Many playwrights have made the leap from stage to screen, either adapting their own works or creating original new stories. Local award-winning writer (and producer/actress) Christine Hoang aims to be the next artist to make this transition with her new screenplay, Fly Girl, which will receive a staged reading this weekend at the Asian American Resource Center, produced by Color Arc Productions and directed by Jenny Lavery.
I caught up with Hoang in this blog-exclusive interview to learn more about the screenplay, the upcoming reading, and her participation in the Sundance Institute’s Development Track.
Andrew Friedenthal: What is your screenplay, Fly Girl, about?
Christine Hoang: Set in Austin, Texas, our story is centered on protagonist Linh Hoang Williams—a 42-year old, size 12 (or size 14 depending on that week’s carb intake), Vietnamese American, recently-divorced, single mom. It’s her 42nd birthday weekend, but Linh’s eight-year old biracial daughter Nini is spending it with her father (Linh’s ex-husband).
Linh can’t sleep when she learns that her ex-husband has started dating again. To distract from her feelings of failure, Linh makes a birthday wish: get a hobby. Her best friend takes her to a Twerkshop (yes, a workshop for twerking) where Linh impresses the dance instructor, who casts Linh in a 90s-inspired hip hop dance troupe called the Fly Girls. Linh soon learns she’s the chubbiest and oldest dancer there—a 42-year old on Facebook in a room of 20-year olds on Instagram. Imposter Syndrome sets in and she starts to lie. Linh tells them, “I’m 30, no kids, never married.” She plugs these lies into her dating profile and meets Isaac, the first Asian guy in her life who tells her, “You’re beautiful,” instead of, “You’re fat.”
When Linh’s lies start to unravel, her alter ego begins to crack. She must overcome her inner demons to find out who she really is.
Friedenthal: Is Fly Girl a romantic comedy?
Hoang: I wouldn’t call it a rom-com. Fly Girl is a love story about the love you give yourself. I’d call it a second coming of age story that happens when you’ve hit the midpoint of your life.
Friedenthal: What was the inspiration/impetus for writing this screenplay?
Hoang: A year ago, my daughter asked me, “Mommy, can you write something that I can be in with you?” One year later, and she is performing alongside me in my staged reading of Fly Girl on Saturday, November 9th.
I am committed to telling stories where women feel seen, both on stage and on screen. I especially believe that an Asian American woman (one who is not glamorously young, beautiful, rich, and thin) can carry that lead story to portray a whole, fully-realized person who grows into her strength. Moreover, I am passionate about telling a story set in the American South with authentic and diverse characters that reflect the unique community of Asian, Latinx, Black, and LGTBQ voices in an otherwise predominantly white, cis hetero Austin, Texas.
Fly Girl is a comedy inspired by my true-life story. Much like Fly Girl’s main character Linh, I am a Vietnamese American Gen X-er who grew up seeing Asian American women portrayed as peasants or prostitutes in Vietnam war movies. Then came Carrie Ann Inaba, the Asian Fly Girl in the 90s sketch comedy show In Living Color by Keenan Ivory Wayans. Carrie Ann was the first “cool” Asian I ever saw on television. As a teenager in the 90s, I would tune in every week just to get a glimpse of her dancing on screen. I wanted to dance just like Carrie Ann, and I would get that chance two decades later when producer/director Adrienne Dawes and choreographer Carissa McAtee cast me as a Fly Girl in Heckle Her’s 90’s-inspired sketch comedy show Doper Than Dope. I was over the moon.
On the first day or rehearsal, however, I looked around and soon realized I was the chubbiest and only Gen-Xer in a hip-hop dance troupe of skinny Millennials. But after several rehearsals, I eventually realized that these young women weren’t my competition; they were my inspiration. They taught me how to text with both thumbs instead of my pointy finger, how to listen to Spotify instead of Pandora, and how to Instagram. They also helped me to get out of my own way, get out of my head, and get after my dreams.
I am so grateful that many folks who were on the Doper Than Dope journey with me are now part of the Fly Girl staged reading. Leslie Lozano (my fellow Fly Girl from both Doper Than Dope and Doper Than Dope 2) is the choreographer, sound designer, and an actor/dancer in our Fly Girl staged reading. Leslie plays the role of Ella. Moreover, Austin’s powerhouse actor Jesus Valles is playing the role of Linh’s best friend Ruben. Jesus was a writer in DTD and a writer/actor in DTD 2. Furthermore, our Fly Girl narrator Deborah Sengupta Stith was in the audience for DTD and DTD 2.
Friedenthal: Fly Girl has made it to the second round of the Sundance Development Track for new feature films. How did that come about, and what does it mean for further development of the screenplay?
My roots are in theatre as a playwright, theatre producer, and theatre actor. In 2017, my indie film producer friend Andrew Lee and his wife Brandy came to see me perform in my comedic play People of Color Christmas. He told me my work should be on the big screen, and encouraged me to submit my script to Sundance. I only had 48 hours to submit, and because I didn’t have time to adapt my script into a screenplay, I just submitted the stage play. Predictably, I was rejected. It wasn’t far enough along in the development process. But because Sundance’s rejection letter was so nice and thoughtful, I decided to try for it again this year. To better prepare myself, I enrolled in Jill Chamberlain’s screenwriting class and 10 weeks later, I wrote my first draft of Fly Girl, my very first screenplay. Seven drafts later, I am now doing a staged reading directed by award-winning director Jenny Lavery and choreographed by my ride-or-die Fly Girl Leslie Lozano.
Friedenthal: What’s the next step for Fly Girl, both at Sundance and in general?
Hoang: Fly Girl advanced to the Second Round in the 2020 Sundance Development track for Feature Films. I find out in late December whether I move on to the final round.
In the meantime, I have applied to some grants in an effort to build resources to make this movie. I’ve also aligned myself with a kick ass producer and director, both of whom are Asian Americans and Texans.
Friedenthal: What’s the staged reading for Fly Girl going to look like?
Hoang: I am so excited about this staged reading because of the talent we’ve assembled to bring this to life. We will not be sitting behind music stands. Although we will have scripts in our hands, the cast will most definitely be moving, dancing (maybe even twerking), acting, and performing under the direction of Jenny Lavery.
I have admired Jenny’s bold directorial work for some time. Based on her fearless direction in the plays Drowning Girls, Severe Weather Warning, and Dance Nation, it is undeniable that Jenny knows how to tell a story where a flawed female character grows into her strength. Jenny also has phenomenal understanding of body work, movement, and how to get a writer’s vision on its feet—literally!
Be prepared to laugh, to cry, to fall in love, to get your heart broken, to rejoice, and to soar. Fly Girl is a staged reading that you can see with your tweenagers and your grandparents. And admission is free. Just RSVP at aarcatx.eventbrite.com. See y’all on Saturday, November 9th at the Asian American Resource Center on Cameron Rd. Doors open at 7:30pm.