Ping Chong educates students on global social justice

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Herring

Ramapo opened its doors to contemporary theatre artist Ping Chong on Monday, Feb. 25. He and a member of his company, Ryan Conarro, spoke about their documentary theatre work that focuses primarily on social justice around the world.

Chong began his presentation with a 15-minute video detailing three of his prominent works.

The first was his notable work “Beyond Sacred” which invited most 9/11 American Muslims to come share their stories in a series of interviews, from which he built the script for their performance. It's a key detail that all stories they tell are true, and none of the performers are actors.

He said, “It is very important to support each other when injustice is showing its face.”

Many of the communities Ping Chong & Company share the stories of are ones they do not belong to, and respect is incredibly important to them. They work in theatres they have been welcomed into to share a story they are new to.

The second project he showed in his mini-video was titled “ALAXSXA | ALASKA,” which was led by Ryan Conarro. This project focused on the experiences of native Alaskans and their struggles with colonization, the American government and anti-Semitism.

American colonizers in Alaska refused refuge to Jewish people running from the Holocaust, and they felt that they felt that bringing this little-known information to attention was incredibly important.

“It is important for a nation to grapple with that reality,” Chong stated on the topic of shameful histories.

The last work shared was his most recent called “Difficult Lives” which was performed in Japan about people with disabilities.

All of these works are part of his multi-decade long series, “Undesirable Elements.”

The projects, as he describes, are “a kind of a communion between the people on stage and the audience, which is to say it is about community.”

Chong & Company never see these shows as a way to earn money, but rather to bring the voices of the unheard to the public. These unheard voices of marginalized communities deserve to be heard in the eyes of the company, and they hope to share that with the audience.

“By the time you leave, you just see human beings like yourself,” Chong said.

By no means are the issues that are presented new to the world, and Chong believes that “every nation needs to face up to it to declare history to move forward!”

The whole presentation was delivered with passion. Chong came from a film background despite being born into a family of traveling theatre performers. His passion for using theatre combined with other mediums began after completing his degree in film, and he’s been working diligently ever since.

At the end of the presentation, he and Ryan Conarro opened the floor to the audience to ask questions – and audience members did not miss the opportunity to do so.

Many students asked questions about his past work and what he hopes to work on in the future. The only question he did not answer with utmost positivity was that of his dream, “Undesirable Elements” show, which he says is to interview maids in Hong Kong. Despite his success around the world, he sees this as one of the few groups he will not be able to reach in his lifetime.

The purpose of his work came up in his answers time and time again. One statement he made in the Q&A expressed teaching empathy to the audience.

“When you’ve understood what it is to be other, to be considered other, you have more empathy for others.”

“Undesirable Elements” and documentary theatre – despite their popularity – may not have reached many of Ramapo’s students had Ping Chong not taken the time to speak. Many of the students already involved in theatre that attended were inspired by his work, which they shared in the Q&A.

Attendees of Chong’s presentation were so engaged that they showed no sign of being bothered by his going over the time. He finished his presentation with words that will likely last with every member of the audience:

“What do they have to tell us is about identity, home and differences.”