Stage & Studio: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

In her newest podcast, Dmae Lo Roberts talks with the Pulitzer-nominated Wong about making masks, the Auntie Sewing Squad, and the solo show Wong is bringing to Portland.

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Kristina Wong in “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” at La Jolla Playhouse. Photo: Jenna Selby, courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.

Actor, writer, activist, and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated tour de force artist, Kristina Wong created a solo show born out of the pandemic. When her tour was cancelled, Wong found herself at home with her sewing machine and decided to start making masks to help people keep safe. What started out as an individual sewing project turned into a call to action with more than 800 volunteers comprised mostly of women who became  “The Auntie Sewing Squad.”

Wong says this complex endeavor felt like the “most patriotic thing I could ever imagine doing.” She and her community of Aunties worked hard to provide masks free to underserved populations, including Indigenous communities, farmworkers, asylum seekers, houseless individuals, incarcerated people, and Black Lives Matter protesters.  Soon hospitals and “actual salaried government workers” began calling her for orders (“as if we ere Amazon”) for masks, which “hit her in a sore spot” because people were not getting that they were risking their lives providing masks.

She says some people weren’t realizing that “because they we are mostly women and women and color that our labor and time were valuable as well and needed to be respected.” That incredible mission to provide masks bloomed a book of writings by the volunteers and a solo show, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, that won a Broadway run and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

Her show is coming to Portland as a co-production of Portland Center Stage and Boom Arts opening November 5 to previews and Nov. 11 to performances through December 18. Dmae Lo Roberts talked with her about her show, her pandemic experiences as an Asian American woman, and her community of Aunties. Also included are excerpts from “Sweatshop Overlord.

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Hear past shows on Stage & Studio website. Music by Clark Salisbury.
Kristina Wong in “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” at La Jolla Playhouse. Photo: Jenna Selby, courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.

ABOUT THE PLAY

Three days into the pandemic shutdown, performance artist Kristina Wong — driven to help make a difference in the world — began sewing masks out of bedsheets and bra straps on her Hello Kitty sewing machine. Before she knew it, she had recruited hundreds of volunteers to join her as the “Auntie Sewing Squad.”  This satiric tour-de-force looks at the early days of global change and offers a guide for community-building and an inspiring path back into a healing world.

TICKET AND PERFORMANCE INFORMATION

  • Shows are November 5 – December 18, 2022
  • Preview Performances: November 5, 6, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Pay What You Will Performances: Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday, Dec 1, at 7:30 p.m.
  • The People’s Party: BIPOC Affinity Night: Friday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m.
  • All shows  are in the Ellyn Bye Studio at The Armory, 128 NW Eleventh Ave, Portland.
  • Ticket prices range from $25 to $66.50 and may be purchased at pcs.org/kristina-wong-sweatshop-overlord. Or call 503-445-3700, or in-person from the box office.
  • Ticket Specials: Visit pcs.org/deals to view ticket specials, including Rush Tickets, Pay What You Will, Arts for All, Active Duty, Military Veteran, Student, Under 30, The Armory Card, Groups of 10+, and more.
  • Recommended for ages 13 and up. Contains adult situations and language, and drug use.

Wong in “Kristina Wong: Sweatshop Overlord.” Photo: Tom Fowler.

PLAYWRIGHT KRISTINA WONG

Kristina Wong is a performance artist, actor, comedian, writer, and elected representative living in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Wong’s works have been presented across North America, the UK, Hong Kong, and Africa. She’s been a guest on late-night shows on Comedy Central, NBC, and FX.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

As a published writer, Wong has been included in Routledge’s Contemporary Plays by Women of Color. She’s had artist residencies at MacDowell, Hermitage, Montalvo, and Ojai Playwrights Festival. Wong’s work has been awarded with grants from Creative Capital, The MAP Fund, Center for Cultural Innovation, National Performance Network, a COLA Master Artist Fellowship from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, nine Los Angeles Artist-in-Residence awards, Center Theatre Group’s Sherwood Award, and the Art Matters Foundation.

She is developing a new work during her three-year artist-in-residence at ASU Gammage. Her projects include “Wong Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Going Green The Wong Way,” “The Wong Street Journal,” and “Kristina Wong for Public Office.” Other career highlights include the Visionary Award from East West Players, “Local Hero Of The Year” nominee from KCET/ PBS, Asian Pacific Honoree from Fuse TV, and “Best Of Arts” from LA Weekly.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on StagenStudio.com, which continues at ArtsWatch.

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