Maximum meaning at Mini-Residency

PAPA Mini-Residency Showcase, with Claris Park, Rupal Pujara, Stephanie N. Walter

3 minute read
The residents, clockwise from top: Stephanie N. Walters, Rupal Pujara, Pratima Agrawal, and Claris Park. Agrawal didn't appear here but will present her work at the 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. (Photo courtesy of PAPA.)
The residents, clockwise from top: Stephanie N. Walters, Rupal Pujara, Pratima Agrawal, and Claris Park. Agrawal didn't appear here but will present her work at the 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. (Photo courtesy of PAPA.)

Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists presented works in progress by its artists in residence at Asian Arts Initiative Monday night. The result? PAPA counts some of Philadelphia’s most exciting emerging artists among its membership. Cat Ramirez, who recently stepped up as creative director, warmly welcomed guests and shared that during the promotion of PAPA’s last production, Tiger Style by Mike Lew, a shocked woman asked, “There are enough of you to do that?” ​

“You,” of course, means Asian-American/Pacific Islander performing artists in Philly. The remark is frustrating not just because the performers exist, but also because their work is so compelling.

'The DJZ'

The night’s standout performance was Claris Park and Aizhaneya Carter’s The DJZ, set in a dystopian future. This devastatingly insightful interactive piece places audience members at the mercy of a bureaucracy with the power to accept or deny their identity. Director Ramirez’s attention to detail leaves participants feeling the quiet rage and engulfing hopelessness of an indifferent system before they even enter. Shuffling upstairs clutching paperwork in a slow-moving line brings the carefully crafted experience to the whole body.

The DJZ’s satire stings because it is subtle. Jason Lindner and Arthur Robinson as the processing agents who decide the fate of each participant aren’t terrifying because they’re bullies or sociopaths, but because they have bought into a system that gives them a small amount of power. These are ordinary men.

Miss Model Minority (Aizhaneya Carter), the employee who patrols the area and keeps participants in line, is a wicked parody of the superior sweetness of white women in social services. She scolds like a martyr, implying that the worst crime of all is making her sad: “We value efficiency, and it’s not efficient if you’re laughing, okay? If you need anything at all, just ask.”

There is so much to admire about this work, but above all, it’s effective because it trusts the audience. There is no explicit message, no heavy-handed parody — just the opportunity to have a deeply felt experience. The DJZ leaves space for reflection and empathy for those whose lives are in institutional hands.

PAPA creative director Cat Ramirez. (Photo via
PAPA creative director Cat Ramirez. (Photo via

'Snake Charmer'

Rupal Pujara presented her one-woman show Snake Charmer. One in a long tradition of fish-out-of-water immigrant stories, the piece — a work in progress — still lacks shape.

Pujara, a skilled and charming performer, plays herself, but doesn’t reveal much of her passions or desires outside of a quest for love. As a result, the climactic moment, when the pop industry asks her to change who she is, doesn’t land because we don’t really know what she’s sacrificing.

Comedy based on heavily caricatured and accented parents’ exasperating inability to understand their all-American kids feels outdated, as does the stereotyping of Indian men. And when the character’s transphobic attitude is played for comedy but never examined or redeemed, it makes it harder to root for her.

'Are You My Father'

Stephanie N. Walters offered an excerpt from her new full-length play, Are You My Father or The Dream Ballet of North Korea. The script is packed with interesting visuals and theatrical ideas. Walters has an eye for the absurd, and images like young Kim Il Sung pulling a row of ducks or an infant played by a sack of rice create an intriguing world.

The script, tighter and quicker paced than some of Walter’s earlier work, shows real growth and depth in her writing.

Are You My Father’s dialogue often tells where it should show, as when young Min Jun’s mother explains North Korea’s caste system to an army officer who presumably knows it. But Walters proves she has a knack for the kind of visual and verbal metaphor that could liberate her story from too much exposition.

This debut of PAPA’s work under Ramirez’s creative direction is exciting. Institutional theaters continue to drag their feet when it comes to inclusion. Rather than waiting to be included, PAPA allows its artists to race ahead with meaningful, innovative work representing the real future of performance.

What, When, Where

PAPA Mini-Residency Showcase. The DJZ, by Claris Park; Snake Charmer, by Rupal Pujara; Are You My Father, or, the Dream Ballet of North Korea, by Stephanie N. Walter. Asian Arts Initiative. July 16, 2018, at the Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia. (215) 557-0455 or

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