Livestreamed on this page on Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UST-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4).
Art As Medicine: Building Solidarity in and with Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Communities
An #ArtistResource Conversation
Hannah Fenlon: Welcome friends, I'm Hannah Fenlon, my pronouns are she, her, and hers, and I am one of the producers of today's session, along with my fantastic Freelance Artist Resource colleagues.
Nicole Brewer: Hi, Nicole Brewer, she, her, hers.
Ann Marie Lonsdale: Hey, Ann Marie Lonsdale, she, her, hers.
Amara Brady: Hello, Amara Brady, she, her, hers.
Abigail Vega: And I'm Abigail Vega, she, her, hers.
Hannah: We are so glad you joined us today. Today marks our final, for now, webinar, hosted by the Freelance Artist Resource Collective. So we're really honored that this conversation will feature folks from the Center of Asian American Media, Consortium of Asian American Theater & Artists, and Act to Change. During this next hour and 15 minutes, we will invite artists and activists to examine the past and present as a means of seeding our future.
Amara: Today we're excited to invite five special folks into our call. We're joined by Susan Chinsen, Meena Malik, Ru Bhatt, Stephen Gong, Lily Tung Crystal, Ariel Estrada, and Vichet Chum. We're grateful that they're here. In addition to the panelists, we'd also like to thank HowlRound, Vijay Matthew, JD Stokely, and Thea Rodgers in particular for the virtual role they are playing. We are also grateful to our ASL interpreters and the National Captioning Institute.
[Nicole begins speaking with her microphone muted.]
Hannah: Nicole, we can't hear you.
Nicole: Whoop, whoop, whoop, okay. And, take two. As we have gathered digitally, we will be honoring the many indigenous peoples who's lands… [Pause.] Sorry, little bit of technical difficulties, the many indigenous peoples who's land the facilitators and panelists are gathered on. We do this practice as a way of acknowledging the people who were present on Turtle Island as the past, present, and future caretakers of the land. I invite you to breathe as you hear these tribes' names. Nicole, calling in from the Yamasee and Muskogee lands, also known as Savannah, Georgia.
Hannah: Hannah, calling in from the Kickapoo and Miami ancestral lands, here in Central Indiana.
Ann Maire: Ann Marie, calling from Chochenyo and Ohlone lands, people who still thrive here in Oakland, California.
Amara: Amara, calling in from the land of the Lenape people, now known as New York.
Abigail: Abigail, calling in from Cauhuiltecan and Tonkawa lands, now known as San Antonion, Texas.
Meena Malik: Hi this this is Meena, calling from Torrance, California, which is on the traditional lands of the Gabrielino and Tongva peoples.
Susan Chinsen: Hi, this is Susan, calling in from the land of the Wampanoag, Massachusett, and Nipmuc, now known as Boston.
Ariel Estrada: Hello, this is Ariel, Zooming in from New York City, which is on the traditional lands of the Lenape people.
Susan: And Stephen will be joining us from Oakland, the traditional land of the Chochenyo and Ohlone.
Ru Bhatt: Hi, my name is Ru, I'm calling in from Patchogue, Long Island, which is on the traditional lands of the Unkechaug people.
Lily Tung Crystal: Hi, I'm Lily and I'm calling in from Minneapolis Saint Paul, which is on the traditional homelands of the Dakota people.
Vichet Chum: Hi there, my name is Vichet Chum and I'm calling in from the Lenape lands, known as New York City.
Abigail: And on behalf of the staff at HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College, they wish to respectfully acknowledge that their offices on situated on land stolen from its original holders, the Massachusett and the Wampanoag people. They wish to pay their respects to those people, past, present, and future.
Nicole: Adrian Wong, of Spider Webs Show in Ontario, has written this digital land acknowledgement, which we'd like to share. Since our activities are shared digitally to the internet, let's also take a moment to consider the legacy of colonization embedded within the technology, structures, and ways of thinking we use every day. We are using equipment and high-speed internet, not available in many indigenous communities. Even the technologies that are central to much of the art we make, leaves significant carbon footprints, contributing to changing climates that disproportionately effect indigenous people worldwide. I invite you to join us in acknowledging all this, as well as our shared responsibility to make good of this time and for each of us to consider our roles in reconciliation, decolonization, and ally-ship.
Ann Marie: Speaking of technology, when not if, the internet connection freezes, we invite you to take a breath, do a body scan, releasing the held parts of your body, or it might be beneficial to reflect on what's been said and where those ideas land for you. You're in good company. We've had thousands of people joining us for these conversations over the past weeks and months. And we invite you to use the hashtags, #artistresource, so that's hashtag, A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E, and #howlround, hashtag, H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D to join the conversation online. And if you have any questions for the speakers today, feel free to tag @HowlRound @-H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D on Twitter or, and here's the really good one, email us at A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E @ H-O-W-L-R-O-U-N-D dot com.
[Offscreen voice]: You did it.
Ann Marie: And we'll get those questions to the right people. That's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abigail: Our collective is committed to a practice of community tithing, meaning that we extend 10% of our cash resources to organizations providing relief to the most vulnerable freelance artists. So we pay our speakers today as well as collect donations towards an organization or organizations doing this important work. So this week we're contributing to three organizations that are represented by our speakers today. CAATA, C-A-A-T-A, which is the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists. Act to Change and the Center for Asian American Media, or CAAM, C-A-A-M. To learn more about them, follow HowlRound on Twitter because they are tweeting out those websites right now, and they'll also be tweeting out other relevant links as this conversation continues. If you get something out of today's conversation, you can donate it on our new website, and we'll send 100% of it to these three organizations. On the website, you can donate via PayPal or Venmo directly to at C-O-V-1-9 dash F-A-R, which is @cov19-far. On our site, freelanceartistresource.com, F-R-E-E-L-A-N-C-E-A-R-T-I-S-T-R-E-S-O-U-R-C-E dot C-O-M, you will also see a link to funds raised and who they went to. We're committed to 100% transparency and don't stress if you can't give today. We're all taking care of each other in our own ways.
Ann Marie: Thanks Abigail, thanks Hannah. So now we are delighted to pass the mic to Susan Chinsen and Meena Malik who are going to be guiding us through this conversation today.
Meena: Thank you Ann Marie. My name is Meena Malik and I am a musician, cultural organizer and arts consultant, currently working at the New England Foundation for the Arts as the program manager or theatre. During this challenging time, Susan and I wanted to utilize our role in Asian American, Pacific Islander creative communities and our work in theatre and film, to help many seeking connections, a foundation, answers, and ways to address, heal, and protect against the xenophobia and hate impacting the AAPI communities right now. It's really wonderful to be here today, as it also coincides with Asian Pacific American Heritage month.
