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Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

A co-production with Boom Arts
November 5 – December 18, 2022
In the Ellyn Bye Studio

Critics are raving that this “laugh riot” is “so good, so powerful” and “both heartening and cathartic.”

Three days into the pandemic shutdown, performance artist Kristina Wong — driven to help make a difference in the world — began sewing masks out of bedsheets and bra straps on her Hello Kitty sewing machine. Before she knew it, she had recruited hundreds of volunteers to join her as the “Auntie Sewing Squad.” With sharp humor and brilliant social commentary, this tour-de-force look at the early days of global change offers a guide for community building and an inspiring path back into a healing world.

“Wong's larger-than-life stage persona is endearingly boisterous … a celebration of ingenuity, community, and survival.” –TimeOut

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

  • Written & Performed by Kristina Wong
  • Directed by Chay Yew

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord Plot Summary

By Dominic Mallari, PCS Intern

In March 2020, Kristina Wong performs her comedy show Kristina Wong for Public Office at colleges in California. The next day, her performances and future projects are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, she finds herself stuck at home, in Koreatown in Los Angeles, CA. Being unable to perform, Kristina turns to a new passion project: sewing masks for people to wear to protect themselves from COVID-19. She notes how being Asian (she is a third-generation Chinese American) and wearing a mask make her a target for hostile strangers.

The demand for her masks continues to rise, so Kristina recruits her friends and family over Facebook to help with sewing and distributing masks. She names the Facebook group the “Auntie Sewing Squad” (not realizing at first that their acronym is A.S.S.), and gives herself the title “Sweatshop Overlord.” She emphasizes how A.S.S. wants to be obsolete since a government agency was supposed to do this work, and that they would prioritize serving the most vulnerable of communities. She jokes about winning an award for their efforts — the “Pandemmy.”

As anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests erupt in the United States, Kristina finds a cyst in her labia, later diagnosed as a Bartholin's cyst, and gets treated, although running into many difficulties along the way due to hospitals being filled with COVID-19 patients. Later, she observes Black Lives Matter protests in her neighborhood and pays tribute to George Floyd. The Aunties start to sew for the NAACP in the hometowns of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as for street medics who tend to peaceful protestors and black communities.

After losing members to burnout and others needing to find paid work, Kristina puts out more recruitment efforts, including inadvertently developing a summer camp for children, the “Baby Aunties.” She finds out that Tufts University is teaching about A.S.S. in their Public Health and Asian American Studies classes. Their membership eventually rises up to 800 Aunties.

Kristina talks about the fires raging through Oregon and California, and how the homemade masks aren’t suitable for protecting people from the smoky and sooty air. The Aunties buy KN95 masks below cost to be distributed to farmworkers and crop harvesters, many of whom are immigrants. 

Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Aunties make RBG-themed masks for the volunteers of the New Georgia Project, who register new voters in Georgia. They also receive a request from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which they decline because the hospital has the budget to buy their own masks and wants to exploit their free labor. Soon, following the 2020 election, Joe Biden is elected as the next president of the United States, and Kamala Harris becomes the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected vice president.

Many Aunties are afflicted by COVID-19, and Kristina pays tribute to Corky Lee, the “unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate,” who died from COVID-19. Soon, Kristina and many Aunties become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Atlanta Spa Shooting occurs in a long string of anti-Asian violence and harassment. Despite the COVID-19 vaccine being available, many people are refusing to get vaccinated or wear a mask and COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. The Aunties' outreach efforts increase.

Kristina goes to San Francisco to visit her parents in person for the first time in a year, riding a plane for the first time in almost two years. She and her family attend self-defense classes with Grandmaster Herbert because of the increase in AAPI hate crimes, and she finally meet in person with many people who have been involved with A.S.S. or have been beneficially impacted by them.

Masks are available everywhere and for cheap, so the Auntie Sewing Squad decides to retire from sewing masks. On September 25, 2021, they have a retirement party in a Los Angeles public park, where 70 LA Aunties congregate and 50 more from around the country watch the stream online. Over the past 504 days, they made 350,000 masks. The Aunties gift Kristina with a quilt, which they have secretly been putting together for several months. It has squares representing each Auntie's time in the Auntie Sewing Squad, which Kristina recognizes as a beautiful symbol of their legacy.

