When Kit Yan half-jokingly suggested to Melissa Li, “Let’s quit our jobs and go on tour,” they never expected what would follow: a spontaneous three-month road trip across more than 30 states that would eventually lead to the production of their own musical at the New York Musical Festival.
“Interstate,” which opens on July 9, is described as an Asian-American, pop-rock, poetry musical about two transgender people from Queens who grapple with family, love, masculinity and finding community in today’s digital era. It is also a reflection of the very personal story of Yan, who co-wrote the book and lyrics of “Interstate” with Li, who also composed the music.
Queer Asian-American artists Yan, 34, from Hempstead, and Li, 35, from Sunset Park, crossed paths in 2008 at Jacques Cabaret in Boston, which led to the creation of their band, Good Asian Drivers. However, due to pressures on the road and personal issues, the band disbanded after about a year.
“We ended up not talking to each other for two years,” Yan said. “During those two years, I went back to my home in Hawaii, locked myself in a basement and wrote a book of poems about friendship, heartbreak and love. Two years later, I went back to New York with the book of poems with me and asked Melissa to read them.”
Then the epiphany sparked: What if these poems became a musical? The hope-turned-reality is “Interstate” which competed with hundreds of other entries to win one of 10 slots in the Next Link Project, part of the New York Music Festival. Despite this success, Yan and Li have been trying to raise funds through a Kickstarter campaign — which ends on June 30 — to help pay the cast and crew members.
Li said that they broke away from Broadway traditions and didn’t default to using a casting director.
“Instead of using a casting director, I individually emailed every single drama program and queer youth program that I could find online,” Li said. “Representation is really important to me because I remember when Kit and I were performing on the road, we were always searching for pockets of queerness in art that we knew existed, but hadn’t seen with our own eyes yet.”
There will be five performances of the musical that will be running through July 15 Off-Broadway at The Acorn Theatre on West 42nd Street.
“We hope that we can do justice and create beautiful narratives for queer/trans people of color, and inspire audience members to write their own shows,” Yan said