Sunday, December 5, 2010

Take Two holiday brunch

Direct Arts kicked off Take Two 2011 with a fabulous holiday brunch at the Mexican restaurant La Palapa. The Take Two 2011 schedule will be revealed next week. Until then, enjoy this preview of some the people who are involved!

Actor Max Carpenter speaks to Jeremy Hook, producer of BRAND UPON THE BRAIN.

Writer Anna Ziegler (foreground) and her husband Will speak to Direct Arts board member Victor Rodruguez. 

Alice Cox with a quizzical J.P. Chan.

Brunch at La Palapa.

Michael Niederman rocks the pink shirt as Nurit Monacelli speaks to Jo Mei. 

There's a lot going on in this room.

Jeremy Hook holds court. L-R: Minnea Lin, Alice Cox, J.P. Chan (obscured), Jean Chen.

Jeremy Hook and Direct Arts board member Matt Metzgar.

Editor Minnea Lin with filmmaker J.P. Chan.

Anna Ziegler imbibes hibiscus agua fresca as the hubby voices an opinion.
Minnea Lin with Kira Onadera.

An oddly festive shot of Michael Niederman, Nurit Monacelli, Jeremy Hook and Nancy Robillard. Maybe it's the red and green shirt and those lights in the back.

J.P. Chan, Jo Mei, Victoria Linchong and Jean Chen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wasserstein Prize Debacle

"We regret to inform you that of the 19 nominated plays, none was deemed sufficiently realized by the selection panel to receive the Prize. As a result, the Wasserstein Prize will not be presented in 2010. While the panel thought that many of the scripts showed promise, they felt that none of the plays were truly outstanding in their current incarnation.”

The storm over the Wasserstein Prize has put the spotlight on women in the arts, a perennially sore subject for most women in the arts like me. It's astounding that Theatre Development Fund, which manages the award, thought that they could write rejection letters baldly telling 19 female writers nominated by theaters around the country that they're just not good enough without some kind of repercussion. But this is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the struggle for women to be taken seriously as writers and artists.

That the Wasserstein Prize is given to a female writer under 32 is already contentious. Committing to life as an artist is fraught with difficulty - during an introductory exercise at the Chicago Directors Lab I attended last June, we discovered to our mutual surprise that just about all of us had parents who disapproved of us being in the arts. For men, this might be tough, but throw in a couple of gender-specific obstacles like the wage-gap and baby-making, and the result is that many women find themselves "emerging" as artists later than men. And it's really discouraging to not only have an expiration date stamped on your forehead, but to wake up and realize that it's already come and gone.

Then of course, there's that gender issue. I think I must have had a dozen conversations with female friends of mine who are in theater, film or otherwise in the arts on why there are so few recognized female artists. I've often said to friends that I had a realization once about how women are intrinsically creative in being able to give birth, whereas men can only create through the arts, but there's really more to the gender disparity than this.  A comprehensive NEA demographic report of 919,000 artists in 2005 shows that women make up just under half of all artists nationwide (46 percent), but that looking at specific artist professions, some are male-dominated and some are female-dominated. Quite obviously, dance is female-dominated, while directing and producing is male-dominated. But while the NEA report shows that writing is actually slightly female dominated, with 56% of writers being female, studies consistently show that only about 17% of the total number of new plays produced in America are by women.

Economist Emily Sands employed a very rigorous empirical approach to studying the paucity of produced women playwrights in her 2009 report, Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theater. Sands obtained two 10-page script samples, one with two female protagonists and one with two male protagonists. She made an equal number of copies and assigned a female pen-name to half the scripts and a male pen-name to the other half. She then sent the scripts to 252 theaters, asking for responses to what she presented as a survey on script evaluation. Replies from the Artistic Directors and Literary Managers of 82 of these theaters revealed that, "Scripts bearing female pen-names are deemed by artistic directors to be of lower overall quality and to face poorer economic prospects than otherwise identical scripts bearing male pen-names. In addition, artistic directors believe cast and crew will be less eager to work on a female-written script."

Even more surprisingly, Sands' report reveals that artists and literary managers who are female are more likely to "deem scripts bearing female pen-names to be poorer fits with their theaters, and to face not only worker discrimination, but also customer discrimination." And weirdly, "The severity of the discrimination against female playwrights appears to be more pronounced for women writing about women than for women writing about men."

Learning about this, I'm reminded of the summer I worked at the Coney Island Sideshow, where part of the rotation of the performers was to hawk the show on the bally. We all had about the same spiel, "Step right up, step right up! Ten shows in one! One dollar, one dollar, one dollar, one dollar!" But it never failed that people would only listen if it was a white guy talking. The Latinos and African-Americans who are predominantly on the boardwalk on a hot summer day are immune to other Latinos and African-Americans who want a dollar out of them. And a little Asian girl with a snake only makes the guys stop and reach for that other bulge. But get a white guy up on the bally and the skeptical crowd immediately becomes more receptive. We surmised that the general public must be conditioned by Bob Barker and other white-guy-announcers on TV.

NYSCA's 2002 roundtable on women in theater also made much of unconscious discrimination, with Dr. Virginia Valian, author of Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women, demonstrating that even slightly preferential treatment has long-term repercussions, "In a situation where men and women in equal numbers begin their careers with precisely the same qualifications,and a mere 1% bias is introduced, in time, a top executive level of 35% women and 65% men will be affected." This would explain why there may be an almost equal number of male and female playwrights, but so few female writers are produced. Valian's research concludes that "while most men and women would assume otherwise, when judging quality, they are acting on deep assumptions that are neither equitable nor accurate. Unless men and women become conscious of these assumptions, and make a conscious decision to achieve parity, they will automatically prefer men, even in fields where women predominate."

