English Works: From Words to Performance
Ntozake Shange's iconic 1974 poetry/dance mashup for colored girls: who've considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf may be the original #MeToo moment; it's not hard to see why Penumbra Theatre has revived it this fall, co-directed by artistic director Sarah Bellamy and her father, founder Lou Bellamy. "I feel all the feelings," says alumna Audrey Park (BA 2012), starring as one of the main characters, the Lady in Red. "Overall, it feels like a homecoming, although this is my first time being a part of for colored girls.
"Working on this play allowed me to journey into myself," Park continues, "and find more connection to womanhood. That speaks a lot to Shange's words, and also to the work of Penumbra, Sarah and Lou Bellamy, [choreographer] Ananya Chatterjea, and the cast, for fostering an environment where we can share all of who we are and what we carry."
Words are important to Park, as you'd expect for a former English major. But, further, words are what brought her to theater. While she'd acted in high school, she put it aside while at the University, feeling uncertain among the drama majors and BFA actors. Then she started taking poetry writing classes in the English department. "I found that more and more of my poems could no longer just live on the page," she recalls. "So I started finding open mics around the Twin Cities and performing my poetry."
Other English classes intersected with this new creative momentum. "Professor Josephine Lee opened me up to not only to plays and drama, but to the wealth of work written from the Asian American community and communities of color. It honestly freaked me out when I read works from Diana Son, Kenji Yoshino, and Philip Gotanda—it felt like they were writing about my own very personal experiences, ones that I never talked about or shared with anyone. Jo is also an incredibly kind, patient, and thoughtful professor. When I struggled with what it all meant for me and my identity, she very gently helped me piece it all back together again."
When Park was a senior, a friend introduced her to Rick Shiomi, the former artistic director of Theater Mu. "He really brought me into the Mu family," she says. "It was the first time I saw Asian actors on stage, an incredible image and so powerful for me at the time. I started to think, 'Maybe acting is something I can do.'"
Major roles followed with Mu, including Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night and the leading role in the 2016 premiere of Mia Chung's You for Me for You at Dowling Studio in the Guthrie. Last year she played the protagonist in Ten Thousand Things' Electra. As The Star Tribune raved, "The title role here offers Park a breakout opportunity, and she seizes it with aplomb, showing us the dimensions of her craft."
And now comes the Lady in Red, a feature turn in Penumbra's showcase fall play, which just happens to represent Sarah Bellamy's professional directing debut. for colored girls runs September 20-October 14. "It's been a beautiful journey," Park says.
In addition to acting, Park freelances as a teaching artist, communicator, and event planner. (In her previous day job as communications and programs coordinator at the Asian Economic Development Association, she coordinated the Little Mekong Night Market in St. Paul.)
It all comes down to language. "I feel like my time as an English major deepened my appreciation for words, especially other people's words," she notes. "Now, when I come across a script and begin the process of memorizing a new role, I do my best to honor every word the playwright has written. They spent a lot of time choosing the words that they did, and there's a reason why they used one word instead of another. What does the language call for?"