Performance artist, comedian, political activist, social satirist…is there anything Kristina Wong can’t do? What do you do when you are a stand-up comedian who is passionate about social justice and finds the political world is far more bizarre than anything you could come up with? You join the political world and then write a show! San Diego Repertory presents KRISTINA WONG FOR PUBLIC OFFICE January 22 – 24th. Kristina Wong took the time for a quick interview about how Democracy is like a Chia pet, making masks, and putting on a show from her living room.
While 2020 may have been a year where some people found motivation difficult, Wong was the opposite and stayed busy from start to finish. She performed live shows pre-pandemic (to a live audience, sounds crazy right?), then started sewing masks, then was in charge of a remote mask-making operation, made get out the vote videos with kids all over the nation, and performed her show from her house. So how in the world did she keep up the energy for all these projects?
I actually had this worry the first week of the pandemic that everyone was going to be more “productive” than me and well… now I’m worried that I’m going to pass out from doing so much. I am not sure how I’ve been able to sustain this level of work either in the last few months either. Not having to travel to my performances and get on airplanes has certainly added more time to my day. And not spending my evenings watching theater shows has also freed up my nights. I can’t even remember what it was like to have a full weekend of theater watching.
While the political world may have looked like a comedy skit gone on too long, Wong says that the fact that politics was at times even crazier than what comedians could imagine helped her create the foundation to her show, while also exploring the role of artists in times like these.
I had a reality tv pilot with TruTv in the last year of Obama’s presidency but we shot it when Trump took office. The premise of the show was I was a wayward self-satirizing activist with absurdist methods to trick the apathetic into political action, usually yielding wayward results. None of this made sense when Trump took office and it felt like I went from being the “weird one” to the “straight man”.
So much of this show and my last four years in political life has been about understanding how the job of artists is now to embrace the sincere and hold the space for social change and truth. It’s why I ran for office. If politicians were going to take my job as a shockclown, I would take their job from them. This doesn’t mean we become boring… but the stakes for what we can shift as artists have become higher.
KRISTINA WONG FOR PUBLIC OFFICE isn’t just the name of her show, it is something she actually did as well. Wong ran for office and became the Elected Representative of Sub-district 5, Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, an experience she says has proven educational, at times frustrating, and even surprising as she has served in this position.
The first is that I couldn’t believe how in the neighborhood council setting, I as a “nutty performance artist” am actually one of the most mellow normal people in the room. I have to repeatedly remind myself, “Oh wait, these people aren’t performance artists, they just act like this all the time.”
I think what’s also surprising is despite how invested my fellow elected board members were to get elected, they just as quickly “checked out” or resigned from their posts.
I’m two years into my term and can understand why people become disenchanted and drop out of the Neighborhood Council system– it’s extremely frustrating to use it to navigate big change because we mostly serve as an advisory committee with relatively little power. But I’ve learned that as the lowest rung of public office, we have to look at ourselves as being a “pebble in the shoe” of big government. We need to find ways to make splashes that are heard higher up.
Once the pandemic lockdowns started Kristina started making masks from her home, an effort that quickly became a nationwide project, all with Wong in charge. When referring to her in this capacity, it is important to use the correct title.
Specifically, I go by the title “Overlord” in the Auntie Sewing Squad. Like many facets of our group which has grown out of casual jokes we’ve made with each other that ended up becoming real life, the “Overlord” title came from a joking reflection I made in March when most of my volunteers were other Asian women and I was feeling like a “Sweatshop Overlord” of an Asian American Sweatshop. Now, the title has stuck and while our Aunties are racially diverse, they still call me “Overlord.” Gallows humor has gotten us through this strange strange time in history and doing this exhausting work.
But during this pandemic, as someone leading a mask-making group, I’ve become surprisingly close to the crisis and the communities we are supporting. It’s been what gets me up in the morning which feels like the morning before it. I truly believe while we are a tiny finger trying to stop a giant dam that has already cracked, that we have built an incredible community of care for vulnerable communities and for each other as Aunties. That’s what has kept the energy and focus going for me.
Proving politics and playfulness can go together the first facemasks she made and the set for her show also have the same origins, they were made on the same Hello Kitty sewing machine!
It makes for a child-like playful aesthetic in a very patriotic themed set. But that’s been the funny connection from the show to my work running a shadow FEMA is that I used to sew my set pieces and now I lead a bunch of Aunties who are now sewing medical equipment because our government leadership has failed to provide this basic form of protection for the most vulnerable of communities. They have also failed to communicate the effectiveness of masks as one of the cheapest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of Covid.
Kristina hopes audiences find this a way to enjoy politics and the crazy things that have happened while finding the humor in it while also finding some inspiration to keep up the political momentum as well.
I want them to really enjoy the show. It’s been a painful four years and I mine it for a lot of laughter. I tell the true-life story of how Alex Jones and his scary alt-right following came after me with death and rape threats for my web series Radical Cram School and I still manage to find humor in it. I had to find humor in order to survive such a terrible truly Trump-era thing.
Beyond that, I want audiences to realize that beyond making culture, we need to move legislation. And that happens by running for office, voting, or organizing others to run or vote. Democracy is like a very sensitive Chia pet that needs to be tended to constantly. It doesn’t have a “set it and forget it” setting. And we all have to keep it alive. And we have to get involved. It’s a tedious system but it’s what we have and we are what makes it work better.
Written & Performed By: Kristina Wong
Direction & Dramaturgy by: Diana Wyenn
Devised by: Kristina Wong and Diana Wyenn
Sound Design by: Mark McClain Wilson
Scenic, Costume, and Prop Design by: Kristina Wong
Photo Credit: Kristina Wong
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