I’m thrilled to take part in my third production with Rainy Day Artistic Collective with my new one-act play, “Not in Kansas.” Based on real life experiences of my great aunt, Justita, the story follows two PhD students from the Philippines who’re studying in the United States in the early 1950’s. While on a trip to New Orleans, the two experience the opposite of Southern hospitality at a rest stop in Mississippi.
I found out about the Halfway Historical Festival back in December, when my previous project, “The Swan,” was featured in the Twisted Tales Festival. Upon learning what it was all about, I knew immediately I had to write something for it, and I knew exactly the story I wanted to write. Despite never knowing my great aunt, Justita has had a great impact on my life and I’ve done several essays and think pieces in the past, exploring her experiences. I knew that eventually, I wanted to start telling some of them through my creative writing, and that one of them had to be about her experience of being approached by a sheriff in the Jim Crow South, for drinking out of a colored only water fountain. Writing “Not in Kansas” was the first step in that direction.
Even though the play directly stems from something that actually happened to Justita, how it plays out in “Not in Kansas” is not entirely how it played out in real life, but that’s not to say that there aren’t real-life influences for the fictional parts. Just to give an example, the character of the Sheriff was not only modeled off of the actual sheriff who confronted my great aunt, but also the numerous professors who would attempt to put her down for being a woman in education. Other times, I had to take some creative liberties, such as making the character of Estreya – who is modeled off of Justita – do things her real-life inspiration wouldn’t do. My great aunt was a modest woman, and so she never would have told just anyone of her activities during World War II. However, in writing the script, it was necessary for Estreya to reveal that part of her history to show the Sheriff what’s up.
All three characters, Estreya, Rosario, and the Sheriff, have very distinct personalities, but the commonality that’s shared among them all is that they’re all ignorant in their own ways. “Not in Kansas” toys with the idea of why and how they’re like that, and how – if at all – they change by the end.
Making “Not in Kansas” was a very different experience from “Interview with an Aswang” and “The Swan” combined. This script was not specifically written for a virtual platform, and this was my first time not having a Rainy Day piece directed by Laura Uyeki. On the other hand, the experience of having this play made was very similar to “Interview with an Aswang.” I was more involved this time around (although not as a director) and the creative team spanned across multiple time zones. Seriously, one of our actors was out of the country during the later rehearsals.
There are not enough good words to say about the director and cast of “Not in Kansas,” and the fact that most of them were found via my casting call on Twitter means a lot.
Although I was initially hesitate about having a director that wasn’t Laura work on this, that quickly changed when I met Cailin Chang. It’s very hard to believe she hasn’t directed since college, as she gave it her all with her vision and notes for what she wanted out of this production. She recognized immediately just how personal this piece was, and I loved how we were pretty much on the same page with every creative decision that was made. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better director.
With Cynthia San Luis as Estreya, Mirabel Miscala as Rosario, and Jim Haines as the Sheriff, this was one hell of a strong cast! Everyone took Cailin’s notes and incorporated them into their performances seamlessly, they dug deep into figuring out who their characters are, and their delivery was strong each and every time. “Not in Kansas” is interesting in that all three characters are recommended to be performed with accents (Estreya and Rosario with Filipino accents, the Sheriff with a Southern accent), and even though I wouldn’t have had any grief if none of them were able to do it, the fact that all three of them did just made their performances that much more real.
I’m just wildly impressed, honored, and humbled to have had all these amazing human beings bring one of many of my great aunt’s stories to life. To be able work with them all again one day would be more than welcomed.
I’m very aware of the timing that “Not in Kansas” is performing. It is being shown both during Women’s History Month and also during a time when anti-Asian hate crimes continue to take place. My hope is that this story can contribute to the ongoing conversations on race and gender that are happening now, but whose issues were just as prevalent 70 years ago.
If you have the means to do so, please consider making a donation to Rainy Day, either through Venmo (@rainydaycollective) or PayPal.
In keeping in line with the subject matter of “Not in Kansas,” I also encourage you to consider making donations in support of Black Lives Matter and Stop AAPI Hate; movements that are both dedicated to combating against racism that remains alive and well today.