Episode 6 - My Shakespeare Curse
In this episode of Under This Light we uncover advocacy in our blood, are given the tools for representation by our theater community, reckon with Flow Drum Song, and dance with the queen of the Fairies.
Kathy Hsieh is a theatre producer and an award-winning actor, writer and director who has performed on stages throughout the United States. Her Shakespearean credits include Titania in ASL Midsummer Night’s Dream with Sound Theatre, the Nurse in Seattle Shakespeare’s Wooden O production of Romeo & Juliet, Lady Capulet in Stepping Stone Productions’ Romeo & Juliet, and Luciana in Tacoma Actors Guild’s The Comedy of Errors. She is one of the founders and Co-Executive Producers for SIS Productions, an Asian American women-led theatre company recognized by Audrey Magazine as a Theatre Trailblazer. She is also the Racial Equity in Grantmaking Strategist for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture helping the agency earn the Seattle Management Association’s first Race & Social Justice Management Award in 2007. She is a frequent racial equity presenter and advisor throughout the U.S. and Canada, with a specific focus on how the arts and cultural sector can evolve to become more racially equitable. She has been honored by the National Association of Asian American Professionals in Seattle as their Artist of the Year, A Special Award of Recognition by The Seattle Theater Writers Gypsy Awards for Excellence in Playwriting, Verizon’s Asian Pacific American Bash’s Innovator Award, an International Examiner Community Voice Awardee in the Arts, a Theatre Puget Sound Gregory Award for Sustained Achievement in Theatre, a Seattle Chinese American Citizens Alliance’s Fred Yee Citizens Award, 14/48’s Glen Mazen Award, and Footlight and Gypsy Awards for Acting. Her acting credits include work with many theatres of all sizes in Seattle plus quite a number of Zoomlandia projects over the past 18 months. As a playwright, she has been recognized by The Dramatist Magazine as “50 to Watch.” Her scripts have been produced or workshopped in Vancouver, B.C., Minneapolis, and Chicago, and include 14 scripts for the critically acclaimed, long-running, episodic, Asian American rom-com theatre series Sex in Seattle. And for a few years, she even taught an Asian American Theatre class for the University of Washington’s School of Drama for three quarters. Coming up, you can hear her voice in Book-It Rep’s radio production of The Three Musketeers, adapted and directed by the legendary Lamar Legend.
Lamar Legend (00:09):
You are listening to Under This Light, A Revelation of Shakespeare and Self. I’m, your host Lamar legend. And today we have Kathy Hsieh. Kathy is a theater producer and an award winning actor, writer and director. She is one of the founders and co-executive producers for SIS productions an Asian American women led theater company recognized by Audrey magazine as a theater trailblazer. She is also the racial equity and grantmaking strategist for the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture. Helping the agency earn the Seattle management associations, first race and social justice management award. In 2007, she is a frequent racial equity presenter and advisor throughout the US and Canada, with a specific focus on how the arts and cultural sector can evolve to become more racially equitable. She has been honored by the National Association of Asian-American Professionals in Seattle as their Artist of the Year, a special award of recognition by the Seattle theater writers, Gypsy awards for excellence in playwriting Verizon’s Asian Pacific American bashes innovator award, and an international examiner community voice awardee in the arts, a theater, Puget Sound Gregory award for sustained achievement in theater, a Seattle Chinese American Citizens Alliances, Fred Yee, citizens award, 1448’s, Glenn Mazzen and award and foot light, and gypsy awards for her acting as a playwright.
Lamar Legend (01:36):
She has been recognized by the Dramatist magazine as 50 to watch her scripts have been produced and workshopped in Vancouver, BC, Minneapolis, and Chicago, and include 14 scripts for the critically acclaimed long running episodic, Asian American romcom Sex in Seattle. As a teacher, she’s taught an Asian American theater class for the University of Washington School of Drama. And soon you can hear her voice in Book-It Rep’s radio production of The Three Musketeers adapted and directed by some fool they call Lamar Legend. Kathy…. It is so good to have you with us today.
Kathy Hsieh (02:15):
Thank you. Oh, I’m so excited to be here, except I realize hearing my bio out loud makes me think I’m attending my own funeral.
Lamar Legend (02:24):
That was not a eulogy. That was a praise, a celebration. Although I can understand how you would feel that way, how any would feel that way. It’s like I’m not dead yet. So let’s kick off with, how did your relationship with theater begin?
