Photo by Eliesa Johnson
Stories of growing up Minnesotan can have a familiar refrain: hockey, ice fishing, cabins, carpooling . . . you know. And while those broader elemental circumstances are often the same, the tales themselves are vast and varied, like the curious case of Mayda. The 30-year-old Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter, known for her pop-funk beats and diminutive, angular posture, is ditching the concert confines to spin a personal narrative of growing up a Korean adoptee in the great white North in the form of a one-woman show at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. “It’s really corny,” says Mayda, “but it’s kind of like my Purple Rain.”
DeMayda’d, directed by Randy Reyes, the artistic director at Mu Performing Arts, is her life experience told in non-linear fragments via narration and original songs. Her inspiration came after meeting her birth parents while on tour in South Korea, an encounter that left her with more questions than answers. Not that finding answers is the point. “I want to tell people that adoption is a complicated issue, and everybody has a different experience.” There’s not just one way to grow up Minnesotan.
July 10–11. Guthrie Theater, guthrietheater.org
Below, find excerpts from our conversation with Mayda.
Erin Kincheloe: Is there something you wanted to accomplish with this piece that you couldn't with music alone?
Mayda: There are a lot of things. I wanted to tackle a new creative medium. I've never done theater before. Especially when I was growing up, there weren't a whole lot of roles for a short little Asian girl to play. I've always tried to be a part of that community, that theater world, but I've never been able to, so I decided to carve out a character for myself.
I also want to tell another experience of a Korean adoptee in Minnesota. I know there are tons of great artists and speakers and community activists from the Korean adoptee community. I could never do what they do, but I wanted to try and do it in my style because I have things I want to get out there and need to say. Not only as a Korean adoptee but as an artist, as a musician.
EK: Was there a moment when you thought, I need to do a full-scale production, or what happened?
Mayda: I started working at the Guthrie Theater in May 2006 or 2007, just because a friend hooked me up with a job. As an employee, we were able to see plays at a discounted rate. I went to see Madame Butterfly, which Randy Reyes was in. I went and was totally blown away by how they presented it visually, his acting—I just thought it was so captivating. I was like, Wow, I'm just getting sensory overload in a really amazing way! I want to be able to do this. Can I do this? I thought about it for a long, long time. Then I thought, I think I can at least be a part of something like this.
EK: Tell me about Randy Reyes.
Mayda: He actually proposed we do something, which I was totally honored by, because, you know, it was essentially his role that inspired me to do this whole thing. He's just so easy to work with and nice. He gives me a different perspective and a different way to think about things. You know, as an artist you have an idea of how you want to do things sometimes and he gives me different options. He knows different ways I could go about it, or sometimes he says, "No, we can't do that," because he knows theater. And I realize he's right; we can't have a plane crashing in from the side of the building. He's just really great mentor and a really great director. I totally am thankful and humbled by his genius.
EK: What is the feeling you want people to be walking away with?
Mayda: I want people to take a positive experience away from this. I just want to move people, make people feel something they didn't before. I want to change people's heart rates. You know? I'm all about communication, and theater and music and art is just away for me to connect with people. As an adoptee, I want to tell people that adoption is a complicated issue, and everybody has a different experience, positive and negative. I went on tour to South Korea and met my birth parents for the first time. A lot of people thought, "Oh, good job Mayda, that's great. Life is complete for you now. I'm glad you were able to close that chapter." And a lot of people think that after you meet your birth parents, being adopted, that life can go on and be peaceful. Now you've done it, you've completed everything—which is totally not true. That's one thing I want to tell people, that just because I found my birth parents doesn't mean that it was a great experience. I'm finding that I have more questions, more questions than I did before I even met them. And now I have this whole—you know, life has to go on for me. I have to make certain decisions and keep on going as a normal person. There are totally new issues that come up with all this craziness as well.
EK: I just watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give a TED talk about the danger of a single story. I think it's powerful that you're adding a story. It's complicated, and that's why there's lots to make art out of.
Mayda: I think I just want this to be another story. Not just: this is me and I'm IT, I represent all adult Korean adoptee experiences. No. This is another way to look at another life, a different experience. There are other people who have had really great experiences. But this is how I experienced it, and it's different. Not just as a Korean adoptee, but as an artist, because there are tons of people who put on one-woman show or one-person shows. This is just the way I'm gonna do it.