It’s Not Over Yet: Asian-American Festival Keeps the Drama Going in LA

Just when you thought Los Angeles’ June theater festivals were wrapping up, it turns out the fat lady has a lot more to see before she sings.

As RADAR L.A. and the Theatre Communications Group begin to close their curtains, and Hollywood Fringe festival heads into its second week, the National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival (NAATC) is just opening. For the first time since its 2006 launch, the event, hosted by East West Players and TeAda Productions includes both a three-day conference, which begins today, and the subsequent festival, which starts Thursday, June 23 and continues through Wednesday, June 26.

Tim Dang

I asked Tim Dang, artistic director of East West about the festival, and why L.A. theater buffs might want to shake their festival fatigue and sample the NAATC offerings.

TIM DANG: You can think of [NAATC] as a menu items in different restaurants: What are you going to have for dinner tonight — Italian, steak, perhaps Thai? Is there going to be an Asian offering in your menu of foods that you’re going to eat over two weeks? It’s the same thing for art. Maybe you choose a kind of interesting hip-hop play one night; another night you want to see Shakespeare.

This is a great time to be in Los Angeles. There is this critical mass of theater that’s happening, which I think is really good for all of us. We can sleep on July 1, but for now it’s really a buzz.

ENGINE 28: For someone who wants to see two or three very different plays, can you talk about the variety in the lineup?

We have some traditional theater — a version of Carol Churchill’s A Number, but with an Asian cast. We have a performance piece with Jason Magabo Perez, a Filipino from San Diego, The Passion of El Hulk Hogancito. He tells the story of his mother, a nurse, who immigrated from the Philippines to Wisconsin, and was accused of murdering 10 patients in a hospital. She was exonerated, but it’s the kind of immigrant story that you don’t usually hear.

Then we have a comedy, Ten Reasons Why I’d Be a Bad Porn Star with a Hmong woman from Minnesota. In Hmong cultures, it’s taboo to even talk about sex.

May Lee-Yang in "Ten Reasons Why I'd Be a Bad Porn Star"

 

Is the American-Asian theater community growing, and how is that taking place?

It’s really important to see how various other communities have contributed to the American theater canon. For example, how gay theater made its way, when Angels in America came out in the mid-90s.

I feel that at this particular time, because the Asian-American community is expanding by leaps and bounds, there is a critical mass of art coming from the particular communities within in it.

Well-known Asian cultures, like the Japanese and the Chinese, have been part of the American theater canon for a little while. But now you have the Hmong community, the Cambodian community and the South Asian community, which involves Hindu, Indian and Pakistani voices. It’s a rich and exciting time for these cultures to start telling their stories.

How “Asian” does a piece or a playwright have to be to be part of the festival?

One of the main conversations we are having at the Asian-American Festival is how Asians self-identify. Because someone is Asian American, do they have to write about Asian Americans? The answer is no.

A lot of the youth now are of mixed race. They’re going to have different stories. Your father may be Japanese and your mother may be African American, but it always goes back to the storytelling; that’s what theatre is all about.

Returning to the food analogy, there are a lot of places that serve fusion food, like Franco-Japanese. It’s all great; it all adds to the stew that is America.

Nancy Fowler

Nancy Fowler believes that when it comes to social justice, one good theatre production is worth a thousand rants.

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