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Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Presented by Ammunition Theatre Company at The Pico

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Carla Ching is among the first three recipients to win the Los Angeles New Play Project Award, which supports playwriting and producing in smaller Los Angeles theaters. Her new play, Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body, opening September 23 at The Pico, directed by Bernardo Cubría for Ammunition Theatre Company, was originally developed as part of the 2021 Ammo Writers' Lab. It takes a very public look into the private lives of people who hurt the ones they love most, and how or if revenge should be taken to offset the pain. I decided to speak with Carla Ching about the play and how it was developed for its world premiere.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Carla. First of all, tell me a bit about yourself for readers who may not know anything about you.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY Hey, I'm Carla. I'm a fourth gen Chinese American playwright who was raised an Angeleno but spent two decades doing theater in New York. I started out doing autobiographical theater with a group called Peeling at the Asian American Writers Workshop. And I learned how to turn my poems into performance art there, and eventually craved making longer form plays. I went back to school for playwriting and got involved in the Ma-Yi Writers Lab and The Lark in New York, which were two of my first theatrical homes. Twenty-five years after I started, I still write for theater because I have to. There's something essential about telling a story live in a room full of people that I will always love. That, and then going to the bar after to make sense of what we've seen and to wrestle with the questions it's posed to our lives.

Did you always want to be a playwright or did that evolve as your career developed?

I wanted to be a poet first. I even started an MFA in it. And then I realized I was really a mediocre poet and if I was lucky, five people would read my poem in a journal or maybe 15 would see it at a spoken word event. This drove me to theater which was less lonely and had more community, offering moments of the violent and sublime and unforgettable on a good day. The poverty of working in theater for a decade and a half, and the desire to tell more long form stories drove me to television, where I also work now. I work back and forth between TV and theater, but I haven't written a poem in a decade. My friend Ed Lin asked me why, and I said everything I said in poems I now put into the plays. And I used to write in first person and got tired of the sound of my own voice, so I started writing in other people's voices.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Pictured: Roland Ruiz, Tina Huang, Christopher Larkin.

Was being an L.A. native the reason why you decided to premiere Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body here?

I am so appreciative to be doing my second play in Los Angeles (my first with Artists at Play was The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up). Ammo reached out and I love their mission and what they're all about. I also loved that they made me feel at home and were clear that we were going to make the play I was hoping to make. I have been in the position many times before where the leadership at a theater ends up noting me nearly to death, and wrenching the play this way and that trying to put it in a shape that they believe is the play, without any concern with what I'm trying to do. So, I appreciate that Ammo and Bernardo and the actors are very collaborative. We're also very grateful to have the support of the Los Angeles New Play Project: https://lanpp.org for this premiere. Their support was crucial for our production budget.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Pictured: Roland Ruiz, Kahyun Kim

Have you worked with Bernardo Cubría and/or Ammunition Theatre Company before?

Bernardo and I met in the writers lab of another theater company here in LA. When he became the facilitator of the Ammo Writers Lab, he invited me to come build a play and in a crisis of creation in the middle of the pandemic, I pulled this out of a drawer and began to work on it again. Bernardo's also done three Zoom readings/development readings of this play at Ammo, Play Per View and the O'Neill Playwright Conference. And I love how he gets to the truth of a scene and how he understood what I'm trying to say, the questions I'm trying to ask. And how he brings warmth, humor, and trust to the room so that all artists can do their very best work. He's also a brilliant playwright (I love The Play You Want) and a really gifted actor (don't believe him when he tells you he's retired), so he understands all the aspects of theater-making which also informs how he works on plays with such insight.

I love that Ammo focuses on bold work that agitates, or "serves as ammunition for change." And how each person who's in the company that I've worked with -- also an artist in their own right --has been incredibly supportive and thoughtful in the entire mounting of this production. They are lovers of theater and of the LA theater community and the very difficult project of making a play.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Pictured: Tina Huang, Christopher Larkin

Tell me a bit about the story of the play and its characters.

When Kat Chan's ex-husband posts revenge porn images of her, and tags everyone she knows, Kat wrestles with a choice: be humane to someone she used to love or take him out in a very public way? It's a play about public shaming, ownership of women's bodies and images, and the earthquakes that are caused by dissolving a marriage. I was also interested in exploring the POV of Mac, who posts the pictures of his ex-wife. Why did he do it? Is there a road to redemption for him? Or will that act forever define him? It's also a generational story about four women from the same family who have very different perspectives on their bodies, their power, and their position as women. And lastly, I wanted to parallel the painful dissolution of a marriage with a fledgling new relationship, to ask questions about the beginnings and ends of relationships and how we succeed or fail in staying together.

