Dae: Yes. I'm Dexieng Yang, but I go by "Dae." I use she/her pronouns. A little bit about me. Ooh, that's a hard question, Kendra. Well, I am a actor, teaching artist, emerging playwright. I want to be a playwright here, I'm located in the Twin Cities. I recently just graduated from Augsburg. I guess it's becoming not so recent. I graduated in 2021 with my BFA in theatre with concentrations in directing, dramaturgy, and playwriting, which tends to surprise people because I really have been in the art scene here in the Twin Cities as an actor.
And it wasn't until my sophomore year of college when I met the artistic director of Mu at the time, when I met him, he basically just said that if your Asian family could be so excited for someone who wants to pursue medical school and support them 100%, they haven't even gone to medical school. Why can't they be as excited for you to be an actor? Because it is a very doable career if you have heart and you have passion. And so I was like, yeah, yeah, you're great. Why don't I do it? So I switched my major.
And then I, honestly, it really feels like the stars are aligning because I did a show at Augsburg University where I went. I did a show there where we had an outside director come to our university to direct the show. And through him, I was able to meet other artists in the Twin Cities. And then I got invitations to audition for things. And then I just kept auditioning. And then I started working at 19 in the Twin Cities. And I've been working since somehow. Thank goodness. I feel very blessed to have been able to do that. And working with, I have done quite a few shows with Theater Mu, but I've also worked a lot with Pillsbury House Theatre with their DEI training. They're training, I don't want to say training course, but they have a program called Breaking Ice where they focus on DEI. And so I've gotten to be involved in that a lot too. So yeah, I guess that's a little bit of a longer intro to kind of where I'm at. But that's how I've gotten here. And that's how I'm here now.
Kendra: I love that the community has been so supportive and that artists were, you know, you were connecting and, you know, getting audition information. And that is one of the things that I do love about the Twin Cities is really like how there's like lots of artists, like the Playwright's Center, for example, like brings lots of artists from all over. We have lots of very strong theaters, including Theater Mu, which is the biggest Asian American theater in the Midwest., it's long running and has a reputation for high quality theater.
So I'm glad that you're finding work. And also, congratulations for graduating. And were you going to school during quarantine then?
Dae: I was. Yeah. So, I basically finished my senior year all online, which was quite an experience. Yeah, I was still also working too in the theater world. So you have basically a full day; I was also working at the time. So everything was work from home. And then you did school from home. And then when you did theater at night, you were at home. So it was like 14 plus hours of just at a screen, which looking back, I don't know how my brain was able to do it. Like, I swear, I should have gotten way more migraines than I actually did. But kind of crazy. But yes, I did go to school during that time.
I had a virtual graduation. So a beautiful YouTube live video of my little picture popping up. It was fun. And I did not choose the walk just because there, COVID was still going on. And I live with high-risk people. And so I was like, no, we're not going to do that. So yeah, but it's okay. I personally don't feel bad about it. I was fine.
"It's really about courage and being okay to start over and being being okay to know that there's never a wrong time to fix and rekindle relationships because this show really revolves on relationships."
Dae: Well, first of all, I'll let you tell us a little bit about the musical. Yeah. So if we're just going through what the story is, right, a plot of the musical, we basically meet my Mai See, who I will be playing. We meet my Mai See, who is, she -- this isn't a secret, so it's not like, whoa, it's in a synopsis -- but she has cancer.
She has cancer. And she she had written a book about it. And because of her book, she ends up needing a fan of hers Quest, who is this bubbly early 20s character who's just like so ready for life. And Quest also has cancer, but she, but she is, she is taking on the world. Whereas Mai See is still learning to, I guess, take control of her life and figure out herself because she's had cancer for a longer chunk of her life. She's 39. And so she's had cancer for a longer chunk, but she's also been in remission for a while. So she's still trying to figure out how to navigate her life. And so we get to see these two characters, kind of how Quest helps Mai See regenerate her life, really, and find herself again and find footing through cute little, through cute little interviews like this, actually, trying to get to know one another.
But again, giving it a little bit what the heart of again is it's really about courage and being okay to start over and being okay to know that there's never a wrong time to fix and rekindle relationships because this show really revolves on relationships. It doesn't matter how long it's been, if it's important to you, you can go ahead and rekindle them and you should have courage to. Sorry, I feel like I didn't explain that well, but there are so many great themes in this musical, the two of those I highlighted.
