Meet Young Jean Lee
Steppenwolf Theatre Company welcomes internationally acclaimed playwright and director Young Jean Lee as she directs the Chicago premiere of her play, "Straight White Men". The fearless and entertaining play runs through March 19, 2017. Tickets are available at steppenwolf.org.
Director and playwright Young Jean Lee shares, “'Straight White Men' isn’t about me trying to reveal anything new about privilege or solve it. It’s about me asking myself, ‘If I woke up tomorrow as a straight white man, what would I do?’ I think that as a straight white man, I probably wouldn’t feel so righteous about my personal journey of conquering obstacles to get what I want. 'Straight White Men' is about what happens when that hero’s-journey narrative falls apart."
Young Jean Lee is Korean-American playwright, director and filmmaker. She has written and directed ten shows in New York with Young Jean Lee's Theater Company, and toured her work to more than 30 cities around the world. Straight White Men premiered at the Public Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim. Hailed by The New York Times as “the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation,” Young Jean Lee is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two OBIE Awards, a Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN Literary Award, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a Doris Duke Artist Residency. Her first short film, Here Come the Girls, was presented at The Locarno International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and BAMcinemaFest.
Subverting stereotypes is a theme in many of your plays. Have you been or are you stereotyped? How?
I'm sure I've always had to deal with being stereotyped, but it's never been a major issue in my life. Exclusion based on my race has been a much bigger problem, especially when I was growing up.
What challenges do you face as a woman of color playwright and director?
I think I've been very lucky in that I started out in New York's downtown theater scene, where people were interested in supporting work by women of color. So for me, professionally, I feel like being a woman of color helped. Very rarely, someone I'm working with will treat me disrespectfully, and I'll wonder if it's because I'm a woman of color. Whenever I can, I get rid of those people as soon as possible, and I always refuse to work with them again.
What's the main message you intend to share in "Straight White Men"?
STRAIGHT WHITE MEN doesn't have a message. Rather, it's designed to stir up questions and provoke conversations. The play isn’t “about” privilege or attempting to reveal anything new about it or solve it. SWM tries to make audiences notice their own responses and think about their relationships to their own privilege.
What was most uncomfortable for you writing and directing "Straight White Men”?
I'm an only child, so I had to do a ton of research to learn about sibling dynamics, which takes up a large bulk of the play. I found it hard to believe that adult siblings would really behave this way, but everyone has assured me that yes, it's completely realistic. Since I never had brothers or anything, I had to learn about all the horseplay and teasing from scratch. Another uncomfortable thing was realizing that a lot of my self-worth comes from the fact that I'm an Asian-American female theater artist, since I'm helping to make theater more diverse. But if I were to wake up tomorrow in the body of a straight white man, suddenly I wouldn't be a representative of diversity anymore, and would feel like I needed to do more than what I'm currently doing. Which made me ask myself, "Why aren't I doing more than I'm currently doing? Should I be doing more?"
What else are you currently working on?
I'm finishing up a short film and will start working on a new play when I get back to New York.