil In A Box. Other important influences come from seeing my peers perform in New York City such as solo and cabaret pieces by Janine Squillari, Lynn Lobann, Marla Mase, Heather Powell, Merrie Nell Spence, Debby Caruso, Natalie Smith, Dorothy Frey, Martin Vidnovic, Carolyn Kitay, to mention a few.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could

describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
There is a lot of collaboration in my work. I belong to an acting class where many of us are working on writing and performing our own pieces. 

We’re a varied mix: comedians, playwrights, Broadway actors, opera singers, etc. I write a scene or two at home and then I bring it to class where I read through it several times, each time expanding on different areas of the text. I can ask questions about what works and what doesn’t. Then at the end, I receive comments and suggestions from both my teacher and classmates.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The audience is crucial to my work because they act as witnesses to the confrontations. They are there to hear the secret and take part in the healing process. I appeal to the audience throughout the play. They are judge and jury. 

I keep in mind that members of my audience might also be survivors of trauma or could have other issues stemming beyond the world of abuse. I hope that speaking about my experience will impact every member of the audience in some aspect of their life.

The play opens with Kim arriving in Vietnam. The time has come to discover this country, the homeland of her father, and the part of her identity that she has rejected most of her life. A spontaneous moonlight ride on a motorbike ends in a crash and old memories start to surface. The play fluctuates between her present-day search for who she is and flashbacks to long-buried secrets. The audience is witness as she gathers the courage to speak the truth and begins to heal her wounds.

Reclaiming Vietnam is an autobiographical work which explores identity, human fragility and human error. But it also celebrates the strength to be found in facing the truth and with it, forgiveness. Weaved in are issues that affect the whole world – conveyed simply and powerfully.

Says Kim; ‘Two years ago I felt the time was right for telling my story through theatre and Reclaiming Vietnam was born. It follows my own personal journey, but it mirrors the circumstances of so many others. I didn’t want this story to be about right and wrong, but more about how exploring the past might bring with it pain, but also peace, joy and empowerment.

She continues; I used what came naturally to me to tell my story and to help others see they are not alone. The best thing I can do is encourage dialogue around this difficult topic so that it’s not such a taboo or a secret. I am delighted and honoured to be bringing my work to EdFringe – my first visit, and hopefully not my last.’

Kim plays herself in this one-woman show, telling her complex story and portraying the sights, sounds, colour and experiences of Vietnam through storytelling, word-painting and just 3 props – a stool, chair and bench. She believes it is this simplicity and the play’s searing truth that has made Reclaiming Vietnam so successful in New York.

Reclaiming Vietnam will be performed at the Forest Theatre, Greenside @ Infirmary Street, at 12.35pm between 17-22 and 24-29 August.
Kim Chinh (US) – Writer/ Performer
Elizabeth Browning (US) - Director


Kim began her acting career at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. She has appeared in several short films including The Face written and directed by Elizabeth Browning, L to Canarsie, and See Something Say Something both written and directed by Alice Cox. She also starred in Elizabeth Rose, for which she received a nomination for Best Actress in the Annual 72 Hour Film Shootout sponsored by Asian Cinevision and MTV. On stage, she played the part of Maggie in The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome directed by April Feld Sandor at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia as well the part of Lia in Big Flower Eater, working with Direct Arts founder and playwright Victoria Linchong. Cesi Davidson, playwright, has featured Kim in several of her story-telling series and staged readings. Kim participated in New York’s Summerstages as a cast member of SPEAK featuring the music and spoken word of Marla Mase and the Tomas Doncker band. Kim’s one-woman show, Reclaiming Vietnam, has been performed around NYC over the last 2 years. This show was accepted into Emerging Artists Theatre's New Work Series in Fall of 2014, as well as the New York Fringe Festival in 2015.

Elizabeth Browning has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 26 years as Artistic Director of the Elizabeth Browning Studio in NYC and President of Joy Light Productions. Featured in The Actor's Guide To Qualified Acting Coaches: New York, Ms. Browning coaches professional actors on Broadway, in film, and television and has been key in the development of a number of ground breaking new theater and film projects. Directing credits include Unrehearsed Truths; Our Lives Since 9/11 (Public Theater), Quarter to Three (Laurie Beechman Theater), Suddenly Cop Wife (45th Street Theater & PGT), Lipstick and Camouflage (National Tour), I Need A Guy Who Blinks (Double Helix Theater Festival, Paradise Theater and Stampede Theater Festival), Because We Want To (TBG Mainstage Theater), and Moonprints (Laurie Beechman Theater). Ms. Browning was also delighted to collaborate in the development of the Innovative New York Theater Award Winner Size Ate and A Brief Night Out by Marla Mase. Ms. Browning's short film, The Face, has been touring film festivals this year from Los Angeles to the Big Apple Film Festival, and was awarded Best Picture Family Short.

No comments :

Post a Comment