|Maureen Sebastian and Raymond Lee in Vietgone.|
|From left: Thuy Vo Dang, Christina Woo, Steve MacLeod, Tram Le, Kelly Miller and Qui Nguyen during the playwright's first exploratory visit to the UCI libraries.|
He later visited the UC Irvine Libraries Southeast Asian Archive and was captivated by the photograph collection of Vietnamese refugees at Fort Chaffee, Ark., one of four military bases that served as a temporary processing center in 1975. These photographs made him reflect on the stories his parents told him growing up. Qui’s parents, along with thousands of other refugees, were both processed through Fort Chaffee after the fall of Saigon. He was inspired to write about how they met and fell in love—might we say lust—at first sight in this camp. Thus, Vietgone was born, a wickedly funny and poignant play that captures the personal journeys of a first generation Vietnamese American couple with nuance and a reimagining of the tale of refugee journeys, complete with hip hop notes woven throughout. Its tone is fresh and surprising.
|The cast, playwright and director of Vietgone at the post-reading "talk back" with the audience at the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association.|
At the end of the reading, one first-generation Vietnamese American man stood up and exclaimed, “That’s my story!” because he also met his wife in a refugee processing center. In February 2015, Qui and two cast members performed an excerpted reading from the play, followed by a lively Q&A, in Linda’s Asian American Community class with 240 students. In a follow-up survey of the event, one student wrote, “I enjoyed the Vietgone reading because it gave me a new perspective on the Vietnam War. I have only heard the American side, but I have never heard what Vietnamese people actually thought about the war.” The event, funded by the new Illuminations: A Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative, encouraged students to see the connections between the historical materials in the class and artistic storytelling and gave students, many who had never attended a play, a better appreciation for the arts. The common response from students was that they wished they could see a full stage production of the play.
|At the front of the class, left-to-right: Raymond Lee, Qui Nguyen and Maureen Sebastian performing an excerpt reading of Vietgone in Prof. Linda Vo's Asian American Communities class.|
Students shared their stories about their family’s refugee and immigrant journeys and were inspired to learn more. What’s powerful about plays like this is that it will stir conversations between generations where there is often silence, particularly about the past.
Qui, with his director, actors and production team, have re-visited the archive several times to continue their research journey.
Qui, the cast, and SCR staff members also visited the VIETNAMESE FOCUS: GENERATIONS OF STORIES exhibition, a partnership between OC Parks and UC Irvine, at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana to immerse themselves in the refugees’ life stories and their journey of resettlement. This interactive art and history exhibition presents snapshots of a dynamic and vibrant community, including photographs, documents, artifacts, original artwork and oral histories from the Vietnamese American Oral History Project (VAOHP), Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center and private collections.
|Vietgone actors and creative team looking through the Fort Chaffee photographs in the UCI Libraries Special Collections reading room.|
|Vietgone flyer and original script signed by Qui and cast on display at the VIETNAMESE FOCUS exhibition.|
Vietgone’s journey from script to stage has been decades in the making and reflects a remarkable moment for cultural production in Orange County. We look forward to its full run at South Coast Repertory, Oct. 4-25.
*About the Authors: Thuy Vo Dang, is the Archivist for the UCI Libraries Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center, Linda Trinh Vo is a professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UC Irvine and Tram Le is the associate director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UC Irvine. Vo and Le are co-curators and co-directors of the VIETNAMESE FOCUS: GENERATIONS OF STORIES exhibition.