Kathy Hsieh (02:45):
If, if a very first part that I ever got to play on stage would be, I got to play a star when I was in a Christmas pageant, not like the play Christmas pageant, but you a real Christmas pageant. In my I guess it was like it was a private school, so it was, it was like, I was five at the time. And the reason why it was so funny is because my family, the only reason why I ended up in that private Christian school was because my family, my parents were immigrants here from China and they didn’t know that there was a thing of free public schools and the closest school to where we lived happened to be this private Christian school. So, so that was my first experience. And all I did was have to stand there holding a cutout of a star.
Kathy Hsieh (03:43):
I wasn’t even the star in the pageant. I was just one of the many stars, so no lines, no, nothing just stand there, holding a star that if I, if I was to like attribute the first kind of taste of, for, for theater was I was so shy in elementary school, very introverted my best friend, Carla Cunningham for the final talent show of the school year as sixth graders at Sacajawea elementary here in Seattle she wanted to do a sketch and it was just a few minutes sketch and she wanted me to play the teacher in the sketch. And I was like, oh my gosh, I can’t do this. But she, she insisted. And so I got to play the teacher and I had like three lines and the punchline and and everyone laughed and they could actually hear me. And it was like, wow, like that was like amazing because I was so shy and introverted that the year before in fifth grade, the school actually did an all school play about the history of the United States in an hour. And everyone in the school had a part except for me because other teachers weren’t sure I would be loud enough or would feel comfortable enough speaking in front of everybody. So, so yeah, so that was,
Lamar Legend (05:09):
Kathy Hsieh (05:09):
That kind of became my thing.
Lamar Legend (05:27):
Do you remember when and could you describe the first time you like engaged with theater outside of acting? Like, what was the first show you might’ve seen or what made you go like, Hey, that’s something I want to do.
Kathy Hsieh (05:44):
Yeah, actually I’ll share a little when I first thought like, wow, I actually love doing, doing this. Was in freshman year at Nathan Hill high school. I was actually in the first freshman class that Nathan Hill ever had our language arts teacher insisted that everyone in the class had to audition for the school play. And it was a Neil Simon comedy. I’d never read a play before. I didn’t know anything about plays. Cause that sketch was one thing, but this was like a real play. And he just basically said, oh, here’s just like a little scene. And all you have to do is just read it in front of everyone. And I loved reading. So, so, and he made everyone audition. And so went in read it, auditioned and I got to be the first freshmen at Nathan Hale high school to actually get cast in a production.
Kathy Hsieh (06:42):
And it was, it was amazing because all the rest of the cast are mostly seniors and juniors. And they were also helpful in teaching me like things like downstage and upstage and like how to project. And so everyone was so supportive that it kind of broke the stereotype of seniors, like just penalizing freshmen. And I love the collaborative spirit of doing the thing. So I got to do theater and read my first script through that process, but I had never seen a show before. My parents again were immigrants, so we didn’t go see plays. We did go see a lot of films, mostly Chinese films growing up, but not plays. And so then, then my next in high school, my, my language arts teacher, Mr. Ketterer, he cast me in the next show, which was a Midsummer night’s dream.
Kathy Hsieh (07:32):
So that was my first taste of Shakespeare. And then and then I continued to do high school plays and it wasn’t until I was near the end of my sophomore year where I thought, you know, I really love this, but our school only did like one or two shows a year and I wanted to do it more. And I, so I started doing some research and found out that there was a children’s theater and they actually were doing a summer program where you were actually, it wasn’t a summer break. It was a spring program. So spring quarter and where you could audition and if you got cast, you could actually be a part of a class that would produce the show. So I took two buses and it took me like two and a half hours to get to the Seattle Children’s Theater.
Kathy Hsieh (08:21):
That was back when it was back at the zoo. And and I auditioned for the show and got cast and what they, it was a fabulous experience. And what they allowed was that if you’re a part of the show, they said, you can get free tickets to see our main stage show. And I was like, oh, I’ve never seen a show before. Sure. And so I saw the tick, the show that they were doing at the time was called The Snow Crane ‘s wife. I think if that was what it was called, and it was a Chinese folk tale an Asian folk tale. And so the whole cast were people who look like me. Wow. And it blew my mind because I a, I was seeing a show for the first time and having it be a show where everyone looked like me, I was blown away.