Kendra: Yeah, there's a lot of elements, and I believe from what I've been hearing is that friendship is a really important element. And I know Katie Ka Vang, when she was talking about like her inspiration for the show was like, you know, she's a cancer survivor herself, and she wanted to tell a cancer story through Hmong American lens. And so, you know, probably everybody who sees the show and everybody watching this is going to have some sort of experience with cancer in their life with themselves or someone they know. So can you talk a little bit about like how the how it's handled? I mean, there's the potential that that's like what kind of like very obviously it's sad and frustrating and -- what's the name of the musical number when she finds when she finds out she's out of remission?
Dae: "Are you effing kidding me?" Yeah, I don't know if I could swear, but yeah, there is swearing in the show, just so your ears are ready. There's a lot of the f-word drops.
Kendra: So can you talk a little bit about like how the material is handled? Because I know there's also moments of levity, but obviously people who've been touched by cancer know like how like serious of a topic it is.
"Relish in the moments of happiness when you can."
I resonate a lot with that song. It's very frustrating. It's really hard. It makes you angry. It's like, 'why?' Why? You said it works. Like, what? Why are we? Why are we going through all this? Like us as the family, like emotionally, and then obviously for my grandfather, very physically taxing. So I think Katie handled it in a way where it is realistic. Not that cancer isn't hard, right? It is so it is so hard. And there's a there's a lot of sadness that comes with it. But one thing that my mother had said to me that that I think really helped with that is that life keeps going and not a way to ignore it. So we just have to keep going. And we have to be grateful for when he went for when he was here. We have to be grateful the days we have with him and not worry about, "Oh, we only have six months left. We only have five months left" and really do take it one day at a time. So I don't know if that answered the question.
But that's that I feel like Katie handled it really, really well. Having the hope in there and even if there's tragedy that does come at the end, which --there's not this musical, but even if there is--to relish in the moments of happiness when you can.
Kendra: That's very well said. Yes. And I guess that's why I'm excited to see the show because it's like music can sometimes explain things the way that words can't. So I'm really excited to see how it unfolds on stage in the friendships.
"I didn't realize how much it would touch me being in the musical because it is about family. It is about relationships, at the heart of it."
Dae: Oh my God. Okay. When you say talented folks, yes, we have some extremely talented folks in this room. Oh my goodness. The collaboration has been it's been very easy. Katie is a very easy playwright to work with. I'll be like, 'Katie, does this make sense?' Or if you have a question about a certain line or a certain scene or the flow of it, Katie is very receptive to feedback. And she's also so chill. If you guys don't know Katie, she is so chill. Like with the revisions, 'cause obviously this is a new musical. So we have had a multiple revisions during this rehearsal process.
Katie is really quick as well to make revisions and then bring them back to us so that we can read it out loud and give her feedback and be like, 'Okay, this is what's working and what's not working.' Again, she's so open, receptive to it. She's not married to her work, which she is in the way that she's dedicated to it, but she's not married to in a sense that she can't change it.
Also Nana [Dakin], our director -- I really love the approach she has to these characters. It feels very human. She really gives us time to do table work with the new pages that come in or just with the scene or just be like, 'What are your relationships with one another?" and that is very common because you need to know how your arc of the characters are. Obviously, when you do any play, I just really appreciate the way Nana approaches it. She really asks us how we're feeling about it, which sometimes it's hard to, I feel like especially as artists is hard to just have one way to describe what you think. And usually at least for me, it comes out more abstract and feelings. So it's been a very human experience. [...]
Kendra: That's great. It's a safe place and open. That's the goal.
Can you talk about a favorite moment song or a favorite line in the place, something that really sticks with you that you and that just really enjoy in that moment when you're performing?
Dae: Oh my gosh. Okay. I was reading through this question because obviously you're prepared and you give me questions for this. And I was like, I really like a lot of the moments. But the one that I think sticks out to me is that there's this, there's in the middle of the musical, there is a scene where Quest and Mai See are having more heart-to-heart open conversation about..it's just like an organic where, you know, you're talking to someone and the the air kind of changes. And you kind of start saying a little more about your situation or personal life. And that's where Mai See and Quest are. And Mai See tries to cheer Quest up. And she says this line, Mai See says, "Adults are just children in bigger, older bodies." And the Quest goes, "That's why my dad still has a bunch of hot wheels." And then Mai See is like, "Exactly!" And I just love that moment because there is a lot said in just those few lines that transpired the comfort of being like, "Hey, sometimes adults we mess up. We make mistakes and you're not at fault at all." Because Quest very much she's not a child. You know, she is an adult, but, she's going through some things that make, me, I feel like, you know, we all have maybe a bit of childhood issues that still follow us into adulthood and to have someone who is Hmong, like Mai See who's older, who's in the art field and being able to tell her these things, I feel like it's just a lot more impactful than if they were to come from someone who perhaps doesn't fully understand the scope of where you want to go and where you want to go in your life and what's happening, especially since they both are cancer survivors. So, I really enjoy that moment. It's a beautiful moment for them and their friendship. And a beautiful moment, I think that anyone and everyone can relate to. Yeah, adults are just children in bigger older bodies. And sometimes we all need a little bit of love in, in our own way.
