This week Playbill catches up with Mia Katigbak, the co-founder and actor-manager of The National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) whose numerous New York theatrical credits include The Headlands, Henry VI, Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Scenes From a Marriage, Dear Elizabeth, Light Raise the Roof, Peace for Mary Frances, Dream of a Common Language, and Awake and Sing! The actor, who has also appeared regionally in productions at Long Wharf, Yale Rep, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Two River Theater, Berkeley Rep, and the Guthrie, is a 2021 USA Fellow as well as the recipient of a 2019 Special Drama Desk Award, a 2017 Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement, and an Otto René Castillo Award recipient for Political Theater.
Katigbak will next be seen in NAATCO and The Public Theater's world premiere of Out of Time, five new monologues by five award-winning Asian American playwrights—Jaclyn Backhaus, Sam Chanse, Mia Chung, Naomi Iizuka, and Anna Ouyang Moench—beginning February 15 in The Public's Martinson Hall. Conceived and directed by Obie winner Les Waters, the cast also features Glenn Kubota, Page Leong, Natsuko Ohama, and Rita Wolf. Performances continue through March 13.
What is your typical day like now?
It usually involves a kind of test: antigen, pool, PCR. We test every other day for Out of Time rehearsals. Then it’s either going to rehearsal or going to NAATCO’s office. Although since Omicron, I’m likely to do desk work from home to avoid contact with any other human. It’s a little concerning that I’m okay with this, but I know I’m fortunate that I have to be in constant contact with people on a daily basis, either in person or virtually. This sounds like a kind of routine, but in truth, no day seems typical to me. Something unexpected seems to crop up, and we’re just all so hyper vigilant, what with variances in all aspects of life needing to be paid attention to.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room following the theatre shutdown?
Exciting, a relief, and also unsettling. Definitely wonderful to be with other humans working on a play and hearing simultaneous conversations. You could gasp, and audio wouldn’t cut out what your colleague was saying. But taking so many safety precautions (very necessary) before entering a place I associate with being willing to take risks, was thought provoking. Seeing only half of your scene partners’ faces; not being nearer than six feet from them; not being able to do justice to a long line of text because I had to take a breath at the wrong moment because the mask is interfering—these were all disconcerting. I am realizing that most of the time I’m in studio, I feel somewhat unbalanced.
Tell me a bit about the monologue you will be performing.
How has the state of the world in the past couple of years affected the ways we receive and process information? How has it altered our whole personal system: intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, cognitively? How do we analyze our current state of being in the sociopolitical and cultural contexts of the past decade? Because perhaps our environment leading up to the pandemic was a big factor in how we are now dealing with life.
Are there any parts of the play that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
All of it. It embodies all the questions above.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
Let’s take care of each other. Every circumstance and location is different, of course, but I can attest to the fact that the Public is taking care of us very rigorously. They are applying the same attentive safety and health guidelines to the audiences so the benefits are mutual. As long as we are all responsible, I think we can be more reassured rather than anxious.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think society tends to think formulas will be the solution. Formulas for appropriate behavior, formulas for equity, diversion, inclusion, for reform. And, I think there is a perception that coming up with a formula will bring about quick, meaningful change. But dismantling a system that has been in place for centuries requires a lot of hard, extensive, incessant work. I find that even when all parties are willing, it takes a very long time to figure out if we mean the same things when we talk about inequity and approaches to how to address it, for instance. Frameworks are good. Structure is good, and necessary. But maybe those need reconfiguring as well. It is all ongoing and vigilant work.
Has NAATCO shifted its focus at all following all that is happened in the past two years?
Not at all. The desperation I felt after the killing of George Floyd, the anxiety of the presidential elections, the disbelief during the Capitol riot, the outrage at anti-Asian violence, each of these underscored for me the importance of our mission of representation, the centering of the marginalized, the pursuit of shared humanity. NAATCO stands firm in this mission on behalf of Asian Americans.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Connect, re-connect, with people who are close to you. Listen and receive. For me, nothing beats being in touch with a handful of people who are a real part of your life. Rather than relying on the thousands of “friends” you might have on Facebook, or the thousands of followers you have on social media for a sense of connection, I found that the more frequent communication I had with family and friends was a lifeline.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I had a suspicion about this, but it was nice to be affirmed that I can be a good caregiver. It did surprise me, though, that I was more of a helicopter one than I’d expected.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I think I read somewhere that over 60% of people who died from COVID were the elderly. I was watching one of the panels we created for the show and learned about the following: Voices for Seniors, Gray Panthers, and Senior Planet. People should also contact Ron Kim, NYS Assembly member, chair of the Committee on Aging.