Carla Ching’s “Revenge Porn” Lands with AMMO at The Pico

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Winner of the first Los Angeles New Play Project Award, Carla Ching’s Revenge Porn or The Story of a Body makes its world premiere at Ammunition Theatre Company (AMMO) in The Pico. Directed by Bernardo Cubría, the play was part of the 2021 Ammo Writers’ Lab, and the story takes a very public look into the private lives of people who hurt the ones they love most.

As a native Angeleno, Carla’s full-length plays have been produced or workshopped by CTG Writer’s Workshop, and Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor among others. She has written for numerous television series including the forthcoming Mr. and Mrs. Smith co-created by Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover. Carla is currently developing projects with Monkey Paw and Superfrog for Amazon, Field Trip and Hivemind for FX, Shondaland for Netflix, and Imminent Collision. We caught up with her while effectively juggling her many projects:

As a writer who creates in different mediums, did you know immediately that this idea would manifest as a play? 

Yes. I think of plays as a single moment, breath or action. Something that needs to be told in one sitting, with the actors and audience in communion with each other. Breathing the same air, experiencing the same thing. Because of the subject matter this play is dealing with — revenge porn — I wanted us all to sit in that discomfort together, to wrestle with the way forward together. To be in the same room as the characters who are struggling with their choices, some grasping towards the future, some clinging to the past. 

Carla Ching – Photo by Christina Gandolfo

Did you begin with the plot, or with character development?

While I knew what the subject matter would be, I always have to start with the characters. Some writers can work plot first, but not me. I need to hear the character’s voices and listen to them because they’ll tell me what they want to do. I don’t (or try not to) force my will on them. Starting nearly every play is dropping two characters into a room and hearing them talk to each other. Letting them say whatever they have to say, and make themselves known. 

While writing a play, do you think about how your audiences might engage more with the characters than when writing for film or TV?

While writing both mediums, I try to write characters that an audience will grab onto and want to get to know. If I don’t, in TV, they’ll change the channel. In theater, you’ve trapped them in a seat for two hours and you are making them suffer without food or water or any way to escape. If you haven’t given them someone compelling, you are really torturing them. So, I always try to keep that in mind. But again, getting to see a character embodied by a real, live actor, sweating, crying, going through something in front of them is just irreplaceable in experiencing a story.  

Kahyun Kim and Roland Ruiz – Photo by AMMO

How has the collaboration with Ammunition Theatre Company helped in the development of REVENGE PORN OR THE STORY OF A BODY?

I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of Ammo’s writers’ group, facilitated by Bernardo Cubría and including the amazing writers Kim Hamilton, Claudia Doumit, Britt Manor, Joy Gregory, Fernanda Coppel, and Christina Pumariega. I got to build this play (which I started but had put in a drawer). It was something of a miracle because we were in the midst of the pandemic and I needed to write, but it was very hard to do that with all that was happening in the world. Being in the company of these astonishing women, and Bernardo, being in community with them, helped me to write. And their feedback was also truly helpful. From there, we did a Zoom reading, then another with Play Per View and another workshop at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference in 2021, and in each iteration, we grew the play. You cannot figure out a play unless you workshop it. But then, it really never grows up until you get into production. And I think Bernardo, the cast, the designers, producers and I are learning so much about the play on its feet. In space. 

Kahyun Kim and Roland Ruiz – Photo by AMMO

What are you wanting to say in this piece, and why?

I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to dictate what people walk away with. But I will say I was asking these questions, as I was writing it:

Why do we hurt the people we love?

Why do people sometimes try to own women’s bodies and images?

When a marriage breaks up, how do you reckon with what happened? How do you mourn? How do you move on? How does it affect the children?

When falling in love, how do you trust that the other person won’t really mess you up? 

What happens when different generations of a family view gender and marriage roles in different ways?

What happens if someone you love or have loved does something that makes you not recognize them anymore?

How dangerous is cancel culture?

Why is it so hard to just talk to each other?

What is it to ask all these questions in the context of being Asian American in this country? 

Tina Huang – Photo by AMMO

Why do you think audiences will want to see this play?

I hope people want to see this play because nothing beats witnessing something ephemeral, that happens once this way just for you with this audience and these actors. And I hope that people will have a lot of recognition when they see this play. They know this person or have had this question, or felt that way falling into or out of love. Thought that about their parent. Wondered that about their ex. Wondered why, we as humans just are this way. I think at its best, this is what theater is supposed to do, right? Make us ask questions about our human condition, about our expectations, our assumptions. And then, we want to go to the bar with a friend afterwards and hash it all out. We hope that this play will unsettle, and make you ask lots of questions after you’ve walked out the door. 

Ammunition Theatre Company (in The Pico)
10508 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064

Previews September 21, 22, opening September 23, schedule; 8pm Thursdays – Saturdays, 2pm Saturdays, 7pm on Sundays through October 9, 2022

Tickets: http://ammunitiontheatre.com

AMMO’s Covid-19 policy requires ticket holders to wear masks and to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Guests who need a reasonable accommodation for medical reasons or due to sincerely held religious belief must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entering the theatre. AMMO is a collective of Los Angeles based artists whose members and collaborators use their voices and stories as ammunition for change.