Susan: Hello everyone, my name is Susan Chinsen, I'm an engagement producer at ArtsEmerson and the founding director of the Boston Asian American Film Festival. Before we get started today, I wanted to take a moment to provide a little bit more context to the curation of today's speakers. When Meena and I got together to think about what was really needed during this time of COVID and all the xenophobia and hate that has just been filling our world today, we really had two primary motivations. The first was recognizing that this hate that is surfacing is not new and is part of our white supremacist colonizing history. I really thought about this quote, which is a loose interpretation of a quote from a Filipino revolutionary and national hero, Doctor Jose P. Rizal, which is, no history, that's N-O, no history, no self, and know history, know self, K-N-O-W. And it was really with that thinking that we were wanting to focus some of our resources toward Asian American history and studies, which is so limited to our curriculum in today's society. Secondly we also wanted to address this question of as individual creatives experiencing and observing the rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian violence, what do we need right now, so we not only survive, but can thrive? Art can heal and save lives. Today's event, Art as Medicine, is an offering to you to consume and be inspired to create. Artists are the frontline workers of the creative sector and we hope you will find some grounding in presentations today from Act to Change, Center for Asian American Media, and Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists who are each leaders centering the lives and lived experiences of AAPIs. First up, I'd like to introduce Ru Bhatt who is a director on the board of Act to Change. Act to Change came upon my radar as an organization who has, in this time of COVID-19 really pivoted a lot of their resources to address and come to the aid of a lot of people who were seeking resources and needs given a lot of uncertainty. It's with my pleasure, I'd like to introduce him and have him share with you more about what Act to Change is doing.
Ru: Thank you so much, Susan. Hi everyone, thanks again for inviting us to be involved and happy Asian Pacific American Heritage month. So, before we hop in, I wanted to give you a little bit more background on Act to Change. Our mission here at Act to Change is simple. To end bullying against Asian American and Pacific Islander youth and to foster a world where all young people can celebrate their differences. We were first formed in 2015 as a White House campaign under President Obama and today we are a national non-profit that serves AAPI youth. Amid fears of the COVID-19 virus, incidence of bullying and racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been on the rise. While our work at Act to Change was important before this pandemic, right now things have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the issues our community is facing. As you can see on this next slide, hate crimes against the AAPI community are surging. Unfortunately there have been some truly horrific acts done due to the xenophobia on the rise. Here's just a few recent headlines we've seen. Also, as you'll see on the next slide, there have been more than 1,500 AAPI hate crimes reported since March 17th of this year, and on top of that, women are being disproportionately target compared to men. For the past two months, we have been hosting a series of COVID convos, where our founder, actor and activist Maulik Pancholy has had in depth conversations with a series of prominent Asian Americans discussing the impact on them and how to combat xenophobia. These discussions have been really fantastic and our community has learned so much from each one. You can view recordings of these conversations on our website. But what has the AAPI community been doing? As you can see, we have been doing many things to combat the xenophobia themselves, and here's just a few headlines showcasing what's going on. Obviously we think all of this is wonderful, but the fact is, we can't do it all ourselves. We need your help. That is why I was so grateful to see this panel put together by non-Asians in solidarity with our community. We need to continue to do this work together across minority communities in order to be stronger and stronger than the more uglier parts of society. So, in the spirit of building solidarity, I'd like to invite everyone here to join us next Monday, May 18th, for our virtual program, United We Stand, commemorating the second annual AAPI day against bullying and hate. It's more important now than ever that we stand up to the xenophobia and racism. We're gonna commemorate this day with a special day of event with many guests and performances. Just take a look at all the people we have confirmed for next week's event. It's gonna be a really great program and I really hope you can join. If you go to our website, you'll see that we have a number of anti-bullying resources available, but more importantly, we also rely on your support. So I've included a donation link here, and if there's any way you can donate, we would really appreciate it. We need to act together to work hard to combat bullying and appreciate your support. Thank you everyone.
Susan: Thank you Ru, it's so great to see so many familiar faces on your upcoming event next Tuesday. I'm also seeing a tie between some of the faces there and our next speaker. Up next, we have Stephen Gong from the Center for Asian American Media. He's the executive director there and he is here today to share with us a special project that has been many years in the making. I know it's something that I've been looking forward to for quite some time and when we first started planning this event I had no idea how intersecting this time would actually be, but this event actually happens to coincide on the premier, the broadcast premier of this docu-series. Up next, I have here with us, Stephen Gong, from the Center of Asian American Media.
Stephen Gong: Thank you very much Susan, and I will get there in front of you. Can you hear me now, anyway. What Susan and I are talking about is a five hour series called Asian Americans. It premiered last night on PBS TV stations around the country. The first two hours, it's a five hour series total. The concluding three episodes, three hours, air tonight starting at eight PM. But, starting tomorrow, you can watch each individual episode, all five, streaming for free at PBS.org. In case you missed the opening, don't worry, you're gonna be able to catch all of the series. We attempt to tell American history through the lens of the Asian American experience, and in some ways, it's a culminating series for the work we've been doing for 40 years now. We co-produced this series with our partners at WETA in Washington, D.C. The series producer was Renee Tajima-Peña. The individual episode directors are some of our very finest Asian American Documentary filmmakers. Grace Lee, Leo Chiang, and Geeta Gandbhir. And that is really an important point that I just want to emphasize, that this series fulfills CAAM's mission which is to present stories from the lens and from the perspective of Asian American makers. So the story we tell is quite different than if this were mainstream broadcast television, that's for sure, or even, frankly, earlier PBS efforts. And when we started this series, I think the other thing I'd wanna emphasize for this audience and I actually wanna thank you, this is such a privilege to be speaking to a whole audience of creative younger people, younger artists, younger than myself at least. And that is, we had no idea how relevant this storytelling was going to be when we started it. We started this series about five years ago with our treatments and went into production more than a year ago. We didn't foresee COVID, but it's really no surprise. At times of national stress, the uglier aspects of American society come forth, and certainly during this present administration, it's been let loose on the land. And what we're trying to do with our series, is provide a sense of the overall context of how this happens and why this kind of manipulation of fear of the other is woven in throughout American history. And it's all the more reason why the next generation and the unification, the kind of intersectionality between different marginalized communities is an absolute must. The Asian American community has been resilient, and has stood up to so many different attacks on our communities over the decades, and one of the reasons is we emulated the development of the Civil Rights Movement. So the Asian American Movement came about maybe 10 years after the Civil Rights Movement that transformed this country in many ways, and we still have a long ways to go. But I think we now all see the leadership of our communities that we must stand together and we just cannot afford to be divided, so I hope you tune in. I think there are wonderful stories and things to learn and just hearing from our colleagues at Act for Change, I mean we can see how vibrant and engaged Asian American community is. So thank you very much for letting me share this information with you.
