We’re excited to welcome our guest blogger Karen Huie, who is currently playing Madame Armfeldt in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (now through 6/24):
Photo by Michael Lamont
“A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC” by Karen Huie
Society looks to art to inform and enlighten. In all American cities, most especially big ones like Los Angeles, movies, television, museums, music, dance and theatre make up the cultural diet. Ideas and events permeate conversations in person or via the internet, the virtual water cooler. Love or hate the pieces, they get discussed.
I was born and raised in New York City and although it was a melting pot of varied religions and ethnicities, there was a dominant culture—Caucasian. My modest immigrant parents were enthralled by what New York had to offer-great architecture, symphonies, films, art, opera and theatre. Dad was as enraptured and hummed along just as easily with “The King and I” and “South Pacific” as with “Oklahoma” or “Carousel” or “Carmen” or “Madama Butterfly”. We went as a family to see films from Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, France or Sweden by King Hu, Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut or Bergman, where language was no barrier to other worlds. I’m ever grateful to my parents for exposing us to their love of the arts.
Lest I sound like a “cock-eyed optimist”, let me state I know the world is filled more often with division and derision. People don’t generally accept differences readily. Sometimes it is blatant racism. I often see it otherwise—as fear. When I feel uncomfortable in a situation, I ask myself two questions—do I feel unloved or do I feel unsafe? One of these questions will lead to a specific and isolated concept or experience that I can concretize and kick to the curb. When I see upset in others, I ask myself the same questions of them and when I am able to guess effectively as to what may be bothering them and speak from that place, the tension dissipates.
East West Players is an Asian American theatre company started by seven Asian American actors looking for a place where they could do creative work that related to them at a time, in the 60s, when there was none. Spearheaded by Mako and James Hong, two prominent Asian American actors, East West Players has evolved into the oldest Asian American Theatre in the country, now in its 46th season. This is a theatre that has held steadfast to its commitment to be a place where Asian American actors, directors, writers and designers can continue to exercise their imagination.
The entertainment industry is cost accountably-driven. Succeed or die. There are biases and generalities minorities continue to live with. If we behave a certain way, some may jump to the conclusion that we’re “all that way”. Or somehow our behavior is relegated to race, rather than individuality. Take any of them upon ourselves and we restrict our creative freedom. Through 46 4-play seasons, East West Players has shown a remarkable array of permutations in personalities, proving that we’re not all alike.
I worked at East West Players when I first arrived in Los Angeles in Ed Sakamoto’s “In The Shadows”, then starred as Madam Mao Tse Tung in “The Chairman’s Wife”, had my own play, “Songs of Harmony” produced (which won me a pilot deal with Castle Rock Entertainment at the same time Jerry Seinfeld was there developing “Seinfeld”), then played Auntie Lindo in “The Joy Luck Club” and now have the honor of being cast to play Madam Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music”, directed by Tim Dang, East West Players’ Artistic Director.
Tim’s vision is to set in China, the original Swedish film “Smiles of a Summer Night” directed by Ingmar Bergman, then written by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim” into “A Little Night Music”. I am privileged to work in the company of such talented and capable actors, singers and designers under Tim Dang’s direction. The score happens to be one of my favorite musicals ever. And while the story has been set in China, it proves, visually, musically and conceptually, that hearts and heartbreak transcend all cultures and all time periods.
On a personal note, working on this show has reemerged in me my love of singing. I grew up going to theatre and watch as many shows as I can when I’m back in New York every couple of months. Once I began working in Los Angeles, now predominantly doing voiceovers, I only sang for my own enjoyment. There are a lot more Asian American in the acting pool than when I first started. And with each actor comes a unique set of genetics, talent and focus, adding to the richness and complexity of the acting fabric. East West Players started as and continues to be a breeding ground of ideas and a creative home for Asian American actors to play and develop.
Society. Over a billion people in the world crammed into that word. No wonder it’s slow to change. East West Players stands among many organizations devoted to change. It is a place of art to inform and enlighten.