By Evan Welsh
Writers of color often find themselves placed in corners, expected to tell stories covering certain topics and themes. In “Unleashed,” a staged reading festival featuring seven new plays written by playwrights of color, Pork Filled Productions (PFP) is looking to diversify the stage and the narratives by people of color (POC) told in the theater community.
Theater companies often look for very specific types of scripts from playwrights of color. “They’re usually scripts that focus on identity and oppression,” PFP founder Roger Tang said. While the PFP festival doesn’t completely shy away from the topics of oppression in communities of color, the majority of the plays in “Unleashed” are focused on telling a wider range of stories.
Tang said that many production companies have singular slots in their season for scripts by people of color. “If that slot falls in February [Black History Month], you do an August Wilson play,” Tang said, referring to a joke that goes around in the theater community. PFP has always been looking to tell stories beyond that standard. PFP was founded in 1998 as an Asian-American sketch comedy troupe. The group eventually grew from that into putting on full-length plays.
Some of the plays featured in “Unleashed” include: “My Samurai” by Celeste Mari Williams, the story of a couple being pestered by their ghost-samurai ancestor; “Dawn of the She-Devil of the China Seas” by Roger Tang, a retelling of the true origin story of China’s first pirate queen; and “Repossessed” by Greg Lam, a tale about a marriage being recalled by the company that manufactures such unions.
“Unleashed” features voices from Chinese Americans, Chinese Canadians, Korean Americans and African Americans. These diverse stories also come from a wide range of places, from Seattle to Boston to Vancouver. Tang voiced some discomfort in the now seemingly all-too-common occurrence of whitewashing in narratives about POC.
“It’s giving the opportunity to Asian-Americans in roles they don’t usually get to do — not often that Asian American actors are the heroes,” Tang said. He hopes to push this idea further in “Unleashed” by placing POC of all kinds as the heroes of their own narratives.
“We want to be able to bring these to full production,” Tang said. PFP is hoping that the scripts in this festival draw some interest from artistic directors from in the area. Getting these plays to full production would do a lot to broaden the reach of these creations by POC and would hopefully continue to try and bring more normalcy to more diverse narratives written and performed by POC. PFP is hoping to continue “Unleashed” type festivals in the future, possibly running something similar intermittently with full productions.
“We managed to get all the playwrights to town,” Tang said, so if you’d like to meet them or ask them questions about their work they’ll be available after the performances. “Unleashed” begins Oct. 30 and runs until Nov. 4. All of the performances will be held at the Theatre Off Jackson in Seattle. You can visit theatreoffjackson.org for more information regarding the specific schedule for “Unleashed.”