Performer Kristina Wong lives the dream, working on stages and campuses across the country. Or does she? The Los Angeles resident is most famous for portraying a depressed, suicidal actress in Wong Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, followed by another one-woman show about failed attempts at eco-friendly living, Going Green The Wong Way. Her latest work, Cat Lady, is an ensemble piece that is less political than her other shows but addresses the equally divisive topics of pick-up artistry and the show’s hair-covered and lonely namesakes. On the eve of the latter’s upcoming stint at the ODC Dance Theater in San Francisco (November 4-6), I decided to catch up with my distant cousin and Big Bad Chinese Mama.
MW: Last time we talked, you were in the process of booking your mental health-themed show at Virginia Tech. How did it go?
KW: Yes, I just came back from back-to-back shows of Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Virginia Tech and a medical conference at Stanford. My invitation at Virginia Tech was initiated by the Cook Counseling Center on campus, which was interested in increasing cultural understanding around mental health issues and Asian-American women. They had never produced a show before but managed to galvanize over dozen factions on campus to bring me. It was pretty incredible.
MW: And now you’re playing a homecoming gig in San Francisco. Is it harder for you to perform for friends and family?
KW: It’s always harder to perform for family because my parents go temporarily deaf when they hear an F-bomb or some “classless” discrepancy. So the feedback I get from them after a show is not all that helpful (i.e. “Did you have to show everyone your vagina?”). There’s a running joke between my parents and me that their hands hurt from gripping each other to death in fear of what I’ll say during my shows. Despite this, they still come out and bring my relatives and their friends.
The new show is definitely weirder than my previous work, which had more overtly political content. It also has some of my highest production values and is my first time writing a full-length work for an ensemble. I think audiences who have followed my past work will be delighted and surprised by what else I can do.
MW: So the new show is about cat ladies and pick-up artists?
KW: Cat Lady is an extremely personal show executed in a totally crazy way. It gestated while I was touring Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Those last five years were incredibly rewarding but also devastatingly lonely. I was working hard and alone, doing solo tours about depression and suicide. In between I’d come home to my pissed-off cat that would pee on my stuff. After doing the show so many times, I became the needy character version of myself that I played onstage.
Somehow, I got into watching pick-up artists and reading their tutorials. The subculture fascinates me. Like actors, they spend their days in workshops getting into their avatars (characters) and rehearsing routines before performing at night. They are basically doing guerrilla theater in bars. And like me, their real lives merge with the performance versions of themselves until their performed selves take over their lives.
MW: And do the pick-up techniques depicted in Cat Lady work in real life?
KW: In our rehearsal process, I hired a dating coach, DJ Fuji, to lead the cast through a typical pick-up artist boot-camp. The audience will get picked up during the show using these techniques, so we’ll see!
KW: I’m still a cat lady but I’m not as lonely. It helps that I have new shows and I’m only performing Wong Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in certain special situations like at Virginia Tech and Stanford.
MW: It probably seems like a past life for you, but you returned from a lengthy trip to Southeast Asia fairy recently. Was it hard to get back to work and start performing again?
KW: Yes. My sleep schedule was a mess for two weeks and all the work hit me like a freight train. But I’m a happier more relaxed person for having had that break.
MW: You returned to L.A. just in time for the premiere of your first movie, Wong Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. What was it like watching yourself on the big screen?
KW: Really, really uncomfortable. The screening was a few hours after I landed from Southeast Asia, so I was already exhausted and confused. And it’s hard for me to watch myself onscreen because if people aren’t laughing, I want to jump up from the audience and do the bits live. Eventually, I ducked into the lobby during and chewed my fingers off until it was time for the Q&A. But the screening was great. We pre-sold so many tickets the festival upgraded us to a 400-seat theater. And nobody bolted during the Q&A, so I must be doing something right.
MW: This is a tangent but it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry. Can you tell me some of the best things you ate back in Southeast Asia?
KW: The deep-fried crickets in Cambodia (which somehow are legit for me to eat as a pescatarian) were surprisingly tasty. I had to get over the grossness of how flies were circling over their dead insect cousins but I popped those babies down like CornNuts. Only a quarter for a bag of bugs! Here at home, I was just at the Korean grocery store and it now sells soy sausage. This is a total game-changer as I have no car and that’s the nearest grocery store.
Find more information on Kristina’s three-night stand at San Francisco’s ODC Dance Theater here!