Hi, so first off what’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Linda Cho and I live in Manhattan. I’m Canadian originally, born in Korea and raised in Toronto. I’ve been in New York since ’98.
And what’s the project you’re working on at SPACE right now?
Well you know it was really difficult for me to figure out what to bring, I had a lot of anxiety when I was in NY because I have several things I wanted to work on...At first I packed everything. You heard my husband came up with a truck — so he had a truckload of art supplies and I had books, my printer, my painting supplies and my computer, and then I said to my husband “They’re gonna think we’re crazy!” And he in a somewhat hysterical tone said: “Well we are crazy!” [laughs] So I tried to pair it down and I wanted to see if I could bring a project that I could sort of start and finish instead of pecking at things, so my hope is to give a big push on The Ring Cycle. I have started it, but I haven’t revisited it in many months so I have to listen to the score again, read the libretto, make sure I remember the story and the plotlines which is very confusing, it’s fifteen hours of Wagner and it’s four operas, so just remembering the characters is a challenge…
And this is only one of your projects.
This is only one of my projects! It’s something that has been daunting to revisit for me, so I thought that this would be a good opportunity as I would have elongated and focused time to work. So that’s the big thing I want to do, also because I knew there’d be beautiful places to read and escape I brought some scripts of projects for next year. And I also brought Samson and Delilah, there are some revisions that are due in September, so I also wanted to work on that.
Speaking of that, where have you been spending most of your time?
Physically? I have been spending most of my time on the big dining room table inside Kay Hall, which was ideal, it has a big picture window so I can feel like I’m somewhere new and beautiful [laughs]. The view from my various windows in New York are other people’s apartments, so it’s nice to see nature when I look out! I have done some reading in the gazebo in the garden over there and I read on the balcony of my bedroom. I’m upstairs in the Ely room… which is great because with that platform, that elevated view, I get to hear a little giggling of the children. A bee landed on my script and it was just sort of mesmerizing to watch. So I’ve worked mainly in those three spaces so far.
What is coming up next after this?
I’m going home for a week, and then I go to La Jolla Playhouse in California for a first day of rehearsal and first round of fittings for a new North Korean musical, play/musical called Goose Dreams. Leigh Silverman is directing and Hansol Jung wrote it. I’m really excited — you know actually this whole year, in this political climate, I think that everyone is searching for substance and meaning. There’s a lot of thoughtful work that’s going on right now, and this musical is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. It’s a story of a female North Korean defector, Nan Hi, and Min Sung, who’s a Seoul-based father whose child and wife are studying in the United States. They meet on the internet on a dating website, and their interaction on the internet is embodied by actors and sometimes musicalized.
What farm animal would you be and why?
Let’s see… I think I would be one of those geese. I was told that these animals are purely decorative, they have no expectation of producing eggs, they won’t get butchered, nobody touches them, but they have all their friends that they can hang out with… that seems pretty sweet, so I think I’m gonna vote for geese!
How do you decide what projects to take on? Are you passionate about every project?
I have to be passionate about every project I take on. I always say that there usually one out of 3 things in a project for me to take it. There’s money, there’s the people, and there’s the project. It could be a giant pile of money, and there’s no shame in making money because we all have to support ourselves and our families. It could be a great group of collaborators that you’re excited to work with. It could be a dream project. This year I have many new collaborators, and I’m thrilled to by the number of women directors that I’m working with, and exciting projects…money is sadly not hugely in the mix this year... But there’s a lot of exciting things happening.
That’s really cool to see up close.
Yeah! I’m working on a new Native American play about Native American rights called Sovereignty, coming up at Arena Stage in Washington DC, a great city to do this play. Also Father Comes Home from the War, by Suzan Lori-Parks, a story during the Civil War about a slave and master relationship at the Goodman in Chicago. It’s a beautiful historical piece about society and the rules we impose on ourselves and others. You asked me earlier ‘How does art lead to lasting change?’ (ed. note: this is from the short video interviews). I think all these theatres are thinking about just that “What do we want to say this year? What should we say this year?”.
So you think that’s been sort of sharpened this year?
Absolutely, I know at least one theater that pulled the plug on some projects because there’s a different expectation this year of what people want from the theatre. I think people crave things that will provoke conversation, and reflect on our current state of affairs.
Shifting a bit from that, I remember the other day you were talking to me about Alexander McQueen and the influence he’s had on you. I was wondering if you wanted to talk a bit about that, and what influences your project.
Sure. Every project I do, regardless of what period it’s in, I always try and start from reality and from historical research. Then I like to take another step outside of reality and I think that’s part of my artistic input. The Ring Cycle, has dwarves, giants, and gods… It really sort of gives you liberty to use your imagination. I brought books of Eiko Ishioka, who was a wonderful Japanese costume and set and production designer, and Alexander McQueen the genius fashion designer, who’ve done really imaginative contemporary works. I’ve used them as inspiration for the designs, it takes my research to another level and brings it a contemporary and fresh look. Sometimes the vocabulary of historical research may not translate to a modern audience, so something that maybe was sexy in the 1920s may not be sexy now, so you have to walk the line of visual vocabulary that a contemporary audience will understand, and also being truthful to history. For me it’s helpful to look at some modern designers and artists to help me translate and find a vocabulary.
So last question: I’m hesitating between asking what is your ideal project and what has been one of your favorite projects to design for?
Which is my favorite child? [laughs] I don’t think I have a favorite. I have bucket-list of places and people, and… certainly a project like The Ring Cycle was on the bucket-list, something I think every designer hopes to do one time in their career, it’s an epic world with resources that come with that kind of project. But I feel like every project that I take is amazing in different ways, it might be the collaboration with the people in the costume shop, it might be the actors. There are ideal places that I would love to work all over the world, like I’d like to design something at the Sydney Opera House, or La Scala. Definitely on my list was to work at the Met, and that’s something that’s coming up with Samson and Delilah. And then people. So there will be people that I’ve long admired that you know hopefully one day will get to work with, and some of that has come true for me which is astounding. So it’s people, places, and projects that are on the bucket list.
How have you been finding the family residency so far?
It’s been really special because if I were here alone and the kids were somewhere else it would be distracting in that I would have some concern about whether they were happy and taken care of. Here I know they’re both those things, so there’s a great comfort in that. When I see them at mealtimes that is the highlight of the day, it’s something to look forward to.
When we have this structured worktime, it’s amazing how productive you can be. I’ve used my time incredibly efficiently and also eating healthy at all these established times, I feel fantastic! Establishing this routine, I’m hoping to keep it up when we get back. I’ve also enjoyed the conversations and camraderie of the other visiting artists. The structure of it is really quite wonderful, and for me, astounding that something like this exists.
Bravo to you guys, I think it’s amazing.
Interview by Meerabelle Jesuthasan.