From the Page to the Stage
Vicky Pham '23 reflects on her experience writing A Seat at the Table and working with BD Wong to produce the play on campus
by Catherine Joy '23
“The stars are aligning!” thought Vicky Pham '23 (Communication) as she read an email she received last summer that would eventually lead to a “life-changing experience.” Pham wrote A Seat at the Table for the New Playwrights’ Festival, a course offered at Santa Clara University that focuses on workshopping plays and moving them ‘from the page to the stage.’
“I wrote the play with no further expectations of it going anywhere beyond the festival,” Pham explains. Sure enough, as Pham found out in that email, the department wanted her work to be directed by BD Wong, SCU’s 2021-22 Frank Sinatra Artist-in-Residence, during the upcoming school year.
As a communications major with minors in Asian American studies and creative writing, Pham loves exploring different fields, and writing her play certainly allowed her to “marry all passions together.” She felt compelled to write A Seat at the Table in light of recent Asian American attacks, which have skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had written previous works before, but with the attacks increasing around the time, it was always on my mind. Writing this play was a way for me to engage with the things that were happening around me. It was my response and my personal way of taking actions into my own hands, and making change in the ways that were possible to me,” Pham explains.
She is grateful for the guidance and inspiration of several SCU professors. “Professor James Lai's Ethnic Studies courses served as a huge influence,” she reflects. “Having taken many of his classes, I've learned the history of Asian Americans and their significance in the media today. It has certainly reminded me of the importance of representation, especially for the Asian American community.” Additionally, theatre professors Brian Thorstenson and Aldo Billingslea were incredibly helpful in guiding Pham throughout her writing process. She explains that “they've encouraged me to follow my passions, create what I want to create, and say what I want to say.”
“I wrote a story that is very personal to me and the Asian American community that I care so much about. For that to coincide with BD Wong’s time on campus, who is such a pioneer in the industry and is also very passionate about these same issues…it was an incredible coincidence, and I'm really thankful for that,” Pham says. "His identity as an Asian American was super helpful in the process of directing my play, since he was able to understand its nuances and explain things in it that I hadn’t even realized.”
While the media focuses on Asian American hate crimes immediately after they are committed, “that same importance isn't felt by society after time has passed,” Pham explains. She hopes that her play can continue to spark conversations and be a proponent of change for Asian American justice.
One of the most rewarding parts of Pham’s experience was getting to collaborate with the theater community both on and off campus. The school was able to recruit four professional actors from the local Bay Area theater community to partake in the experience. “They were really great to work with, and I was happy to get involved and give back to a community that has given so much to me,” she explains. With a mix of SCU students involved in the production as well, Pham is happy to have made so many new friends both in school and out of school.
“The night before the curtains went up, I was talking to Professor Billingslea,” Pham said. “He solidified in my mind that this was what I wanted to be doing. Social justice, which has been emphasized throughout my education at SCU, is so important to me. I've been able to incorporate that, as well as my interests in creative writing, into my work. I'm hoping to attend graduate school in an area of creative writing, and eventually write for television and film. This event was the impetus for that, and I hope to continue with it for as long as I can!”