Kathy Hsieh (09:14):
I just didn’t even know that that was possible. And so, so I just remember thinking like, I, you mean this could be something that’s not just for a class or not just as part of school. And just a learning thing to do for fun, that it could actually be something that I could actually possibly do as a career. And then I was fortunate because our school did get free tickets to the Seattle rep offered free tickets to a production that they were doing on their main stage of The Taming of the Shrew. So I got to see my first Shakespeare and again was just so blown away. And then after that, the, the rep actually had a partnership with our school where we got to see a lot of their shows for free for the, you know, my junior and senior years. And so it was just really mind blowing to realize like, they’re actually people who did this as a living.
Lamar Legend (10:10):
That’s fantastic. That’s just fantastic. Wow. I mean, it’s rare when someone can point to an experience where they see themselves at a very young age represented on stage as a person of color for, I mean, an, an array like in a heat, in a cast, like a where everyone looks like,
Kathy Hsieh (10:33):
And I didn’t realize how rare that was, that first time I saw it, I started seeing this was back then to throughout the rep has gotten much better, obviously since then, until I saw all the other shows that the rep was offering his tickets to Another Part of the Forest. And and like I said, Taming of the Shrew and all the actors there were all white. And so I never got to see myself until I actually auditioned for another show,udirected by Dr. Tanya Pettiford Wates. Uuand it was a production of Flower Drum Song. And I auditioned specifically for that because it wasn’t, that was my first professional audition outside of the children’s theater. Uand that was when were they needed a whole cast of Asian American’s and I could actually stand a chance
Lamar Legend (11:37):
While we are on this topic then. Cause I don’t think this gets enough airplay, but let’s talk about Flower Drum Song, if you will. Will you tell us your thoughts on it? Because it is a controversial piece period, and I believe that every Asian Asian-American artist from an immigrant background has an opinion on that very play musical. Do you, and if so, what is it?
Kathy Hsieh (12:10):
Yeah, so I mean, realized that I was just 17, I think when I auditioned for Flower Drum Song and it was because, like I said, they, the casting call, this was Civic Light Opera, the CA and the theater was performing right across the street from my high school. And, and it was directed by a black woman and I thought this is a production where they are looking specifically for Asian-Americans. So I auditioned and got cast and was in this cast full of all BiPOC people, majority Asian American, they did flesh it out with some other performers of color. And and so, because I think the cast and the director were all people of color. I think I had a very different experience with it than most people might, but I knew after that first rehearsal, so we, we did a first read through and there were three Asian American actors after that first readthrough where they dropped out, they were Asian American men and they dropped out and, and, and so that’s when I understood like, oh, this is there’s controversy over this.
Kathy Hsieh (13:14):
And it was because, you know, it was, if the musical itself was developed, even with the best of intentions, I mean, it was done because Rogers and Hammerstein really wanted to reflect a greater diversity. I mean, they were really groundbreaking in a lot of the work that they did as white men in a time period in the fifties of really trying to diversify what musical theater was in America at that time. But while they were being ground making, they, they were white men who only had a lens from their perspective. And so the original source material was actually written by a Chinese American person. So if you go to the original source material, there’s a lot that really resonates in the Asian-American Chinese American community specifically. And I know like a lot of my, like my husband’s grandparents, it was their favorite musical because they felt like a, they got to see themselves reflected and it dealt with generations of people that look like them. And the original source material was from a Chinese American perspective.
Kathy Hsieh (14:35):
As a, as a 17 year old doing my first professional show. I was still in high school at the time and getting to work with an entire cast of Asian American people. And I only recently realized how transformational was to do that production with Dr. Tanya Pettiford Wates as the director, because I realized that one of the things she taught me and this really led to how my career in theater has evolved is she really taught me and all of us in the cast to use our voice because she, as a black woman, she felt like, you know, as a black woman, she could definitely center the production in a way to make sure that it was centering our BiPOC experience, but she admitted she wasn’t Chinese American. So she needed and trusted all of us in the cast and all the artists working on it to let her know, to create awareness for any of the biases she might have about us as Asian Americans.
Lamar Legend (15:34):
What was your experience like when you went to undergrad and when you went to college and you were thrust into, well, basically that supremacists culture of, of, of art making.