Susan: Great, thank you Stephen, and I believe we have a clip here today that we're able to share. It's actually from hour five, which is premiering this evening. From the PBS docu-series, Asian Americans, and it features two artists and it's on DREAMers and 9-11.
[Video begins; images of protesters appear on the screen throughout the following dialogue.]
Voice over: I’m here today so the rest of this world hears our story. For four and a half years, my family was incarcerated.
Woman: The government framed it as an issue of loyalty.
Man: Many people lose everything.
Second Man: Asian voices were so inspirational.
Second Woman: They had to assert their rights.
Third Man: The railroad could not have been built without the Chinese.
Second Man: We fought on the side of the United States.
Third Woman: There's a shift in political power.
Fourth Man: Asian Americans were free to do anything they wanted.
Fourth Woman: All hell broke loose, the city burned.
Fourth Man: They're trying to build a life for themselves.
Fifth Woman: I grew up with the American Dream.
Fifth Man: You've got young people, fighting to make change happen.
Crowd: We want justice.
Fifth Man: If a lotta people put their mind to it, they can win.
Sixth Man: It was an incredible time.
Sixth Woman: And their legacy belongs to all of us.
Seventh Man: This is our story.
[Video ends, and another video begins. Footage of Tereza Lee playing the piano is shown during the following.]
Tereza Lee: I started playing piano when I was seven years old. We couldn't afford piano lessons, but my dad made me practice three hours a day, every day. My parents are from South Korea. They fled the aftermath of the Korean War to South America. I was born in Brazil and when I was two years old, we came to the United States. Soon after, my little brother was born. When I was seven years old, my dad sat the whole family around in the living room and he said, I have a very serious secret to tell you. That is that we are undocumented. My dad said that if anyone found out we were undocumented, my parents would be sent to South Korea and I would be sent to Brazil, my brother who was born in Chicago, sent to some foster care because he's a US born citizen. That made us become muted. The fear of separation is real. We grew up having nightmares of the police storming up our stairs and breaking our doors down and taking our family away.
Narrator: The piano is Tereza's sanctuary. She gets a scholarship at a music school in Chicago. The artistic director, Ann Monaco, takes Tereza under her wing.
Tereza: She proceeded to print out 10 college applications for me. She said, fill them out and bring them back to me as soon as you can. She saw that my social security number was blank, she saw that my birthplace was Brazil and she looked at me and said, you were born in Brazil? I burst into tears and begged her to not turn me in to the police. She said, Tereza, do you trust me?
Narrator: Ann Monaco makes a plea on Tereza's behalf to their Senator, Dick Durbin.
Dick Durbin: Tereza Lee, under the eyes of the law, in the United States, was undocumented. She was in the United States illegally. The law said the only thing Tereza could do was leave the United States for 10 years and apply to come back. I thought that was a terrible outcome.
Narrator: Senator Durbin drafts an immigration bill specifically for Tereza that puts her on a path to citizenship and college. But in the process, he hears from more students facing the same dilemma.
Dick: We realized she was not alone. There were thousands, just like her.
Tereza: He needed to redraft the whole thing into a larger bill and that became known as the DREAM Act.
Narrator: The DREAM Act would open a path to citizenship for undocumented children who are brought to the country as minors. To qualify, they must either join the military or attend college. They become known as DREAMers.
Dick: The first DREAMer was Tereza Lee. My mother was an immigrant to this country. She didn't become a citizen until she was in her mid-20s. A mother with two children. If you're here through no fault of your own, you oughta have a chance to prove yourself and be part of America's future.
Narrator: The DREAM Act is co-sponsored by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the bill attracts overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle.
Tereza: 2001 we had a hearing set, 62 votes were lined up and President Bush was ready to sign it into law. I was set to perform a little concert for the Senators. I was ready to fly to D.C and the subways were closed, there were no cabs available, everyone was talking about this attack.
[News footage from the 9/11 attacks are shown.]
News Reporter: It’s 8:52 here in New York, I'm Bryant Gumble, we understand that there has been a plane crash on the southern tip of Manhattan. You're looking at the World Trade Center.
Man: 9-11 happened when I was in college, so I was so far from home. My brother went to Stuyvesant High School, which is not that far from where the Twin Towers were. So that day was horrible for everybody, because my city was attacked, I don't know where my brother is, I'm very far away, I feel very alone.
Second Reporter: The terrorist attacks have united much of America, but some Arab Americans are feeling left out, fearful they could become the next target of misguided anger.
Third Reporter: Since Tuesday's attacks, the FBI reports 40 hate crimes suspected retaliation.
Man: You had a lotta people being beaten up because they were brown-skinned, because they were Muslim, because they were Sikh.
Fourth Reporter: In Mesa, Arizona, a man from India was killed at his convenience store because he looked Middle Eastern.
Man: One of the weird parts about being a brown person in that post 9-11 era is you get victimized twice. On one hand, you're afraid of terrorism as much as anybody else is at point. That's all you're hearing from the media. And then your country hates you. They don't say it openly, but when people are yelling things to you, telling you to go back to countries you're not even from 'cause you're from America.
[Footage of an angry woman is shown.]
Woman: Go home, you don't like America, leave this country, we're proud to be Americans.
Man: You start to get the hint.
Norman Mineta (Secretary of Transportation 2001-2006): On Thursday, September 13, there was a Cabinet meeting with the House and Senate, Democratic and Republican leadership. Congressman from Detroit, Michigan said, Mister President, we have a large population of Middle Easterners and Muslims, and they're very concerned about all the rhetoric. President said, you're absolutely correct. We don't want to have happened today, what happened to Norm in 1942.
Fifth Reporter: More reliable at their new quarters, the evacuees voluntarily registered. What this means for the Japs, nobody knows. What it means to us, everybody knows.
Man: And it didn't happen again in the same way.
Sixth Reporter: The Bush administration has been conducting a Top Secret surveillance program without warrants in Muslim communities.
Second Man: What happens after 9-11 is immigration policy moves from trying to create pathways to citizenship to being holey about closing the door and deporting people.
Tereza: Any immigrant from the legislation was out of the question. The DREAM Act was canceled and that meant that the undocumented immigrants were at risk.
