Jason Tseng

Interview: Qui Nguyen of Vampire Cowboys

Filed By Jason Tseng | February 26, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

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Earlier this year, Vampire Cowboys was nominated for a GLAAD Media award for Soul Samurai. I had the exciting opportunity to speak to Qui Nguyen of Vampire Cowboys about his recent production Soul Samurai, a blaxploitation, kung fu, vampire story featuring a lesbian protagonist and a whole lot of awesome. I have to first disclaim this interview to admit that I am a huge Vampire Cowboys fan, and am crossing my fingers and toes that they win their GLAAD award for best off-broadway theatre production.

SB: Vampire Cowboys isn't an explicitly LGBT/Queer theatre company, but Soul Samurai featured a lesbian protagonist. Were you expecting a GLAAD nomination?

Qui: No, we had no idea that we would be nominated for a GLAAD award at all. You have to invite GLAAD nominators to be nominated, but a lot of nominators also tend to be reviewers as well. So I think our press agent invited GLAAD nominators to review our show and then, I'm just assuming, that they invited other people and that's how we ended up getting the nomination... which was astounding. But, no, we weren't expecting it at all.

SB: The GLAAD Media Awards have a pretty large national scope. Have you felt much of that at Vampire Cowboys?

Qui: Whenever we get a good Times review tend to get some national interest, since it's a nation wide paper. But we will normally get interest from regional theatres, around the nation. But the GLAAD award opened us up to not only the world of theatre, but across all entertainment. Usually the only people who see theatre are theatre people. But the people who see the GLAAD award, since its a media award, are people from Hollywood and television. So the kind of people who have been contacting us have been vast, and must more diverse than we usually get.

SB: That's exciting! Would you be interested in doing more Hollywood-type things? I know that you're a theatre company, but your productions borrow heavily from film conventions.

Qui: I can only speak for myself, personally. But I'm definitely interested in writing for comic book, theatre, and film. When we started Vampire Cowboys, the whole idea of the company was to one day be a company that produced comic book, films, and theatre. And so this was just a great way to gain that kind of attention and get those kinds of people looking at us. It just so happens that it costs a lot more money to do the other things than say, theatre. So to get recognized by people in other arenas is very rewarding.

SB: Soul Samurai brought together blaxploitation and vampire mythology. That's kind of what VC does. You did a Hamlet meets Zombies show for example. Where do you get the ideas for these crazy pairings?

Qui: Well it depends on show by show. The show before Soul Samurai was Fight Girl Battle World, so that was our sci-fi show. That was actually decided by me and the other artistic director sitting around and thinking "What genre have we not tackled yet?" So we all decided that we hadn't done sci-fi yet and that's something we should try. As strange as it sounds, Soul Samurai actually was more of a personal story for me as a playwright. So that really came from me. Sometimes the show comes from "Oh this is what we should do next" and sometimes it comes from the company. But, Soul Samurai definitely came from the fact that I am a Vietnamese American kid that was born in the projects in Arkansas. It was kind of a mixture of the influences in my life My parents raised me on kung fu flicks and blaxploitation films, cuz i was raised in a primarily African American neighborhood. So those things are kind of what influences almost everything I do: I became a fight director and a lot of my writing has a strong African American feel to it because of that.

So the reason Soul Samurai became what is was last year, was that this was what I originally wanted to do, and then Ma-Yi, a bigger off-broadway theatre company wanted to do a co-production with us. They wanted us to do something a little bigger. So they asked me what my dream show was. And I told them "I've always wanted to do a show with Samurai, Blaxploitation, and Vampires." And everyone was like huh, what would that be like? So it's a script that I've been been working on for a while with the character of dewdrop. Dewdrop is a character I've been saving for years, because I wanted to make sure we had the budget to pull off the vision i had for it. So when Ma-Yi came aboard... usually our budget is  around $25,000 to $40,000, and with Ma-Yi our budget was suddenly over $100,000. So I could actually pay for the time and attention needed to make the show had it. Everyone immediately jumped behind it, including Ma-Yi. So they helped me pull off this crazy idea I had.

SB: Sci Fi and Geek culture has a tendency to objectify women and make them more plot points as opposed to characters with agency. That was not the case with Dewdrop. When I heard about blaxploitation and a female protagonist, I was wary of that. So, when did you realize Dewdrop was going to be a queer character? And second, how do you feel dewdrop fits in within the canon of female characters in geek media.

Qui: Dewdrop was always going to be a queer asian american charcter. VC we're not overtly a "diversity" theatre company. It's no where in our mission, like it might be for your more traditional Latino American, African American, Asian American, or queer theatre companies. But our producer/managing director Abby has always joked that if we had a secret name, it would be "the secret diversity theatre company".

Part of our mission, that we say is our "unwritten mission" has always been to promote positive images of minorities and queer people on stage.  But we never want to advertise that, we don't put it out there. When I became the head writer for the company (I used to share responsibilities with our artistic director), and we finally became a company rather than just working on the past two shows; we decided that we were going to be a real comany. So we sat down and looked at what we wanted to do artistically, and a major thing we were very passionate about it was A) comic book geek theatre - we want to take a lot of genres and cram them all together and find a way to bring in the geeky audience and bring them into the theatre. Since a lot of theatre produced nowadays is not really made  for that kind of audience. B) We want to promote multicultural casting and gay themes. But we couldn't fit it into the mission. So we decided to not put it in, that it would always just be the thing that we do, and just won't tell people about it.

The main reason being that our audience is not your usual theatre audience. They're usually 18-35 mainly geekier males, that like to play video games where they exploit women. They're world view in regards to those politics can be pretty small. And so our idea was that if they saw protagonists in these stories that they really enjoy that happen to be gay or happen to be Asian, or African American, we might be able to change their perspective in a small way without it being overt. We feel that a lot of the times those people would get turned off by overtly political theatre. So we want to always be entertainment first and then slide in our world view.

When it comes to Dewdrop herself. It all came down to the fact that I wanted to reflect two influences: Kill Bill and Black Dragon. Black Dragon was about an African American kid who wants to learn kung fu. That film really resonated with me since I was influenced the opposite way: I"m an Asian American kid heavily influenced by African American culture. And then when it came to the main character, after watching Kill Bill, I loved the movie but was a little disturbed that it was essentially a white blonde girl going through killing a bunch of minorities. So I wanted to make sure that Dewdrop was Asian American and make sure that was flipped.

The queer angle was that I wanted it to be a love story. And I knew that there was a side kick character and wanted to find out what those textures were. It sounds kind of a cheesy but the character really just told me what she was. The majority of our shows have female protagonists that kick ass. So we're very girl power.

originally posted on Scarlet Betch


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