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Kathy Hsieh returns for her seventeenth episode of Sex in Seattle

Kathy Hsieh is an actor and director who recently appeared in the “Runway Job” episode of TNT’s Leverage. Her local stage work includes the Seattle Rep, Book-It, ACT, Intiman, Taproot, ReAct, Freehold, Living Voices and more. As a playwright, she’s been named “50 to Watch” by The Dramatist Magazine. Her plays have been produced by Northwest Asian American Theatre, and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre as well as being in the Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival, 14/48 and International Centre for Women Playwrights’ Chicago Her-rah Festival.
Since 2000, a regular acting and writing assignment has been Sex in Seattle, the Asian-American serial on love, dating, and other relationships now opening its seventeenth “episode” at Richard Hugo House. Fans of the characters have been following the SIS crew for all nine years, “longer than many marriages” jokes Hsieh.
Between rehearsals, she took a little time to answer a few questions about the local sensation known by many simply as SIS.
So how did you become involved in Sex in Seattle?
I came up with the concept for the show with my friend Moi back in August 2000. We, along with two other friends (Serin Ngai and Amy Waschke), were the original creators for the show. We each developed our own characters and storylines which we gave to Serin to write the dialogue for. Serin was the original writer who penned Episodes 1 to 4 plus 6 to 7. I stepped in as writer for Episodes 5 and then 8 to 17 when Serin went to law school.
After so many years and so many installments, what keeps the show fresh for you?
The characters start taking on a life of their own. Sometimes when I sit down to write, it's actually amazing what comes out. I get in a flow and scenes almost seem to write themselves. So that's always a pleasant surprise for me.
How do you shake up the audience’s expectations?
The characters' storylines always move forward, but always in a very different, creative way. One episode may have the gals at a local karaoke bar and the music videos they sing to depict what's going on internally for each character, where we'll create and shoot each individual video.
This current episode Coming Clean uses a "guardian angel/dream" framework to reveal each gals' inner life. Our audience loves this aspect of the show because they never know what to expect in terms of the show's format.
Newcomers to the show are always delighted by our show's unique format. There really is very little in terms of live theater that is like our show.

Henry Drew, Kathy Hsieh, Leilani Berinobis, May Nguyen and Gigi Jhong
are “Coming Clean” in SIS 17. Photo (c) Rick Wong.
So what was a plot or character that took off in directions that you didn't expect?
In the very first episode, each of us creators developed our storylines independently then met weekly to see how we could have our characters intersect. My character Elizabeth was still in love with her ex Kenneth who is getting married in Episode 1. I already knew the direction I wanted to take these two characters in future episodes. In that episode, Elizabeth gets drunk for the first time and ends up at Kenneth's best man, George's place. And Kenneth discovers them there the next morning (he thinks they slept together, but it turns out that Elizabeth and George - both virgins - never did).
Originally, George was just going to be used for a couple of episodes, but the scene where Elizabeth and George bond over cards and really bad dancing was so hilarious, endearing and sexually-charged for the audience, that George went from a minor supporting character to a pivotal audience favorite. And in fact the love triangle between Elizabeth, Kenneth and George is the longest-running plotline of the series.
What are your favorite moments from past shows?
One episode explored the concept of love, and so one character rents all these famous love story movies (Gone With the Wind, When Harry Met Sally, and Casablanca) plus a Discovery Channel documentary about love. We then shot scenes from the movies where our characters played the famous roles and the scenes paralleled the situations our characters were going through. It was fun to hear the audience "get it" when they realized which films these "clips" came from.
And of course there's nothing more rewarding than the end when the audience shouts "Noooooo!!!" as the voiceover "Next time on Sex in Seattle" is heard. Our fans always want the show to go on longer.
I understand that one real-life romance caused a few plot twists and a little audience confusion?
We had two actors who actually started dating because they met through the show. They are such a cute couple off-stage that I thought it would be fun to figure out a way for their characters (Chloe and Colin) to connect on-stage. Chloe wants Nathan, but Nathan wants Tess. Colin also wants Tess, so Chloe decides to become Colin's love coach so that he can win Tess away from Nathan. The scenes between Colin and Chloe were a lot of fun to write and ones that the actors really enjoyed playing. The audience really enjoyed them, too. But when I threw in a scene where Chloe and Colin started falling for each other, the audience thought that was going too far. They definitely did not want Colin to fall for Chloe because the audience really wanted Colin to end up with Tess.
So the actors playing Colin and Chloe were out on a date once and some fans saw them and actually got upset because they thought "Colin" was cheating on "Tess" with "Chloe." The fans actually wrote in to tell us that they had a great laugh over this because they actually got riled up seeing "Colin" and "Chloe" together even though they knew these were just actors. They told us that's how emotionally connected they are with the show.

Hsieh gets a kick out of being in SIS.
Sex in the City, your original inspiration, made the transition from TV to the big screen: do you see Sex in Seattle going from small theaters to a larger venue? Maybe inspire a TV series?
Well, we were asked to tour all of our episodes to Vancouver, B.C. We instead sold them the rights to produce our scripts up there under the title Sex in Vancouver and they developed quite a following up there, too! A TV station in Singapore also contacted us about turning our scripts into half-hour soap scripts for television, but the amount of work invovled would have required us to stop producing here, so we passed on that opportunity.
We presented a 10-minute selection at Mixed Blood and a reading of an episode at the Guthrie in Minneapolis last year as part of a national theatre conference.
For us, part of the reason we created the show was to develop more of a pop culture awareness of Asian Americans and in many ways, locally, we have. We're happy with that.
Do you see a Golden Girls version in the ladies' future?
We have joked about doing a Golden Girls version for the last three years, since we cast members have all aged nine years since we began. Our characters lives are moving in soap opera time so they're still back in 2002.
So how long do you think Sex in Seattle might last?
We’re actually deciding when might be the right time to "complete" the series, though we know a lot of our fans will be really sad whenever that is.
We've actually been asked if we'll do a spin-off if we ever decide to end this series, so that they'll have something else they can enjoy in the future. So who knows what the future holds?
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