Kyoung Update: Lessons Learned in 2020


There are no words to describe 2020. I find myself aghast, sitting in front of my computer, barely managing to cope with the chronic tightness in my stomach that has been ailing me since the summer of 2019.

America was not in a good place before this year’s global pandemic. By last year, Trump’s fascist abuse of power had not only left me unsettled, but deeply concerned about the misogyny, homophobia, and racist violence becoming permissible by his example. Add to that Chile’s 2019-2020 protests – “el estadillo social” – which led to days of fire in my home country, raising questions about the future of neo-liberal capitalism and the sustainability of our current global, economic world order as class inequality pulls us further apart.

When the news of COVID-19 emerged in New York City, my brother was the first to tell me to take it seriously. He had been tracking the virus since its outbreak in South Korea, warning me that it was imperative that my husband and I prepare to quarantine. Stories from Wuhan, Italy, and Spain terrified me. I found myself panic shopping for dried food and provisions, fully immersed in a growing, silent fear as basic things like toilet paper disappeared from the shelves in our local supermarket.

My grandparents and parents are survivors of the Korean War. I grew up in Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile. Autocratic rule and the survival of the fittest were ingrained in the way I live. I was taught to expect nothing but the worst. This utterly hopeless outlook is intergenerational, political trauma; but my family’s lived experiences have taught me to prepare not only for emergencies, but social and civic collapse.

My greatest fear is the loss of work, income, and the ability to have a home and food. COVID-19 triggers my fear deeply as I witness the lack of social security in this country affecting the housing and food security of so many.

New York’s theater shutdown on March 12th was devastating. I saw the immediate end to not only my own personal plans, but also the plans of my employers, my peers, and community. The ongoing, devastating, economic impact is relentless. Friends have been displaced. Food insecurity rises. While some businesses have been able to adapt to these new social conditions, theaters have been closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Our company partnered with the Indie Theater Fund to respond to this crisis. On March 13th, we announced the opening of a mutual aid fund to support independent theater artists and venues in New York City that operate in budgetary levels too low to be considered for institutional or public funding. We received hundreds of applications; in a few weeks, the data let us know how individual members of the community were unable to pay rent, groceries, phone, and credit card bills. As people lost not only their artistic, but survival jobs in the commercial, retail, education, or service industry, the economic need manifest in our community became dire. By April, we awarded over $88,000 in microgrants to our community and the Indie Theater Fund’s leadership and Board raised over $300,000 to support 500+ individual artists, small companies, and indie venues by the end of this initiative.

I’ve been doing trauma-healing work for over eighteen months. A combative end to a bad business relationship led me to be diagnosed with complex-PTSD last summer. By the time COVID-19 hit, not only was I fully aware of the way trauma impacted my daily life, I also knew that COVID-19 was going to make me face the collective, societal trauma that is caused by this public health crisis in a magnitude that could only be compared to the days I lived in New York after 9/11.

With Cara Page, a founder of the healing justice movement, we held two virtual forums to address “Community Care Strategies” and “Building Community Care Platforms.” For these conversations, we centered the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, inviting LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter organizers to talk with our theater community about how COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting people of color, mainly Black communities historically neglected and betrayed by the health care system; Latinx and immigrant workers exposed to the coronavirus in their essential jobs or becoming targets of deportation from tightening borders; and Asian-Americans experiencing hate crimes after Trump called COVID-19 the “kung flu” and “China virus” as he made China a scapegoat for his mishandling of the pandemic.

Grief circles began to form in my community to process the trauma and loss of human lives, human dignity, and common sense. The wearing of a mask became politicized. And then, on May 25th, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was arrested and killed by Minneapolis police officers.

Pinned beneath three police officers, George Floyd’s death sparked a national uprising across the country. The awakening to anti-Black violence, systemic racism and police brutality led thousands to break quarantine. Progressive discourse led by the Black Lives Matter movement demanded justice for the unnecessary death of Black civilians and the defunding of the police to address the systemic inequities that normalize targeted, state-sanctioned violence against Black people in America.

Systemic disruption requires systemic change. Starting early June, I was asked to facilitate conversations for the New York Community Trust’s Mosaic Network and Fund, addressing Police Brutality and other forms of systemic oppression. I invited community members leading anti-violence work in New York City to help us shape larger virtual gatherings for over 280 NYC-based arts organizations of color and NYC-based arts funders. Using a unique, social change model designed in collaboration with Rasu Jilani, our overall goals for this year’s gatherings were to dismantle systems of oppression, inclusive but not limited to the dismantling of police brutality, by jointly advancing arts and culture organizations of color and transforming arts philanthropy. Below is a Mural capturing individual responses to the end of our first virtual gathering, “Addressing the Urgency of Now,” which brought together over 160 NYC-based African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American arts and culture organizations working in multiple fields and 60 NYC-based, private and public arts funders together.

