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Rui Dun

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Out of all the work that you've done in theater and the arts, what keeps you driven to keep going and to keep creating?

 

I think there was a deep desire to tell my story and the stories in my community. Growing up in a not very artsy [place] in China, I never felt like there was a space for stories to live. Looking back, it's all, you know, around the table when we're having dinner – everyone was telling stories. However, for me to move across the ocean to America, I feel the similar stories are deeper and don't have as much space to be told, so that kept me going. I want people to hear my story and hear the stories of my community. 

Your desire to do the arts has come from a very young time in your life. When did you first get inspired? 

 

We had family get-togethers and I would always put on my little show for them. Doing art wasn't exactly a possibility in my family, growing up. My parents were teachers. My dad moved on to an admin job at a hospital and my mom was a physics teacher, so in my mind I was gonna go into science until college opened me up a little more and I got to do theater. Being in that space felt – oh, this is where I belong. This is where I feel the most myself. That's where I started to think, “Oh, this is possible. I can definitely do this.”

 

What's one of your current passions, one that's happening right now in your career?

 

When you go to theater school, they tell you to always say yes, no matter what the project. You pick up everything that comes your way. But I've gotten to a point where I only want to say yes to stories I relate to. One that represents authentically the Asian-American experience. I just did a version of the Great Leap in upstate New York and now I'm developing another show that is also centering the AAPI food healing experience and journey of food healing.

Tell us a little bit about that. 

It really started during the pandemic and I think a lot of other people… my initial reservation to all these I don't know what to do this confusion these even painful experiences coming from what was happening in the world was food and whenever I had a flavor in my mouth that reminded me of home, I can hear my mother and my grandmother saying, “Oh, this is good for you.” 

 

Either at this time of year it's exactly what you should do don't eat ginger at night, you know. The icon is good for this season and that makes me feel healed in a very, very sensorial sense, a very visceral sense, so I want to bring that experience on to the table and get the community together so we can, you know, have dinner…have the virtual dinner and tell stories together. We've done community meetups on Zoom to tell each other about the food stories growing up and how our feelings are all centered around the dinner table, and how having similar experiences can be really healing.

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I noticed that you have a strong love for language. 

 

I do. English was a subject in China that I loved. I didn't quite take to physics, like my mom did, and I didn't go into math, like I was supposed to. I spent all my time reading English books. Even an English test got me going. I was like, “Yay, English test!” So I think that's what made me want to open up to the world. I want to understand the arts outside [of my original culture]. I want to understand Broadway. I want to understand Hollywood. I want to understand movies and films in other languages. Being able to share that story and experience in a different language is attractive to me. I think it's different when you watch a Chinese movie in Chinese, rather than in English. It has a different tone. So I have this desire to understand more languages than I [currently] can. 

 

I also help folks with their journey to reconnect with Mandarin, especially for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Chinese-Americans. [Maybe] their family didn't necessarily have the environment for them to study and learn Mandarin growing up. Interestingly, folks that I talk to over the age of 30… I think that's the golden age, when people realize, “Oh, this is when I really want to reconnect with my roots in language.”

 

I love your language videos. One of your main focuses is directing. What is your process? 

 

It's very different from directing with already existing text. If I'm receiving a script, I'm working with a playwright. If I'm doing a devising piece, I won't have a bigger picture first. So if it's a script, I want to give it a good first read without any assumption, without any research. You want to have a bigger picture because devising is really the process. It takes you everywhere. It's setting that final destination where I want to get to, and getting into the room with people is my favorite part of the process. I get feedback. I strive to make a difference in the room where I respect everyone's creativity. Collaboration is the magic for me. 

 

I love that. Collaboration is magic.

 

I don't think of actors as [people who] come in and say their lines. They interpret the character in their own way. I think of actors as contributors to the entire vision of the

show and, of course we can have discussions of ‘Does that fit into the bigger picture?’ I respect everyone's input in that process.

 

So ArtCee is a collaborative platform for jobs in the arts and entertainment industry. Do you have any thoughts about ArtCee that you'd like to share with our audience?

 

I think it's wonderful. I think it's such a straightforward way for people to go out and connect with people. I'm not quite familiar with the other arts circles as much as theater. I think there's a small clique in a way. When you look at collaborators, they

traditionally went to school together. They traditionally ran in the same circles. They were in the same ensemble, where they were in the same theater company. But that's limiting in its own way. Working with familiar people can be very beneficial, but what is community, if you don't go out and build your own, as well? I think ArtCee is the perfect platform for us to go build our own community. 

 

Any dream projects that you have brewing? 

 

I think every project I choose to work on now is my dream project because I cherish that. I definitely want to exist in a BIPOC led space and I want to tell a story that's authentic to the storytellers. I want to champion the less heard voices and tell those stories.

 

Tell us a little bit about project YZ and the YZ Rep because it seems like it's a big part of your life. 

 

Absolutely. Theater in New York. I started getting involved as an audience member. It turns out they really are making space for Chinese immigrant artists, and that was so rare. Being an immigrant, I think I had the tendency to work really hard, but wherever I went, all the spaces I got myself into, it was mainly white people. So that was what really prompted me to connect with theater companies like Yangsu and the stories that they put forward by immigrant artists, for immigrant artists. 

 

I started working on this current food healing project with them and they've been so supportive every step of the way. They pay artists, they provide space. They are so gracious and so patient with the artist creating the work. Instead of saying, “Maybe that's too hard for us”, they will go above and beyond to make a way. 

They said, “Let's go ahead and create a residency and we'll also commission other artists, so you can be a cohort and help each other in this process as well.” They are wonderful. I'm extremely grateful to have worked with them and to still be working with them. 

 

Do you have parting words to share with our emerging artists and our community in general?

 

Go back to the reason. Don't be afraid to exercise your voice and really take up space. That came from when I first started coming into myself as a director. 

 

I knew what I was doing and I had confidence in my voice, but whenever I go in to a space, I strain my voice. I went to a voice instructor and told her this is what I'm experiencing, and she just smiled and said, “Of course. Historically, when a woman who looks like you would walk into a space, it's not in the leadership position. What you need to do is to keep believing in yourself and keep exercising your voice, even when your body doesn't want that voice to come out. Eventually it will become a habit to take up space with your voice.” 

 

So I think no matter where you are, even if sometimes it doesn't feel comfortable speaking up, if it doesn't feel comfortable to lead yet, just go for it and you’ll know you have it.

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