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Gathering is a Revolutionary Act

Playwrights’ Corner
A folded flier sits on a wood surface. In bright pink block letters it reads "Revolutionary Acts. 6th National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival." A nametag reading "Christopher Reyes, The Lark" sits on top, partly obscuring photo of dancers

I stared outside my bedroom window willing it to rain as The Carpenters serenaded me with “Rainy Days and Mondays” from my open laptop, nestled on top of my desk along with a few stray pens and pencils and scattered scraps of paper.  For a second, the sky split open, a flash of lighting, and a tiny, singular droplet of water hit the glass in front of me and slowly trailed down until it disappeared. And then, a crackle of thunder as if the sky was laughing - mocking me. Not more than twelve hours ago, I had received a notification from an airline (you can probably guess which one) cancelling my flight to Chicago that morning due to the weather. It was the first day of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists’ (CAATA) ConFest, and I was missing it.  

I laid on my bed and sighed, trying to ease the anxiety seeping out of my body. I pulled up CAATA’s site on my phone and read through the conference schedule for the hundredth time that week. At the top of the webpage, I was greeted by the words “REVOLUTIONARY ACTS,” this year’s theme, in big, bold letters. I turned that phrase in my head along with a million different questions. What constitutes a revolutionary act? What does it mean to be an activist? How can my art be revolutionary? Can I be an artist and an activist at the same time? The more I thought about these questions, the more excited I got about going to the conference and getting some answers.

In my eagerness, and perhaps naivete, I was ready to make some profound conclusions by the time I attended my first session. In my mind, I had already decided I would be leaving the conference with the answers to fighting inequity in theater, and I wasn’t leaving without them. As if it were that simple. I quickly learned that wasn’t going to be the case. The first panel I attended was centered around the Director-Playwright relationship. I sat as other people asked the same questions that were already on the tip of my tongue, questions like: how do you navigate working with a white director or a predominantly white institution (PWI) so that your work isn’t compromised? How do you uplift other Asian-American artists? By the end, most of the questions thrown in the room were left unanswered, but surprisingly I didn’t mind, because there was something comforting about hearing the same questions you’ve been asking yourself from people who belong in the same community as you. Although I left the panel satisfied, I couldn't help this feeling of unsettledness in the pit of my stomach. It was almost like that feeling you get when you put something down, but then pick something else up, but I couldn’t figure out what that something else was.

That afternoon, I attended a session that had intrigued me before I even came to the conference. The title read: “Listening As A Revolutionary.” In that panel, I had to listen, actively listen, to the other attendees in a story circle, and it was through this simple act of listening that everything clicked for me. I had spent that entire morning anxious about meeting people, as I had missed the first day when everyone was more likely to come up and introduce themselves. I had resigned myself to spending the rest of the conference alone and yet here I was, sharing details from my personal life and relating to other people who, at the time, were complete strangers. After that, I spent the rest of the conference listening, really listening, to the panels, to the readings, but more importantly, to my fellow attendees, my fellow artists.

The following days sped by in a blur of swallowing the lump in my throat whenever I felt compelled to share my thoughts, and fighting through the tears pooling around my eyes as I watched the festival readings and performances. It’s a weird feeling to hear the same thoughts that have been rattling around in your head expressed out loud by someone else. I don’t have the words to describe the feeling you get when you see stories like yours on stage and see people who look like you participating and sharing in the same thing you love. It feels light and heavy at the same time. It’s bright but still dark, because to feel like you’ve finally been seen is to also admit that you have been erased in the first place.

I still thought about the idea of a “revolutionary act,” but it stopped being at the forefront of my thoughts until a large group of us went to see a late night screening of Crazy Rich Asians in its opening weekend. After the credits finished rolling, I looked around me and noticed that everyone was still glued to their seats, staring at the large screen in front of us. Aside from a few tears and sniffles, we were all collectively sitting there in a moment of stillness- a hush. And there, outside the bubble of the conference, an answer came to me.

Gathering is a revolutionary act. In a time where so many groups of people feel marginalized and like unwelcomed outcasts in this country, the act of gathering together and forming a community is revolutionary. To exist and assert yourself in a place that has erased you or minimized your presence time and time again is nothing short of revolutionary. A revolution isn’t just about big acts of defiance. Knowing that I have a community and a network of people who know how it is to live life as an Asian person in America, not only locally, but nationally, is enough to empower me to keep fighting- to keep exerting my voice, to keep pushing my narrative, and to keep reminding people that I am here.