2020 Archive

Directions Log 13.7563° N, 100.5018° E

Reflections, Rants, and Raves
Riw Rakkulchon

Riw Rakkulchon

Riw Rakkulchon (he/him) (Scenic Designer) Bangkok, Thailand. Selected Credits; Twelfth Night (Yale Repertory Theatre), Cymbeline (The Public Theatre) The Waiting Game (59E59); Free and Proud (Edinburgh Fringe); Antony + Cleopatra (Yale Summer Cabaret); Loose Canon (Fringe Encore NYC 2015); and Far From Canterbury (FringeNYC), as well as collaborations with Kitchen Theatre Company, Opera Ithaca, and Ithaca Shakespeare. He assisted designers such as Riccardo Hernandez, Wilson Chin, Jason Ardizzone-West and Walt Spangler on productions at Center Theatre Group, La Jolla Playhouse, and Berkeley Rep, among others. He holds a BFA from Ithaca College, and MFA from Yale School of Drama. riwrdesign.com @riwrdesign

Agent: R, 18 – 28, Cis gendered male, Gay, Asian, 2nd generation Thai-Chinese- Malaysian. 

Enter stage east 13.6900° N, 100.7501° E. 

R standing with his mom and sister, he carries 1 luggage and 1 carry-on. Passport in hand, well-kept with a passport cover with his parents’ emergency contact written on it.

R enters long line at border control.

R does not look back at his family after passing border control, with tears in his eyes.

R takes flight.

R thinks about the limited experiences he has had in Thai theater, and excited for the new adventure in the free world. Freedom of expression: speech, press, assembly, all denied to him on account of his political views. Free from the fear of being abducted for speaking out. Free from the preference for toxic masculinity reinforced by his time in ROTC. Free from the fake ‘land of smiles’ tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

R arrives at John F. Kennedy Airport. 40.6413° N, 73.7781° W.

R walks through border control. Officer takes R’s papers and passport. Officer removes the passport cover, crumbles it, and throws it back at R.

R attends theater school with mostly white people. 42.4217° N, 76.4986° W.

R feels out of place.

R acknowledges cultural shock.

R realizes most people don’t understand, or care, or take time to learn about his culture.

R feels beaten, head down, just following the rules.

R learns to not speak up, because he is often silenced and shut out of conversations. R never felt respected.

R graduates, moves to New York City. 40.8116° N, 73.9465° W.

R faces in-person racial incidents.

A. ‘Hey Jackie Chan, you fight good when you’re drunk?’
B. ‘Ni hao Ni hao.’
C. ‘Hey Faggot chink give me your bag.’
D. ‘Not into Asians.’
E. ‘I’m not usually into Asians but you’re cute.’
F. ‘Whites and Latinos only.’
G. ‘It must be a language barrier thing.’
H. ‘Oh, you have such good English.’
I. ‘You Chinese ni**ers…’
J. ‘Your people must not do this often, see in American theater we…’

R recognizes that racism against Asians is extremely present through history.

1. Executive Order 9066 (February 19th, 1942).
2. Yellow Peril (unclean and unfit for citizenship in America).
3. Chinese Exclusion Act.
4. Food Network’s Ree Drummond ‘Asian hot wings’ incident.
5. Rise of anti-Asian racism of 2003 SARS outbreak. 

R bakes to deal with anxiety post-graduation.

R attends graduate school. 41.3163° N, 72.9223° W.

R graduates.

R returns to 40.8116° N, 73.9465° W.

R works with the most amazing designers in the United States.

R designs several shows simultaneously.

R works on submitting for a visa extension.

R’s mission paused due to COVID-19.

R witnesses more racism against Asians.

1. Trump coins the terms ‘Kung Flu’ and the ‘Chinese Virus’
2. Cases of Asian businesses being looted.
3. 2, 120 cases reported of Asians being verbally and physically abused for their race during COIVD-19.

R is unable to move.

R tries to put on a fake smile, in hopes that the ‘joy’ covers up the pain. A tactic he learned from the land of smiles. 


R bakes and cooks some more to deal with this anxiety.

R starts to make food stop-motion videos to pass the time when there’s no theater work to do.

R creates a stop-motion podcast series interviewing international artists.

R attends several zoom meetings on diversity and inclusion talks.

R learns that Asians often do not present anger not because it is not in his culture, but the model minority complex has been so engrained within his development, unknowingly, that it was created as a racial wedge and a tactic to denigrate others.  

R attends protests, in solidarity, recognizing his own blind spots in the conversation.

R feels as if protests in United States are just like the ones at home, except these protests do not have military tanks on the streets.

R witnesses an arrest.


This fear causes R’s body to freeze (at the time he was still waiting to hear back from immigration services). The thoughts that ran thorough his brain:

1. You’re an immigrant, you do not have freedom of speech.
2. You’re an immigrant, you do not have the right to plead the fifth.
3. You’re an immigrant who has the last 9 years in the states to lose.
4. You’re an immigrant, you had to pay $10,000 out of pocket to hire a lawyer, collect evidence, cry, and plead to prove that you are an ‘alien with extraordinary abilities.’
5. You’re an immigrant who would be charged if you apply for government assisted programs (Medicaid, unemployment, housing).
6. You’re an immigrant, applying for any aid could potentially cause you to not be able to come back into the country if you choose to spend the pandemic in your home country that has COVID-19 under control.
7. You’re an immigrant, the United States government does not care about you.
8. You’re an immigrant, you are worthless.
9. You’re an immigrant, the theater in the United States does not have stories that represent your genuine identity without eroticizing it.
10. You’re an immigrant, your voice at the BIPOC table is secondary.
11. You’re an immigrant, you are targeted.
12. You’re an immigrant, you are not welcomed.

The extremely harsh reality did hit him at that moment. The odyssey to Ithaca was meaningless. Four years of hard labor in a low diversity school where he constantly hears “your English is very good.” Those summers spent at theater festivals, the year in New York City growing and meeting new friends, or the next three years at grad school, could somehow become meaningless if he was deported? He has more to offer. There is work to be done. He needs to be at the table. He has more to show. There are no offers from the industry that value his authentic self. He is depleted and exhausted as the world digs deeper into the Pandora box of dismantling white supremacy. He is looking for the light in such a dark, dark tunnel. Let’s find the light together.

Exit, pursued by a bear.

This essay was commissioned in collaboration with SideLight, an ongoing series of curated essays from a contingent of the next generation of artists and arts leaders. As the theater and entertainment industry rebuilds and reimagines, these pieces speak directly to our present, yet also seek to envision our future.

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