Preview image for Audio Description of the Friendship Quilt

Audio Description of the Friendship Quilt

Listen to an audio description of the friendship quilt that the Auntie Sewing Squad made for writer/performer Kristina Wong, on display at The Armory throughout the run of Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord.

A woman speaks in front of a row of American flags behind a podium that prominently displays the words "Stop Asian Hate."

Anti-Asian Sentiment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kristina Wong emphasizes the affects of anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic in her show. Learn more about the resurgence of AAPI hate and the affects it had on these communities. 

Preview image for Auntie Sewing Squad

Auntie Sewing Squad

Learn more about the origin of the Auntie Sewing Squad and how Kristina Wong earned her iconic title "Sweatshop Overlord." 

A woman works diligently at a sewing machine making a mask; the sewing machine is branded with 'Hello Kitty.'

Timeline of Events Mentioned in Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

This production highlights many recent worldwide events. Check out this timeline to understand the order of these events in detail.

A woman with dark hair holding sewing implements in front of a dramatic red-orange background, gazing pensively up and to the right.

Kristina Wong: An Artist Statement

The playwright and performer of Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord discusses finding the balance between humor and sincerity to tackle difficult subjects in her work on stage.

Preview image for *Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord* Reading List

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord Reading List

Calling all readers! Multnomah County Library put together a reading list inspired by our production of Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord.

Preview image for Gallery Exhibit: #MaskOutHate

Gallery Exhibit: #MaskOutHate

November 5 – December 18  •  FREE

Portland Center Stage will host an art and textile exhibit titled #MaskOutHate in partnership with the community collective of the same name. The exhibit will feature face masks and designs created in collaboration with impacted community members in the Portland area as a response to increased racism experienced by BIPOC communities during the current and ongoing pandemic.

Preview image for *Liberace & Liza Holiday Show*

Liberace & Liza Holiday Show

Tue, Dec 6, 7:30 p.m.

David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris share the stage as Liberace and Liza Minnelli, creating an exhilarating night of musical and comical fireworks. Bo Ayars, Liberace’s actual arranger/music director, conducts the show for an unforgettable evening of music and entertainment that includes loads of Liberace holiday piano medleys, showstopping Liza hits, and enough comedy and sequins to keep you giddy well into the new year!

Preview image for Pre-show DJ Set featuring One Trak

Pre-show DJ Set featuring One Trak

Fri, Dec 9, 6:30 p.m.  •  FREE

As part of The People's Party: BIPOC Affinity Night for Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, this special pre-show party will feature a DJ set by One Trak. She will play a mix of futuristic dance tracks and electronic songs. Guests can enjoy complimentary beer provided by Deschutes Brewery.

Preview image for The People's Party: BIPOC Affinity Night for *Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord*

The People's Party: BIPOC Affinity Night for Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

Fri, Dec 9, 7:30 p.m.  •  Sliding scale tickets start at $25*

We invite all who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and their guests, to attend a performance of Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord — complete with a pre-show DJ set and a post-show discussion with writer/performer Kristina Wong!

Preview image for Gallery Exhibit: No New Normal by Wendi YuLing

Gallery Exhibit: No New Normal by Wendi YuLing

November 5 – December 18  •  FREE

Artist Wendi YuLing brings you No New Normal, an interactive art exhibit and participatory reflection on the pandemic, the rituals of care we've developed as a result, and a dreaming for the future. This large-scale art installation will be on display in the Ellyn Bye Studio Lobby throughout the run of Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord.

Preview image for Brown Branch Presents: Duke Ellington's *Nutcracker Suite*

Brown Branch Presents: Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

Mon, Dec 19, 7:30 p.m.  •  $40*

Celebrate the holiday season with a big band musical tribute to Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite, led by Brown Branch (Domo Branch and Charlie Brown III) and a 15-piece jazz band.

