Thursday, October 8, 2015

Excuse me as I rave... (an blog review of VIETGONE by Qui Nguyen at South Coast Repertory Theatre)

I just got home after seeing a preview of VIETGONE by Qui Nguyen at South Coast Rep, so take in to account that what I saw was pre-opening, "not review ready." That said... the show blew me away! 

I first encountered Qui's writing while directing a staged reading of "SHE KILLS MONSTERS (THE ADVENTURERS EDITION)" for Artists at Play in Los Angeles last year. The play was shamelessly geeky, but also touching, tragic, and irreverent. 
I was impressed with his knack for dialogue, and skill at turning a play around on a dime from ridiculous hilarity, to sharp pointed emotional drama, and back again. His writing is kind of a roller-coaster that way, allowing for great theatricality and very human stories with flawed, lovable characters who carry their pain but are never weighed down by it.
I fell in love with SKM and saw a lot of the same skill and deft storytelling in VIETGONE tonight... And after this, I'm just gonna say it... Qui Nguyen is my theatre spirit animal!!!
VIETGONE is a non linear, retelling of how his mother and father met in the shadow and aftermath of the Vietnam War... But it is truly a REtelling and not a telling. It is an interpretation of the events in 1975 as told to the playwright and interpreted through his own contemporary lens. Through that lens, the typical, weighty "immigrant Refugee" story of ones parents that we often see in Asian American literature is vibrantly transformed in to a hip, witty, irreverent and touching narrative that surprises at every turn.
We are not phased when characters break in to hip hop spoken word when their emotions over take them. We are not phased when 70's slang, or perhaps Vietnamese accented English is replaced with contemporary or street vernacular. Qui's parents swear with the affable, streetwise voices of contemporary, smart, middle class, educated mixed up 20-30 something New Yorkers. Not because they actually were, but because thats who Qui, the playwright is and how he makes you see his parents from their own perspective.
There is no affectation of what it is to be foreign or other, but rather what it is to be in a place that is foreign. The "American" characters they encounter speak in broken English. We watch them adjust to the strangeness of their new life as refugees, we watch them make the realization that they have gone from the middle class citizens they were back home in Vietnam, to becoming "the Chinese" (referring to the poor and disenfranchised "immigrants laborers" they looked down on back home before the war) Its subversive subtleties like these that pepper throughout the play that create relatability through a spoonfull of sugary crass humor that enlightens while it satarizes.    
They muddle through this experience and eventually find temporary comfort in mutually casual sex, and its steamy and scintillating in all those ways you dont want to imagine your parents having sex. But its also very human and flawed and real. There are no clean story book romances here, just messy, complicated relationships when damaged people find intimacy on accident.
Perhaps they shouldn't be together. Perhaps they are too haunted by baggage more traumatizing than many of us could ever grasp, But they are not victims of war, they are survivors of war with scars that run deep. Their roots are showing and there is no way to regain "normal," There is only the option to build a new normal which is tragic in and of itself. And it is hilarious and sexy and ridiculous and gut-wrenchingly touching watching them make this journey.
The cast of five are efficient, the leading couple carrying their character arcs through as the other 3 bounce through multiple characters as grounded as the father's war buddy best friend, and as wacky as the Ninja back up army that protect a biker his dad got in to a brawl with at a bar (the playwright assures us this is the truth as the story was told to him).  The ensemble is deft and light while allowing the scars of loss just beneath the surface to inform much of the raucous humor.  
Its just an all around wonderful show and thats all I can say. 

Its always a point of frustration when I see theatre that really touches me because often there really are no words for it when someone's storytelling makes you feel, viscerally. I'll write about it, I'll tell people about it, but it doesn't encapsulate the emotion of "YOU ALL NEED TO SEE THIS, EXPERIENCE THIS FEEL THIS BECAUSE IT MADE ME LAUGH, IT MADE ME THINK, IT OPENED ME UP AND LEFT ME RAW IN PLACES AND UNDERSTAND THINGS I WOULDNT HAVE OTHERWISE AND THATS IMPORTANT!!" 
With theatre it often feels even more urgent more tragic because theres no DVD or blu-ray. Its a play with a limited run, It will close and that experience will remain momentary and so easy to miss and hard to share with others... To add insult to injury its in Costa Mesa, a city thats equally far from friends in San Diego and friends in LA.
So all I can say is... LA People, San Diego People, its worth the drive. 
If you get the chance, GO SEE this!


