Lao American actor Ova Saopeng has been a pirate in the Pirates of the Carribean films and both the Monkey King AND the Dragon King in the Minnesota Children's Theatre Company production of Laurence Yep's Dragonwings. He also performs in Refugee Nation and his one-man play, LSL: Lao As A Second Language and many others. A key member of Theater TeAda, he has lived in Hawaii and currently LA.
I first met him during the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project's conference in Minnesota in 2001. He's always amazingly generous with his time and vision, assisting other artists and writers, including Lao, Hmong and Southeast Asian American voices. Here's a brief interview with him:
Hey, Ova! It's great to see you. So what are you working on these days, artistically?
Ova Saopeng: 1. Sculpting our play Refugee Nation to make it better and better by rewriting a few scenes since last we did it and collaborating with Tom Lee (http://www.tomleeprojects.com/) to create a scenic element to add to the touring show.
2. Learning to negotiate, inspire and sell the show to presenters, producers and communities and searching for more opportunities to present the performance piece nationally.
3. Keep my acting chops oiled by attending workshops and performing with We Tell Stories, a children's theater company I've been a part of for close to a decade.
4. Attending FREE screenings of films and panels taking full advantage of my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) union membership to observe and learn about the film and tv business and how I can be a bigger part of it.
What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
OS: Writing! I've realized I don't see myself as a writer because I don't put time into it as much as I'd rather perform.
BUT, I am re-realizing that I AM a writer and shit, I write good fucking stuff.
I just came upon my e-journal to friends and family during my time in Minneapolis in the production of Dragonwings in 2001 and it was a blast to re-read the text because I actually give people who read it the opportunity to live vicariously through me.
So...biggest challenge is to "see" myself as a writer. Honor that perception. Respect that perception and write mutha'fucka WRITE!
How did you first get into writing?
OS: My first memory of writing was via theater. I was in the 10th grade at Farrington High School in Honolulu, HI and was a very integral part of T-Shirt Theater, an off shoot company of ADE (Alliance for Drama Education) http://www.rehearseforlife.com/
T-shirt was amazing because it really uplifted, supported and encouraged a lot of my talents including writing. So I remember writing a poem about escaping from Laos and it was used as part of one the performances.
What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
OS: I love finding and discovering new ways to see things. Thematically I'm into everything Lao, Asian American, history, life, self discovery, encouragement, relationships, me.
Who's on your reading list these days?
OS: I've not made one really. I'm enjoying reading news and blogs online. Sudoku. I'll start one soon.
Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
OS: Write and don't stop. Allow time to write. Breathe. Just write and make friends. Writing can be a lonely activity...so get together with others and play. Oh...observe, question and respond.