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

Kristina Wong*

Playwright & Performer 

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Kristina Wong*

Playwright & Performer

Chay Yew

Director

Junghyun Georgia Lee

Scenic Designer

Linda Cho

Costume Designer

Amith Chandrashaker

Lighting Designer

Mikhail Fiksel & Adam Salberg

Sound Designers

Caite Hevner

Projection Designer

Miranda Cornell

Associate Director

Ant Ma

Associate Scenic Designer

Keegan Butler

Associate Lighting Designer

Luz Gaitan

Associate Projection Designer

Amanda Vander Hyde*

Stage Manager

Danny Rosales

Production Assistant

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Wardrobe/Hair Crew

 Michelle Stoyanoff

Audio 1/Mixer

Kyle Colgan

Sound & Video Technicians

Abigael Anastacio, Keira Anderson, Zoé Cantú, Kyle Colgan, Bree Miles, Abbie Northrop, Rhea Pack DeCaro

Electricians

Jesse Harkin, Zachary Horn, Allison Knight-Blaine, Esther McFaden

Kristina Wong, Playwright & Performer

Kristina is a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Drama. She’s a performance artist, comedian, writer, and elected representative who has been presented internationally across North America, the UK, Hong Kong, and Africa. She’s been a guest on late-night shows on NBC, Comedy Central, and FX. She starred in her own pilot presentation with Lionsgate for truTV. Her commentaries have appeared on American Public Media’s Marketplace, PBS, VICE, Jezebel, Playgirl, Huffington Post, and CNN. She’s been awarded artist residencies from MacDowell, San Diego Airport, and Ojai Playwrights Festival. She currently is the artist-in-residence at ASU Gammage until 2026. Her work has been awarded grants from Creative Capital, The MAP Fund, Center for Cultural Innovation, National Performance Network, a COLA Master Artist Fellowship from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, nine Los Angeles Artist-in-Residence Awards, Center Theatre Group’s Sherwood Award, and the Art Matters Foundation. Her recent Kristina Wong for Public Office is simultaneously a real-life stint as the elected Sub-District 5 representative of Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council and rally campaign show. That show was filmed for Center Theater Group’s Digital Stage where she’s also a Creative Collective member. She's created and directed original theater works with residents of LA's Skid Row, the Bus Riders Union, undocumented immigrants, and most recently the formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders members of API Rise. Kristina founded the Auntie Sewing Squad, a national mutual aid network of volunteers that sewed cloth masks for vulnerable communities during the Covid pandemic. Their book The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care and Racial Justice is published by the University of California Press. Her role in the Auntie Sewing Squad is the subject of her currently touring Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord — a New York Times’ Critics Pick that premiered Off-Broadway at New York Theater Workshop. The show won the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Solo Performance.

Chay Yew, Director

Chay’s New York credits include The Public Theater, Signature Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, New York Theatre Workshop, Rattlestick, Playwrights Realm, Audible Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, National Asian American Theatre Company, and Ma Yi Theatre. His regional production credits include Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, Goodman Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Berkeley Rep, Long Wharf, Huntington, Oregon Shakespeare Theatre, Denver Theater Center, Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth, Hartford Stage, Seattle Rep, Cincinnati Playhouse, Portland Center Stage, Empty Space, Singapore Rep, amongst others. His opera credits include Tanglewood Music Center and LA Philharmonic. An alumnus of New Dramatists, he’s the recipient of the OBIE Award for Direction. From 2011 to 2020, he was the artistic director of Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. chayyew.com

Junghyun Gerogia Lee, Scenic Designer

Junghyun is a Korean-born, New York-based scenic and costume designer. She has designed for New York Theatre Workshop (Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord; Drama Desk Award nomination), The Public Theater (The Chinese Lady), Ma-Yi, Soho Rep, The Play Company, Alley Theatre, Guthrie Theater, Hartford Stage, Huntington Theatre Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, PlayMakers Rep, and The Acting Company. She earned her M.F.A. at the Yale School of Drama.

Linda Cho, Lighting Designer

Broadway: POTUS, Take Me Out, The Great Society, The Lifespan of a Fact, Anastasia (Tony nomination), A Gentlemen's Guide to Love & Murder (Tony Award), The Velocity of Autumn. Off-Broadway: Twilight, Cambodian Rock Band (Signature Theatre), Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, Endlings (NYTW). Regional: A Thousand Splendid Suns (A.C.T.), Bhangin' It (La Jolla Playhouse), Noir (Alley Theatre). Opera: Samson et Dalila (Met Opera). Other awards: TDF's Irene Sharaff Young Master Award, Ruth Morley Design Award. Other: Advisory committee member of American Theatre Wing. Education: M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama. lindacho.com


Amith Chandrashaker, Lighting Designer

Amith’s work has been featured at The Public Theater, Second Stage, Theatre for a New Audience, Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, Signature Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Ars Nova, Soho Rep, Berkeley Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Atlantic, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Colorado, and The Glimmerglass Festival. New dance works by Alexander Ekman, Liz Gerring, Benoit Swan- Pouffer, Sidra Bell, and Rennie Harris. Recipient of the Drama Desk and Henry Hewes awards. Assistant professor of lighting design at The University of Maryland’s School for Theatre Dance and Performance Studies.

