A couple years ago I was put out of work by politicians.
Not the cuts to arts funding thing. Or my free speech being limited thing. Or the fact that Americans would rather drop $100 to back a political candidate than pay $10 for a show ticket thing. Those threats have always been there.
Rather, politicians are now LITERALLY doing the work that I had once done as an “outrageous” performance artist. We’ve switched jobs. They now create the shock and spectacle that have us questioning reality. We now reclaim the space for social change and truth.
I used to do things like crash beauty pageants, pull knick-knacks out of my giant costume vagina and put on crazy solo theater shows to explode cultural stereotypes and political apathy. My critics dismissed me as a “weirdo narcissist” (a compliment thankyouverymuch).
I even had a television reality pilot with Lionsgate. The premise was that I would stage “naive but well intended public performance art stunts to confront all that political apathy.” We sold the pilot idea to TruTv when Obama was President, but shot it when Trump took office. From the short period between pitch to shoot, playing a self-satirizing over-the-top activist became irrelevant. If anything, my show idea was completely problematic in an era now defined by the very real threat of white supremacy and fascism.
Inevitably, TruTv passed on ordering my show for their season. It seemed that even the most entertaining stunts I could imagine as an artist were no match for the shock of real life. I had spoiled myself with my own naiveté during the Obama years, assuming that the backlash against progressive politics was fringe and would die out completely by the end of a Hillary Clinton presidency. I was so wrong.
There was only one option was left for a failed performance artist/ would-be reality television star– running for Public Office.
If politicians were going to take my job, I would take theirs. I’m not the first performance artist to run for office. I come from a long lineage of artists turned public servants. Among them: comedian turned Senator Al Franken, actor turned Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and art school reject turned Dictator Adolf Hitler. Ok… maybe not the best examples.
The idea behind “Kristina Wong for Public Office” is that I run for small local offices while simultaneously performing campaign events around town. If elected, I serve with the same sensibility and skills I have as a performance artist and report on the experience of being a public servant in my performances. My campaign events have included debates with dogs and giving a stump speech while literally being tied to a stake and stoned by an audience. These shorter performances culminate in an evening long campaign spectacular called “Kristina Wong for Public Office” that will be performed parallel to actual campaign events leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election.
In a nutshell– this is a performance piece, it’s real life, it’s the same thing.
Last month I won my first election and now I am the elected representative of Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council Sub-District 5. I represent the half square mile I live in and go to once a month Neighborhood Council meetings at the library. I also go to monthly PLUHT (Planning, Land Use, Housing and Transportation) meetings where I fight for more affordable housing. While I’d like to claim my wild performance antics or heart stirring political messaging won me the election, it likely came down to my ability to pass as Korean to all the Korean neighbors I chased down in the street to vote for me that day.
Getting elected to public office took two tries. My first election was for ADEM Delegate in my Assembly District in January. Even though both elections I ran in are unpaid volunteer positions, I witnessed how cut throat and egomaniacal candidates can get when fighting for scraps of power. In both elections, I witnessed corruption, electioneering, and voter suppression. And just like in my performance work, I was accused of being a “weirdo narcissist” for running (still a compliment thankyouverymuch).
At my first Neighborhood Council meeting two weeks ago, I was sworn in on a copy of Augusto Boal’s “Legislative Theater”. I’ve learned that for someone who once made a rap album in post-conflict Uganda, I’m actually not the craziest person in the room. Seriously, need to feel like the most sane person in the world? Go to a Neighborhood Council Meeting.
I was fortunate to be the recipient of the Center Theatre Group Sherwood Award for innovative theater makers to support me as I create this ever evolving campaign/performance piece. I was also part of this year’s cohort of Artist Campaign School produced by Fractured Atlas where I met dozens of other artists around the country who are planning to also run for office.
This is an amazing moment for theater artists to realize that our political power isn’t just in black box theaters, it’s on the political stage as well. We already have the passion, the experience working with communities, and ability to communicate compelling messages. We’re actually more qualified to do this than most people who have been in power for way too long.
Editor’s Note: Applications for Center Theatre Group’s Sherwood Award are currently open! Visit this page for more information and to apply. Applications close June 10, 2019 at 11:59 pm.