Ra Chapman, Malthouse Theatre’s 2018/2019 Writer in Residence and current Artist in Residence, is soon to make her mainstage theatre debut with K-BOX, a comical new play about a 30-something year old Korean adoptee who brings guts and hard truths to the suburban family dinner table.
As a transracial adoptee herself, the work travels over familiar ground for Chapman who says her relationship with her identity can be best described as a tumultuous rollercoaster ride, which is still ongoing. “K-BOX was inspired by the collective and palpable grief, desire for connection, and deep love that exists within the Australian adoptee community and extended community overseas,” she says.
K-BOX came about initially as a duel desire to fill a narrative gap and honour the first meeting with her birth father in Korea over a decade ago. “There is so much non-fiction content out there in the world but a lack of fictional narrative based transracial and inter country adoptee stories,” she says. “Particularly written or created by adult adoptees themselves.”
Over the past decade Chapman has become very involved in the adoptee community with many individuals, she says, becoming good friends. In fact, K-BOX was inspired by all the adoptees she has met, their collective stories and the complicated nature of being adopted and attempting to connect with culture and the past.
‘I want to share with audiences the joy and devastation and the impossible choices you are faced with, when you attempt to find something you’ve lost, while still wanting to hold onto what you have,” she says about her work that covers themes from belief systems, conditioning and cultural authenticity to the roles we play and the masks we wear. A multi-layered work, other discussion points include: tapping into a deeper consciousness, peoples resistance to having their world view changed and their desire to maintain the status quo, and the instinct to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
A work in progress over many years, Chapman had the seed of the initial concept of writing a play centring the experience of an adult adoptee in 2015 and started writing snippets of dialogue and scene ideas in 2016 but it wasn’t till 2017 she really had a semblance of a play on her hands. “During this time I had approached and started to have a few dramaturgical sessions with Mark Pritchard at Malthouse and by 2018 I had a fully formed work to share with Malthouse and in 2019 they commissioned it and committed to programming it in their 2020 season,” she says.
As far as what a day in her writing process looks like, Chapman is pragmatic. “Really depends on what stage of writing I’m at i.e. first or final draft, or how close to deadline I am. Generally I like to go for a walk and get a coffee to start my day and get blood flowing. Then I try to knuckle down writing by 10am and take a proper break maybe another walk or something around 5pm and then do a few more hours in the evening after dinner. If I have deadlines then I will prob write till the early hours of the morning.”
Asking Chapman to recall some of the challenges in writing the piece, memory becomes a factor over the course of time, but she does remember just reading a lot of plays and consuming books and podcasts about playwriting to just grasp the fundamentals. There were also lots of interviewing and connecting on a deeper level with the adoptee community but, for Chapman, the challenges were and still are communicating the specificity and nature of the Korean adoptee protagonist journey and mindset over the course of the play.
Chapman describes her mainstage debut as exciting but equally daunting. “Writing from your own lived experiences and other people within the same community experiences is always fraught and it’s a tricky space to navigate, to do justice to this community and represent authentically in a theatre space where you are the only representative, while also not pandering and staying safe,” she says. “I wont lie, the weight of that responsibility is very present for me.’
Malthouse Theatre has a long history of proactive artist development initiatives, hosting various professional development programs and artist residencies. Chapman is an alumnus of the Besen Writers Group and the Living Now Writer’s Residency. She applied for and was selected to become a ‘Living Now Resident’, an initiative supported by FCAC and Malthouse. The residency was over 9 months and an introduction to the inner workings of Malthouse. She was then asked to stay on as an Artist in Residence, an annual position. Chapman describes the role as quite broad and can include working as a dramaturg on some shows, reading new works and giving notes, attending meetings and being involved in conversations about programming and connecting with and supporting other artists and writers.
As a playwright, Chapman is very interested in writing about people having their lives turned upside down. Characters who are stubborn and avoidant who resist, refuse to give themselves over til the very last moment. She’s interested in stories with deep love and hope, even if on the surface it seems like all is lost. So it’s no surprise that K-BOX protagonist Lucy and her parents haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything, but further complications arise when a K-Pop star mysteriously wanders into their lives and starts asking destabilising questions about her Korean roots.
Chapman’s busy life continues as she has a TV Comedy Series in development and is in the middle of writing another play! But, she says, is also planning to devote some time to finding a better work life balance.
Chapman’s new play K-BOX lifts the lid on parent-adoptee relationships, Says Chapman, “It’s a roller coaster ride of family shenanigans, K-Pop and heartbreak. And even though the play centres an adoptive family, it’s a family just like any other, and audiences will be able to completely relate while also getting an insight into a very specific type of family dilemma that will open their eyes and hearts.”
September 2 – 18