Mikhail Fiksel, Co-Sound Designer

Mikhail is a designer, composer, musician, and DJ based in Chicago and NYC.La Jolla Playhouse: Cambodian Rock Band, Seize the King, Tiger Style!. Other recent credits: The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, The Civilians, The Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Albany Park Theatre Project, Third Rail Projects, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Geffen Playhouse, The Old Globe, Kennedy Center, Center Theatre Group, Dallas Theater Center, South Coast Repertory, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Victory Gardens, Writers Theatre, and several audio plays with Make-Believe Association. He is a recipient of two Lucille Lortel Awards, multiple Joseph Jefferson Awards, the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, and is a proud member of TSDCA and USA.

Adam Salberg, Co-Sound Designer

Adam is a sound designer and multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Recent credits include: Hangmen (Broadway, assoc.), Mother of the Maid (Public Theater, assoc.), Spring Awakening (Yale), The Rocky Horror Show (Yale), Romeo and Juliet (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), and The Woodsman (New World Stages). He is a proud member of and organizer for United Scenic Artists Local USA 829, and a member of the TSDCA. When not behind a tech table you can find Adam hunting for a decent bagel and making friends with street cats.

Caite Hevner, Projection Designer

Broadway: In Transit; Derren Brown: SECRET; Harry Connick Jr. — A Celebration of Cole Porter. Select New York: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, NYTW (Lortel nomination); Between the Lines, Tony Kiser Theatre; Twenty Sided Tavern, DR2; Bella Bella, MTC; Collective Rage, MCC; Ugly Lies the Bone, Roundabout Underground; Fidelio, Heartbeat Opera; Parade and The Scarlet Pimpernel, Manhattan Concert Productions/Lincoln Center. Select Regional: Alley, Arena, Alliance, Baltimore Center Stage, Dallas Theater Center, Guthrie, Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage, Long Wharf, McCarter, MUNY, Pasadena Playhouse, Seattle’s 5th Avenue, TUTS, Woolly Mammoth. Video coordinator for BC/EFA’s Broadway Bares since 2018. Co-chair of USA829’s Respectful Workplace Committee. caitedesign.com IG: @caitehevner

Miranda Cornell, Associate Director

Miranda is a mixed-race, Japanese American theater director with a passion for stories that are unabashedly sincere, achingly human, and irrevocably alive. She has directed and developed work with Roundabout Underground, Ma-Yi Theatre Company, The 24 Hour Plays, Yale Summer Cabaret, Mercury Store, Leviathan Lab, Playwrights Realm, the Asian American Arts Alliance, Shakespeare Academy at Stratford, and NYMF. As an assistant/associate: Dear Evan Hansen (Broadway/National Tour), The Outsiders (pre-Broadway workshops, La Jolla Playhouse), NYTW, Park Avenue Armory, McCarter, and The TEAM, with directors such as Danya Taymor, Robert Icke, Chay Yew, and Rachel Chavkin. Former Van Lier Fellow in Theater at A4 and member of the Roundabout Directors Group Cohort 2 and current 2050 Artistic Fellow at NYTW. B.A.: Vassar College.

Ant Ma, Associate Scenic Designer

Ant is a Taiwanese scenic and production designer based in New York. Coming from a different culture and background of literature training, her approach to design is interdisciplinary and inclusive. She has worked on Samuel written by Alexis Roblan and directed by Dara Malina; Mover and Shaker directed by Brandon Dirden; A Woman of No Importance directed by Janet Zarish; God's Ear directed by Jackson Gay; Mud directed by Matt Saltzberg; Bloom Bloom Pow written by Genevieve Simon and directed by Katherine Wilkinson.

Keegan Butler, Associate Lighting Designer

Keegan designs lighting for opera, theater, dance, and architecture. Recent lighting design credits include A Night of Brecht (New Light Theatre Company), La Traviata (Toledo Opera), and Macbeth (NYU). Associate Designs: The Vagrant Trilogy (The Public), May Dance (Juilliard School), and English (Atlantic Theatre Company). He holds an M.F.A. from NYU Tisch. 