[Footage of Dick Durbin speaking on the Congress floor.]
Dick: I rise today to speak about an issue that's timely and controversial, it's the issue of immigration.
Narrator: After September 11th, the DREAM Act is reintroduced a number of times in the Senate. But never achieves enough votes to become law.
Tereza: In 2012, DREAMers started organizing.
[Footage of Tereza at a protest.]
Tereza: What do we want?
Crowd: DREAM Act!
Tereza: When do we want it?
[Footage cuts back to Tereza being interviewed.]
Tereza: For the first time we started seeing an immigration movement. Not just undocumented immigrants, but other Americans coming out to support.
Woman: On the one hand communities are now under intense investigation, on the other hand, it's also brought communities together.
Man: 9-11 happens, I go from someone who's sheltered in diversity and fairly apolitical, to a politicized being. I was a immigrant rights organizer, I worked with victims of hate crimes, people being detained and deported. And I wanted my stand up, my art form, to reflect what I believed. I hate how immigrants are talked about in this country. I was watching CNN, which was my mistake, they were interviewing this woman in Arizona who was against immigration, right? And she said, look, we're just trying to bring this country back to the way it used to be. The way it used to be. Lady, you're in Arizona, it used to be Mexico. Growing up, I always felt like I had access to the world, people from all over the world, different races, religions, people with status, without status. Looking back on it now, I feel like I was trained for the future.
Susan: It just makes me feel so wonderful to see stories like this and Stephen, thank you so much for joining us today and for CAAM's work in presenting this work. I know you mentioned already that the series premiered starting last night and continues through this evening and that these clips will be featured tonight. Can you also tell me, I know this is such a crazy time for you besides the premier, CAAMFest, which typically happens in May, which is the largest Asian American Pacific Islander film festival in the country, in North America, would have also been happening during this time right now, and I believe you all are starting something soon, I don't know if you wanna tell folks about that.
Stephen: Thank you very much, Susan, and thank you for inviting me to participate today. Yes, my screen mentions CAAMFest Online. So we did a pivot in the space of about one month, to turn what is a live film festival that also celebrates food and music, into 10 days of online experiences. With watch parties, screenings with live Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards, special music performances, as well as even food stories and cookie making demonstrations. So, if anyone is interested in finding out more information, all of the programs are free, you would just go to CAAMFest.com, that's C-A-A-M-F-E-S-T dot com, and we'll put it in chat if we can. And thank you so much, Susan. Great seeing you, you're a pal, you're a colleague and I love the work you do, and it has been a real pleasure to share our stories with you, thank you.
Susan: Thank you, Stephen. And Meena, I'll turn it over to you now.
Meena: Thank you, Stephen, and thank you, Susan. That was just really moving and I'm so excited to watch it. Now I would like to welcome Ariel Estrada from the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists, which is an organization with a mission to advance the field of Asian American theatre through a national network of organizations and artists. I have long admired their thoughtful work in convening the AAPI theatre folks who advance the field, and it is my honor to welcome Ariel to present.
Ariel: Hello everyone, I can't start my video.
[Ariel appears on the screen.]
Ariel: There we go. Hello everyone, hi. And hello, happy Asian Pacific American Heritage month. My name is Ariel Estrada, he, him, his. I am a middle-aged Filipino American man with gray and black hair. I'm wearing a black polo shirt. And I am sitting in my New York City studio apartment with my kitchen behind me and there may possibly be two nine-month-old kittens, D.D., a 15 pound boy with brown fur and black stripes, and his big sister, Gogo, a nine pound girl with brown/gray fur and black stripes who may pop in unexpectedly into the frame, asking to play or snuggle. I am an actor and the producing artistic director of Leviathan Lab, an Asian American lead non-profit theatre company here in New York City. I'm also the marketing and membership coordinator for the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists, or C-A-A-T-A. Like Meena said, we are a national advocacy organization with the mission to advance the field of Asian American Theatre through a national network of organizations and artists. We collaborate to inspire learning and sharing of knowledge and resources to promote a healthy, sustainable, artistic ecology. You can learn more about us at our website, C-A-A-T-A dot net. Today it is my pleasure to introduce two of the most influential and significant rising Asian American theatre artists and makers here in the United States today. Based out of New York City, Cambodian American actor and playwright, Vichet Chum, and Chinese-American actor, director, producer, and recently appointed artistic director of Theater MU, in Minneapolis Saint Paul, Lily Tung Crystal. My colleague, C-A-A-T-A executive director Soriya Chum and I asked Vichet and Lily to tell us the story of their journey, with five questions, along with photos to help illuminate their answers. As urgent as it may seem for us to make plans for the future, we think it is just as urgent to draw in lessons from the past. I am so proud to show you these short videos in succession now. When we return, I'm going to be thrilled to get the chance to speak briefly with the both of them, who have brought so much positive change in their communities through theatre. And talk with them about Art as Medicine, Art as Healing. We're going to watch Vichet's video first.
[Various pictures of Vichet are displayed on the screen while Vichet speaks.]
