Dixon Place, Ping Chong and Company, and Free Rein Projects to Present World Premiere of Jaime Sunwoo’s Play, SPECIALLY PROCESSED AMERICAN ME, Jan. 27-Feb. 19

Dixon Place, Ping Chong and Company (PCC), and Free Rein Projects present the world premiere production of Jaime Sunwoo’s Specially Processed American Me (January 27 – February 19, 2022). Co-directed by Sunwoo and Karim Muasher, and commissioned by Dixon Place, the multimedia theater work investigates the legacy of SPAM, a brand of canned cooked pork produced and marketed by Hormel Foods Corporation, in the US military, its significance in the Asia-Pacific, and its influence on Asian cuisine, unraveling the stories of three generations of women in Sunwoo’s family. Through a narrative collage of oral history, video, music, and shadowplay, SPAM becomes a powerful symbol of colonization, immigration, assimilation, American dreams, and disillusionment, inviting us to examine the memories we hold onto and those we leave behind. Specially Processed American Me is the first major interdisciplinary performance PCC has co-produced at this scale that wasn’t created by Ping Chong—signaling the company’s expanding commitment to incubating and supporting work from emerging voices.

Specially Processed American Me’s cast includes Adrianna Mateo (Performer – Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Vanessa Rappa (Performer – Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Juella Baltonado (Performer – Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Monica Goff (Performer – Hormel Girl/Ensemble), Sarah Shin (Performer – Jaime), Eunji Lim (Performer – Grandma/Ensemble), Nathaniel Basch-Gould (Performer – Jay Hormel/Ensemble), Grace Hwoang (Performer – Understudy). The creative team includes Jaime Sunwoo (Playwright/Co-Director/Prop, Puppet, and Costume Designer/Projection Graphic Illustrator), Karim Muasher (Co-Director), Matt Chilton (Composer/Lyricist/ Sound Designer), Sarah Lurie (Lighting Designer), Cinthia Chen (Projection Designer), Aoife Hough (Stage Manager), Samm Lynch (Assistant Stage Manager and Covid Compliance Officer), Justin Perkins (Technical Director), Julia Kwon (Textile Artist), Clara Sunwoo (Costume Designer), Lisa Friedman (Food Fabricator), Camille Labarre (Mask Fabricator), Kevin Cobb (Miracle Meat 3D Animator), Jane Fujita (Dialect Coach), Alex Lee (Dramaturg), and Adrianna Mateo (Music Director).

Specially Processed American Me oscillates wildly between absurd humor and sober tragedy as it unpacks the ambivalent connotations of one of America’s most misunderstood foods. Introduced commercially in 1937, SPAM was a part of American soldiers’ military rations, and thereby brought to the Asia-Pacific during World War II and the Korean War—either by soldiers giving it away, or through the black market. It was quickly adopted into numerous local cuisines because of the scarcity of meat and SPAM’s ability to stay fresh without refrigeration. In this kaleidoscopic, surreal vision, audiences encounter: former Hormel President, and heir to his Hormel-founding father’s porcine throne, Jay Hormel; the WWII-veteran-comprised SPAM-promoting musical group Hormel Girls; Korean Shamanic rituals; SPAM-centric mukbang clips; spirits; a brigade of shadowy memories; and more SPAM. Throughout the performance, audiences also witness the coming-of-age story of Jaime, a Korean American teenager growing up in New York City and eating a variety of SPAM dishes (SPAM musubi, kimbap, fried rice).

As Jaime contends with the wounds brought on by her parents’ separation and faces the erasure of her family history, she digs into her family’s past—similarly wounded by a historic split. She discovers a SPAM recipe her grandmother passed down and, with it, the wartime trauma that she concealed from her daughter (Jaime’s mother) and granddaughter. As Jaime’s summoning of family memory sweeps from the Korean War and the partition of North and South Korea to the present, this personal and cultural journey toward belonging and community is consistently haunted by the loaded legacy of SPAM.

Sunwoo explains, “I grew up enjoying SPAM with my Korean American family, unaware that many white Americans rejected it as a ‘mystery meat’ and ‘poor people food.’ Many Asian Americans including myself have a strong emotional connection with SPAM because it is a stigmatized food that is simultaneously associated with home and nostalgia—a food that connects us to our families and links us to shared histories within the Asian diaspora.”

Sunwoo, a PCC Creative Fellow from 2020-2021, who is simultaneously developing her short film Color Theory with PCC (which will be shared in Spring 2022), began Specially Processed American Me in 2018. Centering the project around the innocuous—yet historically heavy and sensorially evocative—object that is SPAM, she found an entry point into complex conversations with members of her family. With dramaturg Alex Lee, Sunwoo arranged interviews and gathered their oral histories, tapping into vivid stories—for instance, with her grandma, of life during the Korean War, or with her father, of his family fractured by the division of Korea—with SPAM as the starting point. With Ping Chong as a mentor on the project, and through her engagement with extensive PCC archives throughout her fellowship, Sunwoo offers her own vision reflecting Chong’s interdisciplinary approaches to drawing from personal experience woven with lost or forgotten histories.