When: Previews begin October 4th. Regular performances Friday through Oct. 25; 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays (no 7:45 p.m. performances Oct. 25).
Where: Julianne Argyros Stage, South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
How much: General admission is $22-$53 for previews, $30-$77 for regular performances. Prices vary by date and curtain time; discounts for seniors, students under 25 with ID and educators with ID
Call: 714-708-5555

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On the Mikado, Yellowface, and Gilbert and Sullivan.... (Again)

So Mikado is back in the news again... Yellowface is back in the news...  again and honestly, it is so exhausting that this is back up, that I'm having this same conversation... Initially I was like, "you know, I dont want to talk about Mikado any more... I dont want to talk about Yellowfacing the Gilbert and Sullivan classic anymore, I'm just exhausted by it.  I'm not engaging in any comment threads, I'm not posting about it I just am too demoralized by it coming back up AGAIN, to even engage...

But A friend asked me to comment, and it makes you go, "If I dont comment, then the perspective is not seen." and like Don Corleone, it just keeps pullin ya back in... 

see, even though I appreciate the discussion, and the questions and Im glad for them cause it means people are opening their minds and their empathy for that bit of time to recognize their own privilege,,.  and I really do appreciate that.   It just gets so frustrating that it happens so often and that a culture of so called "color blindness"  also blinds people to the marginalizing effects of misrepresentation... and the systemic brings. but I accept it cause I kinda have to...  Its a daily everyday part of my life... so here we go... 


Heres the thing... if its about making fun of British people and British society, then make them British. If you want to fictionalize a British society in order to criticize its social trappings, and point out the inherent foolishness of their cultural order, then the best thing to do to serve the storytelling and our modern context that is unfamiliar with 100+ year old British high society and focus the storytelling on what the play is supposedly about., then you should put them in tails and bowler hats and mustaches and corsets. That just makes sense narratively. 

Then you got to ask yourself, if these characters have made up nonsensical names that resemble no culture on earth, but sound like a euphemism for defecation, if they have fictional buffoon like characteristics that are caricatures of people not resembling actual people or cultures, then why or what is the attachment to making them distinctly Japanese-esque?

What is it about making them Japanese and making Japanese-ness into this extreme, wacky "other" so important to the story? 

If the story is more effective because "those oriental people are so wierd" then you have a problem! 

If its effective because "Japanese are so different and that difference makes our social commentary innocuous because that way we're not offending the any normal people" then thats a problem. 
if its because "it was traditionally written as a representation of what Japanese people are actually like" thats definitely a problem. 
If its cause the "costumes are pretty" then not only is that a problem, it also doesn't serve the story, not to mention its pretty dehumanizing in that you're basically just saying "we wanna skin the Japanese people and wear them cause its fashionable." 

At the end of the day, the real reason why G&S decided to write a critique of British class structure and set it in a mythical Japan that looks more like Dr. Suess is because at the time, people saw Asians as bizarre, inhuman, savage and inherently hilarious. The aesthetic is more about otherness for a laugh than it is about understanding or exchange of an actual culture and that is not about political correctness.  Its just plain ol period specific racist hate speech. 

Now I do not hold this against G&S, it was just the point of view at the time...  It is a period piece after all... But theoretically, we've had 100+ years to know better and to figure out how to make this ancient story work in the present day..., (That is why we don't do minstrel plays anymore and we have women playing Female roles when we do Shakespeare instead of young boys playing women as men wanted them to be.... Somehow, its harder for us to carry over this sense of empathy over tradition to Asians and Asian Americans and that is where I challenge all of us to ask... "WHY is that?"  How are you and the rest of our society and culture a victim to these age old tropes about Asians and Asian-ness that it does not grant me the benefit of your empathy the way it does women and African Americans?)

NOW, to next level this..., every time we get in to Mikado played in Yellow face, the first question I ask is, "Well how many Asian people did they get involved?" (Which is usually very few. maybe one or two if that at all... at which point I ask internally, how many self respecting Asian or Asian American people even want to be involved with this crap unless the director has a vision that serves the story, and not the caricature. 