Vichet: My name is Vichet Chum and I'm a playwright originally from Dallas, Texas and currently living in New York City. I've been working remotely from home since about March 12th, so for about eight weeks. And this is my story in five pictures. This is a picture of my high school production of The King and I. I played the role of Lun Tha, whom I affectionately used to call the Dead Lover. I was a senior and I was also one of the very few Asian students in my school. I had started out my high school theatre career as Chang Da-Doo in The Little Shop of Horrors, so I was certain that, by my senior year, I had it in the bag to play The King. But I was cast as the Dead Lover. I was heartbroken and it only got worse. My theatre teacher put all the students in yellow face, spray painted their hair black, and asked me if I would consider having my actual Cambodian cousins play some of the King's kids. It was traumatizing for me. But it was also entirely formative. From a young age, I was made aware what people saw of me, what they expected of me, and what they were willing to subject me to. And I would spend the rest of my life and career dispelling any notions that were placed on me. I was going to be in charge of the narrative. I went to college at the University of Evansville in Indiana for my BFA in Acting. And after, I pursued my Master of Fine Arts at the Brown University Trinity Repertory Company. This picture's from my third year of grad school when I was playing the role of The Writer in Tennessee Williams's Vieux Carreé. The role of the writer is basically Tom from the Glass Menagerie after he leaves Saint Louis and arrives in New Orleans as a closeted young gay writer. When this picture was taken, I, myself, was a closeted writer and a closeted gay man, trying to be an artist in a really difficult, rigorous environment that demanded much of me. But in many ways, I was not willing to give it because I was hiding. I'm always amazed at how characters come to you at the exact moment you need them to. Because The Writer and me were one and the same. We were both in a very dark place, but hopeful that we would get to the end of the run. And we'd be stronger because of it. I premiered my solo show, KYNUM, at the Merrimack Repertory Theater back in 2018. The show is about a young Cambodian man who's struggling with his legacy of tragedy and survival, inherited from his parents who are survivors of the genocide. It remains the most important moment in my career. Because not only did I get to perform the show for Lowell, Massachusetts, which is home to the second biggest Cambodian population in the US, but I also got to perform the show for my parents. Lights came up and then the lights went down, it happened in the flash of a moment. I allowed my parents to witness me in my space. I got to share parts of their stories and my father got to see me stand next to a projection of my grandmother. He had never seen as share space before. It made me feel like I could do absolutely anything. In the summer of 2018, I was invited to play George Gibbs in Our Town at Weston Playhouse. Yes, that's Christopher Lloyd, AKA Doc Brown, playing the stage manager in the back. Officiating my fake wedding. Weston feels much like the imagined Grover's Corners in the play. And at every turn in the process, I was reminded how privileged and honored I felt to be a part of the making of theatre. During one performance, Mister Lloyd was giving our nuptials, as he did every night, and it was my turn to simply say, "I do." Usually I'd look out to the congregation on stage and simply say, "I do." But on this particular one, I absorbed every beaming face that was sending me so much love, and when it was my turn to say my line I couldn't. I was completely choked up. I think I eventually croaked out a barely audible, "I do." And every single actor on stage laughed at me. This, for me, is the moment where I found complete joy and presence in my work. I strive for that in everything I do. This picture is from the workshop presentation of my new play High School Play: a Nostalgia Fest, which is set to premier in 2021 as a co-production between the amazing Alley Theater in Houston and Dallas Theater Center, my hometown theatre. Though fictional, the play is about, well, my high school theatre experience. This moment and this story means a lot to me, because it's about what art can do. Though I experienced hardship early on, I didn't let what others thought of me define who I was or who I would grow up to be. Art gives you the capacity to course correct. To pave the way for a more equitable future where people get to share who they are. That's what theatre should and can be, a place where a high school kid at heart can reach out to another high school kid and say, you're great, I won't let an adult put you in yellow face. I see you.
[Various pictures of Lily are displayed while Lily speaks.]
Lily: Hi, my name is Lily Tung Crystal and I'm the Artistic Director of Theater MU. I'm also an actor and director. I live in Minneapolis Saint Paul, and I have been here since August, when I moved here from San Francisco. I have been working from home for eight weeks. These first two pictures represent where it all started. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and in fifth grade, my school started doing musicals. We did Oklahoma, pictured here, in eighth grade. I played one of Laurey's girls. My school was very white and I was one of two Asian students in my class. Even though I had been training as a singer since I was seven, I was never cast as the lead, always ensemble. And I often wondered if it was because they just couldn't see an Asian girl play Laurey. It's hard to know, or is it? I realized early on that theatre was not kind to artists of color and I could never imagine doing it as a career. I stopped after college, but when I was 30, I wanted to go back, yet I had so much self-doubt. One day, I was helping my mom clear out her storage unit and I completely, by chance, found this giant painting you see here. It must have been six feet tall. You know in grade school, when you lie on a large piece of paper and they trace around you and you draw yourself anyway you like? Well, I drew this. It says at the top, introducing the famous singer, Miss Lily Tung. Full of bravos all around. It was then that I realized that my 10 year old self knew what my 30 year old self didn't. That performing was my soul's purpose. That this was always what I was meant to do. I had a career as a journalist, both in Shanghai China and in San Franciso when I returned to the theatre and for a while it was hard for me to identify as an actor. When people asked me what I did for a living, I felt sheepish saying that I was a professional performer. And then in 2006 I landed a role in Jay Kuo's new musical Homeland at the Magic and I got to create the role of Mrs Park, the Korean immigrant mother, and it was a life changing role. I got to make people laugh and make people cry, which is everything an actor could really hope for. I landed an agent with that show, I joined Equity soon afterwards. Jay ended up bringing the show to New York City and they cast the workshop with New York actors, but I was the one Bay Area actor who got to keep her role. And there I was, acting at New World Stages with Broadway stars, who's work I'd always admired. One of my heroes, George Takei, came to see the workshop and afterwards he approached me and said, Lily, you should be put in jail, you stole the show. That role became a turning point in my career where I truly thought that I could have a life as a theatre artist. When I think of my former theatre company in San Francisco, called Ferocious Lotus, it fills me with pride to think of our world premier of Leah Nanako Winkler's hilarious play, Two Mile Hollow. Actor Leon Goertzen and I founded Ferocious Lotus a decade ago. We were just a small collective of artists and at the time, there were few opportunities for Asian American actors, so we wanted to create a home for those artists. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, I do believe we've pushed forward representation locally and nationally so that now AAPI actors are working on all the stages in the Bay. From small houses to the large lower theatres. I loved Two Mile Hollow. It meant a lot to me personally, as it was my first time directing a world premier, and it meant a lot to Ferocious Lotus as it really represented our evolution as a company. We performed to sold-out audiences, we were nominated for 10 Theater Bay Area Awards, winning one, and we were on four Best of 2018 critics lists. You asked about a challenging moment in my career. In 2016, Ferocious Lotus lead a protest against Lamplighters Music Theater's production of The Mikado. At first, Lamplighters dismissed our concerns and we felt so alone, but once we reached out to the Bay Area and national communities, they stood behind us and together, we persuaded Lamplighters to change the setting of the show and remove offensive parts of the libretto. I often say it was the worst project and the best project I've ever done. Fighting racism is so painful and exhausting. Yet we were able to inspire change and build community. And we made it to the front page of the SF Chronicle, which my mom was happy about. One of our allies, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts named me and Mina Morita to the YBCA 100. As quote, creative pioneers shaping the future of culture. I didn't realize what a big deal it was until I saw myself on the same list as people like Beyonce, Steph Curry, and Daveed Diggs. This past year has been a whirlwind. When Theater MU announced my appointment in June, I went to sleep the night before, thinking no one would notice. But when I woke up the next morning, my phone had blown up. I was so floored by all the people voicing their support for me, their joy, and their sadness that I was leaving the Bay. At the time, I was rehearsing for The Good Person of Szechwan at CalShakes and I felt so lucky to have that be my last Bay Area show. I got to work with director Erik Ting, perform with actors I had long respected, and say goodbye in person to so many people who came to see the show. I arrived at MU in August and I'm incredibly honored to lead such an impactful company. And to the work I'm most passionate about. This last photo is of me wearing my grandmother's jacket. It conveys not only my hope, but that of my parents and my ancestors. I think of all the people who came before me, who sacrificed so much to come to the US so that I could be here, in this moment, doing this work.
