La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: Ping Chong

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

6 Questions: Ping Chong

La MaMa resident artist, Ping Chong, brings his newest show ALAXSXA|ALASKA to The Downstairs at La MaMa after its world premiere in Anchorage. Ping answered our 6 Questions about the show, what inspires him and what working at La MaMa means to him.  You can read his answers here - and don;t forget to get tickets to the show which runs from October 12 - 29, 2017.

1. What was the original inspiration for ALAXSXA|ALASKA?

I had been toying with the idea of making a series of chamber works about the states that comprise the United States because their histories are quite different, fascinating and little known. Did you know, for instance, that the Oregon Constitution included the words “No Negro, Chinaman or Mulatto shall have right of suffrage”? In essence White Supremacy was written into Oregon’s founding documents.

I considered starting the States series with a piece about Hawaii but then fate and Theatre Communications Group conspired to introduce me to Ryan Conarro, my collaborator and guide on ALAXSXA|ALASKA. Ryan moved to Alaska over 15 years ago and has lived and worked in several communities there as an artist, journalist, and educator. His experiences led me to begin research on the colonial history of Alaska. Through Ryan, I met our collaborator Gary Upay'aq Beaver. Gary is a Yup’ik dancer and drummer and lives in Kasigluk, an Alaska Native community of six hundred accessible only by plane, boat or, in winter, by snowmobile. He and Ryan worked together in the past as teaching artists. Finally, we invited puppeteer Justin Perkins to join our research and creation process. The show interweaves three contrasting perspectives – that of Alaska Natives, that of people who have come from the “Lower 48,” and a selective historical/ecological narrative. The intersection of these narratives creates a portrait of the state: its past, present and future.

2. How is this show different than your previous work?

In one sense, it is not different at all. Thematically and formally, A|A is very much in the style I have worked in for the last forty years. The theme is “Otherness” and “the clash of cultures.” Formally, these themes are expressed through performance, dance, puppetry and media. What is unique about A|A is the degree to which my collaborators and I have used interviews and personal testimony as sources for text and media elements. Much of the material we dramatize comes from the lived experiences of Gary and Ryan and the scores of people we met in Alaska researching the show. You will hear some of their testimonies in the media elements of the show. In fact, we had so much vivid material that Ryan built a website,, to feature the stories of the Alaskans we met, and to be a platform for continuing the conversations in the play even while we're performing it.

3. What have you learned from making ALAXSXA|ALASKA?

I had never been to Alaska until I worked on this project, so needless to say, between the extraordinary experience of Alaska itself and the research I embarked on, a whole new world has opened up to me. Meeting Gary and Ryan has really enriched my experience of this new world. At the same time, the story of Western colonialism and its reach continues to echo and refract among its indigenous population and in my mind in fresh ways. And I had akutaq--"Eskimo ice cream"--and roast moose for the first time!

4. How did you find out you were receiving the National Medal of Arts?

It was in the summer. I was lying on a beach baking with my friend Muna Tseng when the call came through that I had received the award. It was surreal and wonderful. So was receiving the medal from President Obama at the White House.

5. Who inspires you?

It isn’t really who inspires me, rather so much as what. I am inspired by hidden histories that need to be revealed to counter the lies of official narrative. I am inspired by a need to recognize and articulate the injustices perpetuated by the powerful and greedy against those who are not. I am inspired by the peculiarities of human behavior and culture and to look at it from all sides. As an artist, I like to puncture certainties of cultural assumption and hold them up to the light.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

I have worked at La MaMa since 1978 and made over 25 shows here. La MaMa has always been a home to rebels and outsiders. It is place that understands the importance of difference, of diversity, a place that gives a platform to unheard voices from here and abroad. Ellen Stewart gave me my first opportunities when the rest of the American Theater couldn’t be bothered. She made a home for me and her unconquerable spirit lives on at La MaMa to this day, thank God. I miss “MaMa” who was always there for me and inspires me to this day.​

La MaMa in association 
with Ping Chong + Company 


Directed by Ping Chong & Ryan Conarro 
Created by Ping Chong, Ryan Conarro, Justin Perkins & Gary Upay'aq Beaver (Central Yup'ik)

October 12 - 29, 2017

The Downstairs @ La MaMa
66 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $25 Adults; $20 Students/Seniors

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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