The pursuit of eco-friendly living was never supposed to almost kill me.
I bought Harold in 2006. He was a 1981 Mercedes Benz converted to run on vegetable oil. He was supposed to be my way of showing the world how easy and fun it was to “go green.”
What followed after my well-intended purchase was a two-year nightmare of endless repairs, semi-prostituting attempts to find the used vegetable oil to fuel him, and finally, a near-death car fire on the 405. The sting of my eco-failure was too much, as was the absence of cash in my checking account””so I’ve been living without a car in Los Angeles since 2008.
Going Green the Wong Way is an 80-minute one-woman show stringing together a lifetime of well-intended efforts in eco-living gone awry. The show ranges from my earliest days as an 11-year-old environmental martyr to my current predicament of getting myself around Los Angeles sans vehicular armor. Among the other misadventures I explore — the sustainable alternative to the tampon (oh yes!) and my high school summer job as a door-to-door canvasser for the Sierra Club.
The show started as a 10-minute show-and-tell in my friend Steve Silverman’s now retired “Slideshow!” series at the Fake Gallery. Steve would invite a select group of writers, comedians, artists, and storytellers to present living-room-style slideshows on an old Kodak Carousel. Being an avid cell-phone photographer, I had a big spread of photos documenting Harold to share””from our first ride off the lot, to getting towed to the mechanic, to the fiery end. I narrated. The audience ate it up.
I realized I had the bones of a longer show in the making. I performed the story as a PowerPoint demonstration, adding to the slideshow each time I was invited to perform at a mixed-bill show. I added details about using the bus and all the unorthodox ways I’ve come up with to make my new carless life work.
My last shows took years to write, but this one gestated quickly. Being carless in LA is a show that writes itself. If you’ve tried to get around this 468-square-mile city without a car, especially as an actor/creative type with an unpredictable schedule, you know that time, space, and sanity shifts without a car. But you also get to experience the city and the people who live here at a new speed, with a new lens. This has changed my art.
I first met my director Paul Tei was in 2008, when I was performing my show Free? at the South Beach Comedy Festival in Miami. Paul is a series regular on TV’s Burn Notice and has a theater company called Mad Cat Theatre Company in Miami that produces original plays.
When Paul moved out to Los Angeles the following year, he didn’t have many friends out here, and he responded to the ride requests I’d post on Facebook. Somewhere between helping me get kitty litter home, helping me move, and helping me redeem my Groupons before expiration, he also became one of my best friends, a huge ally to my work and the director of this show.
Paul surprised me in 2010 when he told me he’d already approached the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami to present the world premiere of Going Green the Wong Way with his theater company in Miami (that he still runs from Los Angeles). I was in the middle of creating my play Cat Lady, but I jumped on the chance to create a new show with his company in Miami. I was losing hair from working on two new shows at the same time.
Paul came over every day and I recounted my personal history as an environmentalist. We’d write stray ideas on post-its and cover my wall. We had a lot of conversations over a lot of alcohol. And somehow, we dreamed up this show.
The show in Miami was nothing like I’d experienced in my years of making theater in Los Angeles. I have never had the support of an entire theater company to premiere a show. If anything, I’m used to having to do everything from publicity to performance by myself. I remember feeling really shy that there were about 20 people at our first rehearsal””everything from technicians, board members, to a choreographer. Did my little solo show really deserve the support of this many people? Yes! It did! And wow, was it great to see what solo theater could look like if given the right support!
Now, a show that is set in Los Angeles finally comes home for four weeks at the Bootleg Theater and then goes to the Edinburgh Fringe””my first international run. I feel so invigorated as an artist to get this experience, and what’s more exciting? That I can say nearly dying in a car fire led to some of the best career highlights of my life!
Going Green The Wong Way, June 28 ““ July 15, Thu-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 3 pm. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Boulevard, LA 90057. Parking available across the street on Roselake Avenue for $3. Tickets: $15. www.bootlegtheater.org.
***All Going Green The Wrong Way production photos by Eli Peck
Kristina Wong’s last solo show Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has toured across the country since 2006 and is now a broadcast-quality concert film directed by Mike
Closson available on Amazon. Wong has written commentaries for American
Public Media’s Marketplace, xoJane, KCET, Jezebel and Playgirl Magazine. More at
kristinawong.com and www.facebook.com/ilovekristinawong.