Kathy Hsieh (15:46):
Yeah, it was interesting because the very first, well, I will say like the, the, the show that I did, the children’s theater even though the director was a white male Bruce K Seavey, who I adore he went on to Denver center and a lot of other theaters around town before he went to Denver. And Chad Henry, his partner was the musical director for the show at the children’s theater. It was the Runaways by Elizabeth Swados. And in that production, I think they, they were also just also because they were doing it as teaching artists, but I think because they were you know, they’re gay and because they really did the production really centering it in a way that was really about those of us who don’t quite fit in the runaway system about young teens who run away from home because you don’t feel like you fit into the world that you’ve been brought into.
Kathy Hsieh (16:42):
And so it was really centered with that philosophy. And then, then at the UW, my first few directors were all female directors. And so I’d had this whole slew of working with directors who were identified in different identities that were considered, you know, whether it’s gender, sexual orientation or race, where people who are often not in the the top of the hierarchy in our societal structure here in this country. So the first time that I actually got to be directed by a white male CIS gendered director male director, it was the first time where, wow, this is very different. And he was also a director that was brought up in his training where the actors are basically living props. So he was one where, and it was, I got to play Ariel in The Tempest, and it was at the University of Washington.
Kathy Hsieh (17:45):
And he was one of those directors where he literally choreographed every single movement. We did the intonation of how we said that, like every little thing. So literally, I remember at one point I was so frustrated because I’d never had a director like that before. I was so frustrated that that I, I, I actually went to him and said, I feel like I could be anybody. Like you could have cast anybody in this role, because I, I don’t feel like we’re having a dialogue in terms of what, what is my input in the creation of this role? And I don’t think he quite understood, but I, I remember being very emotional when I went to him to share that, you know, and I ended up, you were taught to listen to the director and follow direction, but I, I did have to like go to him and, and share that perspective with him, because I just felt so frustrated. And like, I really wasn’t an artist in that space. So that was my first time working with a white male director, since there’s been a lot of fabulous white male directors that I’ve worked with who are straight cisgender male directors. But, but that first experience was really eye-opening for me in terms of the contrast.
Lamar Legend (19:05):
Yeah. So in, I mean, you’ve described how in your early beginnings, as a, as a theater maker, and as a, as an artist, you were fostered in this culture of, of equitability and equanimity and being vocal and being an advocate for yourself as an actor, which was so rare even to this day would you attribute that you’re, you’re in that situation with that director in The Tempest being able to have the gumption to go up to your director and to speak about your working relationship would you attribute that to how you were raised and fostered within the community?
Kathy Hsieh (19:52):
Yeah, that’s a good question. Like I said, it was only really recently in this last year and a half that I realized how much I learned just from being in the room with Dr. Tanya Pettiford Wates as my first a professional director. And, and I do feel that because of the way that she set the room and the space for us to have a voice. And then I had a lot of great experiences with you know, a number of female directors between her. And, and the one that I have that was more problematic that I knew that there was like, if my first director had been the one that I had in The Tempest, I would have grown up thinking like, oh, that’s the way things are. So I was very fortunate and I had other experiences first to contrast with the one that was problematic.
Kathy Hsieh (20:46):
And so part of it was just because I had these other examples of ways that were much more human centered and collaborative, and allowed us to have a voice in the rehearsal space and for us all, to bring our creative, artistic sensibilities into the room. And then of course the director will shape all of that into a vision that encompasses all of that. But because I’d had those wonderful experiences first, I was able to know that this, this one situation where I was in was, did not feel right. And, and it gave me the courage to be able to know that this was not necessarily the way things had to be.
Lamar Legend (21:41):
So you told us that your first interaction with Shakespeare, correct me if I’m wrong was as Titania, the queen of the fairies and the Midsummer night’s dream
Kathy Hsieh (21:51):
For that production, I was Peaseblossom,
Lamar Legend (21:55):
Ah, one of her fairies, one of her train. And then you later got to see at the rep your first production, Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew. Yes. So you told me that you have a secret about Shakespeare will you let us know or let us in, yes.
Kathy Hsieh (22:20):
So this is a secret, I am kept to myself for years and years and years, because it was afraid to tell anyone then I’m going to reveal it now because it’s you, Lamar.
Lamar Legend (22:34):
I feel so privileged. I’m all ears.
Kathy Hsieh (22:38):
It’s what I call my Shakespeare curse, but I think it’s very Shakespearian in some ways as well. So, so, you know, I had done, you know, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in high school and then Tempest as Ariel in college. And then I and I loved reading Shakespeare. I should mention that in middle school. I think this is true for a lot of people. I know Sarah mentioned it as well. Like in middle school, the first I did read, we did read Romeo and Juliet. I think that’s required for seventh graders in Seattle Public or this area. And so read Romeo and Juliet, and I remembered loving it to so much. And I remember at that young age, like I didn’t I felt I understood the Shakespearian language fully. And then, and then later on, I read Julius Caesar and so read a lot of Shakespeare on my own because I was an avid reader.
