Nine Questions for Diana Oh
Late Monday night I sent Diana Oh some questions: Nine questions for Diana Oh. We will get into the specifics of that number later. I’ve witnessed Diana as a performer, writer, director, and general badass! What I knew for sure is that if I was gonna interview Diana, I would have to come with it! I went up to her and said, “I got some questions for you!” She gave me her standard “bring it on” look and said with a smirk, “Alright Zhailon, alright.”
Zhailon Levingston (Rail): 1. Your show starts with you as a teenager. What would your fifteen year old self think about the work you are doing now?
Diana Oh: It actually starts with sixteen! It’s so funny, when I think of fifteen year old me—she’s soooooo different from sixteen year old me. Fifteen year old me was not ready. Sixteen year old me was not ready either, but she gave a little less fucks than fifteen year old. Fifteen year old self would say, “Wowwwww. Cool lighting.” Sixteen year old me would say, “yesssssssss girl liiiiiiiiiiiive. Look at all that living you did. All that fun, pain, sadness, tears, awfulness, yesssssss liiiiiiiiiiiive because art is gonna save your life and you’re gonna have so much fun and pain ahead so go girl, blow that heart open girl, goooooooooooo.”
Rail: 2. This show is so autobiographical. What is the hardest thing about sharing this story with the world?
Rail: 3. What is the most exhilarating part about sharing your story?
Oh: Music. Dancing. SWEAT. Adrenaline. The most exhilarating part is that I can feel my heart blow open each time. And I get to look so many people in the eye. And at the end of the day (and I mean this with the most love possible), we’re all just shitty humans in a shitty room seeking larger-than-life experiences, and living life is all about expanding whatever you thought was possible. And I feel like we get there together with this particular experience we are making together.
Rail: 4. Can you speak about your collaboration with your co-director Orion Stephanie Johnstone and how has the work deepened because of it?
Oh: Everyone should work with a sex coach on an art piece at least once in their lives. Orion is a sex and relationship life coach, liberator, co-conspirator, activist, highly collaborative, SUPERQUEERO. They [Orion] hold us accountable. I trust them with all the sides of me that certain rooms have made me feel ashamed of. I think sexual liberation is deeply tied to social justice, and I know Orion feels the same way. And I know Orion is deeply committed to telling the truth. I want the concert and to always tell the truth and to never lie. I don’t want to be lied to anymore, I want to be told the truth—I’m at that point in terms of the art I seek out. Within the context of the concert, anytime I get stuck writing-wise, if something isn’t working, I can take a breath and ask, “Okay but what’s the truth here?” and this is a mode of thinking that Orion completely understands. We are less interested in straight narratives and more interested in what the honesty of the present moment is and what the emotional truth is even if it means we are jumping around narratively.
Orion also celebrates full embodiment of your full self—they’ve deepened the work so much because of who they naturally are and how they want people to FEEL in the room. We both didn’t want a traditional way of working and making theater. We wanted to break the patriarchal structures that trickle into the choke that a capitalist society has on theater—the choke that I think makes people lie. We aren’t really interested in compartmentalizing human from artist or feelings from work. Therefore the culture of the room means everything to us—if the culture of the room isn’t right, then the work won’t be either. We believe in empathy and kindness. This is not to say there is zero conflict, because sometimes there is, in which case Orion teaches us to turn towards it rather than shy away. Because ultimately love, healing, or parting ways lays on the other side of it. And when I say we believe in kindness and empathy, this is not to say that anger is not involved in what we’re creating. So much art is created from a place of anger, and I wouldn’t have made if I wasn’t angry, and also I wouldn’t have made if I didn’t believe in love. A deep love for humanness and raw messy vulnerability is what drives Orion and I both in the room.
Orion is a true social justice warrior, through and through—they are real, they really do the work of social justice. This concert needs that eye. seeks to transform, it seeks connection, it seeks vulnerability—these are all qualities Orion inhabits deeply as a human being. They also taught me the magic of “and also”—instead of saying “but,” I say “and also.”
Rail: 5. What do you want cisgendered white males to take away from your show?
