This year, Playbill is inviting two artists performing their shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to write down their reflections. These artists first perform their works in New York City, and then again abroad—and Playbill is asking for a behind-the-scenes look before, during, and after their Edinburgh run. First up is Zoë Kim, whose solo show, Did You Eat? (밥 먹었니?), first premiered at Off-Broadway’s 59E59 as part of its East to Edinburgh Festival. The six performances quickly sold out.
Now Kim is taking Did You Eat? (밥 먹었니?) to Edinburgh August 4-26. The play is directed by Chris Yejin and co-produced by Zoë Kim and Kayla Kim Votapek, as part of their newly created Seoulful Productions. While the show is primarily a story about generational trauma and how it affects our love language between lovers, friends, and family—it’s also a story about food, identity, parent-child relationships, and the Korean-American experience. In her first essay, Kim reflects on why she created her show.
I identify, first and foremost, as a Storyteller. I also exist in this world as an Actor, a New Work Development Manager at The Public Theater, and the Founder of the non-profit organization Seoulful Productions. I grew up in Seoul, South Korea and moved to America in the pursuit of my American dream.
Since I was five years old, I had always wanted to make art that was helpful because of my grandmother who raised me. She was my whole world and she’d tell me that my stories made her forget her sadness. It meant everything to me that I had the power to do that for someone. Becoming a performer of some sort was all I ever wanted and watching American films sparked a relentless obsession with being part of that world. It seemed impossible but exciting, and I was determined to figure it out somehow.
There were a lot of challenges in coming to America but I finally made it when I was 16. I felt unstoppable. But that year quickly became a confusing time for me. I went from identifying as a Korean to suddenly being categorized under the monolith of Asian-American. It felt a little bit like an erasure and dismissal of who I thought I was. I quickly started to reject my Korean-ness to fit in and to make my identity easy to understand for others.
As I took a closer look at the entertainment culture in America, I saw a severe lack of representation of people who looked like me. I rarely saw stories that I could relate to. I immediately felt the impulse to change that, even though I had no idea how to do it. Meanwhile, I assimilated, made myself smaller, and kept waiting for things to change.
The entertainment industry has told me many damaging narratives over the years. I was told that they couldn't imagine me leading a show because I was too good at playing supporting characters. They struggled to cast me because I was strongest when playing silent roles. I was told that my ethnic and cultural background hindered me from becoming an expansive actor. That my truth wasn't enough to express the human condition. I was told that no great director would want to work with me, and that I was difficult to work with because I refused to strip down naked. I was told that I wasn't brave, and that I wasn't committed to art. I was told that the way I dress and present myself don’t serve the types of roles that I'd be considered for—that I should be more beautiful and that I should smile.
Constantly underestimated, undervalued, and undermined—I was told that the way I was being treated was my fault. That my rage was unwarranted. Countless times I tried to speak up in any way that I could, every time I wasn't believed or listened to.
In nearly 20 years of acting professionally, Did You Eat? (밥 먹었니?) is the first time that I'm deciding to be seen as my full authentic self, inside and out. Make-up free, no flattering lighting, messy bun, baggy clothes—prioritizing my comfort, my process, and my artistry. No other work I've made has ever required this level of courage, honesty, and vulnerability. It makes me feel naked and ugly and liberated and empowered, all at the same time.
I made Did You Eat? (밥 먹었니?) as a love language to my inner child, as an expression of self-love to who I am, and as a love letter to all Korean daughters. It’s reflective of my healing journey from generational trauma, representative of my rebellion against the industry, and symbolic of my promise to keep learning how to love.
By seeing this show, my wish is for the Korean diasporic community to feel seen, heard, represented, and most importantly, loved. I deeply wish for anyone who sees it to be inspired to practice radical love for themselves and for others. Because love is the most powerful language we’ve got.
I'm not sorry for what I've been through in the last two decades of my career and for staying committed to my artistry. I'm grateful to have become the actor that I am today and to be creating art that's meaningful to me and to my community. The industry may find how I look or my work appalling, but honestly I don't care.
This is my face. This is my work. This is me and what I have to offer the world. Get used to it because I'm done negotiating.
For each and every one of you who have shown up to our NYC previews, thank you. Your support has been reaffirming and life changing. It’s made me realize that there is an audience for my story, my artistry, and my authenticity. That there is a need, a hunger, and an appetite for my truth. That the damaging narratives I had been told were wrong. That I am, truly, enough. I'm deeply moved and grateful that you taught me that.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, you're next. Here I come!
Tickets for Did You Eat? (밥 먹었니?) are currently on sale at seoulfulproductions.org.
Zoë Kim (she/her) is a storyteller who is passionate about creating art that encourages humanity, compassion, and kindness. She is the Founder of Seoulful Productions, Korean-American women-led, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to create artistic experiences that celebrate the culture, artistry, and voices of the Korean Diaspora. Special thanks to Saenam Kim, Eric Ng, and David Lee Huynh.