Playwright Profile

Ken Yoshikawa Ashland New Plays Festival

Ken Yoshikawa

2022 New Voices Emerging Playwright

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Currently residing: Portland, OR!

Growing up: Technically all over, but mostly in Portland. I was born in Japan (6mo), then lived in London (3yrs), Amsterdam (3yrs), Melbourne (4yrs), and finally Portland since 1999.

Creative beginnings: I liked telling stories in elementary school, writing Star Wars fanfic that is lost to time now. Wrote a cool story in the 4th grade about an over-powered bicycle. I wrote some plays in high school, which was fun. I got into poetry in high school, kept going in college, then started doing spoken word. I think the big breakthrough for me was sharing a really vulnerable piece about being abused by a mentor, and then being so lovingly received. That crowd love made a big impact on me that continues through today.

What nurtured your playwriting: 1) Within myself: the drive to heal! Creativity is healing, and following my growth as an artist, the arrival and propulsion through learning and building as a playwright has been very healing. The desire to create something that moves me. Making the decision to do it.

2) Outside of myself: taking a class from Dan Kitrosser, and the reading crew I was a part of during the pandemic! Barbie Wu has been a huge nourishing influence.

Stories you gravitate toward telling: I have a variety of interests, but they all move around emotional tenderness and kindness, as well as violence and power. I’m really interested in the political contradictions on our planet, the interconnections of politics and spirituality –  joy, magic, violence, and death. I think I write about family a good amount.

Writing process: It has its own story. I usually spend a lot of time thinking about something, letting the thoughts and feelings and moments come to me. It’s really a visual, third eye kind of thing. I’ll take notes, and then finally get moving on writing a scene.

Writing feels like improvisational acting, and if improv acting can be as slow as writing is, then I’d be a great improv actor, haha. Then I go into a phase where I ask the script questions, and it fights me, and we struggle, and we get stuck, and then we try things, and then we eventually break through bit by bit. Finally, when I really see my way through, I organize, and then write basically every day with concrete goals until it’s done. It really does feel like putting the “wright” in playwright, like a shipwright. I think of it like building a ship: does it float? Will it tip over? Can people live in it? How far can it go? What does it need to sustain a voyage?

Since writing is titillating and agonizing, I take a lot of time and am gentle with myself. I get scared and insecure, so I go on a lot of walks. I would say it’s a mix of hard leisure and spaciousness, and then hair-on-fire discipline.

Currently inspired by: I’ve come to learn that it’s the people in my life who really inspire me. Writing to them, or something modeled after them. I’m fascinated by the political nightmare that is living in the imperial core. I’m fascinated with the danger of being in America. I’m fascinated with death and violence. I’m utterly taken by gentleness and kindness. Also great work I’ve seen in Portland recently, like Chick Fight, Gem of the Ocean. Also movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Current in the works: I have a 3rd draft of a 5-act play that is looming above me waiting to be worked on.

There’s a two-hander about inner child work and video games that needs a rewrite.

And there’s a play in my head about siblings, a birthday party, a protest, and an impending war. That piece is getting closer for me to dance with.

I feel like I have almost too much on my plate in different phases, and that is honestly a bit overwhelming.

Finally, I’ve started an astrology business as a side hustle to make money, and I’ve been making TikToks for it, which has been a great exercise in understanding my audience, teaching something I love, and writing for concision.

Most looking forward to at ANPF: Learning new things and getting really deep into conversations about playwriting. I’m seeking to connect to people and get a deep shift in perspective about the craft.

I’ve got a bunch of projects in various stages. I have rewrites on deck but find myself held back by my lack of knowledge and the need for a dramaturg to help me make some hard choices.

I’m looking to understand the relationship between a playwright and audiences, involving what people really need to know, what’s enough.

I’m most looking forward to engaging with the wisdom and knowledge of the participants and the educator. Also, to have time to just focus on playwriting.

Basically, I’m coming in open and listening.