ED FRINGE: INTERVIEW | Gail Rastorfer talks Hello Kitty Must Die
From the producers of SIX and The Play That Goes Wrong present the world premiere of Hello Kitty Must Die, Based on the gripping cult Novel this darkly comedic musical mashup is a manifesto of Asian feminism: it’s time to kill the Hello Kitty stereotype because women can be anything they aspire to be–even murderer.
Hello Kitty Must Die is a story by an Asian American woman, about an Asian American woman, to be performed by Asian American women. It’s an outrageously irreverent mash-up of Asian feminism which gets its claws into expectations of family, dating and that cartoon cat,to then tear them to shreds.
I got the chance to speak to co-writer Gail Rastorfer to find out more about the show and how it was adapting the cult novel to the stage.
What is Hello Kitty Must Die about?
Fiona Yu’s whole life has been about navigating the bullying and stereotyping she experiences from modern society and the ancient, traditional expectations of her strict parents and community. Her life comes to a crossroads when her parents decide that they need to find her a “nice Chinese boy” to marry. This leads her to re-kindling a friendship with the mysterious boy who saved her from her first bully. Their dark alliance becomes the catalyst for Fiona to wake up and stand up for who she truly wishes to be.
The show is based on the cult novel with the same name. Were there any bits from it that you really wanted to show in the stage version?
Angela Choi wrote this novel and it is so dense, dark and funny. Honestly, I wanted to show all the ‘bits!’ To me, the heroine Fiona Yu is such a lovable outsider. While the Edinburgh presentation is a significant distillation of our original play, about 99.5% of the novel stays intact in our musical treatment. We worked with lyricist Jessica Wu to really draw as much from the novel as possible for the songs. It was not our desire to EVER change, over manipulate or dumb down the original story. It was and still is extremely important to Kurt Johns (co-adapter) and me to stay true to the novel.
What was the creative process like? What did you enjoy while adapting the show?
Originally, Kurt and I wrote HKMD as a one-woman show. The novel was told entirely from Fiona’s point of view so it seemed the natural progression from page to stage. It would also make the play ‘scalable’. It could be a show ANY theatre could produce...from small store front theatres to professional sized houses. Kurt and I divided and conquered the novel and broke it down into seven pivotal events.
We did several table reads with accomplished Asian-American actresses, got their feedback, tweaked it. We also got some dramaturgy assistance from the insightful Carol Ann Tan. Ultimately we had a couple of readings in
Chicago, New York and L.A. It was well received by audiences but I think theatres were afraid of the dark content and the fact that a lone woman of Asian decent would be onstage for 80 minutes living this radical life. Once we got together with Alchemation, we expanded the show to five people. Kurt and I were very adamant that the actors were all Asian american womxn. Our musical team consists of Cecilia Lin (composer) and Jessica Wu (lyricist) and we all had the herculean task of creating an hour presentation in a matter of a
couple of months. Not an easy task when it was done over zoom. I am extremely pleased and proud of what we came up with together.
How would you describe the show's tone and themes?
The tone is irreverently funny, dark and strange. The themes deal with the ‘box’ patriarchal and antiquated societies/cultures/religions/families put womxn (x is intentional) in and the internal and external struggles involved in breaking free from that prison, becoming your own saviour and defiantly living your truth.
What would you like the audience to take away after seeing the
So there are two possible take aways that would thrill me.
When I read the book, I experienced it as a white person of privilege. There were times I felt uncomfortable (that’s a good thing) and Fiona’s humour and weirdo charm gave space for me to work through that and strive to do better as a person of privilege.
I also experienced the story as a cis female who grew up in a world with very ‘traditional’ expectations of what and who women are. This story has encouraged me to examine who I truly am and to shed the skin of what was bred into me by religion and by patriarchal American society. I want our
audiences to be empowered to deeply examine the part they play in upholding patriarchal dogma and the stereotyping of womxn of colour. I want all people to do better by others and do better for themselves. Live and let live, people!
How do you think the audience will react when seeing the show?
Honestly, I have no idea. This story is very personal to me, and I LOVE it. It’s something no one has seen before. I get that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
I think the BEST stories and the BEST musicals, not only entertain but have a message or push buttons in a way that leave you in your feelings for awhile. They leave a lasting impression whether positive or negative. And quite honestly, I’m okay with either.
What have you learnt while working on the show?
The character of Fiona has certainly spurred me on to live my life more authentically. Life is too short to conform, to be polite, to dance around discomfort when injustice is being done to you or anyone else. The only person who can save you…is you. I am learning from HKMD every damn day. I also use expletives a lot more. Thanks, Fiona Yu!
How does it feel to have your show world premiering at this year's
Pretty damn good. I’m an actor and it’s every American actor’s dream to perform
at Fringe. I never imagined I would be going...as a playwright!
Favourite part of the show?
There is a song that Cecilia and Jessica created that was born out of a scene Kurt and I wrote. It takes place on a boat that has an odour. I laugh every damn time I see it. I do not want to describe it here. In the words of the luminous River Song, “Spoilers!” And our cast of women go for it!
Describe the show in one sentence!
It is a subversive Asian Feminist Allegory that will have you laughing out loud.
Author Kate Karmen, formerly Angela S. Choi, comments,
"With Hello Kitty Must Die, I wanted to rip into the stereotype that Chinese women were quiet, submissive, subservient. I just wanted to present a fresh, different, albeit psycho voice that said: See!? Even little yellow girls can be sick,twisted, and dark. "
Hello Kitty Must Die will play at this year's fringe from Wednesday 2nd of August till Sunday 27th of August.
See below for full show info.
IMPORTANT SHOW INFO
Hello Kitty Must Die
Wednesday 2nd–Sunday 27th August 2023 (not 8th, 15th, 22nd), 16:50
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Two), 60 Pleasance,
Tickets Previews: £8 Weekday: £14 (£11.50) Weekend: £16 (£14.50)
Run time: 1 hour
Ages 16+, contains sexual content, violence and strong language
*All info is correct at the time of posting* - 30/7/23
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