When I find out that no Asians show up to the auditions... I think "WELL, that should probably have been the first tell tale sign that theres something wrong with your show in 2015"

That said, G&S were brilliant. amazing songwriter/lyricist with a legacy of great work. Mikado is part of that. but with any classic you have to ask yourself "what makes this relevant to context of today that we should do it here and now? If you know your audience, then what new or universal meaning does this 100+ year old work have in today's context?" And if you're not asking that question, what kind of director are you? 

Against the backdrop of today where AAPI's have been shut down to only 4% of available new roles on broadway in the past few seasons, and where tv/film luminaries like Aaron Sorkin feel like adapting screenplays from properties based on real life Asian Americans are a waste of time because noone in their right mind will cast an Asian American Lead actor, and the remaining roles that AAPI actors do get are mostly two dimensional, stereotypical portrayals, that ultimately play in to all kinds of systemic exclusion of AAPI's.  For example, the low rates of promotion to executive and management positions despite high representation in say the tech industry. Multiple false accusations of espionage against American Citizens.  And of course, the politicians who rant anti immigrant rhetoric, inspire hate crimes, create a culture where AAPI public school students survey at the highest rate of bullying of all racial groups, and Asian American Women clocking in at statistically the highest rate of teen suicide amongst their peers. To me its not insignificant

No, one production of the Mikado is not gonna make people hate all Asians or Asian Americans, but it is symptomatic of a culture that systemically dehumanizes and belittles perceptions of AAPI's in our culture, and continues to disenfranchise them. 

That said, there have been great productions that used all Asian Casts that allowed for a more sensitive interpretation of the work.  I've seen all white Casts with period British style costumes that were great.  Another inspired production with a multi cultural cast that chose a cartoony Anime inspired aesthetic that played up the ridiculousness of the characters in a modern design aesthetic that was relevant to today's audience. These were Directorial concepts that served the work and the story in the context of contemporary life and sensibilities, vs lazy, trope filled, belittling, minstrel shows that race bait and are just plain awful and tired. 

At the end of the day, when I see these productions like the one at Skirball, I see carelessness, ignorance and sloppy storytelling that lead to really racist results. When I see these companies, I dont think anyone hates me or my Asian-ness, but I do see a bunch of people who are being part of the problem, and not the solution, in addition to just shoddy artistry. 

(so thats my rant... thanks for reading this far with an open mind...)

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Brad Bird is just great at what he does. 
I've been a fan of his since the oft overlooked animated classic IRON GIANT.  Most folks know him for Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE.  But after proving his live action film-making chops on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL Disney has entrusted him to build a mythology behind one of the mainstays of every Disney Magic Kingdom Park with TOMORROWLAND.    

Visually his style is very apparent. A lot of impossibly kinetic motion contrasted by stark stillness, with great attention to pacing and pronounced character moments.

He's also great at capturing that old Spielberg esque sense of childish wonder that makes the film refreshing, and is the spoonful of sugar that drives the films heart and message.

All that said, it is a kids movie that targets an adult audience, so there are moments of story that are kinda spoon fed rather than revealed. And moments where they pretty much say straight out, " no were not going to explain this can we just move on with the story?"

That story which in it self is simple but engaging, particularly when framed with bird's knack for action. And the performances from Clooney and his two young counterparts are relatively one note, but really well delivered.(particularly the younger one who carries a mature wisdom about her) Their characters are designed to contrast and bounce off one another, and once the group is assembled, there's some really great chemistry that at times feels like it really shouldn't work, but really does...

Also, the vision for tomorrowland is glistening and serves as a call to action which reminds you of the the irony that is the disjointed showcase of brands that serves as the films namesake in the park. Sadly I still find it unlikely that Disney corporate will heed Brad Bird's call for a return to the hope, optimism, and innovation that inspired the old "World on the Move" Tomorrowland of 1977.  there are plenty of callbacks to the wonderful classic design aesthetic that fans of Bob Gur and the golden era of Imagineering will appreciate, plus some great nods to the industrial, steampunk inspired "Discoveryland" of Disneyland Paris... I loved these details!

The film serves very much like a refreshing glass of kool-aid to tide us over until someone lets Imagineering revise and reestablish the tomorrowland we all crave. And I'll hapily drink it... It's great fun! And all it really needs to be is fun.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Year in Review for a slightly OCDisney Nerd...

