Pageants, princess dresses and sparkly shoes, oh my!
Nope, it’s not the latest Miss America competition; it’s “Close Your Legs, Honey” — one of the two Fringe Arts Festival shows this week’s Portrait, Claris Park, is involved in this year. The show is described as “a new musical about ugly people in a beautiful world.” Park plays an 11-year-old glamazon fighting off pageant-wannabe Honey for supreme glory.
A former Spiral Q member, actor, writer and director, Park is a multitalented young person who is quickly making her mark on the Philadelphia theater scene.
PGN: Tell me a little about Claris Park.
CP: Well, I am a 22-year-old theater-maker in Philly. I graduated from Penn in 2017 and immediately jumped into an apprenticeship at Interact Theater. I just finished that a few months ago, so it feels like I’m just out of school, even though it’s been a year. I’m a military brat, so I kind of grew up everywhere. Most people have a hometown when they introduce themselves but there’s not really any place I call home. I’m also directing another show for the Fringe so it’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun!
PGN: Where were you born?
CP: I was born in L.A., and raised there till I was 8. Then we moved to New Jersey for a couple of years. Then I lived in Germany, then back to the States where we lived in Georgia, and then to Colorado, which is where I went to high school. Then I went to NYU for a year before transferring to Penn. So a lot of crazy moving around. My parents didn’t speak English in the house until I got to kindergarten because they wanted me to be fluent in Korean first. They said, “Oh, you’ll pick up English quickly as soon as you get to school!” So for the first five years of my life, I only watched Korean TV.
PGN: I guess it worked. I understand you speak five languages.
CP: I speak Korean, English and German fluently. When my dad was stationed in Germany, I was 10 and they kind of chucked me into a German school and said, “Have at it!” We were there for a couple of years, so I learned German. I also learned a little French and Spanish in school. I’ve been told that I used to speak Japanese when I was little. We had family that immigrated to Japan and we used to visit them quite a lot and I just picked it up.
PGN: When did you realize that theater was going to be your life?
CP: Not until my second year of college. I started off in pre-med and international relations. My big dream was to work with Doctors Without Borders, but at NYU I got a little shaky and decided I wasn’t quite into the pre-med thing. My parents said, “You don’t have to do med school, in fact we encourage you not to. It’s a lot of work and stress.” So I transferred to Penn, still thinking about medicine, and my parents encouraged me to take theater as well, saying how much I loved it. I was like, “Really? I don’t remember liking it that much.” But I took a couple of classes and that put me on this path.
PGN: So you act and direct.
CP: Yes, I started directing films during high school in Colorado, but I did my first stage play at Penn. It was just one act, but I loved how bizarre you could take things on the stage, to be able to sit down with smart actors and discuss the direction we wanted and how far we should go. I still love that collaborative process.
PGN: And speaking of bizarre, let’s talk about “Close Your Legs, Honey.”
CP: Yes, it’s a bizarre but funny show about children’s beauty pageants. Most of the cast play 9-11-year-old pageant princesses. I get to play the mean girl, which I’ve never done before, so I’m really excited.
PGN: What’s the other Fringe show you’re working on?
CP: I’m directing a play called “A New Kind of Whole” written by Paige Zubel and Eleanor Safer. It’s a play that explores queerness and mental illness and how the two can intersect — the difficulties of navigating the world as a queer person with disabilities when it’s not something you normally see reflected in the community. It’s a two-person play and the main character interacts with a number of people along the way, including doctors and an acupuncturist, until she finds someone else who also has mental-health issues and they connect on a really deep level.
PGN: Where will it be performed?
CP: I like directing in odd performance spaces, so it’s going to be performed in the tiny apartment of one of our co-producers. It will be interesting to feel the dynamics of the show in such an intimate space.
PGN: That’s great — most of my favorite Fringe shows have been in alternate spaces. I’ve seen a two-woman play done in the bathroom of a pizza joint, took a friend to see a show in the back of a Mac truck and have seen a dance troupe in a graveyard. What was an early sign that you were part of the LGBT community?
CP: Up until I was about 10, my mother dressed me every day. It was weird because she would dress me one of two ways: It was either a frilly princess dress in tulle or like the kid of biker parents. There was never an in-between. And I was pretty comfortable as either princess or biker. I was good with the duality. But I went to a very conservative high school in Colorado and there were a lot of very religious people. Many of the teachers were prescriptive in their beliefs and being queer was something just not spoken about. I’m still trying to catch up and figure things out. I’ve heard it can be a lifelong process and I’m looking forward to it, but it’s been a weird five years.
PGN: Are you out to the fam yet?
CP: I’ve had the conversation with my little brother and he was just like, “Yeah, of course. I don’t care. It’s 2018, what kind of asshole would I be if I wasn’t on board with my own sister being happy?” And I kind of had the talk with my dad, and he’s been supportive, but I haven’t had the time to fully explain to them all the different aspects of my queerness. It’s interesting, we all speak English, but at home I only speak Korean with my parents and I just don’t know how to describe any of this in Korean yet, but I’m researching it. I think my mom suspects but doesn’t know for sure.
PGN: So what else is on the agenda for the year?
CP: I’m working on something called “The DJZ.” It was developed through the Naked Angels/The New School’s Issues Project Lab and the Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists/Asian Arts Initiative’s Mini-Residency Program. It is an interactive theater piece exploring identity, solidarity and collective liberation. I will also be in Inis Nua’s “Monster in the Hall” this season, as well as Azuka’s “Bob: A Life in Five Acts,” and Theatre Exile’s “Among the Dead” in the spring
PGN: What’s a favorite place you’ve lived?
CP: I loved Germany because you were so close to everything. I love driving and road trips and with the open borders; we’d take a trip to a different country at least once a month. The castles there are amazing and all the rivers and forests along the way were beautiful.
PGN: Something fun about a family member?
CP: Well, my dad was my mom’s intern when they met.
PGN: Most exotic food you’ve tried?
CP: I’ve tried Korean silk worms. I’m not a fan — they’re dry and crispy. Pass.
PGN: You couldn’t pay me enough to do what job?
CP: Horse pooper scooper? I actually got pooped on by a bird on my way here. I had to stop and clean up. Yuck!
PGN: If you were to write a book, what would the subject matter be?
CP: I’m really into science fiction. I was an English major in college too and read a lot. I’d love to write a science-fiction/magical-realism book about post-office workers. Yeah.
PGN: Three objects you love and why?
CP: I really like the Broken Button sculpture on Penn’s campus. It’s really bizarre and I like it. The second thing would be my ukulele. It got me back into music again. I’d taken a break from it for a couple of years, but it’s inspired me to start playing again. And finally, I have a very small painting that was done by the assistant director at Delaware Shakespeare Company. She’s really talented and over the summer she’d take prompts from different people on set and create paintings for them. I asked her to do something with an Aspen tree. We had them in Colorado and I really loved them. She created a gorgeous painting that I wake up to each morning and it starts my day with a smile.
For tickets to “Close Your Legs, Honey,” go to: https://fringearts.com/event/close-your-legs-honey-a-new-musical.
For tickets to “A New Kind of Whole,” go to https://fringearts.com/?s=A+New+Kind+of+Whole&post_type=tribe_events.