Making a choose-your-own-adventure time-travel show is a non-linear process for a neurodivergent artist who can never think of one thing at a time. Can how we naturally think help us find the form of our creative project? Eden Jun reflects on how I'm Sorry I'm Not Lucy Liu was shaped by her neurodivergence, and the joy of following the grain of her brain.
Since January 2022, I’ve been developing my solo theatre show I’m Sorry I’m Not Lucy Liu: a choose-your-own-adventure time-travel story about my alter ego Eden’s quest to become her own superstar like Lucy Liu. The C-Y-O-A form gives the audience a say in how the story unfolds, so every performance is co-created (you’re right to think I love hyphens). I had an excellent collaborator, and the test run in the Starting Blocks showcase went really well. Hurray! Next? A work-in-progress and a full run with a dream team. Support from Arts Council England (thanks to my amazing access support worker). Like a Britain’s Got Talent contestant through to the final, I was screaming and jumping up and down with my team, embracing Ant and Dec like our dream was made.
Dream made, now the show needed to be made. I had promised that ‘no two shows will be the same’, meaning I had given myself about 3 hours of material to create for the 1-hour show. I had followed my instinct. My brain said make it rain, and lightning flashed while the wind levitated me, like I was Storm from X-Men.
The challenges of this show are inherent in the structure and the ambition: whenever a choice is made by the audience a new path has to emerge. The total number of scenarios are only limited by the length of the show, and the potential scope is huge. How wacky can it get before it’s too much? Time travel requires a very clear set of rules, which might reveal holes (in the logic, but maybe also in space) once you test the show. Do we only go back in time or do we travel to the future, too? If so, how do the different paths connect?
After my brain had been sufficiently scrambled, I had to remind myself what I set out to do with the show: explore Asian representation in the arts in a playful way. It seemed a no-brainer to me that I would have the audience choose my path, and that we would go on an adventure together, because what is theatre if not an adventure for the collective imagination? Time travel was to catapult us into this adventure. The C-Y-O-A form suited how my mind worked, which was in a non-linear way that needed multi-sensory stimulation (and all those hyphens).
The leading actors in my neurodivergence are ADHD and dyscalculia, and it began to dawn on me that I was making a show that my neurodivergent brain dreamt up for me. Answer to my brain’s need to be stimulated? Think of lots of possible stories. My simultaneous need for clarity and abhorrence of binary thinking? Structure the show to change each time I perform it. Daniel Kwan, who made Everything Everywhere All At Once with Daniel Scheinert, was researching ADHD for Michelle Yeoh’s character when he realised that he had the symptoms, which led to his diagnosis. In my case, I was already aware of my neurodivergence, and like him, I was culturally not allowed to have it as a Korean girl growing up in the UK (I will go into neurodivergence and navigating culture in my next post). I cycle through many interests intensely over short bursts of time, which may be why I was drawn to a story that is both kaleidoscopic and driven by a quest.
As I researched the C-Y-O-A form, a niche but enduring genre, and started sketching out a structure for my show, I tested it with my director, Francesca, and friends who encouraged me and asked me useful questions. I was back on track. For a bit. Then I hit a wall again. This time it was because I was trying to write theatre instead of allowing myself to make theatre. I had form and structure, but not the visual language of the show, which is where my brain really hums like a buzzing hive.
I slowly came to a choose-your-own-advantage process when it came to how I made work to make full use of props, costumes, images, sounds, smells, touch – not just words, even though I love words. It sounds obvious now, but I kept falling back into the trap of trying to be a writer who sits and writes, which isn’t the kind of writer I am. I started thinking like a maker, and all of the joys of making live theatre came rushing in, with the many ways for us to feel what’s in front of us. From seeing a dangerous acrobatic stunt to being unexpectedly sprayed by a performer, being in a live performance can be unforgettable.Once I gave myself the permission to go with the grain of my brain rather than against, and fit the form to my brain rather than to try to impose a form on my brain, I was happier and more generative.
If you are a creator of any form of art or anything else inherently creative, including science and business, are you working with the grain of your brain? It might be that you already know and like the way you make things or solve problems. Or maybe you’ve felt restricted in how you have to work because of the existing structures around you. Maybe you’re discovering how your brain works like I am, and learning what creative form gives you the most joy. It doesn’t mean that you can’t explore other forms or mess with what works naturally for you. It might just be a good jumping-off point for your own choose-your-own-advantage process.
(In case you’re wondering: the total number of hyphens is 35).
Tue 20 Jun - Thu 22 Jun at 7.15pm
Tickets £8 (work in progress)