For our end-of-year giving campaign, East West Players (EWP) presents stories from our diverse community of supporters, who share about their involvement and why they give to support EWP.
Don’t Ever Not Do the Homework
by Prince Gomolvilas
When I taught creative writing courses at the University of Southern California, I was known to assign a frightening amount of homework on the first day of class. After a jam-packed session meant to induce a kind of creative whiplash, I would then give multiple reading and writing assignments—a long list of tasks that were intellectually stimulating, challenging, and time-consuming. If you had a job or a family or, really, a life, it would be difficult to complete all the assignments and also be proud of the quality of work you did. And before class was over, I would firmly exclaim: “DON’T EVER NOT DO THE HOMEWORK.” I didn’t outline the consequences, but you knew there would be consequences and you didn’t want to find out what they were.
Inevitably, some students would drop out and not show up the rest of semester. This was all by design. You see, I wanted people to drop out. A smaller class size would mean more individual attention to the remaining students and, admittedly, less work/stress for me. It also whittled down the ranks, leaving only students who were enthusiastic about what I had to offer. It helped me be a better teacher.
I bring all my tricks of the trade when I teach in the David Henry Hwang Writers Institute at East West Players. What I find remarkable is the ratio of dropouts at East West Players (EWP) to dropouts at USC. Far fewer students call it quits at EWP. Why?
As artists of color, there is such a deep need for us to tell our stories in our own way—so much so that we will carry the burden of a ridiculous amount of homework week after week. We don’t want to be represented incorrectly. We don’t want to be rendered invisible. And in modern-day America, that takes work.
In my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, I was pretty much the only Asian kid in the entire state. If you know anything about Indiana in the 1970s, then you know that I’m not really exaggerating all that much. For example, if you look at my class photos from where I went to school, you’ll see a bunch of white kids, a bunch of black kids, and then me. It’s so odd that it kind of looks like I was Photoshopped in.
But what strikes me most about these photos is that I am smiling in them—despite the fact that, off-camera, I felt very different, and I was struggling with my identity and with being teased, the way children of immigrants often were/are. And because there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me when I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of real-life role models—the kind of thing that’s necessary for people to feel comfortable in their own skin. And movies and television didn’t help, either. Aside from being bombarded by the normalcy of white faces, the Asians who were depicted were mostly either bad guys or prostitutes or laughingstocks. So, of course, for the first couple decades of my life, I dealt with all those typical feelings of alienation and self-loathing that many of us are all too familiar with. Fortunately, for me, there was writing. There was theater.
The act of writing a script is an act of empowerment. It’s a corrective measure. It’s an attempt to close the gap between the way things were/are and the way I want things to be.
So I understand why EWP students, despite busy schedules and creative paralysis, will stick it out and do the work. We have voices. We have faces. In our lives, our voices haven’t always been heard. Our faces haven’t always been seen. So we do the work. We do the work.
Prince Gomolvilas’s plays include Big Hunk o’ Burnin’ Love, The Theory of Everything, and Mysterious Skin, all of which have been produced by East West Players, as well as by theaters in Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Singapore. www.princegomolvilas.com