East West Players Offers a Platform for New Work by Asian American Writers

JANM has a long history of collaborating with East West Players, the nation’s leading Asian American theater troupe. Among other activities, the museum is proud to host A Writer’s Gallery, a semi-regular reading of new works by Asian American playwrights. On Thursday, March 19, East West Players will present a reading of Giovanni Ortega’s Iyakan Blues (The Criers), a comedy about a group of women who work as professional criers—people who are paid to weep at funerals.


On the eve of this latest collaboration, JANM reached out to Snehal Desai, Artistic Associate/Literary Manager at East West Players, and Giovanni Ortega, playwright, to find out more about the series and about Ortega’s play.

JANM: JANM began hosting A Writer’s Gallery way back in 1996. It now occurs roughly semi-annually. Snehal, can you talk about the significance of the series, and how it came about?

Snehal Desai: Lately, the series has functioned as an incubator—a place for the development of works we are considering as part of our season at East West Players. It is immensely helpful for our playwrights to have workshop time to develop their plays and then have a public reading of it, followed by a talkback. We have found that these readings really bring the community and audiences into the process of premiering a new work. The Tateuchi Democracy Forum is a perfect space for this kind of reading and the conversation that follows afterwards.

JANM: How do you go about selecting the writers who get featured?

SD: The writers and the works get selected in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are tied to exhibitions that are being presented at JANM, or they are inspired by dialogues currently happening in the community. Other times, a writer with whom we have a relationship will bring us a play that they are developing and want to read publicly.

Giovanni Ortega. Image courtesy of the artist.
Giovanni Ortega.
Image courtesy of the artist.

JANM: Giovanni, is professional crying really a thing?

Giovanni Ortega: Professional crying is actually a real thing in different countries. It is still done in Chinese, Sardinian, Irish, and Middle Eastern societies, just to name a few. Mourners from Chongqing, China, and Taiwan were recently on the news. The 1993 Indian film Rudaali featured a character who cried at funerals, and going back further, there were professional mourners in Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Père Goriot. The basic concept behind crying at funerals is to allow the person who passed to have a good welcome on the other side. The extent of the wails and cries also shows the reverence and respect this person had while living.

JANM: What inspired you to write Iyakan Blues (The Criers)? Did you draw from personal experience?

GO: The initial inspiration for the play was the women in my family. I was raised by my two grandmothers, and then my mom after I moved to the U.S. [from the Philippines] when I was a teen. Growing up, I was always surrounded and influenced not only by my lolas (grandmas) but also their sisters and my aunts. They were all strong-willed women who had very distinct opinions about life.

Regardless of whatever adversity, burdens, and struggles they had to endure to survive, the underlying force was laughter to get through it all. I witnessed that this was their tool in survival, regardless of how difficult it got. One of my earliest memories was going to the wake of my Lolo [Grandpa] Tute, where tears and laughter went hand in hand. Having such experiences allowed me to realize that I can use the theme of death as a means to laugh, and writing this play was a great opportunity to do so.

There are also very few stories about the Filipino diaspora. There is so much more to our country than Imelda, beaches, karaoke, dancing, pancit [Filipino noodles], and poverty. Ours is a rich culture, not unlike the U.S. in its mixture of race, religion, and cultures. My own heritage being Chinoy (Filipino and Chinese) as well as Spanish and Native American is a testament to our variety. I wanted to share different perspectives that people have in regards to what being Filipino is.

Catch Nisei Widows Club at East West Players starting on November 7th!


The Japanese American National Museum is pleased to support East West Players as a community partner for The Nisei Widows Club: How Tomi Got her Groove Back.

The third installment of The Nisei Widows Club comic trilogy follows the lives of a group of widowed Nisei (second generation) women who only have each other in the face of loss and the search for love in their golden years. Tomi loses her only son to a heart attack at the early age of 45, and the other widows gather around her during this time of grief. Hilarity ensues when they embark on an unforgettable trip to Hawaii, which unleashes the cougar in all of them at a hula retreat.

“The ‘Nisei Widows Club’ have really struck a humorous chord with the community, even though the story centers around loss,” says Tim Dang, Producing Artistic Director of East West Players. “This newest story will feature even more laughter demonstrating the strength of these senior citizen women in times of adversity.”

The production brings back the original four “Nisei Widows”—Takayo Fischer as Sumi, Emily Kuroda as Hana, June Kyoko Lu as Betty, Jeanne Sakata as Tomi. EWP introduces Tui Asau as the object of their desire—Kimo the hula teacher.

Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johnny Kwon give powerful performances in the Gallery Performance, Our American Voice
Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johnny Kwon give powerful performances in “Our American Voice”

JANM has a long history of partnership with East West Players—from hosting play readings presented by EWP, to our current collaboration, Our American Voice, a two-person show exploring six diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans that is performed inside the exhibition gallery in conjunction with the I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story exhibition which was created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

This dynamic gallery performance stars Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johnny Kwon portraying both historic and fictional characters, including Gordon Hirabayashi, Katherine Cheung (the first licensed Asian American female aviator), and poet Carlos Bulosan.