But besides discrimination, conscious or unconscious, female artists also have the odds stacked against them because of economics. The NEA report reveals that "women artists who work full-year, full-time, earn $0.75 for every dollar made by men artists." And the 2002 NYSCA roundtable eloquently observed, "For good and ill, women tend to operate outside the mainstream. In the absence of opportunities, women are resourceful and create their own, self-producing or starting enterprises outside of the mainstream. However, as many participants testified, burdened with child care, 'day jobs' and lower salaries (75.8%) than those earned by their male counterparts, women's theatre work is often their third shift. Under funded and understaffed, female theatrical entrepreneurs 'burn out' even more rapidly than men in this high-burnout field."

The Wasserstein Prize is $25,000. To be given, even for a year, that kind of financial freedom - to be provided with what Virginia Woolf so eloquently described as a room of one's own - what a dream! I'm not sure what the answer to achieving gender equality in the arts force is, much less in the work force. But it does seem that part of the solution has to do with opportunities. Support for women in the arts will lead to more women in the arts. The production of more plays by women will lead to more artistic directors feeling secure in producing female playwrights. Which is why the Wasserstein Prize is so important. It's unconscionable that the award committee would decide not to give the prize when opportunities for women playwrights are so limited. Especially when it's a prize named after Wendy Wasserstein, who saw her writing as a political act to encourage other female playwrights.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Direct Arts in San Francisco - Thursday, 9/16

The next morning, Matt and I rolled out of bed and headed to the bank where I took out the per diem money for everyone. I got back half an hour late to the meeting, but none of the actors were there yet; they began crawling in around 11:00 sucking on coffee with rings around their eyes and speaking in monosyllables. Except for Jojo who apparently had gotten up at dawn again. Even though that's when I think he went to sleep. I gave some notes, but most of my worries had to do with the music problems the previous night and after taking care of correspondence and doing some math, I sat down with Richard for another confab.
Richard working on video, random hostel guy behind him.
Heading to Portsmouth Square with Matt afterwards, I went down to  Portsmouth Square Garage to turn their lunchroom into a dressing room. The techies were all late in arriving except for Cristian, but set-up seemed to be a lot more efficient than the day before. After making sure everything was all right, I got on the phone to rent chairs and went shopping for the last of the props. I bought an Asian baby doll from a toy store on the Embarcadero. Helen, who played its mom, was a little creeped out by it since it was the size of a preemie but had a full head of hair. I found a little yellow sweater at Goodwill (well, actually it was white with orange stripes which I hoped would look yellow in the light). I still couldn’t find a stool so we were stuck again with the ladder I had borrowed from the garage.  

At 5PM, the actors arrived for dinner at Chinatown Restaurant, where we had another amazing dinner. Cristian and Tim went off to get chairs from Nextarts but the rest of the crew members managed to sit down with us at the end of the meal. 

After dinner, I took the actors down the elevator to the garage and introduced them to the lunchroom. I think they were a little bemused at the set up, but it actually wasn’t so bad – it was indoors and there was space to sit, warm up and hang your things. Plus they had just renovated the bathroom, which was way better than the mucky bathroom in the Square. Kate came to the dressing room with a new Ng Ga Pei bottle. A mysterious gentleman had given it to her, saying that he had seen the play the previous night and the bottle we had for the scene wasn’t the proper bottle. He also bought four little porcelain cups to go with it since he said no one drinks Ng Ga Pei from the bottle.  Apparently, he then he vanished with the crashing of a gong on a blue dragon that chased a giant floating pearl. 

Carl & Kitty at the entrance to the lunchroom,
I mean dressing room. (Thanks Helen Kim for these photos.) 

Avery & Helen Tong in the inner sanctum of the
dressing room. Note the five bags, not a good idea.
 The actors picked through the five bags to find their costumes, while Kate and I went back up to the Square. We got out of the elevator just as Cristian was arrived with the chairs. The minute that we put a row down, people instantly came swarming from all corners of Portsmouth Square for a seat. In an instant, the house was completely full.  Buck Gee was there (the previous blog entry was wrong; Eddie Wong was there the first night for introductions) and an actor who had been in Genny’s play BITTER CANE, as well as several people who had seen PAPER ANGELS when it premiered at the Asian American Theater Company.

The prologue from Stage Right.
Buck Gee introduced the second night and urged everyone to visit Angel Island. It was a smoother performance than opening night, but second night blahs were in effect and the lack of music during scene changes was excruciating to me. Although everyone was slightly off in their rhythm, the audience didn’t seem to mind.  In my first scene, where I sat on the edge of the stage, I heard some talking in the audience and looking out, saw that our friend the drunk was back. I delivered my next lines straight to him, which seemed to shut him up. When I next looked at him, he was smiling and rocking back and forth. During the Ng Ga Pei scene, I saw an old lady with no teeth in the front row whoop with laughter; I thought that the choice of alcohol must ring very true to her. (Thank you, god of Ng Ga Pei.)

