Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY?

at the Howard Fine Acting Studio during Hollywood Fringe Festival 2022

By: Jun. 29, 2022
Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY?
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Prior to pursuing her childhood dream of becoming an actor, Meg Lin was a former K-12 teacher, school principal, college professor, and non-profit CEO. But along the way, she struggled finding her true identity as a Chinese American as the first in her family born in the U.S. In her original solo play What am I, Chopped Suey? Meg shares how she struggled to defy cultural norms to "save face" while coping with challenges she went through to overcome stereotypes and redefine what it means to be Asian in America. I decided to speak with Meg about how universal her first-generation American tale will resonate with so many, as well as her plans to continue presenting it as an Encore selection from this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Hi Meg. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Thank you for seeing my show and giving me this opportunity to share my personal story with more people!

Before we start talking about your Fringe play, tell me a bit about your professional training which lead you to create your own solo show.

I transitioned into acting over the last few years after working in K-12 and higher education. So, I started from scratch with no experience and began training at a variety of acting schools such as The Groundlings, Lesly Kahn & Co., and most recently I studied for 18 months with the Identity School of Acting, which is a London-based acting school that recently came to Los Angeles. Thanks to actors such as Issa Rae and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who created and starred in their own shows, the mantra you hear these days is that actors shouldn't sit around and wait for opportunities to come our way, but instead, we should be creating our own content. So, I started writing my solo show this past February as part of Casting Director and Director/Writer Cathy Reinking's Create Your Own Content class (now called the Writing Program for Advanced Actors).

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? During your show, you spoke about how you secretly loved performing as a child in front of your numerous pets and stuffed animals. No doubt many children do the same thing. What made you decide to not pursue your dream of being an actor earlier in your life?

The biggest reason why I didn't pursue acting when I was younger was because my mom suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and she displayed a lot of erratic behaviors, so I was embarrassed and worried of what she might do in public if I became an actor. I also grew up in a stereotypical first generation Asian American household where there was an unspoken understanding that pursuing the arts was not a financially practical occupation. Plus, I suffered from extreme self-doubt, so I wasn't ready to face an industry that's full of rejection.

So instead of pursuing an acting career, tell me more about the path(s) you followed prior to creating What am I, Chopped Suey?

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? I always had a heart for wanting to help others and I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. I also secretly wanted to pursue something in the arts such as musical theatre, creative writing, or making my own movies, but I also grew up with subliminal messages from my immigrant parents about the importance of getting a practical and stable job. When I applied to colleges, I really wanted to study at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, but I ended up selecting Business as my major in order to appease my parents. After my first year at USC, I changed my major to Psychology because my mom's condition got worse over the years, so I thought that maybe I would become a therapist so that I could help others who suffered with mental wellness.

After I got my Psychology degree, I didn't want to become a therapist anymore but I still wanted to help people, so I got a Master's degree in higher education to work with college students. My first full time job out of college was creating a mentoring program for first year students at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, I later was promoted as the Director of the school's Engineering Career Services where I helped students get jobs, and then I eventually switched careers by becoming an elementary school teacher in South LA.

You mentioned about opening schools after teaching in South Central LA. What inspired you to create them and what inspired the curriculum you set in place?

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? When I worked at USC, I saw firsthand the disparity between students' public education experience nationwide and how it affected their academic performance in college. In particular, I noticed that many students from the local urban high schools struggled academically at the collegiate level and I saw how it was too late to try to remediate 13 years of a poor education. So, I wanted to become part of the solution by becoming a teacher.

My husband, Randy, had already quit his job in business to become a teacher, and he was having great success teaching his students above grade-level work at a school that historically had low academic scores. He made teaching look easy, but when I became a teacher, teaching was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, and I witnessed firsthand a severely broken public education system. I felt that both teachers and students deserved to have a better quality work and school environment.

So, when we learned about charter schools, Randy and I decided to open a charter school in one of the toughest neighborhoods in South LA so that we could prove that teachers and students can thrive in a positive environment that also provided a strong academic foundation that prepared students to compete at the collegiate level regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. We chose to provide a STEM curriculum based on my previous experience helping engineering students get jobs because I saw that technology-based employment was where the future was heading, and I saw how there were very few female, BIPOC, and American students pursuing STEM. We eventually opened 3 schools, an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school, and many students who went to our schools became the first in their families to graduate from college and are now contributing to the STEM workforce.

Such a great way to give back through education! I'm curious; is What am I, Chopped Suey? the first play you have written?

Yes, this was the first play that I have ever written. However, prior to writing my play, I published my first children's book, Casper, the Rescue Dog! I wrote a few short films on my own, and I co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in a short film, Victoria's Manor, that won Best Indie Short Film for the month of May 2022 in the 1st Monthly Film Festival for being "a wonderful cinematic experience with great performances and narrative." It's the first film that any of us ever created all by ourselves, so it was a steep learning curve that paid off in the end, since not only is it a fun story, it also stars my dog, Casper. My next project is to finish the pilot episode of a TV series that I'm creating.

Tell me how you came up with the title What am I, Chopped Suey?

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? I've known since college that I would eventually write a memoir about my life because I kept so many secrets about my childhood trauma that I felt needed to be shared in order to help others who might have also suffered from feelings of insignificance, rejection, not belonging, or similar experiences. In addition to trauma and mental wellness, the main theme I struggled with throughout my life was finding my own identity. Who am I?