Ariel: Hello everyone, welcome back. Those were videos of actor, playwright Vichet Chum and actor, director, and artistic director of Theater MU in Minneapolis Saint Paul, Lily Tung Crystal. Again, I am Ariel Estrada, the marketing and membership manager of C-A-A-T-A, the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists. Thanks to all of you who are watching, and Vichet and Lily, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.
Vichet: Thank you so much.
Ariel: Hey everyone, so today the theme of HowlRound's webinar is Art as Medicine, and we are living in extraordinary times and I know, for my part, it's really difficult right now to feel hopeful for the future. But I've also been thinking deeply about the quality of resilience and Vichet, when you talked about how that art has the ability to course correct, it was very moving. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Vichet: Yeah, I think that artists of color and Asian American Pacific Islander artists have always experienced hardship in respects to the way in which people perceive you. And so much of the challenge of what we do as artists is trying to course correct that and to show them who we are. Not as a means to mold ourselves to what other people expect or desire of us, but just to share our narratives. To be as visible as possible. To take space in whatever way that means. For me, like much of the journey of the pictures that you saw, was about the fact that now as a playwright, I have the opportunity to create those spaces. I have the opportunity to really create a space that is more equitable and also just representative of the world in which I live in and the dreams that I've always imagined to be on the stage. To me that is what art can do.
Ariel: I think, when you talked about, both of you actually have been, have done that in your careers. You have saw space where there was definitely not equity. And you created a space where it could happen, or the possibility of it happening. Lily, could you talk a little bit about the early days of Ferocious Lotus and how was that? You mentioned that there wasn't a lot of Asian American opportunities at that point in San Francisco, which is wild to me 'cause it's such a huge Asian population in San Francisco, I imagine there must have been a lot of audience building that was happening at that point too, because trying to get people to come to see these stories.
Lily: Thanks first of all for having me on and for giving me the opportunity to watch Vichet's piece and tell my story through pictures. It was really moving to see his work and be part of this conversation, so thanks for that. So we founded Ferocious Lotus 10 years ago in 2010 and at the time, Asian American Theater Company was still going and now it's in hiatus, it was still going, but it wasn't, it didn't have the capacity to hire a lot of equity actors. What we were seeing was Asian American actors and Asian Pacific Islander American actors starting their careers there, but then leaving because there was no home for them or nowhere to go once they started building their careers and they got to a certain level. And so Leon and I, Leon Goertzen, who's another actor, he and I saw this hole in opportunity for professional Asian American theatre artists and we decided that we wanted to try to create a home for those people. And I think at that time, I think there was an audience for it and I think in the Bay Area before we were around, Asian American Theater Company had been there since the 1970s, and in the 80s and 90s, a lot of the large theatres were doing work in conjunction with them to, like Berkeley Rep, for instance did a whole slew of work by Philip Kan Gotanda, Maxine Hong Kingston, that told Asian American stories, but once that grant was done, the money sort of dried up. As we know, in this country, there's a huge funding imbalance between large, predominantly white institutions and institutions of color. That's what happened to AATC when the granting for that program went to Berkeley Rep and was shared with Asian American Theater Company, but then when that was done there was no more. The funders stopped giving money to the institutions of color.
Ariel: See ya, yeah.
Lily: So, AATC started, for a while they had a fairly large budget and then when we started Ferocious Lotus, that was sort of the tail end of their life. So they ended up closing a few years after we started Ferocious Lotus, so I think the audience was there, it was just the predominantly white institutions weren't doing this work anymore and I think it was really flourishing for a while, like color conscious casting, or at that time it was color blind casting, but then people, I think, started going into their corners and not supporting the work as much. So when we came into the picture, I think that there was the audience, but there wasn't as much work being done by the larger institutions that was Asian American programming or hiring Asian American artists, even in non-traditional casting or color conscious casting. And I think in the 10 years, it's gotten better. I think now more of my colleagues and peers, like our company members, like Rinabeth Apostol, Will Dao, Mina Morita, who's now heading Crowded Fire, Leon, Ogie Zulueta, they're all working at the large houses and at smaller houses and having careers as artists, which is why we were founded.
Ariel: It’s so funny, especially hearing both of your stories, and we're thinking about the quality of resilience. One, it takes a, it can sometimes take a long time, over 10 years or so, there was also, you both also saw needs for, not just for yourselves, but also for other people. And that there was a resilience also has a quality of generosity to it, mostly or like, partly to yourselves and for healing, for the desire for healing, but also after that, the desire for healing for community. What other qualities do you see in theatre artist that sort of signify resilience? I mean, right now, at least in New York, there has been, right before the shut down happened, we were starting to see a real renaissance in Asian American theatre out here. At least for me, who's been in the trenches out here, producing for the last 10 years, it was very gratifying to see all that work come to fruition. What else, we got to that point and, Lily your story about how, it's still clearly an issue in funding, usually it goes to PWIs, the bulk of the funding, right? So, Vichet, I think one of the things that I'm definitely seeing in the work, is you're both creating work that sort of says, you know what? To heck with the PWIs, we're just gonna create great work. So, what else? I guess I'm saying there's sort of a defiance, or a level of defiance that signifies resiliency.
Lily: I think Vichet commented on it earlier, we're so used to being resilient as Asian American theatre artists, we're so used to fighting racism and having other traits that we can't control, like the way we look, determine our careers, or they try to determine our careers. And so I think resiliency is, we're used to being resilient. We've had to fight for everything the entire way, so I think part of it is just ingrained in the way that we've built our careers as Asian American theatre artists and Asian American companies. I think resilient people and artists adapt and pivot quickly. They're not afraid to ask for help and build community. And having the courage to try new things. The path is not traditional for us and so I think that we have a history of, let's just try it and see if it works and keep moving forward. Just this COVID thing, like we do a show every Friday night, it's called MU-tini Hour, Ariel you've been on it. And it's been an immense gift to be able to build community and build a community globally, 'cause we've had our episode with George Takei and Lea Salonga had 110,000 views. But people ask us how do we do it, how are we so resilient that we could get this on air and I think it's just we're used to adapting, we're used to doing the work and taking chances, and so, let's just put it out there and see what happens.