Later, Kate said that during Henderson’s anti-Chinese monologue, a gang of Chinese toughs happened to be walking through the Square when they heard, “The Chinese don’t belong here! Do you think they’d fight for Uncle Sam? Hell, no!” They stopped cold and for a minute, all the techies worried that Max was going to get lynched. The kids took a step towards the stage in unison and then another step and then they stopped and just watched the show. Max got off the stage and half of them left, but the other half stayed. At the end, the ones who stayed asked Kate what time the play began so they could come back and see it from the beginning.
Max stops the show.
After the play, we went to the opening of a new branch of Fluevog Shoes on Grant Street. Fluevog was a sponsor of the play and they threw an amazing party that extended throughout their four-story building, complete with a DJ and an auction of some fabulous artwork that was created in response to an advertising contest.  We drank, danced and salivated over gorgeous shoes. Max gave in and bought himself a pair of blue buckle shoes.
Max & William in front of artwork being auctioned.
Matt & the Fluevogs.
Helen's choice.
Hansel talked about these shoes for the rest of the trip.
Kate with Stephen Fluevog looking on (left, obscured).
Fluevog was about five blocks from Portsmouth Square and we walked through the Chinatown gate on Grant Street in order to get there. It was interesting to note the disparity in just one block – okay, sure Grant Street must be the capital of kitschy Chinese tchotchke for tourists, but it’s obvious that the Chinatown residents are for the most part low-income. Passing through the gate, all of a sudden, you are faced with boutique designer shops that cater to a whole other income bracket. The old lady with no teeth who enjoyed the Ng Ga Pei scene, the people who passed the day playing cards and xiang qi in the Square obviously weren't going to shop on the other side of that gate. 

Hansel & the Foo Dog at the gate.
I mentioned to some of the actors that if I had a million dollars, I’d  stop traffic for three hours, plunk a stage right in that intersection, and do the play right in front of the gate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Direct Arts in San Francisco - Wednesday 9/15

Opening night I woke up anxiously at 9AM and after dispatching Matt and crew members to transport the stage and tech from the warehouse, I went on a hunt for a nearby bank, where I discovered to my chagrin that the check still hadn't cleared. I took out what I could, figuring I would give everyone part of their per diem, since the check absolutely HAD to clear by the next day.

The actors who were staying in the hostel started to trickle in blearily at around 10AM. Carl and Max both took advantage of all-you-can-eat pancakes for $1. William conversed in Spanish with the Mexican ladies who made the eggs and the pancakes, expertly flipping them with one practiced twist of the wrist. The coffee was surprisingly good. Or maybe I was just tired. Jojo unexpectedly showed up from the Equity lodgings in Chinatown. He had woken up at 7:30 and gone exploring, discovering a dim sum hole-in-the-wall that he liked. We sat around in the lounge area, despite one hostile hostel dweller who had staked out a portion of the sofa and refused to budge.

Morning meeting with tired actors.
After making some announcements (most notably about the dressing room, which I was worried about) and reiterating that we were to meet at 5PM at Chinatown Restaurant, I left the cast and went to convene with Richard about video and sound. I was a little envious of cast members discussing where they would go - the Mission or to Golden Gate Park or Fisherman's Wharf. Richard and I went through all the video cues and the sound cues again. Then Matt came back to the hostel with Erich the sound technician, having packed up sets and lights in a truck rented by Ernie from Somarts.

Erich, I discovered, came from three generations of carnies. His family operated a carnival that toured Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I shared with him my experience working at the Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore and Big Apple Circus and we swapped stories about cracked-out carnival ride operators on our way to buy more cable at the Guitar Store.

At Portsmouth Square, I immediately made a beeline to the Portsmouth Square Garage to get adaptors from Peter Lee that would turn 220 outlets into 110. I also tentatively asked him if we could use a corner of his space for a dressing room area since I had no idea where the cast might get changed. He told me that the garage was happy to help the production and showed me the garage lunchroom, which he said could be used as a dressing room if I liked. It was incredibly generous of him, but the place seemed a little cramped and I was worried about unhappy actors so I started to think where else I could set up a dressing room.

Emerging from the underground garage, I discovered that the truck had arrived and the stage was being set up. The old Chinese people who were playing xiang qi (possibly for decades) weren't about to be uprooted. Except for a half dozen openly curious guys, they stayed precisely where they were, ignoring the 2x4s and scaffolding that whizzed by their heads.

The Chinese community in Portsmouth Square.

Ernie & Cristian setting up the stage.
I gave the adaptors to Matt and then ran off to settle things at Hotel North Beach, where the Equity actors were staying, after which I paid a visit to the Chinese Cultural Center (CCC). Mabel Teng, the director of the CCC, was there and when I asked her if there might be chairs we could borrow, she said no but she told me I might ask Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). So I went across the Square to the CAA and not only did Susan Mooney have no problem with me borrowing the 30 chairs they had, but she also said it would be okay for us to use their community center for a dressing room. Their community center was right behind the stage and absolutely perfect. (Their building is that low red one in the picture above.) I couldn't thank her more.

Hansel helped move the chairs to the Square - they were metal and pretty darn heavy (but heck, they were free!) - and I split to go hunting for props and costumes. After buying a pair of shoes for him and searching Chinatown for a baby, a yellow sweater and a stool to no avail (gotta love the random shopping lists you get in a production), I went to the Chinatown Restaurant to meet the cast. Anna Quan, the doyenne of the restaurant, pulled out all the stops. I especially enjoyed the dried tofu with string beans and fermented black beans, but the other more American dishes were also very good.

