This is not your parents’ (or your grandparents’) Asian American theater. That I can even say that is proof of massive progress. What a difference a few decades makes … you won’t find any Japanese American internees or migrant farm laborers here, no Gold Mountain gold rushers or transcontinental railroad workers (although Charlie Crocker does get a sly mention).
Truly, these are indeed “plays for a new generation” – we’re talking 9/11 in Zaraawar Mistry’s Indian Cowboy, transracial adoption in Kurt Miyashiro, Rick Shiomi, and Sundraya Kase’s Walleye Kid: The Musical, Hong Kong handover in Aurorae Khoo’s Happy Valley, an APA Oscar nomination in Sun Mee Chomet’s Asiamnesia, the voiceless-no-more Hmong in May Lee-Yang’s Sia(b), a new kind of inter-Asian colonialism in Clarence Coo’s Bahala Na (Let It Go), and the over-the-top reclamation of just about every stereotype in Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman.
But before you let out that “WOW!” here’s another unprecedented fact about these plays to marvel over, as co-editor Rick Shiomi, the co-founder and artistic director of Minneapolis/St.Paul-based Mu Performing Arts, writes in his “Afterword”: “Mu Performing Arts participated in the development and produced the world premieres of all but one of the plays in this anthology. The question that comes to mind is ‘How on earth did this happen?’”
How, indeed! Really, we’re not talking either coast where most APA theater participants and experts tend to congregate – or at least we think they do. Even Shiomi confesses to his own initial concerns about the (very) few APA artists trying to “survive without an Asian American community” while “buried deep in the hinterland of the Midwest.” And yet, somehow, Shiomi’s Mu Performing Arts, founded in 1992, has grown into the second largest pan-Asian performing arts organization across the country. This marvelous book is irrefutable testimony to its not-so-quiet powerhouse status. The drama continues … hopefully for decades to come.
Tidbit: Come meet Rick Shiomi today at the Library of Congress! Click here for details.