When the surprise finalist of “The Voice Supreme,” the TV talent search show, turns out to be not only a refugee from North Korea but also a star of that country’s state-sponsored entertainment cadre, things escalate fast. Suddenly the safety of the United States and even the world is at stake, but — to look on the bright side — ratings have never been higher.
There are accusations and counter-accusations of honeypotting, double-agenting, spy-harboring, human trafficking, war-mongering and lip-syncing, plus news media hysteria, social media memes, world-ending nuclear threats and show-stopping power ballades.
At this chaotic, multivalent intersection of reality TV and the DPRK propaganda pageant extravaganza known as the Arirang Festival, Supreme / Being tells the story of Yumi Song, DPRK showbiz-elite-turned-contestant, and her fellow finalists — Punjab-born IT engineer/country crooner Mohmo Singh, Westchester rapper Amber Gold and Newark-bred emo singer-songstress Trace Thomas. Other characters include celebrity judges, media pundits and last but not least The Supremes themselves — DPRK Supreme Leaders Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jung-Il and Kim Jong-Un.
Created by writer-artist Grace Suh, Supreme / Being is surreal, irreverent, provocative and all-too-relevant musical theatre. Supreme/Being is also radically inclusive and interactive, making each performance a dialogue on freedom and free will, supremacy and personhood, and the existential quandaries inherent in the state of being. The Rocket Grant will be used to mount a minimally staged workshop production in Spring 2019, with set design comprised of large projected background images mimicking the role of the monumental propaganda paintings and statuary that overshadow the daily life of North Koreans.
Grace Suh is an award-winning writer of fiction and journalism and has worked at the nexus of arts and cultural identity all her life, including working as an editor and contributor for numerous Asian American literary journals, magazines and film festivals. Grace’s own writing has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Edward Albee Foundation among many others. She is also a first-generation American, born in South Korea to parents of North Korean origin. From childhood she was acutely aware of the separation between the two Koreas, and the unreachability of her father’s family just across the DMZ. As a college student in New York City, she stumbled upon an archive of beautifully produced magazines depicting life in modern-day Korea, only gradually realizing them to be the product of the North Korean propaganda apparatus, published for the purpose of promulgating idealized visions of a thriving economy and happy citizenry. In fact, in that very year — 1992 — began the greatest privations of the famine that killed an estimated three million North Koreans. Supreme / Being was conceived as a bricolage of geopolitics, family memory, culture and philosophy, as a way to locate and recover humanity by means of communal spectacle.