The primary lesson I’ve learned in this time of quarantine is to build systems of care rooted in community. Since April, I’ve been leading community check-ins with the numerous collaborative artists (Mondragons) involved in our company and brought on board two remarkable, queer men of color to support our organization. Joe Tolbert, who previously spoke at “How Artists and Presenters do Anti-Oppression Work” at APAP 2020, joined our organization as our Community Engagement Strategist and Ishmael Thaahir has been our Arts Management Fellow, evolving from his previous work as Assistant to the Director for our tour of PILLOWTALK.

Building a community of care became the foundation through which we established a new community of practice that is rooted in this new reality. While remaining socially distant, our company found ways to continue creating theatrical work through the “mis-use” of digital technologies and by creating set, costume, and hand props distributed through the postal service.

Following iterative gatherings and online experimentations, we officially kick-started the development of Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s next work-in-progress, NERO, this September. For this project, we are honored to receive financial support from the Dramatist Guild Fund, MAP Fund, and Venturous Theater Fund to collaborate with fifteen incredibly gifted artists, who are working with us safely from home.

Click Image Above for our music video for NERO’s “Suck My Violin.” Lyrics and music video direction by Kyoung H. Park. Performed by Dave Gelles, Claudia Acosta, David Anzuelo, Veracity Butcher, Daniel K. Isaac, Sade Namei, Ryan Opalanietet, Kaila Saunders, Imrah Sheikh, and Ishmael Thaahir. Original Music by Helen Yee. Set and Video design by Marie Yokoyama. Sound design by Lawrence Schober. Costume design by Andrew Jordan. Dramaturgy by Jess Applebaum. Assistant Direction by Ishmael Thaahir. Vocal Coaching by Rachel Kodweis

Kyoung’s Pacific Beat will continue its work of dismantling white supremacist culture. As a culture change-oriented organization, our community-organizing, art-making, advocacy and education is the way we make an impact. As theater artists, our primary practice is to work with other humans, and at this time of quarantine and social distancing, we are learning how to use the technologies available to us to continue to work. Now, more than ever, dismantling white supremacy – its origin, history, and impact – is necessary to catalyze the public conversations we need to transform our world.

2020 was a learning year. We were challenged to find a way to create a rehearsal room and a theater from the spaces we found to squat in the virtual world. Following the production of a music video with one of our songs written for NERO, we began the development of a “streamplay” version of the play via Zoom. We had two, closed workshops of the first and second act of NERO in the fall of 2020, and we used these opportunities to experiment with the live engagement of an invited audience through the same platform.

In 2021, we will continue our NERO workshops and establish ways to include more of our community. Our goal with the development and production of NERO is to activate our community-at-large in public conversations on how we can dismantle white supremacy culture together. These inquiries are already informing the work we are doing in the rehearsal room, as we work with our collaborators to not only devise the story of NERO, but also share the stories of where we come from as people of color living in America. This September, we launched this initiative with our first community-based conversation: “Whiteness on Fire: A Cultural Reconstruction.

My New Year’s resolution is to continue to do our work, by dismantling white supremacy culture as both an artist and cultural organizer, keeping in mind how community care practices can help us address the economic, psychological, and social impact of the global pandemic and the violence perpetuated against communities of color through systemic racism. These commitments lay the groundwork for the continued evolution of our theater company and have been my lessons learned in 2020.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude for the support we’ve received from our company’s new Board of Directors, organizational team, and of course—the actors, designers, composers, and community members that help us do our work. Our theater company, like any other theater company, models the ways we aspire to come together as civic participants of our democracy. It is with this framework that I am humbled to celebrate what we can accomplish if we do the work together.


Kyoung Park

Kyoung’s Pacific Beat (KPB) is a peacemaking theater collective dedicated to working with artists, non-artists, and local communities to transform experiences of oppression into peace messages through public performance. KPB collaborates with interdisciplinary and multicultural ensembles of artists —our Mondragons— to uplift communities of color to create a culture of peace through non-violent practices that provide social cohesion, spiritual healing, and radical knowledge.
KPB is grateful for the support we have received this year from artEquity Artist + Activist Community Relief Fund, ART/NY Relief Fund for NYC Small Theatres, Dime Community Bank Fund for NYC Theatres, Distracted Globe Foundation, Dramatist Guild Fund, Howard Gilman Foundation, Indie Theater Fund, MAP Fund, Mosaic Fund and Network in the New York Community Trust, NALAC Actos de Confianza, NYC Low-Income Artist + Freelancer Relief Fund, NYSCA-ART/NY Creative Opportunity Fund, Opportunity Agenda Creative Change COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Stipends, Venturous Theater Fund of the Tides Foundation and all of our individual donors.

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