Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

World Premiere of SPECIALLY PROCESSED AMERICAN ME to be Presented at Dixon Place

pixeltracker

Through oral history, video, music, and shadowplay, SPAM becomes a powerful symbol of colonization, immigration, assimilation, American dreams, and disillusionment.

World Premiere of SPECIALLY PROCESSED AMERICAN ME to be Presented at Dixon Place

Dixon Place, Ping Chong and Company, and Free Rein Projects will present the world premiere production of Jaime Sunwoo's Specially Processed American Me, January 27 - February 19. Co-directed by Sunwoo and Karim Muasher, and commissioned by Dixon Place, the multimedia theater work investigates the legacy of SPAM, a brand of canned cooked pork produced and marketed by Hormel Foods Corporation, in the US military, its significance in the Asia-Pacific, and its influence on Asian cuisine, unraveling the stories of three generations of women in Sunwoo's family. Through a narrative collage of oral history, video, music, and shadowplay, SPAM becomes a powerful symbol of colonization, immigration, assimilation, American dreams, and disillusionment, inviting us to examine the memories we hold onto and those we leave behind. Specially Processed American Me is the first major interdisciplinary performance PCC has co-produced at this scale that wasn't created by Ping Chong-signaling the company's expanding commitment to incubating and supporting work from emerging voices.

Specially Processed American Me's cast includes Adrianna Mateo (Performer - Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Vanessa Rappa (Performer - Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Juella Baltonado (Performer - Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Monica Goff (Performer - Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Sarah Shin (Performer - Jaime), Eunji Lim (Performer - Grandma/Ensemble), Nathaniel Basch-Gould (Performer - Jay Hormel/Ensemble), Grace Hwoang (Performer - Understudy). The creative team includes Jaime Sunwoo (Playwright/Co-Director/Prop, Puppet, and Costume Designer/Projection Graphic Illustrator), Karim Muasher (Co-Director), Matt Chilton (Composer/Lyricist/ Sound Designer), Sarah Lurie (Lighting Designer), Cinthia Chen (Projection Designer), Aoife Hough (Stage Manager), Samm Lynch (Assistant Stage Manager and Covid Compliance Officer), Justin Perkins (Technical Director), Julia Kwon (Textile Artist), Clara Sunwoo (Costume Designer), Lisa Friedman (Food Fabricator), Camille Labarre (Mask Fabricator), Kevin Cobb (Miracle Meat 3D Animator), Jane Fujita (Dialect Coach), Alex Lee (Dramaturg), and Adrianna Mateo (Music Director).

Specially Processed American Me oscillates wildly between absurd humor and sober tragedy as it unpacks the ambivalent connotations of one of America's most misunderstood foods. Introduced commercially in 1937, SPAM was a part of American soldiers' military rations, and thereby brought to the Asia-Pacific during World War II and the Korean War-either by soldiers giving it away, or through the black market. It was quickly adopted into numerous local cuisines because of the scarcity of meat and SPAM's ability to stay fresh without refrigeration. In this kaleidoscopic, surreal vision, audiences encounter: former Hormel President, and heir to his Hormel-founding father's porcine throne, Jay Hormel; the WWII-veteran-comprised SPAM-promoting musical group Hormel Girls; Korean Shamanic rituals; SPAM-centric mukbang clips; spirits; a brigade of shadowy memories; and more SPAM. Throughout the performance, audiences also witness the coming-of-age story of Jaime, a Korean American teenager growing up in New York City and eating a variety of SPAM dishes (SPAM musubi, kimbap, fried rice).

As Jaime contends with the wounds brought on by her parents' separation and faces the erasure of her family history, she digs into her family's past-similarly wounded by a historic split. She discovers a SPAM recipe her grandmother passed down and, with it, the wartime trauma that she concealed from her daughter (Jaime's mother) and granddaughter. As Jaime's summoning of family memory sweeps from the Korean War and the partition of North and South Korea to the present, this personal and cultural journey toward belonging and community is consistently haunted by the loaded legacy of SPAM.

Sunwoo explains, "I grew up enjoying SPAM with my Korean American family, unaware that many white Americans rejected it as a 'mystery meat' and 'poor people food.' Many Asian Americans including myself have a strong emotional connection with SPAM because it is a stigmatized food that is simultaneously associated with home and nostalgia-a food that connects us to our families and links us to shared histories within the Asian diaspora."

Sunwoo, a PCC Creative Fellow from 2020-2021, who is simultaneously developing her short film Color Theory with PCC (which will be shared in Spring 2022), began Specially Processed American Me in 2018. Centering the project around the innocuous-yet historically heavy and sensorially evocative-object that is SPAM, she found an entry point into complex conversations with members of her family. With dramaturg Alex Lee, Sunwoo arranged interviews and gathered their oral histories, tapping into vivid stories-for instance, with her grandma, of life during the Korean War, or with her father, of his family fractured by the division of Korea-with SPAM as the starting point. With Ping Chong as a mentor on the project, and through her engagement with extensive PCC archives throughout her fellowship, Sunwoo offers her own vision reflecting Chong's interdisciplinary approaches to drawing from personal experience woven with lost or forgotten histories.

Sunwoo says, "The Korean War technically never ended and through this project, I've learned about relatives who still remain in North Korea. By sharing my personal story, I hope to humanize the way we perceive a divided Korea, and by telling the stories of three women-me, my mother, and my grandmother-I hope to encourage intergenerational dialogue and uplift immigrant stories."

A thoroughly interdisciplinary artist, Sunwoo also took on the role of costume designer, illustrated graphic projections, and created puppets and props for this project. She collaborated with Matt Chilton to research the Hormel Girls and write songs that would bring these characters eerily into the narrative, and to create a score with metal kitchen bowls that would evoke Korean traditional percussion. Projection designer Cinthia Chen weaves memory and contemporary media together; and Julia Kwon's bojagi textiles, commissioned for the work, resemble walls of SPAM.

As a home for a diverse, intergenerational group of affiliated artists, Ping Chong and Company's co-production of Specially Processed American Me represents the continued engagement the organization seeks to foster with Creative Fellows and other interdisciplinary emerging artists who partake in its programs. Ping Chong and Company Managing Director Jane Jung says, "Jaime's piece marks an important milestone for our company as we seek to broaden the lead generative artists the company supports. Jaime is a former Creative Fellow and is an interdisciplinary artist who, like Ping, studied visual art before branching into performance, puppetry, and theatre. We are thrilled to be partnering with Jaime and Dixon Place to premiere this new work that brings to light Korean American and Asian American personal and political histories, all through the entry point of a cult food item: SPAM."

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

Specially Processed American Me will run at Dixon Place January 27 - February 19.

Press performances are Friday, January 28, and Saturday, 29 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are on sale now at dixonplace.org. Tickets are $17 - $28 and can be purchased here. In addition to performances, Specially Processed American Me holds food history and storytelling workshops over a communal SPAM meal. Learn more at speciallyprocessed.com and @speciallyprocessed.

Covid Safety Protocols

Masks are required, which can only briefly be removed if you're having a drink from the Dixon Place cocktail lounge. We strongly recommend K95 or N95 masks. A proof of vaccination AND your personal ID are also mandatory. A CDC Vax Card or your NY Excelsior Pass on mobile devices, along with your ID, must be shown upon arrival. If you have Covid-19 symptoms or have been exposed, please stay home! Refunds will be issued by emailing: mike@dixonplace.org. Please note that these protocols may be updated based on the evolving situation.


Related Articles View More Off-Broadway Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You