“Where are you from?”


For the past six months, Juliana Hu Pegues has been working over time. Besides taking on the second semester of her PhD program in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, she has also brought together two years of work, recruiting brilliant talent and marrying her academic and artistic passions to produce her play, “Q and A.” The play opens next week, at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, and will run through June 8th.

Directed by David Mura, Q and A is a new play that observes Asian American identity through two incarnations of the question-and-answer motif: speed dating and prison interrogations. Three characters, who remain nameless throughout but for identifying numbers, are confronted with questions of racial and sexual identity ranging from the absurd to the severe. Ultimately, when indicted by an unspecified governing regime, they must confront difficult truths about themselves and their allegiances.

What: Q&A by Juliana Hu Pegues, directed by David Mura.
Who: Presented by Mu Performing Arts, featuring Katie Leo, Thien-Bao Phi, and Laurine Price.
When: May 22 – June 8 (previews May 20 and 21, no performance June 5), Thurs – Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 2 pm. Pay-what-you-can Mon, June 8 at 8 pm.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre (1501 S Fourth St, Minneapolis)
Tickets: $18 adult, $16 student/senior, $14 groups 10+, $10 previews. 612-338-6131 or www.mixedblood.com.

One of the most exciting successes of her new play, Juliana says, is that “there are so many amazingly talented people that have become involved. Seeing the people that have been pulled into this project, I feel so lucky.” Laureen Price is one of the actors, even though Pegues says she usually works on larger projects. Katie Leo is a writer in her own right who has collaborated with Pegues in the past. Juliana is also thrilled to have David Mura directing the play, and to be collaborating with actor and spoken word artist Thien-Bao Pi.

Harry Waters, Jr, currently a professor at Macalester College, also has joined the team, assisting with the development of the script and with the directing. He is a highly regarded African American actor, and is known for his role as Marvin Berry in “Back to the Future” as well as for his role in the original Broadway production of “Angels In America.”

Juliana’s play was developed through the New Performance Program, funded by the Jerome Foundation. Theater Mu was impressed with Q and A when Pegues presented it at readings and workshops, and Mu chose the Taiwan born play write to produce the piece for its main stage season. “[We] selected Q&A because of its intriguing look at personal identity in two polar opposite situations,” says Mu Artistic Director Rick Shiomi. “It’s both funny and scary, and she takes her ideas to fascinating extremes.”

The New Performance Program aims at bringing out new and local theater and performance art by Asian Americans. Mu, as well, is interested in funding “new work,” said Ms. Pegues – not just bigger, well known artists and shows from the coast. They are aiming at developing new work locally, new works that are challenging the boundaries of what Asian American Theatre is.

Pegues sees Asian American theater as having passed through a “first wave.” “These new works, they are not just explaining who we are, not just educational. The first wave of Asian American theater, it is all about ‘answering the question.’” It has been about the Asian American community explaining itself to outsiders, she says, trying to tell people who Asian Americans are. Juliana’s play, however, takes that questioning faced by Asian Americans, that “interrogation,” and turns it on its head.

“In many ways, we are constantly interrogated because of our position as ‘outsiders,’ the perpetual other or foreigner,” says Pegues. The questioning that reinforces that “outsider” identity often starts with “where are you from.” Juliana’s personal experience with this question works to inform her work, she says. “My play is turning that question on its head, asking ‘why do you keep asking that?’”

“Racism hasn’t gone anywhere,” says Pegues, talking about why it is important to address these issues of race and identity in her play. America is preoccupied with race, and Asian American artists have been stuck constantly answering questions that are not productive, she says. Even forth and fifth generation Asian Americans are made to feel like outsiders because they constantly have to face the question “where are you from,” “People don’t accept the first or second answer, when one might answer Minnesota or Minneapolis.

Part of moving beyond these questions, Juliana says, is focusing on the answers, and her play aims to make those answers interesting. The way that the characters respond to their “interrogation” tells about who they are and the culture of which they are a part. One of the characters, “187,” takes on a gangster rapper persona, she says, to deal with the questions. “We all know people who take on persona” to answer questions about out identity, she says. Some people have a hard time relating socially, so they have to do it intellectually.

One of the best parts about the past two years as her project has come into being, Juliana says, is having gone through the artistic process. Although she has always been an artist and an activist, having people ask questions and present new ideas at every step of the process helped her to think a lot about her art and what it means, why it interests her and why the format is suitable, she says.

This project reflects Juliana Pegues hopes to do in the future, bringing together academics, performing arts and her passion for social activism. She might like to work in education, she says, and focus on creative projects in the summer.

Although she has published several of her creative works in the past, Ms. Pegues was recently published for the first time in the academic journal. The journal Melus, or Multi Ethnic Literature of the United States, published her essay “Miss Cylon.” It is a play on words from one of her favorite television shows, Battlestar Gallactica, and addresses issues of empire, imperialism, and adoption. It is part of Melus’s special edition, “Alien-Asian,” in which Asian American writers use science fiction to explore the concept of being outsiders in their own country.