Each month on The Subtext Brian speaks with a playwright about life, writing, and whatever itches we are scratching.
In this episode, Brian visits Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago to meet with the playwright Vichet Chum, a Cambodian American playwright and theatremaker originally from Dallas, Texas, who now lives in New York City and whose play Bald Sisters is now running at Steppenwolf through Jan. 15, 2023. Chum’s plays have been workshopped at the Magic Theater, the Alley Theatre, the UCROSS Foundation, Florida State University, Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the New Harmony Project, among others. Vichet received the 2018-19 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting with New Dramatists, serves as an associate artist at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and is a current board member for the New Harmony Project. He got his BFA at the University of Evansville and his MFA from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company.
Vichet talks about growing up in Dallas and being raised by Cambodian immigrant parents, and how this experience influences his writing. Writing was not the path his parents wanted for him, but he says they have been supportive and engaged with his work, traveling to premieres and providing comments when his plays directly intersect with their lives.
“In Texas,” Vichet says, “everything is competition.” That includes the speech and debate team that was central to his high school experience. His older brother was known as the hotshot speech and debater at school, something he felt like couldn’t live up to. But in hindsight Chum can see he did rack up plenty of wins, despite never feeling as talented as his sibling.
And he talks about the surreal but rewarding experience of being part of his first major production with Bald Sisters, which follows two Cambodian siblings as they reckon with the legacy of their late mother and the conflict and genocide that drove her from her home to the complicated life of a refugee in the U.S.
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