Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

Be Like Mike: East West Players Honors Mike Hagiwara

Michael Hagiwara could be the most liked person in the Asian American theater community. Hagi, as most know him, doesn’t adopt some persona to make people like him; it’s who he is. And people like that he’s a personable guy, not a guy intent on making everyone know he’s a personable guy. 

Hagi has a remarkable ability to imbue a tinge of sadness and anger in his roles, and his likeability transfers those nuances faster than any high-speed system. He also has depth in his achievements. He is a respected director and teacher. He writes and is a triple threat performer -- singing, dancing, and acting.

With this affable non-strategy, Hagi has carved out a career in the entertainment industry worthy of admiration. Hagiwara is being honored with the Founder’s Award at the upcoming annual East West Players' Visionary Awards.

A veteran of over 75 TV and radio commercials, including the voice of Hawai’i’s Safeway stores for nearly a decade, Hagiwara has performed in over 50 stage productions across the country, many of them at East West Players which he considers his home. As a director and producer, he gathered 80 performers together for his A Little Tokyo Christmas extravaganza production and spent years involved with Nisei Week festivities.

How did you get into performing?

When I did my first show, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. It kind of felt like that was where I belonged. I’d been trying different majors in college, and when I did my first musical, I realized that that was what I wanted to pursue. So I quit my day job and went back to school to pursue acting full time.

And now you’re getting the Founder’s Award at the gala. What is the award for?

The Founder’s Award is given to someone that East West Players wants to recognize for their years of service. As EWP is much like a family, it’s an acknowledgement of service to the theater, for someone EWP feels has promoted and assisted the theater in reaching its goals.

I’m honored to have been chosen for this award.

Your time at East West has been a long and rewarding one. Tell me about your most memorable experience there.

My first show I ever did was A Chorus Line. We were young kids back then with Mako and Beulah Quo, our elders, who had given so much in advancing APIs in entertainment. So we had a sense of legacy instilled in us. We also were ingrained with discipline and commitment. Things like always being on time and knowing your lines and hitting your mark. And it wasn’t so much that we didn’t want to let our elders down. We just didn’t want to be the weak link. We spurred each other on. 80% of those bright-eyed youths with the whole world before them are still in entertainment, including Tony Award winner B. D. Wong, Academy Award winner Chris Tashima, Sesame Street veteran Alan Muraoka, Taiko Project and hereandnow founder John Miyasaki, and current artistic director of EWP, Tim Dang.

Why is EWP important to the community?

It gives API actors the opportunity to do shows and play roles that they would never be able to do.

What’s next?

I’m definitely not ready to be put out to pasture just yet. I’m working on a couple projects right now including a project with Chris Tashima and Perry Miyake for LATC.

You’re a great chef too. What’s your secret for your frittata?

Fresh veggies, cage free eggs, cheese, love and not following a recipe.


About The Author

Ken Choy

Ken Choy is a community organizer and filmmaker, and producer of Breaking the Bow. He is gay, green, and gluten free.

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