Oh: If a cisgendered white male comes to the show and finds themselves asking this question, I’d tell them to ask someone else in the audience at the end, connect with someone in the audience and full-on ask them, “What do you want me to take away from this show?” If they’re still feeling confused, then...well...then...they need to read some books... if they’re still confused... I hope the audience member they talk to recommends some books for them to read. Though I trust the spell we are casting with the concert, and they will feel what they will feel, and what they are feeling will be exactly what they need to feel. I believe in what we are doing very much.
Rail: 6. Do you have a spiritual practice?
Oh: Damn, Zhailon, this shit is DEEP. I like to dance and sweat and do heart meditations, sometimes I’ll exercise, sometimes I’ll do Yoga. I LOVE TALKING TO MYSELF—my favorite times in life are when I’m home alone and I can TALK TO MYSELF. Today I thanked my food that was on my plate. I looked at it, and I said thank you to the fisherperson (the person who fished for my fish, whatever gender they may be). Sex is a part of my spiritual practice. Sex is very spiritual—I’m reclaiming it as a spiritual practice. This heteronormative, patriarchal, capitalist society took sex as a spiritual practice away from me, but I took it back.
Rail: 7. If “how” we make is as important as “what” we make, how should we be thinking about the creative process?
Oh: What kind of world do you want to live in? Think of that, and then make that your creative process. AND MAKE SURE YOUR COLLABORATORS REPRESENT THAT. What do you want your art to do to people? Think of that, and then make that your creative process. Here’s what I don’t believe in: BEING AN ASSHOLE. I won’t make art with an asshole or for an asshole. Assholes ruin creative processes, and it’s asshole behavior that scares people into lying—and then there we go being lied to by all this art being made, and then we are so effed by it all. And I’ve been an audience member in those rooms where the creative process was a nightmare and I can feel it in the room, and I’m at a point in my life where I’m done supporting abuse.
Rail: 8. What do you hope the legacy of your show to be?
Oh: ZHAILON, WTF, THESE QUESTIONS ARE TOO DEEP FOR ME ON A MONDAY NIGHT.
I’ll make a bullet point list. I love lists.
•Love. Love. Love. LOVE. LOVE.
•Our sex education sucks and we need to fix it.
•We need to be exposed to different gender identities much earlier
on in life, like when we’re born.
•The Bible was written 3,000 years ago, and then life happened.
•Sexuality is connected to our Humanity.
•Introversion may be related to Oppression.
•At the end of the day we’re just shitty humans in a shitty room and
connection with one another is what saves the day.
•Connection before Correction.
•Boobies are not worth killing anyone over.
•MUSIC IS THE BESSSSSSSSTTTTTTTTTT.
•Stop making Asian artists do stupid shit.
•Stop making women do stupid shit.
•Celebrate ALL genders—and I mean ALL genders.
•DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.
•Until rape is completely eradicated, we aren’t done.
•Until gender based violence doesn’t exist, we aren’t done.
•Until race based violence doesn’t exist, we aren’t done.
•The world could always ALWAYS use more love.
•You are GD beautiful, get out of your own way.
•Art is necessary.
•Hot Pink is an awesome color.
•Messy rooms are beautiful rooms.
•Comedic Timing is a powerful weapon.
•Accidents and Mistakes. We Love Them.
Rail: 9. Can you explain the significance of the number nine for you as it relates to your show?
Oh: This is the ninth installation of a ten-installations series. It is installation #9/10. The concert is #9 and the final installation before we go into #10, the final final installation.
There are nine exclamation points in the title because it’s the 9th installation.
Nine exclamation points because we are taking up as much space as we want.
Nine exclamation points because Queer the World!
Nine exclamation points unapologetic!
Installation #9/10, The Final Installation: The Concert and Call to Arms!!!!!!!!!, runs September 27–October 28 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place, Manhattan). Text, music, and lyrics by Diana Oh. Co-directed by Diana Oh and Orion Stephanie Johnstone. For further information, visit http://www.mylingerieplay.com/ or http://www.rattlestick.org/.
IN DIALOGUE was created by Emily DeVoti in October 2001 as a monthly forum for playwrights to engage with other playwrights in print. Since then, over 160 playwrights have been featured. If you are a playwright and would like to write a column, please contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ZHAILON LEVINGSTON is a multi disciplinary artist and theater maker. He writes and produces work that is at the intersection of art and social change. Zhailon is the artistic director of Words on White, an art and activism campaign designed to use the arts as a way of helping organizations talk about social justice.