If you haven’t seen it already, you have one last chance to see Our American Voice this Saturday, October 26 at 1PM! Be sure to check out the exhibition, I Want the Wide American Earth, before it closes on Sunday, October 27.


The Nisei Widows Club: How Tomi Got Her Groove Back
By Betty Tokudani
Directed by Amy Hill

November 7 – December 8, 2013

Preview Performances:
Thursday, November 7 – November 9 at 8pm
Sunday, November 10 at 2pm
All preview seats are $21, $16 for students.

Regular Performances:
November 14 – November 29: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
November 30 – December 8: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays & Sundays at 2pm

David Henry Hwang Theater
at the Union Center of the Arts
120 Judge John Aiso Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012.

For more information please visit www.eastwestplayers.org

Don’t miss an exciting reading of “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” on October 17!

An actress performing in Hannah and the Dreaded Gazebo © Playwrights Foundation
An actress performing in Hannah and the Dreaded Gazebo © Playwrights Foundation


East West Players and JANM proudly present the Writers Gallery Reading of the Jiehae Park’s award-winning play, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo.

Playwright and performer, Jiehae Park © Ma-Yi Theater Company
Playwright and performer, Jiehae Park © Ma-Yi Theater Company

In this play, Hannah receives a FedEx box with two things: a 100% bona-fide-heart’s-desire-level wish and a suicide note. Hannah tracks the package back to Seoul, where her grandmother recently jumped from the roof of her retirement home onto the wrong side of the Demilitarized Zone. They’ll need North Korea’s permission to retrieve the body, but Kim Jong Il just kicked the bucket, and things in the DMZ are even stranger then they seem.


If Hannah and the Dread Gazebo sounds like your kind of show, don’t miss this FREE reading at 7:30PM on Thursday, October 17th!


About the PlaywrightJiehae Park is a playwright and performer in NYC. She is the 2013-14 Princess Grace Playwriting Fellow, as well as a current Dramatists Guild Fellow and member of the Soho Rep Writer-Director Lab. Her second full-length, HANNAH AND THE DREAD GAZEBO, won the 2013 Leah Ryan Prize for Emerging Women Writers and was developed at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and Ojai Playwrights Conference. The script was also a finalist for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference and Abingdon’s Chris Wolk Award. Her first play (and undergraduate thesis), HAPPY MOON DAY, HOLLY WOO, was a finalist for the Wolk Award and placed third in the East West Players/Irvine Foundation’s GOT LAUGHS competition. She served two years as co-artistic director of title3, a Los Angeles company dedicated to new works by women, and has been a mentor for the O’Neill’s Young Playwrights Festival. Proud member: Ma Yi Writers Lab, AEA, SAG-AFTRA. As a performer: NYTW, La Jolla Playhouse, Collection of Shiny Objects, Studio Theatre 2ndStage (DC), Young Playwrights Theatre (DC), REDCAT (LA). MFA (acting), UCSD/La Jolla Playhouse and BA (general theater shenanigans), Amherst College.

About the DirectorJennifer Chang‘s recent work includes Lady Windermere’s Fan (LA Weekly Pick of the Week), Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Ovation Nomination: Best Ensemble), and will be directing Fortinbras by Lee Blessing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts in the Spring of 2014. She is a founding member and Co-Artistic Director for the award-winning Chalk Repertory Theatre (Ovation Award, Best of LA 2013 – LA Weekly). As an actor, she has been on stages across the US, from our local EWP and South Coast Rep to theatres in New York City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia etc. She has appeared in numerous national commercials, Indie Films, and TV shows like Two and a Half MenParenthoodNCIS:LATerminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, amongst others. Jennifer Chang received her BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA from the UCSD/La Jolla Playhouse program.

For more information on this event, visit: janm.org/events

For more information on East West Players, visit: eastwestplayers.org


Jennifer Chang is also the director for Our American Voice, the special two-person show exploring six diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans. Performed within the I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story exhibition gallery space, it is presented in partnership with East West Players. Free with Museum admission.

Only 2 more chances to see this show: Saturday, October 19 & Saturday, October 26. Both begin at 1pm and are approximately 45 minutes.

For more details >>

Don’t miss our comics-themed Target Free Family Saturday!

Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986

Zap! Pow! Bam! Sounds like our comics-themed Target Free Family Saturday is coming up!

Visit JANM on October 12th from 11AM – 4PM to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986, with comics-themed crafts and activities!

Superhero cape & mask making
Make your own superhero cape and mask!


JANM has planned an action packed day!

From assembling your own popcorn snack with Kidding Around the Kitchen, to making your own superhero costume and capturing it in a photo booth, there are activities planned for kids of all ages and interests. You’ll even be able to watch vintage Japanese anime at its earliest roots from the 1920s and 1930s!