Kathy Hsieh (23:33):
And when I read all of these scripts, I felt like I completely understood what he was saying. Like, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as people feeling intimidated by his language and the iambic pentameter and all of that stuff until later. And so then after college, I actually auditioned I’d loved auditioning for any show. And so I actually got cast in a number of, of different Shakespeare pieces. And, but it never actually got to perform though. So this is weird. So, so, so I got cast in Alice B theater, which was Seattle’s gay and lesbian theater. They finally decided to do their first Shakespeare and they decided to do Hamlet and Victor Pappas was the director, and I’d always wanted to work with him. And he cast it. We had our first read through, I was playing the player queen, but I was so like, wow, I got like to be in the show.
Kathy Hsieh (24:39):
And and then what happened was Alice B Theater closed through some I won’t go into the details here, but through some unfortunate circumstances, they ended up closing. And so we only got to do that first read through rehearsal and meet the whole cast and then never got to do the full production. And then I got cast as right after that I got cast as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra and brown beg productions. Kathleen Mary was the artistic director and we got cast and I was like, oh my gosh, I am so blown away at getting a lead role and, and, and started working on the script and was just like, wow. And what a powerhouse role which was, which was against the type that most people may have cast me in previously in roles.
Kathy Hsieh (25:45):
And so I was so looking forward to playing it, but then Kathleen’s mom needed care. And Kathleen’s mom lived in Colorado. So Kathleen had to postpone the show. She was still fully planning on producing the show. She just needed to go take care of her mom for a bit, but then it ended up being it kept on being extended and extended. And finally she realized she just needed to move back to Colorado fully and take care of her mom. So she not only had to cancel the production after waiting literally like a year and a half, I think it was. And then and then basically closing down brown-bag productions. So so yeah, so we never got to do that show. So here now two for two, I had gotten cast in these really great Shakespeare productions and they were the last productions we’re slated for these two theater companies that have been folded before they actually were able to do the productions.
Kathy Hsieh (26:51):
So then they got cast in a, in a show as a Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet for steppingstone productions, they were doing it where the Capulets were Asian and the Montague’s were Russian. And wow. And I actually like the cast was phenomenal. I know many people in the cast are people that I’ve continued to work with and be friends with and done other projects with since then some women was favorite. People were part of that production. That one, at least we got to do the production. Like we actually got to do the production. And it was, it was, I loved doing the role so much. Like it was one of my most favorite roles I’ve ever done. And, and because I think there’s a, a sexiness and a fierceness and so many layers to Lady Capulet that that I got to show in that production. But unfortunately what happened right after that production closed there were some, again, personal circumstances that happened with the founder and the, the leads of that production, where they ended up deciding that they were going to close the company. Oh, wow. So that, even though we did get to finally do the show and I got to fulfill the role it was the last production that stepping stone productions did before they folded. Right.
Lamar Legend (28:32):
Ah, that was like, oh my
Kathy Hsieh (28:34):
Gosh, here’s three Shakespearian productions. I got cast in. And all three theater companies folded that production.
Lamar Legend (28:44):
So are you, are you suggesting that whenever you do a Shakespeare play, you close down, not just the house or the theater, but the entire company.
Kathy Hsieh (28:58):
So I was like, oh my gosh, is this a curse that is following me? And I, and you know, I love theater. I love theater so much. So shortly after, like those three productions, I actually got hired by Seattle Shakespeare as their bookkeeper, because I was looking for, I was a full-time actor for seven years where I, all I did was acting. But in between, you know, we all have slow times and feast or famine times. And so I was looking for some part-time work that I could fit in between shows or I could do while I was still did shows. So I actually got a Seattle Shakespeare Company was looking for a part-time bookkeeper. And originally it was just 10 hours a week. And I thought, oh, I could do that. Because I also have this whole other life of I’m really good with numbers and accounting and taxes and all that stuff.