I decided to use my time with the Create Your Own Content class to write my memoir as a one woman show. I didn't have a specific deadline or purpose for when or how I would perform my show until this past March when I was on vacation in England and learned the deadline for the Hollywood Fringe Festival was April 1st. I had heard great things about the Fringe but I had never participated in or attended any Fringe shows before. I didn't want to wait a whole year before I participated in the Fringe, so I stayed up all night while I was still in England to complete my Fringe registration, including coming up with a title for my show, which I wasn't done writing yet. In fact, I actually didn't finish writing my show until two weeks before my first performance date, so I came up with my title based on what I knew I wanted to write about, which was mainly about finding my true identity despite my past.

The popular term "What Am I, Chopped Liver?" came to mind because I felt insignificant most of my life, but deep down inside, I knew I was worth something even if I felt that others didn't always see that in me. I also knew that the origin and significance of Chop Suey was controversial, so I did some research about it and decided that What Am I, Chopped Suey? was the perfect combination and title for how I felt about myself.

I understand how being a first generation American can be difficult when dealing with parents who want you to follow their Old World ways, no matter what country they immigrated from to get here. My family background is very similar, but from Eastern Europe rather than Taiwan. Are there a few examples you can share with me and how you finally learned to just be who you wanted to be rather than what was expected of you by your parents?

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? My dad was initially upset when I changed my major from Business to Psychology, especially since I was among the first freshmen admitted to the Business school at USC. In the past, they didn't admit students into the Business school until your junior year. Plus, my dad was an Accounting professor at USC, so he said to me, "Why are you leaving Business when everyone else is trying to get into the Business school?"

Truthfully, I was really stressed out as a Business major and I was developing psychosomatic symptoms as a result. At the same time, I was minoring in Psychology and I enjoyed my Psychology classes more, so I decided that my happiness and sanity was more important than pleasing my parents. By changing my major, it also freed up my schedule so that I could take other classes for fun such as Scriptwriting where I wrote the first 30 pages of a feature film. I think the combination of graduating from college, getting married, and getting a full-time job all helped me transition from trying to please my parents to doing what I wanted to do because I was no longer under their legal and financial care.

What do you hope audience members learn by listening to your own difficult upbringing to inspire them to follow their own path?

The main message I hope people learn from my show is that they are not alone, that they are significant, and that they are worthy of being loved. Also, just because someone looks like they are okay on the outside, doesn't necessarily mean that they are really okay. A lot of people are hurting on the inside and we often feel like we are alone in our misery. I think social media has made this worse because it looks like everyone else is living their best life, so we think that there must be something wrong with us. I want people to know that it is okay to not be okay and it is okay to not be perfect. But don't keep your struggles all to yourself. Tell someone and get help. Once you start sharing your personal story, you will be surprised at how many other people are struggling with the same things. This healing process from your past will also help pave a new path for your future.

Do you have plans to take What am I, Chopped Suey? on the road to other cities and/or theatre festivals? To schools? No doubt the topics you bring up, including discrimination, racism, mental illness, self-harm, suicide, and death/dying, are part of everyone's lives in modern society and being in schools is really scary right now.

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? Yes, I would love to share my story and take my show on the road. Since a lot of my former colleagues are in the education sector and many of them came to watch my show, I already have people reaching out and asking me to come perform my show at their schools for their students, staff, and families, and then facilitate a Q&A session afterward. Also, my writing coach, Cathy Reinking, has a non-profit, In My Shoes, where she facilitates a workshop for schools and companies that includes solo performances about individuals' personal lives. And then after watching the performances, she helps the audience members write about their own lives. So, I am one of the performers who will perform my solo show as part of these workshops. Regarding other festivals, I would love to perform my show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Is there anything else personally or professionally you would like to share with readers?

My favorite saying these days is "You Do You!" I'm both a dreamer and a realist, so while I advocate for and support pursuing your dreams and doing what makes you happy, I also know that not everyone may be in a place to do that right now. So, I don't want anyone to feel bad about themselves if they are in a job that they don't like or if they are doing things just to please their parents, etc. Everyone's situation is different, so instead of trying to be like everyone else or trying to follow someone else's advice, the best thing you can do is be yourself and do what's best for you and your situation, one step at a time.

Thanks for speaking with me today and I look forward to following your career path as it expands all over the world. To learn more about Meg, visit her sites:

Meg Lin's Demo Reel:

Meg Lin's Actors Access Profile: ​​

Follow Meg on Instagram and Facebook: @iammeglin

More exciting news since I conducted this interview: Meg Lin's autobiographical solo show, What Am I, Chopped Suey? has already won The Hollywood Encore Producers' Award. So, if you missed the show at the Fringe, you have two more chances to watch this world premiere described as "an honest, vulnerable, and hilarious show" with "a unique point of view about the Asian-American experience" that's "deeply personal, yet universally relatable."

Interview: Meg Lin on Developing Her Solo Show WHAT AM I, CHOP SUEY? Watch the one-hour show live in person at the Howard Fine Acting Studio (Main Stage) located at 1320 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028, on Saturday, July 9, 2022 at 7:00 pm PT or purchase access to the recording of the encore performance that will be available for viewing online on demand from anywhere in the world starting Sunday, July 10, 2022 at 6:30 pm PT (patrons who purchase access to the virtual performance will be able to watch the recording on their own time through the end of July 2022). Tickets are $10, available at HFF22.CO/7568.

Content Warning: Recommended age is 16+ due to adult themes and potentially triggering content including but not limited to discrimination, racism, mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, alcohol use, and death/dying. Health Protocol (Subject to Change): Masks are required for the in-person performance. You will also be required to provide proof of vaccination (booster optional) OR a negative COVID-19 test result (within 48 hours for PCR, 24 for antigen).