Okay, so I'm a Disney Nerd.  As a kid our family would go to the parks usually once a year.  There were a lot of good memories there.  Every night we would end at Carnation Plaza where we would see the some of the greats, like the Glenn Miller Orchestra play till the end of the night.  My dad taught all my sisters to swing dance to the sounds of the big bands that would inspire me to later pick up the saxaphone.

I was completely enthralled by the immersive environments, the attention to detail, and year after year I would collect the maps and study them profusely.  I would realize much later how much I learned about the essentials of story from experiencing the parks.  there was a logic, or what I would later come to understand as an "act structure" that would frame the experiences.  The experiential quality of the attractions would set the bar for me as a story teller, and establish why I prefer live theatre over other mediums.  Because immersion to me became that final element that made any story heightened.  the moment when the story could reach out and grab you, or swallow you whole.  

So when I was in college, I found myself as an actor often driving back and forth between LA and SD, and rather than sit in traffic I discovered it was far more efficient to wait out traffic in line for a ride or two.  sometimes I'd do my college reading along the rivers of America in the peaceful back end of the Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country.  It was handy and kind of cool to be an annual passholder.  So Cal passes were still pretty cheap then, and the Fan Blog communities were just kind of coming in to existence. As time went on I found myself collecting books about imagineers, absorbing random trivia.  My interest came full circle when after years of pursuing theatre, I realized how much I had retained from my child hood aspirations of being a sequential artist/animator.  Much of my staging theory is still heavily based on layout principals I had studied on my own in high school reading "how to draw Comics the marvel way" and growing up looking forward to the re-release of Fantasia or as the sole holder of a lifetime pass to the festival of animation... (thats an other story)

So of course upon moving to LA, It only made sense I finally upgrade my pass from the SoCal to the Premium.  I mean, I'm only about 30 minutes away... and 30 minutes is about a minimum drive time anywhere in LA anyways... I justified the cost in that I'm investing in my future career in imagineering... (oh it will happen... just wait...) 

AND because I'm crazy, I made a spreadsheet that would tally and record all my visits... because I knew that by the end of the year I'd probably wonder just how many times I actually rode Peter Pan, or how many Corn Dogs I managed to devour(no I didnt keep track of that... DAMN, new line item for next year!) so here for your entertainment value are my personal Disneyland resorts Stats for the 2013-2014 year...  
50 visits to the DL resort in 12 months

Average # of attractions per visit - 7.7

Most Attractions in a single visit - 21 (this particular day was a DL Only Day...)

In this year had two park-hopper days where I hit 19 total...  (Personal best 23 attractions in a single day)

Most CA Adventure attractions in a single day- 11

Most visits in a single month - 6

Fewest visits in a single month - 2

Favorite time to visit - July (tourists leave the park earlier and fewer Annual passholders leaves the last two hours of the night empty! You can basically walk on most attractions!)

46 Visits to Magic Kingdom
23 trips along the Disneyland Railroad (15 of which took me through the Primeval world)
27 trips into the Galaxy Far Far Away (no tallys as to how many times to each planet, I'll work on that fornext year...)
20 excursions into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
19 Times to my Laughing Place
17 times I found a way out... (7 of which were guided by Sandy Claws)
16 of the wildest rides in the wilderness (despite being closed 60% of the year)
16 treks up and down the Swiss Alps (12 on the Left, 4 on the right)
13 Tales told by dead men
Only 3 Attractions I have not been on all year:
Gadgets Go-Coaster, Dumbo, King Arthurs Carousel, Mainstreet Streetcars

28 visits to CA Adventure
12 Drops into the 5th dimension
12 Screams
9 races (dont know how many I won, thats data for next year)
9 trips under the sea
7 Runs down the Grizzly river
7 soarin over california
Have not experienced anything else at the park more than 5 times

8 attractions I Did not experience all year
King triton's Carousel, Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, Tuck & Roll's Bumper Cars,
(5 of which I Have Never Been on) Disney Jr. Live on Stage, Francis' Ladybug Boogie,  Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Jumpin Jellyfish, Flik's Flyers (Have Never ridden, however have always wanted a picture in the takeout box)

Thats my year in review! Clearly it would seem Star tours is my favorite (I mean c'mon... its Star Wars! Duh!) although Big Thunder may have beaten out Star tours had it not been down for renovation most of the year.  And Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain trail closely behind (Makes sense, all four are Tony Baxter driven E Tickets rides!)