Kathy Hsieh (29:50):
So I applied got the job and I thought, you know, so Amy Thone would often call me in like, Hey, do you want audition for the show you audition for the show? And I actually kept turning down Amy Thone to audition. I would always make up some excuse of why I wouldn’t audition. And I didn’t want to audition for Seattle Shakes because I was working for sales tricks as the bookkeeper. I was so worried that if I did a show for Seattle Shakes, the thing, if this curse kept going, but it could be the thing that shut down the company.
Lamar Legend (30:36):
Something I’d like to know about. I guess it, speaking of curses let’s talk, I mean, and the cosmos and, and, you know, strange phenomenon, pretty natural stuff. I’d like to hear your thoughts on psychic phenomena, because I know that’s something that you’re curious about and interested in.
Kathy Hsieh (30:55):
Yes. And I hear you have some experiences with that as well. So I’d love to hear some of yours. So something that people that I’ve been realizing throughout my life, there’s been different points. I am what I call like I don’t even know what to call it. Like I, I’m not a psychic, I will just definitely make, I’m not a psychic, but I’ve had different and enough experiences in my life where I think I, I have the psychic moments. The most concrete example I have is one time I was on a vacation with my husband and we were out looking at the stars. And we were out in the Caribbean and it was beautiful night looking at the stars and all of a sudden the name of a friend of mine popped into my head.
Kathy Hsieh (31:49):
And, and, and in my head, the question also popped in that I have to ask Dustin if he is still a Virgin and like, is that a came out of completely nowhere? So, so a few months later I happened to be visiting New York. My friend is in New York. And I often stay with him when I go visit New York. He’s like my little brother. And so he opens the door. I knock on the door he lives in Queens, he opens the door. And the first thing I asked him, literally, when he opened the door, we hadn’t seen each other in a year. Literally when he opened the door, I go, Dustin, are you still a Virgin? I’m just in this looking. It’s like why? And I told him the experience I had and he goes, what date was that? And they told him the date and that exact, not only the exact date, but the exact time period, that, that question and his name popped into my head was when indeed he was losing his virginity.
Kathy Hsieh (32:52):
And he said the really freaky thing was when that was happening. Like when he was right in the middle of the deed the phone rang and it turned out the phone, someone left a message and he got listened to the voicemail later. It was his mom who called him because she was worried that something was wrong because she woke up in the middle of the night feeling like she had to call him. So his mom and I had a psychic moment where we’re he popped into it. I was like, boy, that must’ve been some first time for him to have reached me in the Caribbean and your mom in Seattle when you were in New York.
Lamar Legend (33:32):
So shifting gears in, not entirely, but we’re going to use the word vision, cause it sounds like you have visions as a segue. This is a vision of another kind, it, you spoke about to me recently that you had a new, a recent vision for racial equity and your work in it.
Kathy Hsieh (33:57):
Yeah. I mean, this is something where, so a lot of my focus in my day job is, is really looking at how can grant making become more racially equitable. And and obviously none of us can, it can transform anything by ourselves. So it really takes our whole collective of people working together to make things happen. And an FYI, the only reason why I actually ended up like literally working office where my role is doing grantmaking as a funder was because when I, when I started off as an actor realizing like, oh, well, you know, actors were only able to get opportunities if a director will hire us. So then that’s when I started directing. And then as a director, I realized, oh, well, I only have a chance to actually hire actors if, if I actually get hired by a theater company.
Kathy Hsieh (34:57):
And so that’s when, you know, I started a theater company with a group of women. And then, but we realized as an Asian-American center theater company of a group of women, oh, well, it, we really need like scripts that actually center our stories. And there aren’t enough Asian American female playwrights that are given opportunities. So there, there’s not as many scripts out there because why choose a profession that you’re never going to get work in? So we had to develop ways to like actually create more scripts. So that’s when I really started to write more scripts myself and become a playwright. But then as a playwright, you realize like, oh, again, your opportunities are limited by theater companies, not having enough resources to do more new work development. And so that, that’s when I started like thinking, oh, well, who gives out money to theaters and then kind of found myself in, in this grant making position.
Kathy Hsieh (35:57):
So my whole trajectory and my career has literally been trying to find who has the most agency, and then as a funder realizing like, oh, well actually how we should be doing our roles is really learning from the people who are that we want to fund, like what would make things more accessible and inclusive for them. So it is kind of like a full circle coming back to really the way that I look at grantmaking is really centering it back on the artists. So a lot of the work that, that we do in our office is really finding out from artists, especially those who are the furthest away from access and resources and justice, what would make the work or how would we be able to center them and the work that they want to do. And, and that that’s where the funding should be centered and then grow from there.
