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Invitation to Inclusiveness: East West Players' Asian American Theater Forum

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After the LA Jolla Playhouse (LJP) controversy, in which the artistic team chose to utilize Caucasian actors in Chinese roles for its production of The Nightingale, East West Players (EWP), the nation’s preeminent Asian Pacific Islander American theater company, promised to organize a forum to continue the dialogue.

In a recent press release, EWP announced their plan for a forum that hopes to bring more APIA participation into theater, particularly mainstream theater. The press release says that artistic heads of major theaters in Southern California will be on the panel to discuss APIAs and theater. However, none of them are APIA.

I followed up with East West Players to interview the company about the format, the impetus, and the lack of APIA participation in a panel that’s expressly about APIA participation:

 Tell us more about this EWP-initiated program.

This is a result of the many emails from artists and concerned community about wanting to have a forum on changing the face of American theatre.

In what way would this forum address "more [visibility/participation] in the American Theatre" by APIAs, when there are no APIAs slated to be on the panel? Is the intent for these theater heads to instruct APIAs, or to listen to APIAs?

The important thing is to open up the discussion with people who have the authority to make change in the theatre in terms of programming and developing artists. Unfortunately, artistic directors in this leadership capacity are not Asian. They need to make the shift in their thinking. Linda Oku the facilitator, Tim Dang, and an APIA performer will be onstage, but not part of the panel. The program will be interactive and the entire audience will participate.

Participation by the heads of the independent APIA theater community has not been named in this press release. Have they been approached, and who are they? I noticed that Brahmin and the Tiger is not listed. Are these entities being invited to be on the panel, in the audience, or neither? 

The prominent APIA theatres will be invited. We have updated the release to include Brahmin and the Tiger. We were initially unaware of the remount.

In your press release, it seems to indicate that EWP is crediting LJP for race-appropriate casting for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, as a result of the casting controversy. However the show was on the programming slate prior to the controversy. Does EWP feel a need to restore LJP's reputation?

 In offering a balanced perspective, if you criticize someone for an action you think is in error, you must also encourage them for an action which you agree with. We are crediting LJP for their casting of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It's not a matter of restoring LJP's reputation -- was it ever lost? EWP wants to open up the conversation to a wider net of the decision makers. We're not here to chastise theaters but to find the truth of why there isn't more APIA work, and what it is going to take to change the face of the American theater. This topic is now larger than the Nightingale controversy, which has galvanized and inspired the conversation, and we hope that theaters around the country start talking about this.

***

At the time of this writing, only one head of independent APIA theater confirmed that they had been invited to attend the event. None had responded about being asked to sit on the panel. Beyond reactions on not getting invited, many voiced similar dismay: “No Asian Americans on a panel about Asian Americans?”

However many remained optimistic, like Helen Ota, Artistic Director of the 31-year-old Asian American improv troupe Cold Tofu, who hopes “that we can take the steps needed to help create more opportunities for Asian American performers, writers, directors, and designers.”

The invitation-only event is to take place Monday, October 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm PDT/5:00 pm EDT at East West Players David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo Los Angeles.

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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