For the past two months, Julia Gay ’16 has been meeting with her director to rehearse a one-woman show called “motherlanded.” The show is part of Julia’s capstone in American Studies, but more importantly, it’s an exploration of Julia’s identity as a Chinese adoptee. In her performance, she will delve into her experiences using movement, poetry and storytelling.
Julia started developing “motherlanded” this semester, but it’s been in progress her entire time at Mac. Four years ago in her first-year course, Theatre and Performance in the Twin Cities, she saw the one-woman show “How to Be a Korean Woman,” detailing experiences of a Korean adoptee. She says that this was what set the whole project in motion — encouraging her to explore her identity as a Chinese adoptee. The creator and actress in that show, Sun Mee Chomet, is now the director of Julia’s show (which is a beautiful way for the story to come full circle; her inspiration is now her mentor).
The rehearsal process has been challenging but rewarding. Julia came to Chomet with a rough draft of a script, and Chomet in turn pushed her to explore certain elements more deeply.
“I think [Sun Mee] as an adoptee … having had a very similar experience of writing a one-woman show about being an adoptee, she knows what parts of my story I’m skimming over, and what parts I could explore more deeply. So she’s really pushed me to do a variety of activities that bring more depth to my narrative,” Julia explains. “[Chomet explained that] the audience … really wants to connect with an authentic, conversational voice, so she said I should talk about certain experiences out loud and record myself talking, and from there I’ve found a lot. And it’s a lot more genuine and it’s a lot less planned, and I think in that way it might be easier for the audience to connect to that part. So that’s an awesome exercise that I would never have considered doing on my own.”
There’s also a movement component: Julia is a dancer, and incorporating dance and theatre together in an exploratory piece seems a natural step in becoming an artist for her.
Julia says her capstone is an unusual project — but the American Studies department and the Theatre and Dance department have been very supportive and open to the idea. The project, which will ultimately be composed of her one-woman show and an artistic statement, uses a conceptual framework based in Women of Color Feminisms and Critical Race Theory. But other women of color have been very important inspirations; she cites bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa, among others.
Ultimately, however, her greatest source for this piece has been her own experiences. Julia even conducted interviews with her adoptive mom.
“My mom’s been pretty supportive. I don’t think she knows exactly what to expect, but I think she supports me in pursuit of a career in the arts … at first, I think she was a little uncomfortable with me asking her these questions. I really hadn’t thought to sit down and ask her, ‘Hey, why did you decide to adopt me?’ or ‘What was it like meeting me for the first time?’ And I think it was surprising for her to hear those questions — but I recorded our conversations and it was really meaningful for me to hear that side of the experience, because I have always known what it’s like on my end, but to hear about her experience, what led her to adopt me, was meaningful, and new to me as well.” The topic clearly touches a chord with Julia: it’s easy to see the charismatic vulnerability of emotion that will be on display when she performs the final product in May.
The performance is sure to be poignant and meaningful, and a beautiful opportunity for a rare voice to be showcased. “motherlanded” premieres at Pangea World Theater as part of the Lake Street Arts! Emerging Artist Showcase on Friday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 7 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 8 at 2:30 p.m. Friday’s opening night will showcase a reception afterward, while the other performances will feature a talkback and discussion after each show. There is also a free preview performance at Macalester that will also feature a talkback. This event takes place on Wednesday, May 4 at 4:00 p.m. in the Black Box Stage (found on the lower level of the Theatre and Dance Building, Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center).