Cast chowing down at Chinatown Restaurant.
Everyone was eating happily when halfway through the meal, Matt got a text that the electricity in the Square had suddenly shut off. Richard and Robin, who were still working, were frantically trying to ascertain what had happened. Matt and I left the feast and told the crew to come eat, since there was nothing they could do until electricity was restored. I called the Parks Department and got the lighting rental company by mistake. I called again and this time got a confused park official. In the meantime, Matt had found Peter Lee from the garage, who thankfully hadn't left yet for his vacation. (Yes, he was actually heading off to the East Coast.) He showed us the breaker in the slop closet and reset it. Electricity resumed but it was a sweaty twenty minutes. At least the crew got to eat.

I settled the cast into the CAA community center where there was a lengthy search for costumes and props among the five bags that we had. It turned out that unbeknownst to me, there was a SIXTH bag and it was still in the baggage storage at the hostel. Matt had to go fetch it. (Note to self: next time get ONE big-assed bag for all props and costumes.) The crew was still scrambling to set lights and video but it was already 7:40 and the cast was antsy to begin. I climbed over the fence to Portsmouth Square and was surprised to see that it was entirely full. There must have been nearly 100 people there. The seats were all taken and people were sitting on the sides and standing in a loose semi-circle all around. Genny Lim and Buck Gee were there, as were Matt's family and about a dozen students from Berkeley.

Buck Gee speaks about Angel Island.
At around 7:50, the crew seemed to finally be ready and Buck Gee went up to talk about Angel Island. I breathed a sigh of relief; the show was about to begin. Okay we were about 20 minutes late, but it wasn't so bad, everyone was excited, all was well. Then Kate comes running and asks me where my iphone is. "Why do you need my iphone?" I ask. It turned out that for some reason, there was no music. I ran back to the community center to get the phone and handed it to the sound technician while the rest of the cast was in places. By then, I was like an overstretched rubber band.

The ensemble in the prologue. I am offstage dealing with sound.
I was a little upset over the lack of music in the prologue but when the play began, there was a new onus to focus on. A red-faced Chinese drunk in the first row was loudly responding to everything on stage. It was really hard not to be distracted. "Why are your hands trembling?" the Inspector asked. "Because it's cold!" the drunk retorted. At one point, an audience member picked up the drunk's half-empty pint of rum and holding it like a carrot on a stick, he coerced the drunk to go sit on the bench stage right. But after a scene on the sidelines, the drunk went back into the audience and resumed talking. Three-quarters of the way through the play, he literally careened over, knocking over two or three chairs. Matt said that he raised his arm and the weight of it made him pitch to the left. 

Jojo Gonzalez, Carl Li, Hansel Lum, Ming Lee.
Mei Lai and her baby, which is actually a cushion since I couldn't find a doll.
But we made it through the performance and everyone said they enjoyed it. It certainly was several shows in one what with the drunk and with Toisanese ladies talking throughout. We struck lights and sound into Cristian's van and had some well-deserved drinks at the Buddha Bar nearby.

Jojo Gonzalez & Kitty Chen framed by the San Francisco skyline.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Direct Arts in San Franciso - Day 1 & 2

Victoria and key crew members Matt Metzgar (Technical Director), Richard Reta (video design) and Robin Paterson (light design), along with actress Kitty Mei-Mei Chen rolled into San Francisco at 9:30 at night and headed to Portsmouth Square to check out the park at night. There we met Ernie from Somarts and Erich, our sound technician. After scoping out the site, we took Kitty to her hotel and checked into the hostel where we discovered a sign that said WELCOME DIRECT ARTS, complete with photos of Direct Arts A-Go-Go.  Victoria passed out but Matt, Richard and Robin went to get a nightcap an Irish pub nearby.

The next day, Cristian met us with his van at the hostel at 9AM and we went off to get lights and sound equipment. Since the van used to transport prisoners to work detail, there was no handle to the back door and Victoria and Erich, who were sitting in the back, couldn't get out by themselves. Erich mused that if there was an accident, they'd be toast.

The Somarts warehouse, where we had tech, is in an industrial neighborhood full of beautiful old abandoned warehouses. Victoria wanted to create a theater district out of all the empty buildings. We had lunch at a great Mexican place as the cast arrived and settled into the hostel. But with a few unanticipated needs, the crew was still working when we had to leave for Taishan Cafe at 4PM. Victoria and Matt left with the promise to bring back plenty of food.

Robin Paterson at Somarts warehouse load-in.
Richard Reta painting the stage at Somarts warehouse.

Taishan Cafe turned out to be clear on the other side of town. We arrived to find Genny Lim and half the cast there. The meal was fabulous country style Taishan food, with a highlight being rice in a clay pot.

Ming Lee, Carl Li, Helen Tong, Jojo Gonzalez & Avery Pearson

Andrea Day, William Rothlein, Kitty Chen & Genny Lim
But since Cristian wasn't there with us, we waited for Dan to arrive from the school where he teaches for an extra vehicle to transport all twelve actors to the warehouse. It turned out Dan had a pickup with a cab. Victoria went with Max, Hansel, Avery and Carl in the back of the pickup, while the other actors got a cushier ride with Genny and Max. A definite highlight of the pickup truck ride was stopping at a light and seeing a couple heavily making out in a car behind us.