Sunwoo says, “The Korean War technically never ended and through this project, I’ve learned about relatives who still remain in North Korea. By sharing my personal story, I hope to humanize the way we perceive a divided Korea, and by telling the stories of three women—me, my mother, and my grandmother—I hope to encourage intergenerational dialogue and uplift immigrant stories.”

A thoroughly interdisciplinary artist, Sunwoo also took on the role of costume designer, illustrated graphic projections, and created puppets and props for this project. She collaborated with Matt Chilton to research the Hormel Girls and write songs that would bring these characters eerily into the narrative, and to create a score with metal kitchen bowls that would evoke Korean traditional percussion. Projection designer Cinthia Chen weaves memory and contemporary media together; and Julia Kwon’s bojagi textiles, commissioned for the work, resemble walls of SPAM.

As a home for a diverse, intergenerational group of affiliated artists, Ping Chong and Company’s co-production of Specially Processed American Me represents the continued engagement the organization seeks to foster with Creative Fellows and other interdisciplinary emerging artists who partake in its programs. Ping Chong and Company Managing Director Jane Jung says, “Jaime’s piece marks an important milestone for our company as we seek to broaden the lead generative artists the company supports. Jaime is a former Creative Fellow and is an interdisciplinary artist who, like Ping, studied visual art before branching into performance, puppetry, and theatre. We are thrilled to be partnering with Jaime and Dixon Place to premiere this new work that brings to light Korean American and Asian American personal and political histories, all through the entry point of a cult food item: SPAM.”

Specially Processed American Me will be performed at Dixon Place January 27 – February 19, 2022. Tickets are on sale now at dixonplace.org. Tickets are $17 – $28 and can be purchased here. In addition to performances, Specially Processed American Me holds food history and storytelling workshops over a communal SPAM meal. Learn more at speciallyprocessed.com / @speciallyprocessed

Covid Safety Protocols
Masks are required, which can only briefly be removed if you’re having a drink from the Dixon Place cocktail lounge. We strongly recommend K95 or N95 masks. A proof of vaccination AND your personal ID are also mandatory. A CDC Vax Card or your NY Excelsior Pass on mobile devices, along with your ID, must be shown upon arrival. If you have Covid-19 symptoms or have been exposed, please stay home! Refunds will be issued by emailing: mike@dixonplace.org. Please note that these protocols may be updated based on the evolving situation.

About the Artists
Jaime Sunwoo (Playwright/Co-Director/Prop, Puppet, and Costume Designer/ Projection Graphic Illustrator) is a Korean American multidisciplinary artist from Brooklyn, New York working in visual art, theater, film, and public art. Her works connect personal narratives to global histories through surreal storytelling. She studied art at Yale University, and was a fellow for Ping Chong and Company and The Laundromat Project. Her work has been presented at Park Avenue Armory, Abrons Art Center, BAX, JACK, The Tank, Flux Factory, Art in Odd Places, Gallery Korea at KCCNY, Open Source Gallery, and Westbeth Gallery. She has led workshops, given lectures, and joined panel discussions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Food and Drink, Yale University, New York University, The Wang Center at Stony Brook University, and Mills College. More at jaimesunwoo.com / @jaimesunwoo

Karim Muasher (Co-director) is an Arab American deviser, director, and teacher working at the intersection of performance and education. He is the Co-Artistic Director of Animal Engine Theatre Company. Among his other collaborations are daredevil clown Bello Nock’s Drama Desk award-winning show Bellomania at the New Victory Theater and physical comedian Martin Gindick’s multimedia solo show Wingman at the United Solo Festival. He has taught theatre and devising at institutions such as the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Guthrie Theater, Roundabout Theatre Company, Abrons Arts Center, International Thespian Festival, and Wingspan Arts. Karim is a graduate of Ithaca College, the London International School of Performing Arts at Naropa University, and a member of the Association of Theatre Movement Educators.

Matt Chilton (Lyricist, Composer, Sound Designer) is a musician, composer, and sound designer. Their recent theater projects include reGENEration lab (Failsafe Festival), Specially Processed American Me (The Tank, Failsafe Festival), An Iliad (Greek Embassy, Atlas PAC, Washington DC) with Iason Togas and Conor Bagley, and they have previously worked with Aya Aziz on Eh Dah: Questions for my Father (NYMF, Fringe Festival).