Other Notable moments... 
On 9/29 I completed what I like to call a Straight Flush in Tomorrowland, thats where I do EVERYTHING that tomorrowland has to offer (10 attractions) Its actually tricker than it sounds particularly considering I ussually come to the parks later in the day. It also means forcing myself to do the Autopia as an adult.  

Other Straight Flushes I have yet to conquer: 
ALL of FantasyLand, (15 attractions, many of them Dark rides, with Mr Toad, and peter Pan often at a minimum of 45 Minute wait this is a very difficult challenge, plus I just cant motivate myself to ride Dumbo, or the teacups solo)

ALL of Westland s (Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country) 10 Attractions, I came close on 6/7th! If only Davy Crockett Canoes were open at night!

MOUNTAIN CLIMBER- EVERY Mountain ride (Big thunder, Splash, Materhorn, Space, Radiator Springs, and Grizzly River (Managed to get all the Disneyland Mountains once but not the California Adventure mountains for the complete set.  

E TICKET EXPERT - Its exactly what you think, ALL 12 E Ticket Coaster type rides, Indy, Splash, Big thunder, Materhorn (Left and Right) Space Mountain, Star Tours, Radiator Springs, California Screamin, Twighlight Zone, Goofy Sky School, grizzly River (I'm torn because technically Haunted Mansion and pirates I think were also E tickets.  And I'm not sure where Soarin would fall... 

RIVER MASTER - (10 Boats!)  Mark Twain, Sailing Ship Columbia, Canoes, Splash Mountain, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Its a Small World, Storybook land, Submarines, Grizzly River

So yeah.... welcome to my crazy! 
If you have other ideas for challenges leave it in the comments! 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

There is not More then Meets the Eye... It just is what it is...

So, I saw it.  An act of pure masochistic self torture....  Its impressive how much it can exceed your expectations about how bad its gonna be.  Its impressive how much I could care about  these characters in-spite of the complete dirth of character development, and reductuve nature in which they are written and then I realized its that lack of development that made me care...  I kept wanting the characters to be more than what they were... like helplessly watching a puppy continuously run into an electric fence.

It is so impressively frustrating every time a scene chooses to focus on human characters who are the most uninteresting and pointless characters in the film. Its like going to a football game and being forced to watch spilled beer run down the stairs while the game goes on behind you.

And its too bad, one of the villains is actually a pretty great villain once you ignore the fact that noone understands why hes there... Theres an implication that is supposed to lead to a larger story thread, but it is so vague it fails to make his origins at all intriguing, or the implied breadcrumb mystery alluring...

For us fans and fans of animation voice actor veterans, Peter Cullen has a few great sound bytes... And Frank Welker gets a few brief moments to seethe out a couple good lines... John Goodman and Ken Watanabe are wasted... Characters who are set up to be totally capable and bad ass in one scene are rendered completely idiotic in the next for no reason.  And you know the film is trying to make you worry when they're in trouble cause they say "well... We're in trouble!"

Some of the action sequences are impressive and have some "ooh ahhhs" in between large swaths of just plain confusion... But after a while you just want everyone to stop yelling and talking over one another so you can try to figure out whats going on.  But they're no help, after all, A McGuffin is revealed so late in the film that you dont even have any time to revere or fear it! All of a sudden... its there and suddenly the most important thing.  But its okay its underdeveloped because it softens the blow of the zero payoff it has later on.  It doesnt leave you empty because you're still reeling from the slew of deux ex machinas that basically open up the third act "just 'cause."  Characters make  logic and emotional jumps as if they were tiggers... and the plot switched focus like a Roomba changes direction, slamming in to wall after wall every step of the way...

And yet it manages to somehow sate some deep part of my inner 8-year-old heart, while completely enraging and betraying it all at once.

Sadly, there is not more than meets the eye... it just is what it is...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

After the Nightingale... Whats the Next Step?

First of all, THANKYOU to everyone who attended the panel discussion last Sunday.  I was honored by the company I kept with AAPAC's Christine Toy Johnson, and Cindy Cheung, as well as my more local allies Seema Sueko, Lee Ann Kim, Bennet Peji, Greg Watanabe and Larry Baza.  And despite the LA times reporting attendance of only 150, I cannot express the feeling of seeing the 400+ seat Potiker Theatre filled to capacity.  I saw many old friends from throughout our national community, make a real impact just through their presence!  I also thank the artists who have been involved in the Nightingale who reached out to me privately and personally!  I cannot fathom the difficult position you have been placed in!

