The drama behind the drama of Asian American Plays for a New Generation

In this week’s entry, Rick Shiomi, co-editor of Asian American Plays for a New Generation provides the backstories for two plays in this exciting new collection.

Every play that Mu Performing Arts was involved with in Asian American Plays for a New Generation had an interesting backstory.  In relation to the actual production, there was always some quirky event that shed light on our company and/or the process of how these plays were developed, produced and eventually published.

For Asiamnesia, by Sun Mee Chomet, it was the painstaking process that started as a project that involving half a dozen Asian American female writers. Playwright Sun Mee wanted to gather various writers together to co-write the play.  So after a couple of drafts and readings that didn’t work because the voices and styles were too disparate, Randy Reyes, the dramaturg and director for the project, pushed to have one last revision done with Sun Mee as the sole playwright. This version include the poem “Yellow Girl” by Katie Hae Leo, one of the original writers in the group.  That draft showed a new promise that was largely fulfilled in the eventual production of the play.  Bringing Asaimnesia  to the stage was one of those odd journeys where the answer was no, no, and no until it turned to yes!; we think it will work.  There was a clear passion and belief in the project even when it didn’t work, but also a willingness to listen to the feedback and make changes based upon that.  The play was recognized by Rohan Preston of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis as the best new script of 2008.

For Bahala Na by Clarence Coo, it was the change in our attitude from reading the play on paper to hearing it at a reading.  When the play was originally submitted, none of our readers were impressed by the play. However, there was a feeling that it should at least be given a reading.  The style seemed unnaturally lyrical and non realistic, but then it was difficult to find someone to direct the reading.  Finally after some difficulty, some excerpts of the play were read at our New Eyes Festival in 2005 and all of us immediately knew we wanted to produce the play. The lyrical style that seemed odd on paper, sounded so beautiful when read aloud; the characters just came alive.  We produced the world premiere production of the play in Sept. 2007.

What remains clear, even in these two examples, is how elusive and unpredictable the creative process is.  What appears not to work with one draft can be turned around in another and what appears odd on paper can appear fluid and natural on stage.  We all know this, and yet continue to be surprised by the twists and turns taken on creative projects.  That’s what makes being an artist such a fantastic trip.

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