Friday, August 21, 2015

Unexpected Inspirations: Qui Nguyen

Playwright Qui Nguyen and director May Adrales in rehearsal for the 2015 Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of  Vietgone
Swordfights, giant dragon puppets and an inexplicable sense of humor are hallmarks of a Qui Nguyen play. The New York Times described his infectious style as “culturally savvy comedy.” While his play Vietgone, premiering at South Coast Repertory, doesn’t have a sword fight or a dragon puppet, it does retain that Nguyen charm as he delves into the more personal story of how his parents met in Arkansas at a Vietnamese refugee camp. Vietgone strikes a balance between what SCR audiences are familiar seeing on stage and an exciting new approach to a romantic comedy.

Often credited as one of the pioneers of “geek theatre,” Nguyen established himself and his Brooklyn-based theatre company, Vampire Cowboys, as a place of pure, unabashed fun and an entertainment haven for nerds, geeks and pop culture enthusiasts—and theatregoers. In short, Nguyen knows how to show audiences a good time. In an interview with The New York Observer, Nguyen said, “Watching people cry at my plays isn’t necessarily that fun. Watching people laugh and cheer, it gives me a high.”

Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company productions
His unconventional style can be traced back to his parents, as they raised Nguyen in rural Arkansas. In an effort to expose their son to stories with Asian heroes, he grew up regularly watching kung fu movies. His parents had hoped that it would help him see the world with more people similar to him and ease the sense of being different in a less than diverse area of the country.
Once he reached college, he became frustrated over his professors’ views about what should be performed on stage. His professors deemed his use of fight scenes as more of a cinematic style. Their views only made him more interested in presenting them on stage.

Luckily, he met fellow graduate student Robert Ross Parker and soon they began collaborating, which lead to the birth of their theatre company, Vampire Cowboys. By 2002, the duo had moved to New York City and later met Abby Marcus, who would soon become the theatre's managing director. Once Marcus joined up with Nguyen and Parker, she quickly became an integral factor in bolstering Vampire Cowboys’ fan base and success.

The Vampire Cowboys booth at the New York Comic Con 2010
Marcus spearheaded grassroots marketing initiatives and a partnership with New York’s Comic Con—which continues to this day—helping to catapult Vampire Cowboys’ to wide recognition. Audiences where hooked when they experienced  Vampire Cowboys' unconventional aesthetic which blends theatre, comic books, hip-hop, action-adventure and drama.

Nguyen’s success comes through an understanding of what audiences enjoy seeing. As both a playwright and fight choreographer, he finds a sense of wonder and excitement by presenting stories in creative ways. He’s been known to pull inspiration from multiple genres that are close to his heart. “My favorite things in the world are early ‘80s hip-hop, comic books and samurai stories,” Nguyen says in an interview with American Theatre magazine. And soon, he’ll show SCR audiences what happens when he also pulls inspiration from another area of his heart—his family.

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