Kathy Hsieh (36:47):
So so that’s kind of like one trajectory of it. But recently I was really thinking about over this last year, over this last year you know, we’ve been seeing a lot of the, we see a white America documents that have come out where it really started with black theater artists who finally, because of the racialized awakening that our country was having. I mean, all of this has been the history of our country. The racialization of our country is, is the history of our country. But I think there are a lot of people who were not aware of how deeply embedded racism is in our country until more recently. And, and so in theater a lot of theater has really been steeped in this corporate model structure of how to do things in corporate models are really steeped in government models and government models have really steeped in who the United States is.
Kathy Hsieh (37:48):
Quote unquote founding fathers were, who happened to be mostly white men. And again, they were doing it with the best of intentions, but they were doing it in a way of just what they knew. And and so in terms of how we move forward, really looking at how do we work together and really the way we work together is the more diverse your team is to make sure that you are centering voices that maybe might not have necessarily been in the room before using the Hamilton song, you know, be in the room where it happens. It’s really important for us to all be in the room together,
Lamar Legend (38:35):
Excite your curiosity and in a spirit of infusing the world with more joy, I present to you some magic questions. If you could master one skill that you don’t already have, what would it be?
Kathy Hsieh (38:53):
You know, this is something where I I’ve actually dabbled in so many different things. So I I’ve always loved being a generalist in so many different things, but I will tell you, and the reason why I do that is because my mindset my whole life is I, I always, I won’t say lite, I always try to do the things that scared me the most, that that has been kind of like if there was a core way that I’ve led my life. And that’s actually how I got into acting is like the thing that scares me the most public speaking, doing anything from people riding roller coasters, like bungee jumping, like all of that stuff I’ve done because they terrified me. And, and I felt like if I could do the thing that scared me most, then, then there’ll be less things that I’ll be scared about.
Kathy Hsieh (39:49):
And so for me, the scariest thing that yet that I have not tried is I have scuba diving, like deep ocean water, everything, cause I’ve always had fears of drowning. And that the interesting thing with this is my dad, because he was actually a bronze medalist swimmer in Hong Kong growing up, he started training me to swim when I was very, very young and, and, and I was a fabulous swimmer, but then two years into my training and he was training me to be in the junior Olympics. So if, if these dreams had not come up oh, I have a very Shakespeare and thought, okay, I’ll get to that in a second. I told you I talk in heralds. But w but when two years into my training, as a swimmer for the junior Olympics, I started having these nightmares where I’d literally wake up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking that I was drowning, like feeling like I was drowning.
Kathy Hsieh (40:50):
And it was so visceral that I actually told my father, I, one day, I just, I told him I’m not going to train anymore. I don’t even want to go near the swimming pool. And I stopped. I’m sharing this with you. I’ve never shared this with anyone before. Look at what you’re getting out of me. I became terrified of going anywhere near the water because of those dreams of, of, of drowning. Like people tease me to this day about like, we’ll go to the beach. And I will always like, like pop my thing way back and we’d all like sit and watch everybody else, but I won’t go near the water. So that is my biggest fear that I have yet to overcome. And so would be to like do scuba diving or to go underwater in that way,
Lamar Legend (41:37):
I want that for you. I want you to be able to master that without death. Thank you for sharing that. All right, here is another one. So you get speaking of magical invitations, you get an invitation to an actual fairy ball and you attend this ball and you’re having a great time. You’re dancing with the fairies. It’s absolutely fantastical. You the king and queen of the fairies are in attendance Titania and Oberon you win the favor of, of Titania, the queen of the fairies and have such a great time with her. And she’s taken with you that she grants you one wish. Now, fairy wishes in fairy folklore, for those who know, always come with a price. So the re the wish she grants you is that you get to be queen of the fairies for one year, but you lose a year of your own life in return, or you can be queen of the fairies for one month, but a family member loses a month of their life, or you can be queen of the fairies for one week, but then a stranger loses a week off of their life.
Lamar Legend (43:02):
And finally, or the, you can be queen of the fairies for one day, but you have to serve the fairy queen for a day of her choosing at random at any point in time in your lifespan.