Sarah Lurie (Lighting Designer) is a New York based lighting designer whose work has been seen around the city and abroad. Recent works include design at Abrons Arts Center, Dixon Place, Cherry Lane, La Mama, and Target Margin. Collaborators include Miguel Gutierrez, Haruna Lee, and John Maria Gutierrez. Selected credits: King Lear in the Forest (Center at West Park), No More Shimmering Cowboys (Out of Line Festival, Yara Travieso), High Winds (LAX Festival), Dog Gone Day/Memory Retrograde (BAX/Ars Nova/Under the Radar), So Long Boulder City (SubCulture), American Realness at Weiner Festwochen, Mourning Becomes Electra (TMT), A Cabaret for Dark Times (ETW), The Children’s Hour (FSSA), Infernal Machine (ETW), Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King (Cherry Lane Theater), Colin Quinn’s The New York Story (Cherry Lane Theater) www.sarahelurie.com

Cinthia Chen (Projections) is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn and Taiwan. She was a Mabou Mines SUITE/Space artist, Fresh Ground Pepper BRB Resident Artist, Creators Collective’s AEIN artist, A4 Resident artist, as well as Theater Mitu’s Hybrid Arts Lab inaugural fellow and affiliated artist. Cinthia also works as a projections designer and was recognized for her work at the La MaMa’s Design Fest 2020. She is also a film editor and has worked for independent artists and production companies such as Five Sisters Productions and ARRI China. www.cinthiachen.com

About Free Rein Projects
Free Rein Projects, founded by Jaime Sunwoo in 2014, produces multidisciplinary performance projects in theater, visual art, film, and public art. Free Rein Projects has developed Specially Processed American Me through BRIClab, HB Studio Rehearsal Space Residency, BAX Upstart Program, Barn Arts Residency, Leviathan Lab, and FailSafe with support from the Queens Council on the Arts’ Artist Commissioning Program, Ms. Foundation for Women in association with Asian Women Giving Circle, the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in association with The New York Foundation for the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Fund, MVRP Foundation, The Laundromat Project, and The Jim Henson Foundation.

About Ping Chong and Company
Ping Chong and Company (PCC) creates theater and art that reveal beauty, invention, precision, and a commitment to social justice. Founded in New York City in 1975 by leading theatrical innovator and National Medal of Arts recipient Ping Chong, the company engages multigenerational interdisciplinary artists to build on and expand a prolific catalogue—at the root of which is Ping Chong and his singular and visionary body of work. The company’s work centers innovation, collaboration, community engagement, and amplifies underrepresented voices.

Across nearly five decades, the New York City-based company has now created over 100 original theater productions, ranging from intimate interview-based works to large-scale multidisciplinary projects featuring puppets, performers, and full sound and projection scores. Reaching audiences throughout New York, the United States, and the world, PCC transcends boundaries, exploring interconnectedness of cultures and how intersectional identities are addressed in society. The company’s work often seeks to excavate and question dominant historical narratives. www.pingchong.org/ @pingchongco

About Dixon Place
A bastion for visionary artists since 1986, Dixon Place (DP) is an award-winning non-profit institution dedicated to the development and presentation of original works of theatre, dance, hybrid performance, and literature. With an abiding commitment to racial justice and gender equity, diversity is a mandate and artist remuneration a priority. In a professional, compassionate environment, artists are inspired and encouraged to take risks, generate new ideas, and execute new practices; adventurous audiences enhance their process.

After Founder El Covan pioneered DP in her home, the organization and the venue grew exponentially and in 2009 opened a 6000’ physically accessible facility with a 120 seat, state-of-the-art theater and a cocktail lounge with an intimate performing space and art gallery in downtown Manhattan.

Many artists such as Blue Man Group, Lisa Kron, and John Leguizamo began their careers at DP. Established artists have also appeared such as Justin Vivian Bond, Alan Cumming, Karen Finley, Niles Ford, James Lecesne, Taylor Mac, Terry McMillan, Vernon Reid, Wallace Shawn, Martha Wainwright, and BD Wong, to name a few.

Providing incomparable opportunities for artists of all stripes and callings, and endowing audiences with accessible, memorable, enriching cultural experiences, Dixon Place has successfully supported artistic achievement for 35 years, contributing significantly to NYC’s cultural landscape. www.dixonplace.org

Lia Chang
Lia Chang

Lia Chang loves to tell stories – as an actor, a multi-media content producer, a performing arts photographer and an award-winning filmmaker. A co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, Lia makes films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Last Dragon. She stars in and is the Executive Producer for the indie films Hide and Seek (AA Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Best Actress Nomination), Rom-Com Gone Wrong, and When the World Was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). Lia made her stage debut as Liat in a national tour of South Pacific with Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet, and was featured as Joy in Signature Theatre’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Chicago, and has worked extensively Off-BroadwayPhoto archives: Lia Chang Theater Portfolio collection,1989-2011, housed in the AAPI collection in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room; Lia Chang Photography Collection in The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library. Awards: 2000 OCA Chinese American Journalist Award, the 2001 AAJA National Award for New Media. Lia is an AAJA Executive Leadership Graduate (2000), a Western Knight Fellow at USC’s Annenberg College of Communications for Specialized Journalism on Entertainment Journalism in the Digital Age (2000), a National Press Photographers Association Visual Edge/Visual Journalism Fellow at the Poynter Institute for New Media (2001), a Scripps Howard New Media Fellow at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (2002), and a National Tropical Garden Environmental Journalism Fellow (2003). BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. www.liachang.com, www.liachangphotography.com

All text, graphics, articles & photographs:© 2000-2022 Lia Chang Multimedia, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com 

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