The scene at the back of Dan's pickup.
We arrived at the warehouse and set up an actors area but since it was so cold, we decided to do a cue to cue rather than run through the whole play. Genny had left us a blanket that we made great use of. Matt made a run for tea and coffee to warm everyone up. At the end of six hours working out lights and video projections, everyone was dead tired.

Everyone bundled up for the tech.
Helen Kim & Max huddled under the blanket. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Adopt Hansel! PLUS Adventures in Obscure Chinese Traditions

Hansel Tan, who is playing Lum in our production of PAPER ANGELS got an intro to kuaiban yesterday from Mr. Zhao - it was a very exciting rehearsal, which you can catch a glimpse of on the youtube video below. We're 3 days away from the end of our Kickstarter campaign and we have 29 lovely backers, but there's still $2,700 to go. It would really be such a shame to lose the support we have accrued. Anyone out there who can match our Kickstarter pledges? Or how about adopt Hansel for $1,200?! You'll put us a stone throw away from meeting our goal AND receive a journal of his experiences with some lovely photographs. Pledge $1,200 now to adopt Hansel on our Kickstarter campaign!

Where do you come from?
I'm originally from Singapore. People come up to me and ask if I'm "Chinese," and I always find that a strange idea. My sisters and I are second generation Singaporeans, so we've never associated ourselves with the cultural landscape of China. I've never even visited China! On the other hand, I've never considered Singapore to be a point of origin either, so I like to think of myself as a cultural nomad, free to adopt any place as a temporary locus of existence. I came to the US in 2006 for college, and, since graduating a few months ago, found myself in the thick of New York's scintillating theater scene.

How did you get into acting and how would you describe where you are in your career? 
I never wanted to be an actor, but as a child, I always aspired towards the lowest ranks of career choices, so I think becoming an actor was prefigured in my infantile taste (I wanted to be, God forbid, a professional magician). During the first few months of High School (known as Junior College in Singapore), I had to be dragged kicking and screaming after the choir audition to the drama audition by my overly-eager friends. Lo and behold, I got cast as bread-and-poetry lover Raganeau in the Spring production of Cyrano de Bergerac. As they say, the acting bug stuck, and burrowed its sting too deep in my flesh to ever retrieve! During National Service (compulsory conscription), I even moonlighted in several productions and bribed my superiors with free tickets in exchange for "off days." I was cast in my first professional production at the age of 21 as Patrick Koh, the youngest member of the Koh family in Alfian Sa'at's play Homesick, which was slated to open the first Singapore Theater Festival. It was a harrowing experience. I was onstage with legendary local actors I had seen growing up, and was convinced that if I screwed up, I would be hated for life. To boot, the director - the formidable Jonathan Lim - was incredibly tough on a young actor, but that single production remains one of the best experiences of my theatrical career to date. The story has a happy ending: I remain close friends with all of my cast mates from that production, even though I realize how awful a performance I must have given way back then! A career has no beginning, no middle, no end. I feel I'm on an endless task to plasticize this muscle we call "acting," and am counting my blessings. Bring it on!

What excites you the most about theater? What kind of theater do you want to be part of?

Secretly, I do theater so I can watch people's expressions when I tell them I'm an actor. Besides, my sisters think it's really cool to have a brother strutting the stage. Theater excites me because it's both barometer and forecaster. More importantly, theater embraces life in a shared space: where else can you experiment with its limits, its nooks, its crannies, its foldings and unfoldings? Playing with theater is playing with livewire. It's play, yes, but you play with your life through every moment. It's dangerous too, and that gets me going. Given the effusive (not to mention overwhelming) repetition of "disaster" discourse in culture today, it's easy to "televise" life in order to establish a psychologically safe distance from the terrifying distractions of the "real." I like theater that disrupts that distance, brings us back to the core of instability and unknowability, the core of the paradoxes of being human. And, hopefully, bring us through to the audacious insistence on being human. That's the kind of theater I'd love to nourish - humanizing theater, in its multiple - even traumatic - manifestations.

Have you ever been involved in any humanitarian or community activities?

In 2007, an antiquarian Victorian law 377A which criminalizes consensual sex between males was tabled to be repealed in Singapore. What followed that announcement was no less than an impassioned battle of ideas which polarized the nation, in many ways anticipatory of the angry Proposition 8 arguments which ensued a year or so later. In response to the arguments, theater company W!LDRICE decided to stage a new work by Alfian Sa'at racily entitled Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3, the conclusion to a trilogy of "gay plays" he had been working on years before. I played two characters in that production, which was directed by Ivan Heng, and very quickly we realized the importance of the play and its role in facilitating the debates on 377A. This was theater at its most "humanitarian" or "community" inspired; after the play ended, panel discussions were held in the lobby of the theater, facilitated by important movers and shakers with diverse views. Spectators arrived heavily divided in opinion, but left unified as an audience, sensitive to the complications of black-and-white answers. I remember listening to audience members speak their minds during our Friday feedback sessions, and watching pro-377A parties and anti-377A parties struggle with each other through the play's heavy themes. Total strangers ignited into conversations which carried out the theater hall, through the lobby, and set the streets aflame with ideas. What better way to forge a community?

How do you make ends meet? What have you done in the past for money and what do you do now?

