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.