Stories performed on stage, as opposed to those we read on a page or viewed on a screen, provide a truly immersive, multidimensional experience. Only live theater is capable of doing that.
Theater companies including East West Players in Los Angeles, Ferocious Lotus in San Francisco, Ma-Yi, and Pan Asian Repertory both in New York City, are a must-see venues showcasing Asian-interest stories.
These companies were created particularly to break down prejudices regarding what roles Asian American performers can play and what stories about the Asian diaspora are conveyed on stage.
David Henry Hwang’s “M. Butterfly”, the first Asian American play to be performed on Broadway, which is based on a true occurrence, tells the tale of a French diplomat who falls in love with a Beijing Opera singer, only for their relationship to end tragically.
At first, audience members familiar with Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” saw similarities, until Hwang’s play shatters expectations of how this story is generally expected to play out.
“M. Butterfly” was later made into a film. It owes its success to the pioneering Asian American theater artists who worked at local companies like the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York City and the East West Players in Los Angeles.
Terry Hong, who has written extensively about Asian American theater and traveled to New York City in 1988 to watch the play, says that it was a life-changing moment. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and national identity were all challenged.
Former artistic director of Los Angeles’ Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, Chil Kong says that works like “The Wash”, by Philip Kan Gotanda, or “Tea”, by Velina Hasu Houston, helped him get in touch with what his parents felt as first-generation immigrants
The objective of theaters like these is to illuminate and reinforce the importance of Asian American lives, which is as important as ever given the current increase in anti-Asian violence.