Currently, I teach on the faculty of Sweet Soul Movement - a downtown arts establishment for children aged 2-10 years old. I'm not rich enough to afford an apartment in Manhattan, but I'm certainly rich with blessings. A dumpy day is easily cured by a child's laughter. In the past, I lived off the bank of mom and dad, so that's a no-brainer. Now, I pay rent, taxes, and get nightmares about being jobless, in addition to the usual exam nightmares. I have never done anything odd or humiliating for money. I'm an extremely decent fellow.

What other activities do you enjoy besides theater?
What don't I enjoy? There's too much life to be had and too little time! I love my private moments at the gym, or jogging - it clears the head and leaves just enough of an endorphin-high to get me through the next activity. In a perfect world, I'd fly to Europe without a map and get lost just for a day: the best way to discover a city. But if you adopt me, I'd happily get lost in San Francisco! Oh, there's one thing I don't enjoy. Karaoke. It drives me crazy. Out-of-tune singing makes me do things I severely regret.

Adopt Hansel and help us get this show on the road! Three more days for the end of our Kickstarter campaign and the beginning of rehearsals. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Adopt Andrea!

We have 3 more days on our Kickstarter campaign! We hope you'll contribute to our FREE production of PAPER ANGELS in San Francisco. Lovely Andrea Day is another actor you can adopt with a $1,200 pledge - she will be playing Miss Gregory, the missionary lady with a penchant for the folksong My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. If you adopted Andrea, you would get a journal of her experiences in the play with heartwarming pictures and a dinner with her in New York or San Francisco. PLUS, you would really be an angel by putting us within distance of making our goal of $5,000! But any donation - $10 or $20 or $50 - would greatly help. We don't get ANY of the pledges if we don't meet our goal... and there are only 3 days left!

Where do you come from? What's your family background?
I'm the big sister in my small, cute Texan family.  My extended family all lives in Texas, but my parents, brother, and I moved around a lot while growing up so I come from Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas, but also Asheville, North Carolina and the San Francisco Bay Area.  My parents moved back to Texas when I was a sophomore at UC Davis, and I then lived all over the Bay Area (Calistoga, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco) before heading east for grad school. 

How did you get into acting and how would you describe where you are in your career?
I always did plays in middle school and high school, but didn't start following the path seriously until my junior year in college.  I was a Human Development major, and worked part time at the on-campus day care.  I had twin little girls in my class whose mom was an Acting MFA student, and one day I told her that I kept chickening out on auditioning for the college shows.  "Hmm," she said, "Next show, I'll help you with your audition."  She kept her word, and I auditioned for SOUTH PACIFIC that December.  I ended up as Nellie and the rest...history. 

I am at an exciting time in my career.  After  3 years of intensive graduate school training at Penn State, and 4 years working in New York City, I feel like I'm finally in the game in the way I want to be.  I'm thrilled to be a producing member of a theater company called new theater house ( and on the board of another company called Red Fern Theatre (  I also do an amazing amount of readings and small projects for an exciting array of theater artists here in NYC, and it thrills me to see everyone working their way to success. (Working HARD!  Theater is not for the lazy :)

What excites you the most about theater? What kind of theater do you want to be part of?
I am excited by the possibility of theater - the different forms it can take, the way it can be done on a shoestring or with the huge budget of a small film, traditional or avant garde, backyard or Broadway.  When you pair that possibility with the immediacy of live audience and live actors...thrilling.

I want to be part of theater that is smart, innovative, and devoted.   And, in fact, I am!  The two companies that I work with inspire me daily. 

Have you ever been involved in any humanitarian or community activities? Please describe.

I am a professional audiodescriber for the blind, which is the best humanitarian job I could ever ask for.  I know most people don't know what that is, so I'm happy to say that ABC News and New York 1 have done stories on it! You can watch them here, it gives a great overview of the work, and the impact it has on the blind patrons of the service, who in this case happen to be awesome high school students.

How do you make ends meet? What have you done in the past for money and what do you do now?
Well, the audiodescription is a paying gig, so that helps.  I also have my real estate license and rent apartments in Brooklyn, which sometimes feels like a humanitarian effort as well!  It's hard to get an apartment in New York, and I enjoy helping people easily find a place to call home.  In the past, I have done lots of interesting things, and thankfully, not any humiliating ones: manager of a Calistoga B&B, Special Events and Volunteer Manager for a non-profit theater, middle school drama teacher, babysitter, caterer, administrative assistant, and many many more.

What other activities do you enjoy besides theater?
Travel.  Salsa Dancing.  Hiking/Camping.  Escaping the city.  Practicing my Spanish.  Stoop Sale-ing.  Dreaming big.   Laughing.

Adopt Andrea - pledge $1,200 towards PAPER ANGELS in San Francisco! It's free. It's community. And it needs your support!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

PAPER ANGELS - The Video Design, part 1

PAPER ANGELS takes place on Angel Island in 1915, and follows a group of Chinese who are detained on Angel Island because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. To create the world of the play, we'll be projecting archival images not only of Angel Island, but also of anti-Chinese magazine covers, posters and advertisements that were prevalent in late 1800s and early 1900s. The play begins with photographs of the Chinese coming across the ocean and the Chinese Exclusion Act itself. 

