We Made Something Beautiful.

I woke up today with Damien Rice in my head. His sound is eerie, delicate and bittersweet. And that’s exactly what I felt this morning — bittersweet.

Early November of last year, I auditioned for a little play called, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. The audition was strange. We were to recite our favorite children’s poem and then participate in a group improvisation exercise. I was intriqued and recited Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I thought Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss were too obvious. For the improvisation part, I recall pretending to cry and collecting my tears in a mug. In any case, I got a part, a main part, and yesterday was closing night, our last performance.

Today, the realization that it was all over had set in. Bittersweet.  That word is such an oxymoron. But alas, all good things have to end right? The transient part of it makes it all more special to me, makes me grateful for the people I met, the personal evolution I developed as an actor/person and the pride I felt in creating something magical. I was a part of something bigger than myself and it made me happy. Days weeks months lived well.

The play, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, is about three girls who are sisters, who are triplets. They’re related and so close in age but so so very different. They get abandoned in the woods at age 12 by a broken hearted father who was influenced by the evil step mother. The oldest, Albienne, is all about venturing out and moving forward, discovering the world and new places (This Girl Laughs). The middle child, Beatrix, wants to go in the other direction, back to search for Father as to why he could do such a thing (This Girl Cries). As for the youngest, Carmen, she stays in the woods (This Girl Does Nothing). The play follows the girls in their decision and their journeys that were set forth from that fateful day in the woods until the ripe old(er) age of 31.

Damn. I’M 31 RIGHT NOW. I AM 1 OF 3 DAUGHTERS. MY SISTERS AND I ARE RELATED BUT SO DIFFERENT. This play pulled at me in so many different ways and I felt I could play almost all the characters. I related to Albienne because she was the oldest. I’m the oldest in my family. She’s also about taking charge and being a leader. She’s an extrovert, meeting people and building communities. ALL ME. I related to Beatrix because of her attachment to the father. I have a wonderful relationship with my dad. He is the most interesting man in the world to me and I’ve walked the Sai Gon river with him.  I wanted to be the narrator of the story, because I’m a storyteller and a substitute teacher, and this play was written almost as a poem/children’s story in which I slay every day in the classroom. The only role I could not see myself in was Carmen. And guess which role I got. CARMEN.


Developing the Character

It was a struggle to figure out Carmen. She literally stays in one spot for YEARS, for the whole friggin play (the most I ever stayed in one spot was a month and that was a mandated isolation due to tuberculosis). I am not about that and despise people who are inactive and lazy. I saw Carmen as weird, not being curious of the world. I saw her as selfish because she didn’t want to help others anymore, she just wanted to help her own kids. That’s another thing, she gets married and has kids. She’s a mom. I’m soooooo far from that in my life right now.

I asked the directors, Bekkah and Lauren, why the eff did you choose me for Carmen? What did you see in me that resonated Carmen? Bekkah told me that I had a seriousness to me. Carmen has the most practical, blunt lines in the play. She usually has the last word in the scenes, the punctuated, emphatic end of a poem, because she’s wiser beyond her years, though she’s the youngest, she makes the most perceptive observations. She sees things the way they are and acknowledges them.

Is Bekkah saying I’m old? Alright alright so Carmen’s deep. But how do I show that? Bekkah gave me a note at the beginning, “Thi, your character does nothing, but you have to show different ways to do nothing.” MIND BLOWN. Bekkah kept posing challenging questions that really helped me get to know Carmen. Because how else could I? Carmen doesn’t respond when I talk to her. All I have are her words in the script, and that’s limiting. Bekkah asked, “What have you learned? What would 31-year old pregnant mom Carmen tell her 10 year old self?”

It took me 4 months to develop Carmen and I’m proud of what I came up with. But I really couldn’t have done it without the directors. Bekkah’s direction and notes made me more aware of things I could discover for Carmen, from her mannerisms to her internal expression of emotions. Lauren, the assistant director really gave me the encouragement that I was heading in the right direction in developing the character.

Al Pacino was asked once and I’m paraphrasing, “Which out of all the characters you’ve played, is most liked you?” And he answered, “Well, all of them. They’re my face, they’re my voice. It’s just some characters highlight different facets of me more than others.” Objectively speaking, Carmen is the least like me in personality, but what I’m most proud of is that I found myself in her emotions throughout the play. I felt everything she felt, because they were my feelings and I bared it all on stage. I grew as an actor because I was able to do that. I grew as a person because I found relation to someone that was so unlike me.


