May Lee-Yang and Saymoukda Duangphouxay have been talking about doing a show together for years. “It’s sort of a joke between us,” says Lee-Yang. “Whenever we hang out, one of us will say something, and the other one will say, ‘Oh, that should be a play.' My cell phone contains tons of lines and plot ideas. It was inevitable that a collaboration would happen.”
The two playwrights met about 10 years ago, and instantly hit it off. They both write poetry, and Duangphouxay has acted in some of Lee-Yang’s shows, including making a cameo in Lee-Yang’s 10 Reasons Why I’d be a Bad Porn Star.
They also come from two communities that have shared histories but not much interaction: Lee-Yang is Hmong, and Duangphouxay is Lao.
It’s been 40 years since Hmong and Lao refugees fled to the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the CIA’s Secret War in Laos. The two felt the timing seemed right to do a show that would bring the groups together.
“Our two communities don’t really know each other,” Lee-Yang says. “We began this journey with each other, and realized it would be a good idea to connect our two communities.”
To generate material, the friends went on a series of writing retreats. They devised more later through a rehearsal process with director Scotty Gunderson, who is comfortable "creating work from scratch,” Lee-Yang says.
In rehearsals they threw out earlier scenes, and wrote some new ones. “It’s been an interesting process,” Lee-Yang says. “There’s a lot of writing, cutting, and improvising… We had some pretty crazy scenes in the beginning that we ended up having to save for another project.”
The Hmong-Lao Friendship Play, or the Lao-Hmong Friendship Play (they can’t agree which goes first, and thus created two different URLs that go to the same website), is grounded in the two playwrights’ experiences. “Even if there are things that seem to be out there, it’s grounded in our real lives,” Lee-Yang says. “We just play ourselves. We’re not trained actors. We live off our personalities,” she adds.
To do outreach in the Hmong and Lao communities, Saymoukda and Lee-Yang are putting together performances in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. This weekend they’ll perform at Intermedia Arts, and at the end of October they’ll perform the work at Penumbra Theatre.
“Theater is still a challenge to get Hmong and Lao people to see,” Lee-Yang says. “I hired Hmong and Lao liaisons, and their job is to do more culturally specific marketing.” They’ve also budgeted some funds to provide complimentary tickets to create accessibility for those communities.
IF YOU GO:
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
$15 in advance, students, seniors/$18 at the door; $10 groups of eight or more.