Interview with May Liang, director of “Endlings,” new Korean American play
by Mark Pickus. Posted April 6, 2022.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing May Liang, artistic director of Ferocious Lotus Theater Company and director of Endlings. The play runs from April 8 to May 1. It is being presented in collaboration with the Oakland Theater Project.
MP: Can you tell me a little bit about the play itself, about “Endlings”? [editor’s note: endlings is a term for last survivors of a species]
ML: I think it’s one of the more interesting plays I’ve probably read in my career. I can tell a little about it without giving too much away.
MP: Yes, no spoilers please!
ML: The structure of it is something that surprised me in a really delightful way when I first read it. Right away I felt “I have to direct this!” It takes you to two different places that you wouldn’t expect. The play “Endlings” is about the Korean haenyeo [sea diving women] and in our play we are featuring three haenyeo from Man-Jae, which is an island off of South Korea. It is about them and their lives and their interactions or relationships with each other and how they talk about what they do. It really features three women from Asia in a way that I think we haven’t seen on very many American stages. They’re all at least in their 70s and more and I love just the way that they talk to each other. The things that they talk about are things that I’m familiar with. I’m not Korean, but as a Chinese person myself, I have a lot of older women in my life – my family members – who these characters really remind me of. And so it’s been a really huge pleasure for me to put women in my life on stage in a way that I don’t think gets represented very often. These women in their 70s are still full of life and spunky and joking around with each other. Putting those kinds of relationships on stage is what the play is about. It is also about a young immigrant playwright who is thinking about her career and what it means to be successful. What it means to have a career in America as a playwright. There’s definitely some interesting soul searching, but I very, very much connect to some of the things she is saying.
MP: Can you tell me a little about the playwright Celine Song?
ML: I’ve never connected with her personally, but you know, I’ve obviously researched a little bit about her. She’s actually Korean Canadian. She immigrated to Canada when she was about 12 or something like that. I found this all in different other articles that she interviewed for, but she’s also a young immigrant herself. She went through a MFA program for play writing specifically, and now she also writes for TV, so she’s definitely succeeded in a lot of ways. She may be a little bit older, but she’s around my age as well. Yeah, so she’s been working!
MP: The play actually premiered on the East Coast, right? But this is the West Coast premiere. That’s exciting! You gave some background about the play, but there’s always the question of why stage this play here and now? What is it about this play that demands that it be put on now for a Bay Area audience?
ML: I’m gonna speak for myself, but one of the really important things that I’ve been thinking about as an Asian person living in the Bay Area is that in these last few years there has been a lot of violence against our community. Ferocious Lotus, the theater company that I run, has been sort of responding to that. I feel this is just a continuation of trying to bring the humanity of our community, the people within our community, to the forefront, because I think sometimes when violence happens, it’s a symptom of a lack of empathy and a lack of understanding of each other’s humanity. You know, the media makes us out to be a certain way. Telling stories, especially from an Asian perspective, and from the community perspective, I feel like it helps to upend those kinds of dehumanizing experiences with the violence that’s been happening, especially with elders in our community that has been happening a lot more since COVID. Bringing these stories and their personalities and the specificity of these women to life continues to humanize that population of people that I think doesn’t usually get seen.
MP: Tell me about the Ferocious Lotus Theater Company. Are you part of the company or were you tapped just to direct?
ML: Let me just quickly distinguish Oakland Theater Project from Ferocious Lotus. They are really two separate entities. I am the artistic director of Ferocious Lotus. OTP is where we’re doing this production. And we are partnering to market the play. Ferocious Lotus Theater Company is one of the Asian American companies here in the Bay Area. We’ve been going at it since 2010. It’s only been recently – since 2019 – that I’ve become the artistic director and the majority of that time has been during COVID which has made it quite a challenge. We see ourselves as a home for Asian and Asian American theater artists. We promote artists from our community and professional theater and really we’re trying to put out different kinds of stories.
MP: Well, thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy rehearsal schedule for this interview. I hope “Endlings” has a successful run.
Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company creates opportunities for Asian and Asian American theatre artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. We challenge ourselves to examine our diverse stories and social issues, moving beyond representation. We strive to create an artistic home where our company can connect our communities, our cultures, and our identities.