Luz Gaitan, Associate Projection Designer

Luz is a Mexican lighting and projection designer/associate. She is a UCLA 2022 alumna. Luz has worked internationally with shows in North America and Europe. This year, she had her debut show on Broadway. It will be her first time working in Oregon, and she hopes it is not her last. Enjoy the show!

Amanda Vander Hyde, Stage Manager

A graduate of Western Oregon University with a B.F.A in technical production, Amanda Anderson (Vander Hyde) is a freelance stage manager in the Portland theater scene. She works as a production and stage manager for the likes of Oregon Children's Theatre, CoHo Productions, and Artists Repertory Theatre. This is her second season on the stage management team at Portland Center Stage, having previously been involved with The Great Leap and Rent in the 2021-2022 season. Along with stage managing, she is an intimacy coordinator in the Portland area, having worked on various pieces, including Heathers: The Musical at Linfield University and on various productions at PCS. She wants to thank her partner for putting up with her late hours and constant busyness.

Danny Rosales, Production Assistant
(He/Him)

Danny is happy to be working on Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord. Previous Portland Center Stage credits include August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Frida …  A Self Portrait, The Magic Play, and Every Brilliant Thing. When he’s not busy working on shows, you can usually find him playing with trash or baking too many pies. But silliness set aside, Danny is grateful to be working on this fantastic show with such amazing people. Lastly, he would like to thank his friends, family, and doggos for all their love and support.

Local Reviews

"This social commentary — both fierce and darkly funny — was the theater experience I didn’t know I needed. I left feeling I could almost wrap my mind around what we’ve been through and inspired to meet the next news cycle with more compassion and power." —PDX Parent

"It is a story of survival and, arguably, of success, and as such, it’s heartwarming, even inspiring  — especially in how clearly it evokes the loving camaraderie that develops among the 'Aunties,' Wong’s 'warriors behind sewing machines.'" —Oregon ArtsWatch

"If laughter is the best medicine, then Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is at least a partial cure for any existential dread still hanging around." —BroadwayWorld

"Kristina Wong, who stars as herself in this one-woman production, has combined brilliant social commentary with sharp humor, which will not only have you laughing out loud but possibly participating in the production by tossing your bra, hair tie, or purse strap onto the stage." —Willamette Week

Audience Raves

"I would watch anything she performs — so entertaining!" 

"Fantastic. Relevant. Funny!"

"Outstanding production content and actor/comedian! Super hilarious and simultaneously poignant and very much needed during a time this for the American culture!"

"Relevant, emotional, and heart-rendering... well acted and produced ... very engaging."

"Amazing storyteller. Captivating, and took us on a journey and so many feelings. Laughter to tears. Plan to see this one again!!"

"I loved how Kristina used humor to address dark and difficult topics. The 90 minutes flew by!"

"My favorite performance of the year. Kristina's play will live on as a capsule of the covid pandemic ... I like theatre that is a comment on our society, and Kristina did just that as we laughed and cried a little too."

In the News

"Humorous and self-effacing, Wong’s performance is a meditation on mutual aid, Asian American identity and the meaning of legacy within the broader context of the last two years." View the feature.

Blog Critics interviews Pulitzer finalist Kristina Wong on solo pandemic comedy. View the feature.

Stage & Studio's Dmae Lo Roberts talks with Wong about making masks, the Auntie Sewing Squad, and the solo show Wong is bringing to Portland. View the feature.

National Reviews

“Selflessness and human connection are dominant themes of this narrative.” —The New York Times

“Back out on the street afterward, we’re lighter — and, thanks to the Aunties, imbued with hope.” —The New York Times

“Wong has two sharp weapons at her disposal: She’s funny, and she can sew.” —New York Magazine/Vulture

“Wong takes us back through our shared, hazily remembered months as if she’s ripping out stitches.” —New York Magazine/Vulture 

“In the emerging genre of pandemic theater, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is haute couture.” —Timeout

“Wong carries much of this 90-minute show with the sheer force of her personality. Her charisma seems boundless, supporting a cinematic imagination that sees her transform into a drill sergeant, a drug dealer, and yes, a sweatshop overlord.” —Theater Mania

“Kristina Wong’s Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is, and will likely remain, an invaluable artifact of the current Pandemic. It stands that extremely good chance for its skillfully capturing the overwhelming anger and frustration that Covid-19 has produced in American society to date.” —New York Stage

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