The Team

The play was produced by this 2 year old theatre company called Flat Tire Theatre Company. I had reservations coming into a group of people that all knew each other from college. Also, the average age among them was 25. What do they know? A WHOLE LOT. I was astounded at their skill set, their organization, their creativity, their work ethic, their kindness and their humility. Shae the stage manager, knew every cue, every set piece movement/change, she knew our meaning even when we were speaking gibberish. Martin, the publicity guy went all out to share about the show to the point that we had 5/6 sold out shows! The design team, Sam and Michael, and their resourcefulness and creativity managed to create a magical, imaginative world and tone with limited resources from dyed cloths, lights, free music and shadows.


photos courtesy Flat Tire Theatre Company, cast and crew


Something Magical

I have a lot of trouble with self promoting or even talking myself up. I think it’s due to years of Catholic guilt (I’m flawed and forever a sinner), first generation guilt (can’t validate your parents struggle as a broke ass actor), and Eastern values (it’s not about you, it’s about how you can serve the group). When I was a younger actor, I struggled with telling people about the shows or things that I had done or were a part of. There was a sense of shame that my acting wasn’t good, why would I want to burden people with that. I had social anxiety that it wouldn’t entertain people and they wasted their time seeing me. I was a coward, I couldn’t bear for people to see my art and judge it. So, I didn’t tell people. And when things I had worked on got unnoticed, shows I was in where no one I knew was in the audience, I felt sad.

I need that validation. I’ve always known that. But now in my 30s, I finally accept that part of me. But it’s not even about validation. It’s about being seen, being heard, being understood. Even if it’s with someone I don’t know. There’s an experience that was shared, a memory created and perhaps remembered forever.

No one in this production got paid. Cast and crew committed a lot of time and work and effort into this. Into something that closed yesterday. Something that is now gone.

After our first run through, day before opening night, Bekkah said something that really hit me that I was a part of something magical. She said, “We made something.” It’s not easy to make something. In a world of instant gratification and fatalistic destruction, it’s easy to consume, to destroy and to forget. What we made may have been temporary, but the fact that we made it, not for money, not for fame, but simply just to share it, has bred endless possible connections. Connection between performers and audience, connection among strangers through shared emotion and experience or time and space. Connection between colleagues, friends, and/or families. Those connections can be lasting. Those connections can be forever and even transcendent.

To me, those connections are something beautiful.



Nobody can save you but

yourself – and you’re worth

saving. It’s a war not easily

won but if anything is worth

winning – this is it.  

— Charles Bukowski

The world is strange and tough. A lot of things don’t make any sense to me — like Taco Tuesdays on a Monday. I’m making it up as I go along and sometimes I compare myself to others as a measure of my own progress.

But comparing myself to others hurts me in so many ways. And I found myself doing that at Burning Man.

Burning Man is larger than life. Large in scale. Beyond “large”. I am constantly in awe at people’s ingenuity, creativity and generosity — to the point that I feel not worthy to be in the presence of such greatness — to the point that I compare myself and realize I could never amount to even a fraction of such greatness.

Although this thought comes up for me, it’s fleeting because a lot of what makes Burning Man Burning Man is community. 

This was my second year. My first year was so overwhelming.  I am an anxious and impatient person so my first year was full of anti fomoing — must see this, must be here, must be up up up and go go go, to the point that I was completely burnt out and over it by my last day. I was so tired I couldn’t/wouldn’t enjoy Burning Man any longer.

So why come back? I’m a few years older and a bit calmer in nature (a bit but not by much) and I didn’t feel the pressure of having to partake in everything Burning Man had to offer anymore. Burning Man is so large and full that it is impossible to experience everything and this year coming into the burn, I had made my peace with that. And with that pressure lifted from my shoulders, it made me more receptive to meaningful and surprising connections with others and it opened me to discover that Burning Man wasn’t just a one time buffet of extravagant experiences, but could be felt and lived on the daily.

I’m an extrovert and I feel energized when connecting with a lot of people. I usually connect with people through conversations and getting to know a person interpersonally, sharing and swapping stories. But with Burning Man and keeping with their 10 principles, I practiced Gifting. I brought my flute to Burning Man and busted it out. When someone approached me, or I was introduced to someone new, instead of asking the usual ‘What’s your name, what do you do?’ I told people to give me three adjectives that described themselves and from what they said, I improvised a little tune on my flute for them.

With something that came easy and readily for me now (albeit after years of training in music), after my little ditty, I saw genuine awe in people’s eyes. Some asked me what my process was (if your word was ‘open’ = C major — most commonly used in pop songs, ‘grounded’ = low G major — down to earth kind of feel, ‘sexy’ = flute trill with a little hip action ;)) and after explaining it, people complimented me on how I spoke and thought about music in terms of their personality, and it made me feel valued and part of the community of Burning Man.

I connected with people through music, something beyond words. I was just jamming on my flute for a camp and a violinist arrived and asked to jam with me. Burning Man is about saying yes, so I said, absolutely! We exchanged more music notes than words and when we played together, unrehearsed and organically, it was beautiful. Her name was Empress and her violin was white. I had no idea where she was from or even her real name, but we connected when our notes and rhythm just felt right together. That connection transcended and I could feel the people who were listening enjoyed our improvised songs and they in turn was part of the experience, part of the connection, part of the community.

She’s wild, uncombed, unpredictable.

She’s a whirlwind. A mess. Lost.

Insecurities manifest into a monster that is she. 

But what makes her wild, makes her beautiful. 

She is missed and her community calls to her to come back. 

And she calms, she listens, she is saved. 

photos courtesy of Niamh and PK