Pan Asian Repertory Theatre Celebrates its 39th Anniversary
Tisa Chang and Daniel Dae Kim
The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York City recently celebrated their 39th year anniversary, having staged over one-hundred productions, including over thirty world premieres, regional premieres and adaptations, with a memorable Gala for Vibrancy, Innovation and Community Service at the Copacabana. Tisa Chang, Founding Artistic Producing Director welcomed everyone, and Ron Nakahara read congratulatory words from Daniel Dae Kim, Honorary Gala Co-Chair. Award-winning actress Tina Chen was presented with the Legacy Award by famed actress Katherine Houghton, and Karen K. Narasaki received the Advocacy Award from Josie J. Thomas.
Tina Chen in "Empress of China"
Tina Chen, an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, appeared opposite Robert Redford in “Three Days of the Condor” and Charlton Heston in “The Hawaiians,” guest starring on numerous shows opposite Anthony Quinn, Burt Reynolds, Wayne Rogers, and David Carradine. She has played many leading roles in the theatre including David Henry Hwang’s “Family Devotions,” “The Joy Luck Club,” “The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks,” “The Shanghai Gesture,” and “Empress of China” She has also directed a number of plays, including Lucy Liu’s New York stage debut in “Fairy Bones.” She wrote the music for the holiday song, “This Tree,” with lyrics by Ruth Wolff, which premiered with the Hong Kong Children’s Choir at its Silver Jubilee. While working as an actor, Tina simultaneously worked as a research technologist in the Serology & Genetics department at the New York Blood Center. An honorary advisor for the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, Ms. Chen is on the National Council of the Aspen Music Festival & School and volunteers for Lighthouse International as a reader for the sight impaired.
No No Boy
Karen K. Narasaki is a national civil and human rights leader, and was appointed by President Obama to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2014. Immediate past president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, she was also the Washington Representative for the Japanese American Citizens League. She currently chairs the Asian American Diversity Advisory Council for Comcast/NBCU.
Tina Chen and Ronald Rand
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, founded 39 years ago by Tisa Chang and key actors, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre came into being while Ms. Chang was working as an actress in 1977 on Broadway in “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel,” opposite Al Pacino. She recognized the need to create a company devoted to Asian American works performed by Asian American artists.
Tisa Chang, Founding Artistic Producing Director shared with us her vision: “From the beginning, I had a dream that Asian American artists should follow their artistic aspirations to wherever it would lead them, even to reaching the professional zenith in the American Theatre. I dreamt that an Asian American actor could portray leading roles unlimited by stereotype and ethnic barriers. That Asian American artists, too, could be Clytemnestra, a Blanche Dubois, the Manchu Empress Dowager. If this concept was too premature for the theatrical mainstream to accept, too provocative to sway prevailing preconceptions, then she would create and produce works, independently, to provide a forum for Asian American artistic expressiveness.”
“It was not so much a matter of proving to the outside world what Asian American artists are capable of, but rather, an affirmation that Asian American artists have the right of access to participate meaningfully in the world arena of the performing arts. “To be an artist is to be blessed. Performance is an act of giving, of releasing energies which will never be the same but may return to us, reconstituted, to begin another cycle of nourishment. Pan Asian Repertory Theatre was founded to nurture and support those who have dedicated their life’s pursuit to, and have made sacrifices to stay in, the living theatre.”
Jean-Pierre Stewart, left, and Marcus Ho in Three Trees
“An acting ensemble of artists united by professional commitment, and shaped by cultural heritage, who share and celebrate Asian traditions of rhythm and movement, would become the springboard to forging a repertoire of new Asian American works. Plays which reflect the evolution of Asians in America – our secrets, struggles, and celebrations – expressed in a myriad of artistic modes and in a newfound common language: English.”
“Pan Asian Repertory Theatre has always prized artistic integrity above other considerations. While the act of creation is intensely private and often lonely, no artist creates in a vacuum. The new challenge confronting us is how we can express our true inner voices in context with a changing world of new economic realities and growing community needs. We must rise to the challenges of leadership within our community on artistic, social, and educational issues.”
Early seasons at Pan Asian Rep were dominated by new works from Wakako Yamauchi, translations of Cao Yu, Goldoni, an intercultural version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” premieres including Ernest Abuba’s “An American Story,” “Flowers and Household Gods” by Momoko Iko, and Edward Sakamoto’s “Yellow Is My Favorite Color.”
L-R: Ron Nakahara, Director; Tisa Chang, Pan Asian Repertory Artistic Director; Ken Narasaki, Playwright
During the 1980’s, their productions included “Yellow Fever,” “Gashiram Kotwal by Vijay Tendulkar, “Shogun Macbeth,” adapted by John Briggs. With the support and encouragement from the Ford Foundation, nine actors were chosen to be a part of their Senior Artists Program: Ernest Abuba, Raul Aranas, Michael Chin, Mel Duane Gionson, Kati Kuroda, Donald Li, Ron Nakahara, Natsuko Ohama, and Norris Shimabuku.
In the 1990’s Pan Asian Rep brought to audiences “Noiresque: The Fallen Angel,” “The Three Sisters,” Ernest Abuba’s “Cambodia Agonistes” with music by Louis Stewart, “Rita’s Resources,” “Shanghai Lil’s” by Lilah Kan with music by Louis Stewart, Elizabeth Wong’s “Letters to A Student Revolutionary,” “The Joy Luck Club” by Susan Kim adapted from the novel by Amy Tan with Tina Chen, “Carry The Tiger to The Mountain” by Cherylene Lee, and Jon Patrick’s “The Teahouse of the August Moon.”
From the very start of the beginning of the 21st century, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre has continued mounting world premieres and exciting productions including Alexander Woo’s “Forbidden City Blues,” “Goy Vey! Adventures of a Dim Sun in Search of His Wanton Father,” by Richard Chang, Ernest Abuba’s “Kwatz: The Tibetan Project,” “China Doll” by Elizabeth Wong, C.Y. Lee’s “The Fan Tan King” with music by Doug Lackey,” “The Joy Luck Club” by Susan Kim adapted from the novel by Amy Tan with Tina Chen, “Dojoji: The Man Inside the Bell,” and in cooperation with The Institute for Vietnamese Culture & Education (IVCE), the North American premiere of “The Missing Woman,” written and directed by Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc with music by Tran Vuong Thach and HAI Phuong.
Pan Asian Rep’s productions more recently included Jeremy Tiang’s “A Dream of Red Pavilions” adapted from the novel by Cap Zueqing, directed by Tisa Chang and Lu Yu; and this season, “No-No Boy,” adapted from Jon Okada’s novel by Ken Narasaki, directed by Ron Nakahara. After a critically-acclaimed run in New York City, “No-No Boy” will be performed in Washington, D.C. with a cast including Leanne Cabrera, Don Castro, Chris Doi, Glenn Kubota, Karen Tsen Lee, Claro de los Reyes, Shigeko Sara Suga, Hansel Tan, Tony Vo, and Scott Watanabe. For info: Pan Asian Repertory Theatre 520 8th Ave, NYC 10018, (212)-868-4030, email@example.com, www.panasianrep.org