Projection of the Chinese Exclusion Act, PAPER ANGELS workshop 2009
Enacted in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the crowning achievement of the anti-Chinese movement, which sought to drive the Chinese out of America by any means possible. The Exclusion Act was not revoked until 1943, when Franklin Roosevelt repealed it to encourage Chinese cooperation in the Allied battle against the Japanese. It's a striking document, with the lovely penmanship of the time, but the language is completely over the top. Chinese laborers were barred from coming to American because, " the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities...."

It's hard to believe now that the Chinese are considered the model minority, but from the 1870s to the early 1900s, the West Coast was virulently anti-Chinese. See this blog to learn about quite a few atrocities from that era, including the infamous Rock Springs Massacre. The Chinese were not only reviled as racially inferior, they were also considered a threat for being such cheap labor (the more things change...) In this cartoon from the anti-Chinese San Francisco magazine The Wasp, a buck-toothed, slanty-eyed Chinese Octopus Man puts a group of able-bodied white men out of a job. (Click to view in all its incredible details.) This amazing broadside, which will be the backdrop for Fong's monologue, urges you to come vent on the Chinese Question with CHINESE coming at ya in GIANT type.

These negative stereotypes are part of an uncomfortable past that I think it's important to face. It's not likely that a minority in America will face the same drastic open persecution that the Chinese did, but we continually see the same sentiment rearing its ugly head. Maybe by recognizing the outrageousness of this ad in which a Chinese man is about to down a yummy rodent, we'll check our impulses towards racist nationalistic paranoia. 

Josh Thelin as Henderson, Rough on Rats

Think I'm exaggerating? Read this from the Tea Party. Substitute "Chinese" for "Amnesty" and it may as well have been published in The Wasp

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adopt Carl!

Here's another one of our wonderful PAPER ANGELS actors for you to adopt! For $1,200 you can pay for Carl's R/T airfare, give him a bed for 5 nights, a per diem, 2 meals a day and pay. In return, you'll receive a journal of Carl's experience in the play with heartwarming photographs AND we'll pay for a dinner, just you and Carl! Pledge $1,200 on our kickstarter campaign to adopt Carl! 

Where do you come from? What's your family background?
I come from a long line of bandit warriors.  I was abandoned by my mother who at the time was hiding out in a nunnery.  My father was one of the Chanktar, a tribe of bandit warriors from a time and world we only thought to be fantasy.  Well, it's more exciting than saying I was born in Hong Kong, and was raised in CT since I was 4 years old. 

How did you get into acting and how would you describe where you are in your career? 
Well,... I was raised by television, literally, and was mostly ignored by my mom.  Don't get me wrong, she did her best as a single mother of 2 children.  She only did what she knew.  Her parents never really knew to ask if she was ok if she was unhappy,.. and my mom was the same with us.  So, as I grew up, watching the magical worlds of TV and film, I realized I enjoyed living out a fantasy. Throughout my early school years, I would go to camps and special programs for creative kids.  In highschool, I went to an arts high school and majored in dance, and was also part of a traveling acting troupe.  My sister and I also created our own band. When I finally went to college, I was at a loss of what to study but after 3 years of uncertainty, I ended up in the acting program at the University of Connecticut, where I got a BFA in acting.  Afterwards, I eventually went to NYC, and took classes from the Eric Morris System of acting from the Bova Actor's Workshop.

Where am I in my career? ha ha.  Well, I don't know, I honestly think I'm just at the very beginning though I've done tons of stuff.  Based on work alone, sure I guess I've done pretty good, but most people measure career monetarily.  In that case, then no... I'm nowhere! But, I can say that it's only a matter of time before I get more paying gigs, and as all artists or freelancers eventually would like, be able to live off my art.  Oh money.  It's nice.  It does provide the means of convenience and ability to help others.  As of now, I have a role that's potentially going to be the highest paying gig I've ever had!  So,.. we'll see :-)

What excites you the most about theater? What kind of theater do you want to be part of? I love how theater brings you into a different world. Theater can be so inspiring, it can be so full, sense-shattering, rebirthing old ideas in a fresh way that moves you.  Great writing and ideas presented in surprising ways... that's the kind of theater I'd like to be a part of!

Have you ever been involved in any humanitarian or community activities? Please describe. Growing up, I always thought of being an undercover highschool police officer, or top secret operative, or a superhero.  I often volunteered in either school organizations and after school programs aimed at helping youth through acting and open forum discussions to address issues like drugs, pregnancy, abuse, racism and homophobia.

How do you make ends meet?
I have done almost everything for money!  REALLY ha ha.  Some things I've moved on from, and don't do anymore, like being a waiter, or selling things I'm not passionate about, like vacuums. I've performed country western music and been a costume character in an amusement park. I worked in a warehouse moving office equipment and furniture, sold magazines by phone, made earrings from home, worked as a production assistant for films and TV and worked as a caterer and butler. I was in the Navy,  I was a DJ and I've taught hip-hop and tai-chi. I worked in a comicbook store and a concession stand and as an usher at a cinema. I've also worked as an extra and back-up dancer for bands... I'm sure there are other things I'm not mentioning here.

What other activities do you enjoy besides theater? 
 If I wrote or drew more and better, I'd say writing and drawing, ha ha.  I love films, music and comic books!  Yeah, love comics.  If I wasn't pursuing performance, I'd be interested in producing/creating films and comics.  I also enjoy spirituality, working out, cooking, eating, sleeping, meeting new people, creating memories, being with friends, doing outdoor activities with friends, or staying indoors and playing games,  going on adventures ... and I'll stop now.. or else I won't.... 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

100 Year Old Hip Hop Chop Socky

Pok dai-bay, cheong son gaw,
Yun-yun wah-ngaw mo lo-paw!
Tien-nyet yau tchien de chow fon-gaw! 

