January 18, 2022

What’s cooking behind the scenes at Specially Processed American Me?

SPAM fried rice for SPAM (PC: Jaime Sunwoo)

What’s cooking behind the scenes at Specially Processed American Me?

Specially Processed American Me, a new multimedia theater work written by former PCC Creative Fellow, Jaime Sunwoo, and co-directed by Sunwoo and Karim Muasher, features multiple layers of design, music, video projection, mask work, and shadowplay. It investigates the legacy of SPAM, the infamous canned meat, its significance in the Asia-Pacific, and its influence on Asian cuisine, unraveling the stories of three generations of women in Sunwoo’s family. The many ingredients that make the show’s flavor richer and denser are seasoned with history, both cultural and historical, as well as Sunwoo’s personal history in artmaking.

On top of writing and co-directing Specially Processed American Me, Sunwoo is truly interdisciplinary in her practice and approach, as she is also the prop, puppet, and costume designer, as well as the projection graphic illustrator for the show. She studied art as an undergraduate at Yale and was able to use her visual arts skills in illustrating the graphics and making the props in collaboration with other artists for the production.

The set design features multiple traditional Korean elements. The design for the projection screen frame was based on the traditional Korean cabinets in the house where Sunwoo grew up. Julia Kwon, a Korean American artist who specializes in bojagi, created the pink bojagi-inspired SPAM flats that are always present on stage. Bojagi is used to wrap gifts and food in Korea.

Sunwoo designed the symbol on the left that is painted on the Korean war era U.S. military reed organ in the show, based on the “Lucky Hormel Girl” good luck tokens from the 1950s. The Hormel Girls were a drum and bugle corps of American women veterans after World War II, who traveled across the United States to promote SPAM and other Hormel products. Notice the four symbols for luck surrounding the pig!

Sunwoo illustrated these projection graphics and shadow puppets made from polycarbonate sheets. The oral history recording from Sunwoo’s grandmother used in the show was the main inspiration for Sunwoo’s depiction of Korea in the 1950s.

She also worked with her mother, Clara Sunwoo, a contemporary fashion designer, to design and create the mudang (Korean shaman) costume, drawing inspiration from the Chilseong mudang regalia. She also conducted additional research with a practicing Korean American shaman in NYC.

On the music, Sunwoo worked with her long-time collaborator, Matt Chilton, with whom she first worked on her first original play, Household [2014]. Together, they also worked on “You Are The News Now” as a part of A Universal History of Infamy, PCC’s collaborative work from 2020 which invited a group of artists to respond to the original script of Ping Chong's Nocturne in 1200 Seconds. In 2018, Sunwoo and Chilton started working on Specially Processed American Me, with Chilton writing the music, the lyrics, and the original sound cues and effects. One of the most interesting aspects of the song lyrics is that every line in the Hormel Girls' lyrics is a "backronym" (an acronym formed from an already existing word) for SPAM. Listen closely during the show to catch them all…

On her collaboration process with Chilton, Sunwoo says that “Our collaboration is fruitful because we're both self-driven, have mutual respect, and give each other freedom to explore within our specialties while valuing each other's critiques and suggestions.”

There are so many visual and auditory aspects of the show to unpack. From the detailed secrets hidden within the song lyrics to visual designs of the set and props that mix SPAM imagery and aspects of traditional Korean cultures, the table is overflowing. Scrumptious, Piquant, Appetizing, and Mouthwatering, Specially Processed American Me is a feast for the eyes and ears.

Specially Processed American Me will take place at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street, NYC) from January 27- February 19, 2022, with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 pm.

Purchase Tickets Here!