Why were you drawn to this subject?

I read an interview with a woman in her 20's who had intimate pictures of herself stolen and shared online. To reclaim her body and her image, she had a photographer take more photos of her naked - not sexualized but doing everyday things - and posted them herself so that she could be seen the way she saw herself. So, she was the subject not the object. I wondered, what if this were a woman - Kat - in her middle years, with a family and career to lose? How does she get her life back?

Do any of these characters resemble people in your own life?

It's a totally fictitious story, with totally fictitious characters, but the emotional truths in the play are things I've experienced or seen people I know go through.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Pictured: Jeanne Sakata, Tina Huang

Tell me about the actors who portray your characters. Have you worked with any of them before?

Tina Huang is Kat Chan; Kahyun Kim is her daughter Nice; Christopher Larkin is Kat's boyfriend Elliot; Nelson Lee is Kat's ex-husband Mac; Roland Ruiz is Nice's boyfriend JJ; and Jeanne Sakata portrays both Mac's mother Mia and Kat's mother Betty. I feel so lucky to be working with this extraordinarily brave, generous, kind and funny group of actors. Because this play is not easy for them to go through every night.

Tina's a baller -- Taiwanese American, from New York and does a ton of LA theater as well as her work on TV. It's a beast of a role, which is perfect because she's a beast of an actor. We teasingly call Kahyun Kim, "Julliard," because well, she went there and you can tell. She was born and raised in Korea but came here for school and to act and I love her funny, bold, thoughtful artistry. Roland also has theater running through his veins and his enthusiasm is infectious, he's always playing and finding new things, new truth. He is a joy to work with and be around. Chris knows my work and language very well because he's been in four of my plays now, and he's actually also my first reader (and partner). To my chagrin, he'll always call bullshit on a line when he thinks it feels false.

Tina, Kahyun, Chris and Roland have been in the other three readings of this play, so we've really been on the journey of this story for a couple years. Nelson -- who's new to this play -- is Taiwanese Canadian and doing his fourth production with me, and I always depend on him for being great in the room, taking risks and always saying, "Yes and." I have always been a fan of Jeanne and am so thrilled to be working with her for the first time -- she's a legend. She makes every scene better, is always inventing and finding new things, and is just the best storyteller. And I love that she also has a playwright's mind -- she wrote the astounding Hold These Truths.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY

Pictured: Nelson Lee, Kahyun Kim

What do you hope that audiences will be most affected by after seeing this play?

I think everyone might walk away with something different, but I don't want to tell folks what they should walk away with. I'd actually love to hear from people, and hope people will tell me what they walk away with after they see the play.

What's on your schedule in the future?

I am currently working on a new play called The Show I'm Writing So I Don't Die From Rage. which I was lucky enough to work on in the Playtime program at New Dramatists where I'm a member. On television, I'm developing a new project with Shondaland for Netflix, a project with Super Frog and Monkey Paw for Amazon, an adaptation with Hivemind and Field Trip for FX and a new show with Imminent Collision and the amazing Sameer Gadhia from Young the Giant.

As busy as you are, are you active on social media and do you find it a good tool to promote your work?

I mean...kind of? I'm terrible at promotion, but I feel like it's a good way to let people know what's going on and then hopefully, they'll come if they're so moved to.

Interview: Carla Ching on the World Premiere of her Play REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, the play, or theatre in general?

We'd be honored if folks come join us, to be together in a room and have a theatrical experience which I know I have been desperately missing for two and a half years.

I think so many of us have!

The world premiere of Carla Ching's Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body opens on September 23 at The Pico, located at 10508 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064. Performances continue at 8pm Thursdays - Saturdays, 2pm Saturdays, and 7pm on Sundays through October 9, 2022. Tickets are $35 online at https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2198824®id=9&articlelink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ammunitiontheatre.com?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1 Run time is approximately 110 minutes (plus one intermission). Face masks must be worn by all patrons inside the theater.

Photo credit: Jeff Lorch

Website: http://ammunitiontheatre.com

Facebook: facebook.com/AmmoTheatre/

Twitter: @AmmoTheatre

Instagram: @ammotheatre


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