Carla Ching tells “nuanced” story about revenge porn in play

At the beginning of Carla Ching’s new play, Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body, protagonist Kat Chan is rocked by a betrayal by someone she loves when her ex-husband posts intimate photos of her online.

Ching, the playwright behind “Nomad Motel,” who has also written for TV shows like “Fear the Walking Dead,” draws in her latest work, originally written for the 2021 O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Ching says she wrote the production with Ammunition Theater Company, “partly because I’m an Asian-American woman in my 40s and I don’t feel like there are a lot of stories out there about us, let alone how we do with relationships or sex or deal with our bodies and our sexuality. We’re just sort of forgotten when we’re in our 20s, when we’re young and beautiful.”

By reserving the story for Asian artists, Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body, which opened last weekend, shows that there’s room for diverse talent to find a place in a story like Ching’s.

In Revenge Porn, main character Kat Chan must decide how to react when her ex-husband posts nude photos of her when they were together. She struggles between taking the high road and seeking revenge in her own public way.

Ching was inspired to write the play after reading about Emma Holten’s Consent project. When Holten’s Facebook and email accounts were hacked in 2011, private nude photos she had saved on her accounts were shared online. She responded in 2015 by collaborating with photographer Cecilie Bødker Jensen in a series of photos that showed her naked and engaged in everyday chores. Holten wrote in an article for Hysterical Feminisms that she did the project to make herself “a sexual subject rather than an object.”

A woman sits on a couch on stage

Playwright Carla Ching sits on the set of her new play Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Ching wanted to pay homage to Holten’s story with her new play, but changed her mind after wondering what would happen if the woman was an Asian American in her 40s with “a career, a family and a lot to lose.”

While the play focuses on Asian characters, their identities are not at the core of the narrative. Instead, it focuses on her experiences of engaging in revenge porn. It was the complexity of the characters that drew Ammo director and literary manager Bernardo Cubría to the play.

“The play deals with very human, very real, nuanced, complicated issues that reminded me of my family – my mother, my wife, me,” he says. “I saw myself in it. It felt so universal and beautiful.”

For Cubría, Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body encourages its cast to take on roles they are normally excluded from.

“The first slot we get to record are pieces about our historical pain and trauma, which are very important and beautiful, necessary pieces,” he says, “but now a lot of us long to be able to exist in spaces in which We Become Dads and Moms, not the funny Asian boyfriends or the dark, badass Latinos.”

Ching felt similarly and was often overwhelmed by the roles available to Asian actors. In her experience, Asian roles were often reserved for actors when the character was “marketed in some way or our ethnicity fetishized.”

“I wanted to have complex, nuanced, amazing characters on stage and write those roles for a lot of Asian-American actors, but it’s not necessarily about identity and being Asian-American,” she says. “They don’t wrestle with their identity as Asian Americans. They’re Asian American people going about their lives and crazy things happen to them.”

Ching says it was “exciting and relieving” to write the play and allow the actors to bring it to life. She even felt the emotion in the cast.

A woman poses for a photo in front of a tree.

“I wanted to have complex, nuanced, amazing characters on stage and I wanted to write those roles for a lot of Asian-American actors, but being identity and being Asian-American isn’t necessarily the point,” says playwright Carla Ching of her new play.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Tina Huang, who plays lead character Kat Chan, pointed out that the majority of people on and off stage for the production identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. After experiencing her own setbacks when she was typecast based on her race, she says being able to play Chan made her feel seen because of her complexity.

“We don’t have many stories that portray these three-dimensional Americans, who also happened to be Asian, in such depth and also address their place in this puzzle,” says Huang. “There should be space for artists who identify with me — as a person of color, woman of color, Asian American woman — where we don’t have to apologize to take the space.”

While the identity may change or alter perceptions of the show, it shows the industry that people of color have complex emotions when faced with a gnarly situation of betrayal. While Ching typically writes stories with Asian characters, her race is simply an additional trait separate from the central theme of her work, including earlier plays like “Fast Company” and “The Two Kids That Blow S—Up”: Why do we die hurt people we love?

Ultimately, what drives Ching to write plays like Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body is to give people of color the opportunity to work in theater, something they aren’t typically allowed to do in predominantly white institutions—storytelling, one thing rarely shown reality reflected on stage.

“We’re all excited to be in a community together and create characters that look and feel like us, or like people we know,” says Ching.

“Revenge Porn or the Story of a Body”

Where: Ammunition Theater Company, The Pico, 10508 West Pico Boulevard, LA

When: 8 p.m. Thursday to Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends October 9th.

Tickets: $35 general admission

Information: Munitionstheater.com/

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-27/carla-ching-revenge-porn-or-the-story-of-a-body-play Carla Ching tells “nuanced” story about revenge porn in play

Sarah Ridley

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