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English Works: Writing Poetry, an Actor Is Born

Audrey Park stars in a Mu Performing Arts premiere at the Guthrie
February 25, 2016

Alumna Audrey Park (left) and co-star Sun Mee Chomet

Alumna Audrey Park (left) and co-star Sun Mee Chomet
Alumna Audrey Park (left) and co-star Sun Mee Chomet

While she had been involved with theater in high school, Audrey Park (BA 2012) felt too shy to explore acting opportunities at the University: "I thought it wasn't for me." Oddly enough, it was taking English poetry classes that reignited her interest in performing. "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." For three weeks this winter she was striding the Dowling Studio stage at the Guthrie Theater in a Mu Performing Arts production. "Mia Chung's play You for Me for You in is an inventive mashup that recalls Alice in Wonderland," praised The Star Tribune in its review. "Park is stellar in a role that offers artistic latitude."

How did you get into professional acting?

I’ve been drawn to theater since I was young. My mother would take me to plays all the time. Close to graduation in 2012, a friend introduced me to Rick Shiomi, the former artistic director of Mu, and he really brought me into the Mu family. Mu is where I realized that theater is a wonderful way to share the stories of the Asian American Pacific Islander community. It was also 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.'

You played Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night with Mu last summer. How was your understanding of the play enhanced by performing it?

It’s definitely different performing Twelfth Night versus studying it. I’ve always loved studying and reading Shakespeare in class, but in performing Shakespeare, you really start to understand that his plays are never passive—they are always very physical. And the characters hold strength in their vulnerability. It doesn’t help to be contemplative with Shakespeare when performing— you always have to attack. That’s what the language calls for.

Audrey Park in You for Me for You
Audrey Park with actor JuCoby Johnson in You for Me for You

Would you describe your character in this new play? Was playwright Mia Chung part of the production process?

My character, Junhee, is a headstrong woman with a very soft heart, especially when it comes to her ailing older sister, Minhee. The story starts off with the two sisters living a life of starvation and loss in North Korea, until Junhee plans their escape out of the country, only to get separated from Minhee at the border. Junhee then sets off to America with a plan to go back in search of her sister and to be reunited. Although Mia Chung was here just for opening weekend, Randy Reyes, our director and artistic director of Mu, was in constant communication with her during our rehearsal process. Any questions we had (of which there were many), Mia was very gracious and open to answering them and helping us better understand the world of the play. As a writer myself (mainly poetry), I fell in love with how Mia uses poetry throughout the script—her use of repetition, her language; there’s even a part where the characters start rhyming! It’s quite beautiful.

Your day job is communications and programs coordinator at Asian Economic Development Association. What do you most enjoy about that work?

This is the first time I’ve worked for an organization whose focus is on the Asian American community, my community.  We serve a lot of entrepreneurs, small Asian owned businesses, and artists. We do this through business development, creative placemaking, and advocacy and policy. My grandfather is a business owner. He is a jeweler, with his own shop in the city of Chicago. He’s been a jeweler his whole life, from fixing watches on the streets of Seoul to owning his own shop in America. So many from my family come from this story, and so many friends too. This is what we knew as kids—running around the shop or watching TV in the back room, helping sell things when it got too busy. For me, the work we do at AEDA is almost like giving back to those that helped raise me. Also, I get to plan the very fun Little Mekong Night Market that happens in St. Paul every summer in the Little Mekong District.

What English professor do you most remember and why?

Josephine Lee. She 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. Up until that point, most of my readings in classes were from the dominant white narrative. 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. Her classes opened me up to new world views, legitimate Asian voices, and new angles on my own life and family. And when I struggled with what it all meant for me and my identity, she very gently helped me piece it all back together again.