East West Players Celebrates 50th Anniversary With An Extended Season

 

East West Players, the nation’s longest-running and most esteemed Asian American theater company, will celebrate its highly anticipated 50th anniversary with an extended season, titled “Golden,” that will take place over the next two years. “It’s not everyday that you get to celebrate a 50th anniversary,” says Producing Artistic Director Tim Dang, who has been with East West Players (EWP) since 1980. “We probably started thinking about and preparing for the 50th anniversary since 2011.”

It’s quite an achievement for the longest-running professional theater of color in the country, one whose stage has been graced by “nearly 4,000 Asian and Pacific Islander ac- tors,” says Dang, including the likes of John Cho, Lucy Liu, Kal Penn and Daniel Dae Kim.

Clearly, EWP has found a way to shape the talent of young artists and steer them in the right direction. Part of this has to do with the many programs offered by the company. “In addition to the award-winning productions that we do, we also have a great arts education program,” explains Dang. “We bring theater to a number of different schools, especially schools that don’t have a lot of funding for the arts. We also have a great professional enrichment program where we have classes here at East West Players.”

Of course, their work is hardly done. With the growing and changing demographic of Asian America, EWP strives to increase its scope of voices and perspectives. “Back in the mid-’60s, there were only a handful of cultures that really made up the Asian American community: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Korean,” Dang recalls. “These days, you have Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Indonesian and the Pacific Islander ethnic communities such as Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan. We find that the Asian American community is growing so large now, not only in its own diversity but in its numbers. East West Players has been challenged to try and represent all these voices.”

After years of preparation, eight productions have been chosen for the Golden Anniversary, including the West Coast premiere of the black comedy Takarazuka!!! by Audrey contributor and playwright Susan Soon He Stanton (which runs November 6 through December 7), Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph (September 4 – October 5), Washer/Dryer by Nandita Shenoy, Chinglish by David Henry Hwang, and an Asian production of the Tony Award-winning musical La Cage Aux Folles.

Details Fall 2014 – summer 2016, eastwestplayers.org.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here. 

 

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Three Things to Watch Now to Get Your Girl Power On: Steel Magnolias, Austenland, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I grew up in an age where the women in power believed in a 1970s sort of feminism: be hard-core, don’t let a man control you, fight back at every turn. Under their tutelage, I believed that was the only way to be a feminist. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to accept that feminism is not so … difficult. I embrace being an equal professionally, regardless of gender, while at the same time, embracing the joys of not having to be a man. In fact, sometimes being a girl just feels damn good.

Looking to get your girl power on? Be inspired with these recommendations on screen and stage that will appeal to the many sides of your complex female self.

Steel Magnolias

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Leave it to East West Players, the nation’s leading Asian American theater troupe, to take on an all-Asian cast production of the classic play (turned movie) “Steel Magnolias.” I’d never seen the play before, but I loved the movie … from what I could remember: pretty much Julia Roberts having a diabetic seizure as Sally Fields did what she does best (freak out) — that was the extent of it.

But what I saw at opening night this past Wednesday was so much more — the electric dynamic of six strong women, the Asian faces in a very Southern setting, the hilarious exchanges (Hiwa Bourne excelled as beauty parlor owner Truvy, played by Dolly Parton in the film, and Lovelle Liquigan’s Annelle was brilliant in all her awkward glory), and most of all, the intimacy of watching something on stage. Not only was it a reminder that truly good theater could never be replaced by film, it reaffirmed to me that a compelling story always works, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Catch East West Players’ production of “Steel Magnolias,” from now until October 6. Book your tickets here.

Austenland

I am not ashamed to say that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. Sure, some may wonder how a 19th century, practically “chick lit” British author appeals to a 21st century Asian American woman, but I tell you, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, I couldn’t believe how much the social mores and cultural norms of 1810s England sounded just like those of my religious Korean immigrant upbringing. (Read Persuasion and I dare any 30- to 40-something single Asian American woman not to feel the plight of poor Anne Elliot.) Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since.

So naturally, when I heard about Austenland, which premiered at Sundance, I had to go see what it was all about. Keri Russell (of Felicity fame) stars as the awkward Jane Hayes, a 30-something woman obsessed with the Colin Firth version of Mr. Darcy (from the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice). Her entire apartment is decorated — creepily — in Regency Era teapots and porcelain dolls, and the lord of the manor is a life-size cardboard cut-out of Firth. When she gets the chance of a lifetime to spend her vacation at Austenland, an English-themed resort where you get to live out your Jane Austen fantasy, complete with cute actors in costume, hilarity, as they say, ensues.

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Now, I’m not gonna deny that the film will appeal mostly to those familiar with Austen’s work. But the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge (perhaps best known for being the MILF in American Pie), playing the rich, ignorant American who goes to the resort solely because she thinks she’ll look great in those “wench dresses,” will make up for any inside jokes you may miss.

Oh, and did I mention that the soundtrack was done by Hong Kong-born Chinese hapa Emmy the Great?

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Emmy the Great.

Austenland is in select theaters now.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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It’s almost here … the Joss Whedon-helmed television series following Agent Phil Coulson and his agents of the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, aka S.H.I.E.L.D. As we told you in our Fall 2013 issue interview with actress Ming-Na Wen, The Joy Luck Club star kicks ass as Melinda May, an expert pilot and martial artist. But she’s not the only Asian American doing us proud on the ABC series. Chinese American hapa Chloe Bennett stars as Skye, a mysterious computer hacker genius, while Thai American Maurissa Tancharoen is a producer on the show. All I can say is based on the reviews, this is one show you’re not going to want to miss.

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Chloe Bennet as Skye, right, in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres on ABC Tuesday Sept. 24. Get psyched with cool video extras, including one especially devoted to how Agent Coulson recruited Melinda May, here.