All that said, if you missed the panel, you may view it here:
I also encourage you to seek out some wonderful responses such as Jennifer Chang's Here:
or this passionate spoken word video here:

Its been interesting to watch everything unfold.  Many people are watching the video of the panel and reacting for the first time.  New posts, new blogs, new letters are being generated each day.  The thing I keep thinking is, there is potential momentum to be gained here.  Yes we're all angry, with new people getting angry each day.   So how can we channel this anger towards something actionable... and I dont mean just in regards to La Jolla Playhouse or the Nightingale itself.  The fact is that this instance is a symptom of a larger issue.  Our culture and society has perpetuated a perception that enabled some individuals to make an erroneous choice, without a thought for the real impact of this choice. 

At the heart of this all, I keep feeling that there is a flaw in our society's constructed perceptions, that allowed his production to develop over 10 years without being  questioned until it came to La Jolla.  I feel this flaw is  the same that has allowed the film industry to Erase asian americans from lead roles in films like 21, the Last Airbender, Dragon Ball Z, Akira, and many more.  It is the same flaw that allowed the US Government to go 40 years before making reparations for Japanese Internment. It is the same flaw that led to the death of Vincent Chin.  It is the same flaw that had Scientist Wen Ho Lee wrongfully on trial for espionage.  It is the same flaw that lies at the heart of  the suicides of Private Danny Chen, and Lance Corporal Harry Lew, and the thousands of other Asian Americans who have been reported to be the most bullied of all ethnic groups (according to AAPI Nexus).   Our culture characteristically dismisses Asians and Asian Americans. But with this public apology, a NEW PRECENDENT HAS BEEN SET!

Now it is to US to build upon that public acceptance of responsibility, so that we as a national community can build a foundation to incite action!
So I ask, what can we do, as a community with reinvigorated purpose, that can affect real change?  Is it something that we can propose to the La Jolla Playhouse? is it something we propose to the Theatre Communications Group with help from the Consortium of Asian American Theatres & Artists?  Is it something that engages other resources, or mediums, like say the success of APIA entertainers on youtube, or support from elected officials, or other political action movements?

Lets think "Blue-Sky" (that is to say "without limitations") what are some actionable ideas that we can engage in to change the face of American Theatre, film, television that can have an impact on the social constructions of our culture.  Lets use this momentum that something truly positive, and groundbreaking can come of this.

Please share your ideas and impressions on this survey,

I will also be adding entered email addresses into a Google Group in order to continue our discussion!

Thanks, and feel free to pass this along!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Response to the Nightingale Casting Controversy at the La Jolla Playhouse

First of all, to get this out of the way, I have been an employee of the La Jolla Playhouse, off and on, in one regard or another for almost 16 years. This is an organization that has its facilities on the campus of UCSD, an institution with over 44% of its enrollment representing Asians and Asian Americans, despite having no Asian American Studies department or major.  As a theatre major I took great inspiration from my classes in Chicano theatre, that I took in lieu of the lack of classes that analyzed Asian American theatre.

So, as a result, my career began very young as I took it upon myself at age 19 to establish San Diego's Asian American Repertory Theatre where I served as Artistic Director for 10 years, all the while, moonlighting at the La Jolla Playhouse.  By night, I was a simple stagehand making slightly better than minimum wage while during the day, I was heavily involved with San Diego's APA Community, receiving a Mayoral commendation, and recognition as one of the "top 30 most influential Asian Americans under the age of 30."  With all this in mind, my relationship with the Playhouse, my standing in the local APA Community,  I am a little shocked to find myself in this current position I find hurtful and disappointing.

