East West Players To Host Forum on Asian American Visibility in American Theatre Following Controversial Casting of Play with “Chinese” Setting

As most of you no doubt know, the La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) recently set off a firestorm when it presented a workshop production of a play entitled “The Nightingale” – set in a “mythical China” with several Chinese characters including the Emperor – but cast with five white males, no Asian American males and only two Asian Americans in a cast of 12.

Given the relative paucity of roles for Asian Americans in American theatre, this self-described “colorblind casting” generated outrage among Asian American actors and instigated lively debate in the blogosphere, social media, mainstream press and a forum hosted by LJP and attended by the play’s creative team.  Asian American perspectives were aired, apologies issued but the conversations have continued.

Thank you to Erin Quill, Greg Watanabe, Christine Toy Johnson, Cindy Cheung, Andy Lowe, Diep Tran, Lee Ann Kim, Han Ong and many others who put their artist face aside and made OUR presence known during the Nightingale casting issue.

It’s time we ALL participated in making our presence known. We ALL need to be agents for change.

However you can, make your presence known. Whether you’re an artist, a patron of the arts, or a member of the greater community of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, we must speak out. We can no longer be invisible.  Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are a force to be reckoned with politically, economically and in terms of social influence.  Our presence is becoming stronger everyday. We all need to educate our fellow citizens to recognize and adapt to the changing face of America.  It’s not coming…it’s here.

As an actor – “but I just want to act.”  If there are few roles to audition for now, those opportunities to act will continue to be meager unless you demand change. Make your presence known when you see any audition notices that you may be right for.  Actors Equity open calls cannot discriminate against Asian Americans auditioning for any roles. You might change the director’s or producer’s mind.

Tell your agent you want to go out on a culturally-specific role that you heard about from your friends.  Tell your agent you want to go out on non-specific roles where race is not an issue.  If your agent says no, educate him or her or go find another agent.

As an audience member – “I just want to see a great story.”  If you are an Asian American audience member, how often do you see Asian American stories or Asian American actors on the stage?  Make sure you tell the theater you attend that you would like to see a diversity of stories and diversity of cast onstage.  Make your presence known.

If you are a non-Asian audience member, have you noticed most of the stage productions you attend don’t reflect the community in which you live?  Or have you noticed how much more interesting a piece is when it is played by a more diverse cast? Let the theater know that you feel that diverse stories and casts make perfect sense for a changing world.

And for all audiences, make your presence known by supporting Asian Americans in the performing arts.  Attend shows at East West Players or the more than 50 Asian American theaters around the country, go see movies that feature Asian American actors/writers/directors the weekend they open, and send supportive emails to the networks when television series include Asian Americans.

We’ve got to fight for change.  Sometimes it takes pain to see the change happen. We’ve felt the pain caused by the Nightingale.  Now is the time to demand change in the power structures that dominate mainstream theatre and media.  As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.”

Make your presence known.

As a next step in the process of demanding change in American theatre, EWP will be hosting a follow-up forum to continue the dialogue with Southern California theatre leaders to inspire the rest of the country to change the face of American theatre. We are still confirming our panelists. We hope that this will lead to more dialogue across the country with other major theatres.

The face of America has changed. It’s time for the face of American Theatre to change as well.

Keep checking back on our blog (eastwestplayers.wordpress.com), Facebook and website for more information about the forum and ways in which you can make the difference.

Tim Dang
Producing Artistic Director
East West Players