Vichet: Yeah, and I'll just say too, I think what we're going through right now feels really existential, I think it is unprecedented what's happening, and so I've just been trying, as an artist myself, I've been just trying to just be honest with where I'm at as an artist and as a person and give myself the generosity or kindness to take care of myself as well. And I think that has to do with the resilience as well. I think that we have opportunity to really, really sort of think about the way in which we make art and really be thoughtful about how we want to imagine the world that we're going to re-enter once this vail lifts. I think, and very specifically for the theatre world, we're going to have the opportunity to imagine the way we create art. And do our institutions, do our systems work? And I think that this opportunity is presented to us and I think I'm just really excited by what is going to emerge from this period of time.
Ariel: You both just brought something up, or just pointed out a quality of resilience that I had forgotten and it's that you see opportunities where other people see faults. And I think, in terms of trying to cultivate resiliency if you're an artists, I think it begins there. Certainly, my own work and my own career, I don't think I started flourishing until I started saying, you know what, I'm just gonna work to uplift other people. Not just make it completely about the Ariel show, but also making--
Lily: But you're so good at that Ariel, you talk about generosity as a quality of resilience and you're a perfect example of that. And I think when we talk about opportunity and generosity and resilience, they all go hand-in-hand, right? We see opportunity and those opportunities are not for one of us, it's for all of us. And the more we can push for representation of our artists on stages and in theatre and in life, the better it is for all of us. Like, the more of us are seen, the more all of us are seen.
Ariel: Vichet you talked about self-care as one of the ways that you're navigating your time artistically during this crisis, right, and that's taking care of yourself, the generosity, that same generosity starts at home. My mom always used to be very fond of saying that to me. What other observations are you making about your own work during this crisis? That you're noticing.
Vichet: To be totally honest with you and transparent with you, I'm a freelance artist who also has three day jobs. And I'm very fortunate to be able to maintain that work, but I'm also hyper aware of how our capitalistic, patriarchal work week feels more stressful, even more so stressful as we translate that to this Zoom internet platforming that we're using--
Ariel: Oh, thank God I thought I was the only one.
Vichet: Yeah I'm same way.
Ariel: Three million jobs, tryin' to make ends meet. I feel like I'm working more than 40 hours a week. I'm working like, 80 hours a week now.
Lily: I know, me too.
Ariel: It’s kinda crazy. I think part of it is we don't get, there's no commute. We can't commute, so there's no, I usually do some of my best thinking on the subway, and when I get a chance to take a break from people.
Vichet: You know, for me it's just, there's this question of how, right now I'm asking the question of how can I finish everything I wanna finish and also work on the art that I wanna work on? And at times, every day looks different, you know? And at times I'm more successful at doing exactly what I wanna do, versus what is expected of me. And there are other days when I'm not so successful. I'm just trying to take each day as truly a new day and giving myself the space and opportunity to just imagine a new day. And then also just connecting with my fellow peers and my contemporaries and my fellow artists and checking in and making sure everyone is okay. I think at the end of the day, we're people first and then we're artists. And I think we have to take care of ourselves and we have to take care of our community so that we can create art again.
Ariel: I was going to ask you both if your own practices were healing or nurturing for you in this time and it sounds like it is. One of the ways that is healing and nurturing is that checking in with people and also taking it one day at a time it looks like, too.
Lily: Yeah, and things are changing so quickly, and I think that's all we can do. And I think there's been a lotta conversation in the theatre community whether we should be producing all this work online, whether we should be not doing any of it and my response is always, do what you need to do for yourself, and for your company, and for your community. Sometimes we need, as people, to be out in the world and to do the thing, and sometimes we need, as people, to cocoon and be silent and balance those two things. And either is okay, I think.
Ariel: Yes, I've been thinking a lot about how art can be and my own work can be a source of strength and solace for me and, Vichet, I think you said it best, it's like sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, which is actually not that different from the rest of the time when we're not under a world pandemic. Lily, Vichet, thank you so much for speaking to me today. Your stories are so inspiring, Vichet and Lily, what is coming up for you that in the, you had just mentioned in your video, Vichet that High School Play is coming this year.
Vichet: Yeah, I have a play called High School Play: a Nostalgia Fest which is being premiered as a co-production at Dallas Theater Center, which is my hometown theatre, and the Alley Theater, so fingers crossed--
Ariel: So brilliant you had that high school experience, you started out the video with that high school experience--
Lily: It’s a great play, I've read it.
Ariel: And Lily, what's coming up with Theater MU?
Lily: So we do MU-tini Hour every week, it's a live conversation with Asian American Theater Artists and Michelle Krusiec is coming on this Friday, she plays Anna May Wong in the new Netflix Special Hollywood. And she's coming on with some friends, and then in the next two Fridays we're gonna have a variety show with some of our artists doing spoken word and songs. And the following week, May 29th, 30th, don't miss it, Theater MU is doing its first 24 hour virtual playfest, where six playwrights, including Lauren Yee, Leah Nanako Winkler, Susan Stanton, Sumuta Vansay, Mellon Fellow, and also Katie Ka Vang, and Chris Chen, they're writing plays for the virtual space. And we'll have a slew of directors and actors all Asian American, from here in the Twin Cities and also from around the country.
Ariel: Very cool. Theater MU's website is T-H-E-A-T-E-R-M-U dot org and Vichet, what's your website?
Vichet: V-I-C-H-E-T-C-H-U-M at gmail.com, that's my email. You could email me if you want, too.
Ariel: Awesome, hey everybody knows your email now, that's great. Email him some work, folks. Thank you so much Vichet and Lily. And now how I'm gonna hand it back to Meena--
Lily: Thank you so much for having us.
Ariel: Thank you, Lily, thank you, Vichet. It's so inspiring to speak to you.