Kendra: That's beautiful. And as you were going through this rehearsal process, I mean, you're still in the midst of it. I don't want to rush you, but has there been any challenges or surprises that have come up that you want to share?
Dae: So I got to see a reading of the musical at Theater Mu's New Eyes festival last year. So I already kind of knew and understood the whole idea of the musical. But I didn't realize how much it would touch me being in the musical because it is about family. It is about relationships, at the heart of it. I never had cancer, though I did have a close family member that did have cancer and I could relate that way.
I didn't, initially go in all this is like, thinking that it would necessarily affect me so much. Maybe that's a naive of me to think that. But it's really the relationships in this musical that has been like, wow, it's, it's a lot sometimes. Cause...when you love so hard, you hurt hard when you care hard. And then when these moments come up and you're like, "I've had that exact conversation with my sister," or "I've had that exact conversation with my best friend," or "I've had this exact conversation."
There's a lot of those moments in this musical for me that I was not anticipating to feel so touched by -- and not that it's, that was challenging, but there were moments I was like, ooh, okay, I gotta separate Dae's life and Mai See's life and really make a separation because it's so easy to relate and then you get caught in the emotions and, and then, uh, and then you can't perform and then then you can't put on a show.
Kendra: Yeah, that's when you know the arts good, right? Like when it's so relatable, and you can just kind of dig into that material and there's like so much source material in your own life and it's like really speaking to you. So thank you for sharing that.
Let's get into some logistics, too. Again is at Mixed Blood Theater, so it's right on the West Bank. Tickets are pay as you are, so tickets are as low as $10. If you can pay $45 please do so. And then addition, you can donate to Pathways Minneapolis, which provides resources and services for people with life threatening or chronic physical illness, as well as their caregivers. So you can do that as part of your ticket for just on top of your ticket. That's a great partnership and can help some folks out in the community. The show is recommended for ages 16 plus due to language, which we did discuss.
Dae: Yes! Please come see the show because this is the first ever Hmong musical to be produced, at least I know of, for sure, in the Midwest. If you all do not know Minnesota is home to the largest Hmong population here in the U.S. There's a lot of us here. So please come support us and come see us. Even if you're not Hmong, Come see your Hmong brothers and sisters because we are here. Also because this musical is -- I promise you will be able to relate to it. I promise you're going to walk away feeling something in your heart because Katie and Melissa Li, who's the composer have written a absolutely heart-touching, funny, quirky, very cute, relationships that are real. They're real. They're very genuine.
Also, I thought, okay... let me know you might have announced it now. I am pregnant! So come support me.
Dae: Thank you. I just want to announce that because, because this will be my first time ever do a show pregnant. And so let's see how we do costuming so I don't look pregnant.
Kendra: Well, I sure, I'm sure you have a lot of support in the Twin Cities art scene for
that too. Um, so that is, um, a thing that happens.
Dae: It is a thing. You can perform and be pregnant.
Kendra: I also read that the against three leads are all Hmong (American) women. Yes. And we [were reminded from the Oscars] with Michelle [Yeoh] winning for best actor -- that representation
matters. So that is very cool. And I'm glad to see that on Twin Cities stages.
So we too, we are too. We're so excited that it's, it's freaking awesome.
Kendra: All right. So, well, thank you so much for spending some time with me talking about the show
and your artistry. I've really enjoyed chatting and learning more about you and I can't wait to
see you on stage here at Mixed Blood. Thank you!
Ticket Information for Mu Theater's "Again"
By Katie Ka Vang & Melissa Li
March 31-April 16, 2023
Pay As You Are pricing asks those who routinely pay $45 for theater tickets to pay that amount—it’s the market value—but if an audience member needs to pay less, they can choose to do so, as low as $10.
This show is recommended for ages 16+ due to language.
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S 4th St
Minneapolis, MN 55454