Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters is a performer, playwright, and educator based in Philadelphia. After attending Bucknell University with an Arts Merit Scholarship for acting, she studied at the London Dramatic Academy and CAP21 Musical Theatre in NYC and went on to perform in shows such as Miss Saigon, King and I, and Avenue Q – but after “[getting] tired of playing a white man’s version of Asian,” she began writing shows for herself and her community to amplify AAPI experiences and perspectives! Her favorite credits include Today Is My Birthday at Theatre Exile, Man of God at InterAct Theatre Company, and Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams, Philadelphia Theatre Company. As an inaugural playwright at Boise Contemporary Theatre’s BIPOC Playwrights Festival, Walters also recently workshopped her original play, Half of Chopsticks. When she’s not onstage, Walters is a preschool teacher on-track to become an undergrad instructor and a founding member of the Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists. Walters’ advice to young artists? “Find the people who understand and support your work but also challenge you to push through when things feel tough… if you love being an artist, don’t give up.” Read on to learn more about Stephanie Walters and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters
Heritage: Half Korean
Current City: Philadelphia, PA
Current project: Emily in Today Is My Birthday at Theatre Exile, Philadelphia PA & Terrence McNally Award Winner for Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams at Philadelphia Theatre Company.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects
I was in a production of Man of God by Anna Ouyang Moench at InterAct Theatre Company before the pandemic shut down in-person performances. It was such an amazing script. I absolutely adored playing the firecracker, Mimi. She was a fabulous character. I was honored to be invited to the Boise Contemporary Theatre’s BIPOC Playwrights Festival as an inaugural playwright! I workshopped my play, Half of Chopsticks, and had an incredible time working with a group of Korean American actors from L.A. Actor and producer, Julia Cho (Artists at Play, LA) was an amazing asset to the workshop in the role of Emmy. She has become a long-term collaborator and I am so grateful to that experience for bringing us together.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Finding a community of artists is crucial! Find the people who understand and support your work but also challenge you to push through when things feel tough. Find mentors who will champion you and your work! They will be a lifeline throughout your journey as an artist and sounding board when you need advice. If you love being an artist, don’t give up. Find ways to make your art while juggling your day job. Apply or submit to opportunities. When you have some money saved up, take classes and meet new colleagues/collaborators. Find a way to access your artistry (even if for just a moment) every day! And try to find a day job that doesn’t suck your soul out – cause let’s face it, every diva needs a day job; you might as well enjoy it!
How did you get your start?
I started acting at a very young age and continued it all through high school. I am very lucky that my parents supported my decision to study performance in college. I went to Bucknell University with an Arts Merit Scholarship for acting. I studied at the London Dramatic Academy and CAP21 Musical Theatre in NYC. After graduating from college, I moved to Philadelphia (close to where I grew up) and started performing professionally. I was lucky enough to be cast in all the big Asian musicals right away (Miss Saigon, King and I, even Avenue Q). But I got tired of playing a white man’s version of Asian. I don’t regret those experiences because they allowed me to make amazing friendships and lifelong partnerships with other AAPI artists. I learned so much from the artists ahead of me in the industry – it was like having big siblings! But those musicals definitely inspired me to crave more for myself and my talented friends in the cast. I started writing not long after working on a couple fantastic contemporary plays. The playwrights were a part of the rehearsal process, something I hadn’t experienced before, and it made me think of playwrights in a new way. Not as dead guys who wrote something a million years ago, but as living, breathing storytellers. I started writing plays for my AAPI siblings because I wanted to see our experiences on the stage. I wanted audiences to understand our Koreatowns as much as they understood Our Town!
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I’m a founding member of the Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA). PAPA is a grassroots, membership-based collective that exists to build community among, and address the lack of economic and artistic opportunities for, people of Pan-Asian descent involved in the performing arts in the Philadelphia region. We do this through member-led programming such as community-building events, professional development programs, performance opportunities, and grassroots organizing. These programs are designed and implemented through the framework of “For Us, By Us, Beyond Us,” and fueled by our values.
Within PAPA, I am the creator and Lead Artist of the Playwrights Project (PAPAPP). The Playwrights Project raises up the voices of emerging Asian and Asian American playwrights in our city to allow our voices and stories to be increasingly visible on the stage. Over the course of a 2 year residency, our playwrights hone their craft through workshops, readings, professional development opportunities, and collaboration. Playwrights meet monthly to share drafts, work with local dramaturgs, and discuss local and national theatre. They engage with the new play development process and culminate with a reading of their work. You can find more here: https://www.phillyasianartists.com/pp
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
When I’m not performing or writing, I’m a preschool teacher! I started teaching elementary school theatre in Philly over ten years ago and slowly worked through the middle and high school levels. I’ve taught theatre, playwriting, musical theatre, dance, and so much more! It’s been a huge source of joy for me and I truly can’t imagine my life without being an educator. I transitioned to teaching preschool a few years ago and find my work in the classroom is similar to acting - a lot of playing and a lot of imagination! I’m expanding my educating experience to include the collegiate level. I’ve worked with some local universities as a guest and have taught at my alma mater, Bucknell University. I am dedicated to inspiring and empowering young artists to weaponize their art for change! In the fall, I’ll be teaching undergrad students and I can’t wait!
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
I am new to understanding what self-care means to me. I had a misconception that self-care had to look a certain way to “count” or that self-care wasn’t something I needed to prioritize because I didn’t have a “high pressure enough career.” Obviously I needed to reframe this for myself! It’s been a learning process and something I still need to remind myself of. My largest form of self-care is reading. Because I have been tackling my MFA the past two years, I was reading a lot of academic texts or case studies for my courses, however this is not as relaxing as I would prefer. Scheduling time to read for pleasure became essential! I love reading romance/rom-coms and supporting our AAPI writers and authors! I even created my own bookstagram, @stephanie_readz, to share my reading journey with others!
Are there any habits you have that have shaped your writing style?
I keep a creative journal with me at all times. At any moment an idea or inspiration can pop into my head, but with a busy day stealing my focus, I don’t always have the ability to remember my little lightbulb moment. The creative journal helps me store all my ideas in one place. Nothing else goes in the journal (no grocery lists or to-do tasks) – just creative thoughts! As I jot something down, my body has a physical reaction to the act of writing and more thoughts and ideas come out! I am able to explore more as I physically move my hand across the paper, as opposed to typing on a computer. I also read a lot on or around the topic or theme I’m writing about / project I’m working on. Even if the theme might feel quite far removed from what I’m reading, I try to keep my brainspace constantly working in a similar space as the creative idea I’m exploring in my project. This allows my focus to always float around my playworld, characters, or ideas.
What genres do you most enjoy writing?
I love to explore themes of family, sense of belonging/community, and grief in my plays. I take something hyper specific to my experience or something I’ve researched and try to open it up to a more universal application. I want audiences to grapple with the space between my specificity and their ability to find the universality within the play. It’s in that that I hope we grow empathy. Oh and I love ghosts on stage.
Headshots: Kate Raines - Plate 3 Photography
Man of God (Mimi) @InterAct Theatre - Seth Rozin
Today Is My Birthday (Emily) @Theatre Exile
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