Meena: Hi, Ariel, thank you. Thank you, Lily, thank you, Vichet, now we know your email address, so we will be writing to you. First of all, thank you to all our presenters today. Ru, Stephen, Lily, Vichet, and Ariel for sharing about their work today. Thank you to Susan for curating and co-facilitating this livestream today and thank you to Hannah, Abigail, Nicole, Ann Marie, and Amara for providing us the space to elevate AAPI voices. We're so often made invisible and not asked to sit at important tables and it means a lot that you all recognized the need and invited us to share this space. So much gratitude to you all. And also thank you for HowlRound for offering their platform for this livestream. This pandemic has surfaced the inequities in our society that are disproportionately impacting communities of color. Last week was a tough week for many. It was for me. I would like to speak Ahmaud Arbery's name into this space. Black and brown people are dying. Native communities are being heavily impacted with no support. And AAPI folks are dealing with racism and xenophobia. This is the time to think about the systems in place that rely on racism, oppression, and white supremacy to keep us apart. Communities that work hard toward liberation, freedom, and justice are often those with the most at stake. Which is why we must work together to center and uplift our voices during this pressing time. I hope you were inspired by what you heard today. From Act to Change, CAAM, and CAATA, I definitely was, I wasn't expecting to actually be moved to cry, I'm glad I wasn't on video. It was beautiful. Please consider supporting their work financially and spreading the word about their work. There are many organizations doing incredible work virtually right now. For example, Asian Americans Advancing Justice has been facilitating bi-standard intervention virtual trainings, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance is actively informing LGBTQ Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander communities the importance of the United States Census. Look up and support AAPI organizations in your neighborhood. They're in theatres, museums, community organizations, historical societies, and many many others. Support these organizations so they don't disappear. Support them so that they thrive. Support them so that they can continue to use their creativity to inspire and educate people. Support them so that they can continue to center the lived experiences of AAPIs. Let's work together in solidarity to fight against racism and hate. Together we are stronger. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Nicole: Thank you so much. Thank you for being with us today. The recording of this conversation will be available in 24 hours on HowlRound.com and our other sessions on topics including emergency funding, legal support, financial strategies for individual artists, and reimagining how we gather are already there. If you learned something today, please spread the word.
Hannah: We also wanna lift up our fabulous partner, HowlRound Theatre Commons who have been with us through all six of these Artist Resource webinars. They provided us with a platform, the technology, funds for ASL interpreters and captioners, as well as some support for our panelists today. HowlRound, we love you, we see you. Thank you for sticking with us.
Ann Marie: Before we go, we want to see the Commons in action. If you got something out of today's conversation and I definitely did, and I'm sure that we all feel the same way, we want to ask you to direct that love and support towards CAATA, towards Act to Change, and to CAAM. You can send that manifestation of support to the donate page on our website, we're via Venmo, as ever @COV19-far. Community, let's see how abundant we can be together.
Amara: Friends, let's take care of each other. Keep connecting and for more resources added every day, including submissions from folks like you, visit our site www.freelanceartistresource.com Thanks to Susan Chinsen, Meema Malik, Ru Bhatt, Stephen Gong, Lily Tung Crystal, Ariel Estrada, and Vichet Chum. Thank you all so much, have a good one.
Livestreamed the #ArtistResource panel Art As Medicine: Building Solidarity in and with Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Communities on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UST-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4).
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated racism and xenophobia towards Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. As our national leadership insists on directing the blame for the virus towards Asian countries, reports of hate crimes have soared. In our final #ArtistResource session, artist leaders share knowledge, history, and art as a means of building solidarity within AAPI communities, affirming AAPI artists, and holding space for the AAPI community. The conversation featuring members of the Center of Asian American Media (CAAM), Consortium of Asian American Theater and Artists (CAATA), and Act to Change facilitated by Susan Chinsen (Engagement Producer and Director of Boston Asian American Film Festival) and Meena Malik (musician, Cultural Organizer, Theater Program Manager at NEFA) and will invite artists and activists to examine the past and present as a means of seeding our future. What can we learn from the past and what knowledge can we affirm in ourselves in the wake of this challenging time? What tools, artistic and otherwise, do we have to push back against racism in our current moment? How do we build resilience in ourselves and maintain our commitment to protect one another going forward?
This conversation is designed by and about the API artist community, and is open to allies of the community.
Ariel Estrada (CAATA Communications & Membership Coordinator, host/moderator)
Lily Tung Crystal (Artistic Director, Theater Mu)
Vichet Chum (playwright, Bald Sisters, High School Play, and Kyum)
Lily Tung Crystal is an actor, director, and the artistic director of Theater Mu in the Twin Cities, where she most recently directed Jiehae Park’s peerless. She is also the founding artistic director emeritus of Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a three-time Theatre Bay Area Award finalist for Outstanding Direction for her work on David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish and Flower Drum Song at Palo Alto Players and the world premiere of Leah Nanako Winkler’s Two Mile Hollow at Ferocious Lotus. As a performer, Lily has worked with theatres across the country, including Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Cal Shakes, Magic Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, New World Stages, Portland Center Stage, SF Playhouse, and Syracuse Stage. She is a 2016 YBCA 100 honoree, named by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as a “creative pioneer making the provocations that will shape the future of culture.”
Ariel Estrada is an actor, singer, arts advocate, producer, and Founder & Producing Artistic Director of Leviathan Lab, a creative studio for Asian American theatre and film artists. As an actor and singer, Ariel has performed on television, film, commercials, industrials, new media, and Off-, and Off-Off-Broadway. He is currently the Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator at Actors’ Equity Association, and the Marketing & Membership Coordinator for the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists. He was previously the Manager of Communications & Community Engagement for Asian American Arts Alliance. He was designated by New York Foundation of the Arts as an Emerging Arts Leader and by Theatre Communications Group as a Rising Leader of Color. He was also a member of New York Community Trust’s Race Forward Racial Equity in the Arts Innovation Lab, an alum of The Broadway League’s Commercial Theater Institute Emerging Producer Program, and a graduate of the MFA in Acting Program from The University of Washington. As a freelance grant writer, he has raised over $500K in funding for community-based, nonprofit arts groups. Ariel is also an accomplished Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000-level communications designer and social media strategist. www.arielestrada.com | www.leviathanlab.org | www.arielestradadesign.com
Vichet Chum is a Cambodian-American playwright and theatremaker, originally from Dallas, Texas and now living in New York City. His plays have been workshopped at Steppenwolf Theatre, the Magic Theater, the Alley Theatre, the UCROSS Foundation, Fault Line Theatre, Crowded Outlet, Second Generation Productions, Weston Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre, All For One Theater, Amios, Florida State University, Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the New Harmony Project. He received the 2018-19 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting with New Dramatists, serves as an Associate Artist at Merrimack Repertory Theatre and is a current board member for the New Harmony Project. This season, Vichet is a part of the 2019-20 Resident Working Farm Group at Space on Ryder Farm, the 2020 Interstate 73 Writer's Group at Page 73 and the 2020 Ars Nova Play Group. He's currently working on commissions from the Audible Theater Emerging Playwrights Fund and Cleveland Play House/the Roe Green
Fund for New American Plays. His play Bald Sisters will have its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre (December 2020-February 2021), and his play High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest will have its world premiere as a co-production at Dallas Theater Center (February 2021) and the Alley Theatre (June-July 2021). He is a proud graduate of the University of Evansville (BFA) and Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company (MFA). He’s represented by Beth Blickers at APA Agency. vichetchum.com
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