Hot-shit playwright Young Jean Lee’s career exploded in 2009 with The Shipment. The Korean-American artist’s controversial take on the African-American experience brought audible gasps from its audience during its New York premiere. But Lee’s treatment of touchy subject matter isn’t born of a desire to shock. Instead, it comes from a more personal need.
“I gravitate towards projects that make me uncomfortable,” she says. “I don’t like making political work, so I’m always picking themes like race and religion to challenge myself.”
While her latest offering, Untitled Feminist Show, takes on material directly relating to her life experience, that didn’t make the process any less frightening.
“Feminism seemed like the next logical choice to write about,” she says. “What makes me uncomfortable about it is how badly the subject makes audience members freak out and how difficult it is to present it in such a way that they’re able to absorb it and not just dismiss it.”
Though the process began by putting words on a page, ultimately all the text was scrapped. The final work features six performers, naked for the duration, moving through a series of wordless scenes. Lee’s choice to have her performers in the buff isn’t intended to titillate or objectify. Rather, she wanted to portray them as “powerful and comfortable in their own skins.” Adding an additional level of complexity, while all the performers have female-coded bodies, not all identify as female.
“The show challenges the audience’s assumptions about what a woman is and lets them become aware of what they project onto people when they think they know what gender they are,” she says. “It attempts to challenge what people with female-coded bodies are supposed to be like, especially female-coded bodies deviating from an idealized norm.
“It’s not a feminist show in the sense that it attempts to define feminism or engage in a feminist argument,” she adds. “We think of it as a show that is feminist rather than a show about feminism. It’s going to feel more like a fun, utopian celebration than anything confrontational or critical.”