A packed house of passionate theatregoers, donors and guests, friends and family, and the invited press enjoyed Saturday night’s Opening performance of our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park. A collaboration between the Fountain Theatre and East West Players, the audience reflected a lively engagement from the communities of both companies.
Following the performance, guests enjoyed a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe. The delicious Korean cuisine was served by Kimbap Paradise, with Korean beer provided by Lotte Beverage America.
It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.
With a cast that is made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.
Carolina Xique:First, let me say that I’m thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles.
Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? Is it personal to your own experience or indicative of the holistic Korean American experience? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?
Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play. I was primarily a performer at the time (Jen and I both went to UCSD for acting). There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.
Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers. She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into. Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.
What kind of research did both of you dive into when writing Hannah?
JP: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.
A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?
JP: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.
Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?
JC: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is Korean American. There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable. It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking and sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea. I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration. I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience. Having worked on Vietgone by Qui Nguyen has really helped. These plays are vastly different but they both have scenes that shift at a cinematic pace in widely varying tones that need to be woven together in the same play.
East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?
JP: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago…in the time since I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was. And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee (the Shapeshifter) that Howard Ho (Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.
JC: It’s an honor to be able to helm a project with the support of two highly respected institutions in Los Angeles. I think it’s really smart theatre making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color. A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.
What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?
Our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo is an opportunity for the Fountain Theatre and East West Players to bring their community of artists, staff, Board members and patrons together for the first time. That commonality of purpose was on display last night with the large turnout from both organizations at the meet & greet/first rehearsal.
Held at the East West warehouse rehearsal space in South Los Angeles, the evening began with a brief mixer including food and drinks. Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the group with some opening remarks. Through the magic of technology, playwright Jiehae Park joined the gathering via FaceTime to provide her thoughts and encouragement. Director Jennifer Chang then shared her production vision with the room, noting that the play moves at the speed of thought. Designers Rebecca Bonebrake, Howard Ho, Ruoxuan Li, and Michael Allen Angel offered their insights. Professional illusionist Dominik Krzanowski will design special magic elements for the production.
After a quick break, the cast read the script aloud for the first time. And the real magic began.
In the play, Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a neurologist when she gets a strange package in the mail from her grandmother in South Korea, who may or may not have just ended her own life. A surreal, funny and heartbreaking adventure leads Hannah on a journey back to her homeland and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea. A startling comedy about a daughter, a mother, a grandmother and the mystery that connects them.
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomes guests.
Friends and supporters of the Fountain Theatre and East West Players gathered Sunday at the lovely Hollywood home of Diana Buckhantz to celebrate the upcoming California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park. There is much to celebrate. The production marks the first time the Fountain and EWP have collaborated and both companies share excitement about this meaningful opportunity.
“For almost 30 years, The Fountain has opened its doors to diversity and inclusion,” Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs stated in his welcoming remarks. “We welcome East West Players into our home. From day one, our collaboration has been open and generous. As the nation’s premiere Asian American Theatre, EWP brings its artistry and authenticity to the production, as we share resources, audiences and communities with each other.”
EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai echoed Sachs’ enthusiasm for the partnership. Desai shared EWP’s history with the play and director Jennifer Chang. EWP hosted a reading of Hannah in 2013 directed by Chang, winner of the 2019 LADCC award for excellence in direction for the LA premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone at EWP. Desai kept his eye on Hannah and planned to include it in a earlier season. After Sachs saw the world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland in 2017, he secured the rights to the play and reached out to EWP in partnership. Everything fell into place.
In the play, Hannah receives a FedEx box with two things: a 100% bona-fide-heart’s-desire-level wish and a suicide note. Hannah tracks the package back to Seoul, where her grandmother recently jumped from the roof of her retirement home onto the wrong side of the Demilitarized Zone. Hannah and her family need North Korea’s permission to retrieve the body, but Kim Jong Il just kicked the bucket, and things in the DMZ are even stranger then they seem. The play is a whimsical, surreal and poignant tale about a grandmother, mother and daughter striving to reconcile the cultural contradictions of their lives.
At Sunday’s gathering, guests enjoyed some Korean delicacies catered by Don Tahara of First Street Cuisine. A brief scene from the play was presented in the living room read by cast members. Then Fountain Director of Development Barbara Goodhill explained to the group how they could support the production.
Guests included James Bennett, Jason Blackwell, Diana Buckhantz, Rose Chan, Jennifer Chang, Wendy Chang, Charles Chatelain, Hahn Cho, Chris Christensen, Snehal Desai, Kiyomi Emi, Lois Fishman, Barbara Goodhill, Elaine Kao, Serena Kim, Jully Lee, Gavin Lee, Simon Levy, Dick Motika, Sally Pai Unruh, Pia Palomo, Youn Park, Dora Quach, Stephen Sachs, Allison Thomas, Steve Warheit, Jerrie Whitfield, Dorothy Wolpert, Kim Wonjung. Melina Young.
STORYLINE: Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a board-certified neurologist when she receives a strange package from her grandmother, who may—or may not—have just ended her life in a most flamboyant fashion. The mystery leads Hannah and her family on a surreal, funny, heartbreaking adventure back to their roots in South and North Korea and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. This startling new comedy twists together creation myths and family histories to explore what it means to walk the edge between.
Producers: The Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players Playwright: Jiehae Park Director: Jennifer Chang
HANNAH – 28 to 36 years old, East Asian female. about to become a board-certified pediatric neurologist. Control freak.
FATHER – 45 to 55 years old, East Asian male. professor. Keeps It Together for the Family. Emotionally clueless. Must speak Korean.
MOTHER – 48 to 56 years old, East Asian female. In a deep depression that she is hiding from her family, Gardening fanatic and HGTV addict that her family isn’t necessarily aware of. Comedic and playful sensibility a must.
TRICKSTER – 30 to 60 years old, East Asian female. Plays the following characters: Voice/Grandma/Mrs. Lee/Old Man In Coat/Official/Nurse/Mr. Kwon/Kim Jong II/Grandmother Tiger trickster-lost-soul-friend-voice-of-god. May or may not have been here since the beginning of the world. Possible memory loss. Must speak Korean.
DANG – 20 to 26 years old, East Asian male. Recent graduate and professional slacker. Has-a-band-sort-of. Good kid. Guitar playing a plus.
GIRL – 19 to 26 years old, female. Activist in search of a cause. Used-to-have-a-band-sort-of. Blunt. Comedic sensibility a must. Musical Instrument a plus.