Pillowtalk Credit: Walter Wlodarczyk

Artists from around the country will convene August 13 through 18 for the sixth National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival, also known as ConFest, hosted by Victory Gardens Theater, Silk Road Rising, and the Theatre School at DePaul University. This is the first time the conference will be held in Chicago.

The six-day event will feature six full productions—including Kyoung H. Park’s Pillowtalk, presented by the Brooklyn-based company Kyoung’s Pacific Beat—as well as staged readings, speakers, panel discussions, think tanks, workshops, and parties.

“This is something very new for Chicago theaters,” says Jamil Khoury, founding artistic director of Silk Road Rising and a board member of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists (CAATA), which sponsors the conference. “It’s an opportunity for people to engage with stories they haven’t heard or seen, but also for relationships to develop between individual artists and companies that may be outside of Chicago with theater companies and theater makers here in town.”

This year’s theme, “Revolutionary Acts,” “will explore the most pressing issues shared among a diverse body of marginalized groups and artists of color. For Leslie Ishii, director of the National Cultural Navigation Theater Project and a CAATA board member, those include both the “larger concepts of inequity around how resources come [and] the immediate needs of keeping the doors open while we keep ongoing efforts coordinated to resist blackface [i.e., casting someone not black to play a person of color], yellowface, redface, brownface, and disability-/drag-/cripface.

“There are a great many folks who are awake, more aware to the injustices,” Ishii continues. “In the American theater field, many of the organizations and certainly many of the individuals are really bringing themselves into a place of education and awareness around equity, diversity, and inclusion, and ultimately, we aim for them to join the revolution in service of social justice.”

Adds Khoury: “I think it is a revolutionary act every time we expand or work to expand representation.”   v