In the first scene in PAPER ANGELS, a character named Lum recites this silly little ditty that playwright Genny Lim remembered from her childhood. When we did this scene last year, the rhythm of this little verse made me think of hip hop and I toyed with taking it all the way, maybe even with Lum doing some human beatbox. It seemed a little too much though, so I just let the actor stumble through it, though I did suggest that he liken it to a childhood rhyme.

This year, I did some more research, thinking there MUST be a Chinese version of speech song or recitative, maybe in Chinese opera?  I don't know what I finally googled but I discovered shuo chang or kuaiban shu.

It's apparently hundreds of years old from the Shandong Province in China - okay, that's north China, but who's to say that Lum couldn't have been part Hakka like the guy above? I'm part Hakka and I can personally attest that Hakkas are EVERYWHERE. They're in Peru. They're in Malaysia. They're definitely in southern China. Or maybe he was totally awestruck by some kickass traveling Shandong Province kuaiban shu master? Whatever, it's an amazing technique and the only reason I can think that it's not more known is that there's obviously nothing remotely elite about it.

Now I'm all about teaching the actor playing Lum to accompany his rap with those bamboo clappers. He has another little ditty further along in the script too, this time in English. Get a load of this Canadian professor Kuaiban-ing it in English, hot!


PAPER ANGELS will be performing in Portsmouth Square, Sept 15-17. Help us bring this seminal play to San Francisco - we have until August 30 to raise $5,000 on Kickstarter!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adopt Max!

We're taking PAPER ANGELS to the San Francisco Fringe Festival and we need your help.  So as a unique part of our Kickstarter campaign, we're giving you the opportunity to ADOPT AN ACTOR! 

Max Carpenter is a young actor who is currently attending NYU. You may remember him from our Take Two reading of Peter Shaffer's THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN. Despite his lovable nature, he will be playing Henderson in PAPER ANGELS. 

Adopt Max today! For a donation of $1,200 you can pay for Max's R/T airfare, room, meals, per diem and pay. In exchange for your sponsorship, you will be listed as a REBEL in the souvenir program and receive some marvelous gifts including a journal of Max's experiences in the play (with heartwarming photographs) and dinner with Max in either San Francisco or New York. After learning more about Max below, we're sure you'll want to adopt this fine young man.

Where do you come from? What's your family background?
Much like a fine wine, my roots come from weathered soil. My great-great-grandfather Nikolai Chuprin was a Russian goldsmith who immigrated to Hawaii on a Manchurian freighter to escape the persecution of the October revolution. He worked as a handyman until he fell off a roof he was fixing and died, leaving his 4 year old daughter Anastasia, my great-grandmother, to be raised by the Salvation Army. She eventually moved to Florida and married an older, wealthy real estate baron, but they lost all their money when the stock market crashed in '29. She spent the rest of her life caring for her now sickly husband, constantly moving to find a climate suitable to his TB. They eventually found themselves in southern California. That's my dad's side. Mama's family story is less illustrious. They were all Swedish pig farmers.    

How did you get into acting and how would you describe where you are in your career?
I started doing theatre in summer camps. I remember being twelve years old and doing neutral mask work for the first time in a two week summer mask intensive for teens. It was some pretty trippy stuff for a kid going into middle school. Then there was Commedia camp, Shakespeare camp, broad sword camp. I never told anyone on my lacrosse team I was into all that stuff.

Now I have a year of drama school left before I have to go out into the world and be a real person. I'm not too worried about it. I'm freelancing with few different agents and they return my phone calls most of the time. But if you're an agent looking to sign some young talent, please, let's schedule a meeting!      

What excites you the most about theater? What kind of theater do you want to be part of?
I don't know how you feel about new age spirituality, but I think it has its salient points. In The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell says that collectively, our singular reason to exist is to viscerally experience the pyscho-physical sensations of being alive. That's what I love most about the theatre. You get to live through all these fantastic stories and experience things people with real jobs would never have the opportunity to do.

Have you ever been involved in any humanitarian or community activities?
I was a fairly active member of my church as a kid. We would go on service trips and build houses in rural Appalachia and have bingo night for the homeless and make them tacos. My high school was also really into community service, I assistant taught at a school for El Salvadorian immigrants.  

How do you make ends meet? What have you done in the past for money and what do you do now? 
Well, I've never been a escort, stripper or prostitute if thats what you're wondering. I spent the last few summers working at my neighborhood pool in Maryland. That was an awesome job. We got paid 10$ an hour to tan and play beach volley ball. I'm still a certified pool operator and life guard.

What other activities do you enjoy besides theater?
My mom teaches art to kindergardeners and got me into art at a pretty young age. My friends are always surprised when I bring them to my parent's house and see the years of art projects decorating the walls. I throw pots and paint, some water color, but mostly acrylic. Recently, I've been getting more into wire work and metal sculpture. I made my sister a giant spork out of aluminum sheeting for Christmas this year.    

To adopt Max, click here and pledge $1,200. Maybe he'll even throw you a pot! We'll email you to ask you which actor you'd like to adopt. And it's Kickstarter, so you will not be charged $1,200 unless we reach our funding goal of $5,000 on August 30.