Courtesy of Serena Puang

On Wednesday night, performance artist and elected representative Kristina Wong delivered the final performance of her virtual tour, “Kristina Wong for Public Office.”

The event, sponsored by Yale’s Asian American Cultural Center and the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration, discussed activism and politics in an interactive performance. During the show, Wong shared her experiences running for and serving on the Wilshire Center Sub-district 5 Koreatown Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles. 

“How is it that artists and politicians have switched jobs?” Wong asked during the performance. “They now create the shocking spectacle that has us questioning reality. We now replace a quiet space for social change of truth.”

The event was organized and moderated by professors Quan Tran and Albert Laguna, whose classes cover Asian American representation in the context of popular culture. Tran said she and Laguna “teamed up” to invite Wong, since Wong’s work complements their assigned class readings. Several students from the professors’ classes attended the event.

The show, set up from Wong’s home in California, simulates a political rally. Wong originally planned the show to tour alongside pre-election campaign rallies but has since adapted it to a virtual format. 

Wong said the show’s underlying concept keeps evolving with current events. In March 2016, Wong pitched a reality TV show that featured her “social justice tricking” — a method of unconventional activism to encourage apathetic Americans to participate in politics. But after Donald Trump was elected as President, she thought the idea “irrelevant,” as social activism had become a matter of “life or death survival” for many Americans.

In light of the pandemic, the show had to change once again. 

“We are in a horror movie,” Wong said. “Right now, the monster is the deterioration of our democracy and unless we inject ourselves into the plot, there’s not gonna be a happy ever after. Just an ending.”

Wong told the News that when her live tour was initially canceled due to the pandemic, she thought she had “squandered” the last few years in preparing for an election-themed show, since nobody would see the show. 

But Wong added that a “bittersweet lining” in present times has been her ability to give the show a “second life” via technology.

For Chayton Pabich Danyla ’21, a theater and performance studies major, Wong succeeded. 

“One thing I’ve learned this past semester is that Zoom is incredibly difficult to do successfully, Pabich Danyla said. “But Wong did a superb job navigating the line between digital and live performance.”

Isabelle Rhee ’22, who attended the show, expected to see Wong’s disruption of racial and gender stereotypes through comedy. Instead, the show transformed her expectations of performance art today, in terms of both audience engagement and theatrical effects. For instance, Wong used Zoom polls, changed backgrounds and invited audience members to participate.

According to Tran, the show was an opportunity for attendees to see how Asian American performance artists are using their craft and platforms to engage with urgent social and political issues, expanding both Asian American and mainstream American cultural landscapes. 

Attendee Mariko Rooks ‘21 said the show gave her a “more profound respect” for local government offices and politicians. 

But Pabich Danyla came away with lessons about the art form itself. 

“Theatre will survive,” Pabich Danyla said. “Art will keep fighting at all turns.”

The professional recording of “Kristina Wong For Public Office” premiered on Friday and can be viewed on the Center Theatre Group website. It will be available for viewing until Nov. 29.

Serena Puang | serena.puang@yale.edu