Kathy Hsieh (43:21):
Oh, wow. Multilayered question. I actually know what my answer is right off the bat, which is I would choose the first option, which is to lose one year of my life in exchange for being a queen of the fairies for a year. Oh. And the reason for that, I’ve actually, I’ve actually thought about this a lot. I’m really not morbid. I just, I just do a lot of self-reflection all the time about a lot of stuff. Oh, that’s great. Which is, you know, I it’s actually very there’s a lot of synergies synchronicity in that question, because I was actually just thinking about this, this, this long weekend, over labor day weekend, about what is the purpose of life about you know, longevity? Like, would I feel satisfied with my life if, if I was to die tomorrow? Or if my life was shortened in order to be able to do some things I really want to do, and that might be risky.
Kathy Hsieh (44:26):
Like I actually thought about all of this. And I realized like, what is the point of living longer if you can’t like really live life and try things that you’ve always wanted to try or do things that you never thought you could do. And, and it became really clear to me that, you know, I actually told my husband this. I said, I think, you know, there’s, there’s things that I want to do, but I actually think in order to do this, I might be cutting short my life to do it. And so I told him like, my, my family’s longevity in terms of my mom’s side is in their nineties. My family’s longevity on my dad’s side is only in their seventies. So I’ve always had a picture in my head that I would probably live to somewhere in my eighties and they told my husband, so there’s some things I really want to do. And but, but I’m just telling you right now that by doing them, I might end up shortening my life and, you know, I waited and I’m actually okay with that because I’d rather live to the fullest and do everything that I want to, even if it meant knowing that I would have a shorter life, because what is the, what is the point of living longer if you’re always playing it safe
Lamar Legend (45:41):
Quality of life? Absolutely. What a beautiful outlook, Kathy. That brings us to our final question, which is when you die, because we all will, if people forget everything about you, what’s the one thing you want them to remember.
Kathy Hsieh (45:58):
So I did think about this too. I’ve really thought about like, there’s a lot of things like, oh, you know, that like the whole bio thing and stuff like that. Yeah. That’s, that’s one thing, but if I really was, was really truthful, like the moments that have brought me the greatest, like where I can truly say, like I was so happy. But okay. I’m going to give a, both answer here of personally, the moments that brought me the most happiness is when I’ve been with and sometimes it’s been with very close friends and sometimes it’s been with complete strangers where we will just, just talk about a million different things that, that could be about nothing and can be about everything at the same time. Like there’s a lot of conversations I have where you’re really truly, my whole focus of life is not just about racial equity, but it’s just about what it means to be joyful or just telling each other jokes that are that are funny.
Kathy Hsieh (47:01):
And, and, and so like my favorite memory right now is like, like, and there’s been many moments of this where just with a group of friends where we will literally just spend the whole night just laughing and talking and just riffing off of each other. And just realizing like, you know, I, I feel so alive in this moment that that I have found some I’m going to get emotional now that I found human beings that I just like, like it just purely in the moment while we just appreciate and are so joyful to be in each other’s presence and nothing else really, really matters. And that if I die knowing that there are other people who might think like that, that memory meant as much to them as it did to me, that that would make me, that I would love to be just remembered by individual people in that way, that one time or multiple times I have been in a place with Kathy where we just are goofy and silly and, and playing board games or laughing and joking, and just sharing time and space with each other.
Kathy Hsieh (48:19):
We just had the pleasure of each other’s company. That would be what I would love to be remembered by more than anything else by individual people. Now if I did have like a very aspirational goal, it would be that some of the things that I’ve been working on in terms of racial equity might actually make things better for people in a systemic structural way. That would be great. But, but, but yeah, so those are the both and things,
Lamar Legend (48:59):
Kathy, you are such a gem, it has been truly magical. Listening to your stories. Thank you so much for sharing your heart, your joie de vive, your your philosophies. You’re welcome, Kathy.
Lamar Legend (49:43):
Thank you for listening to Under This Light, A Revelation of Shakespeare and Self, the series is a project of Seattle Shakespeare Company. If you enjoyed this discussion and would like to learn more about Seattle Shakespeare, company’s productions and programs, please visit seattleshakespeare.org. We’d love to hear from you. Seattle Shakespeare is located on lands, taken from the Duwamish Stillaguamish Muckleshoot Suquamish and all coast Salish people. We pay respect to them as this region’s original storytellers. The music you hear in this episode is provided and composed by Stefon Dorsey artwork for our series was created by Marla Bonner, I’m host and producer Lamar Legend. And we’ll be back in two weeks with another episode. So subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts, give us your hands. If we be friends and Lamar shall restore amends.