I must express my frustration and disappointment regarding the controversy over the casting choices of the La Jolla Playhouse's workshop production of "the Nightingale." To many of my colleagues in the Asian American community and Asian American artists, this represents a continuing trend for Asians and Asian Americans. It is hurtful not only because it exemplifies the decrease of opportunities for Asian American Artists as portrayed in the Asian American Performers Action Committee's "Ethnic Representation Report" (, but because it is indicative of the continuing trend of appropriation of cultural representation as often reported by organizations such as 

This is all particularly disappointing in light of the fact that La Jolla Playhouse has held a legacy of featuring more Asian Pacific American work on San Diego stages than any other local producer other than San Diego's  Asian American Repertory Theater, having developed both "Dogeaters" and "Most Wanted" with Jessica Hagedorn, Chay Yew's "Wonderland", Diana Son's "Boy" and featured APIA actors such as Ching Valdez, Alec Mapa, Sandra Oh, Michi Barral, Sab Shimono, Zoe Chao and BD Wong. (Its not perfect, majority of this happened in the 90's.  And in the context of the long history of the theatre, these are small numbers, I realize, but in the grand scheme of things it shows a strong attempt, and the promise of growth.). In spite of this, the current cast of "the Nightingale" features a "Multi-Cultural Cast" with only 2 out of 12 roles going to Asian Americans in a story set in feudal China.  As any director knows, you can tell a story without words, or text.  That the composition of the stage pictures alone can convey a feeling, imply a theme, and in that vein, casting tells a story.  And in this current workshop of the Nightingale, that story is hurtful, and offensive.
In regards to this recent controversy the Playhouse has stated that this story is not Asian or Chinese as it was created by Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson.  However the story is not framed within the context of a fictional universe like Middle Earth or a Kingdom of Mer-People.  With the names of characters, costuming, and situations, the Nightingale establishes itself as representing China, at which point one might question the logic that the creators would not seek out additional oversight from the Asian or Asian American Community, rather than lessen it through casting "multi-cultural."  For that matter, wouldn't an Asian American artist, born and raised in a western culture, schooled and trained in western theatre traditions, but influenced by Asian cultural roots, be ideal for interpreting a story like this, a western interpretation of Asian themes and aesthetics? 
Earlier this week, I and a few other minority leaders in San Diego’s arts and culture scene reached out with compassion to La Jolla Playhouse as peers and friends to have a conversation about this. We met on Monday for two hours, and thought at the time that it was a productive meeting. We expressed that there was a real opportunity here for La Jolla Playhouse to be a leader, do something groundbreaking, and advance the conversation about diversity in theater into something productive. All they had to do was say “I’m sorry.” They didn’t intend to offend fellow artists, the Asian American community and everyone engaged in issues of diversity, but inadvertently they did. we expressed that if they say sorry, we will stand by them and support them.
Unfortunately, after listening to the interview on NPR last Wednesday, it does not look like this is the direction they are taking.
As storytellers and artists, we all bear a responsibility, in the tradition of the classic Greek Dramatists who forged the foundation for modern philosophy, social science and other forms of study that analyze and present the human condition.  What is disappointing is that so far LJP is showing no leadership in taking responsibility for their lack of oversight.  Statements from the Playhouse so far indicate they are sorry WE were offended, not sorry THEY offended US.  The problem of course being, that if we, as artists cannot take responsibility, cannot own up to the impact our choices have and cannot admit to any mistakes, it removes the opportunity for our community and society to learn from such mistakes.  It halts progress rather than advances it.  This is not representative of a culture of artistic exchange or cultivation of ideas and expression.  This is representative a corporatist culture, so obsessed with saving face, so constricted, mired and strangled by its "official verbiage" and jargon that it cant say the simple things we learned as children like "I'm Sorry."

Moving forward, I can only hope that LJP will choose to build upon their past legacy of contribution towards the growth and cultivation of voices, rather than dismiss such indiscretions claiming the support of "artistic choice" over social responsibility.  Both should be a priority.  More-so I wish that the impact of certain choices on some communities did not still need reminding in the year 2012. 

I would like to believe that internally and individually, my friends and colleagues at the Playhouse, an organization that has felt like home to me for many years, understand the indiscretions, and feel remorse for the position the institution seems to be taking, and I challenge them to speak to their personal convictions and not to their prescribed "obligations" to the company line.

I also call out to all artists, Asian Americans other people of color, and my many white and Caucasian friends who believe in a community's right to own our own representations of self; Please support us, and express your solidarity, so those in power can hear our voices and know that this issue will not simply blow over. 


Please plan on attending the panel discussion on this topic on
Sunday, July 22, 2012
3:45 PM
La Jolla Playhouse
Directions and Parking Information Here:

Some Context, A report about the decrease of roles that went to Asian Americans on Broadway Stages
the Blog Post that hit the internet and brought national visibility to the issue...
Wednesday's KPBS Interview with Actor Greg Watanabe and Christopher Ashley