Make sure to catch a special Marvels & Monsters Gallery Talk at 11:30am by Jeff Yang, the curator of the exhibition. You won’t want to miss Jeff Yang share special insight into the creation of Marvels & Monsters!


jeff wnyc
Join curator, Jeff Yang, for a special Gallery Talk on the exhibition, Marvels & Monsters!

There will be an interactive activity shortly after the Gallery Talk where you can “Build a Hero” at 12PM, or “Build a Villain” at 2:30PM.

Jeff Yang will lead the audience in collaboratively creating an ORIGINAL comic book super-character who’ll be drawn in real time by comic artists from the Secret Identities and Shattered anthologies! There will also be a book signing after each of these sessions!

Batman Caricature by Cartoon Slinger
Batman Caricature by Cartoon Slinger

Don’t leave the Museum before getting a chance to turn yourself into a comic-book character with a caricature drawn by Cartoon Slinger! (*for children only, line ends at 2:30pm)

Make sure you top off your day by teaming up with your buddies to take down villains in superhero video games brought to you by Game Truck!

Read More

I Want the Wide American Earth – Opening Party Photos

On Friday, September 13, the Japanese American National Museum threw an opening party to welcome our newest exhibition, I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story. Created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, I Want the Wide American Earth explores the rich, and deep-rooted history of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States.

This event was open to the public and attracted hundreds of visitors, including locals, and travelers from different states. Free food from Aloha Cafe and drinks from Ito-en and the Mighty Boba Truck were served throughout the reception, while exciting performances filled the evening.

From previews of Our American Voice in the exhibition gallery presented in partnership with East West Players, to powerful numbers by YouTube stars, DANakaDAN + Crew Love, to the comical performances of The Fung Brothers, it was an evening of enlightenment, reflection, and entertainment.

The evening began by celebrating the opening of an exhibition, but it soon became a night to celebrate the history, accomplishments, and the exciting future of Asian Pacific Americans.

Check out these pictures from the opening party! (Click on the photos to see them larger)

Photos by: Tsuneo Takasugi, Richard Watanabe, and Richard Murakami.

* * * * *

If you haven’t seen I Want the Wide American Earth yet, stop by the museum to view the exhibition before it closes on October 27th. If you didn’t get a chance to watch Our American Voice, East West Players will be performing every Saturday at 1:00PM throughout the run of the exhibition. For more information on the exhibition: janm.org/wide-american-earth

* * * * *

marvels-monsters-signature-500pxMarvels & Monsters opening next week!

Don’t miss our next exhibition opening event! Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 will be at JANM from October 12, 2013 – February 9, 2014, but we’ll be celebrating early on Thursday, October 10 from 6PM – 9:30PM. 

Traveling to JANM from the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, Marvels & Monsters will illustrate how evolving racial and cultural archetypes defined America’s perceptions of Asians through a selection of images from comic books representing four turbulent decades.

This preview reception will be hosted by the JANM Young Professionals Network and is free and open to the public! Get a sneak peek at the exhibition and check out readings of the winning short scenes from the “Marvels & Monsters: Unbound” Showcase!

For more information on the exhibition: janm.org/marvels-monsters

Our American Voice

Our American Voice program coverJoin us every Saturday at 1 p.m. for Our American Voice, a two-person show exploring six diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans, held every Saturday at 1pm in the gallery.

Created in partnership with East West Players for our new exhibition I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story, the performance is directed by Jennifer Chang and features Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Johnny Kwon in the six pieces written by D’Lo, Vivian Keh-Hue, Giovanni Ortega, Jeanne Sakata and Ova Saopeng, and Judy Soo Hoo.

Each piece is a slice in the life of an Asian Pacific American. Overall, they come together to form a larger picture representing the worlds of vastly different people, spanning decades and ethnicities, but ultimately united by their experience of being Asian in America. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see the work of talented writers and actors come alive in an intimate setting!

Here are brief synopsis for the 6 pieces:

TAKING FLIGHT (excerpt) by Judy Soo hoo
Katherine Cheung defied family tradition and crossed racial lines to become the first licensed Asian American female aviator in 1932. During the 1930s, Cheung barnstormed across California, and her fame as a stunt pilot led to an invitation to join Amelia Earhart’s Ninety-Nines, an all-female flying club.

Lao-American siblings Soukki and Joy, refugees from the Vietnam War Era, must confront each other about a return trip to their homeland of Laos. How will they reconnect with a homeland that has long been forgotten and is so far away?

ALLOS (excerpt) by Giovanni Ortega
When young ALLOS arrives in the United States we witness his journey to find employment as well as acceptance amid the hardships of the Great Depression and bigotry of our past.

An immigrant Sri Lankan nurse shares her conclusions on love and loneliness in America.

HOLD THESE TRUTHS (excerpt) by Jeanne Sakata
At Seattle’s University of Washington during WWII, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a curfew is announced for all people of Japanese ancestry requiring them to be in their homes by 8PM. Gordon Hirabayashi, a Nisei student at the University, reluctantly obeys the order until one night when he rushes back to his YMCA dorm—and suddenly has an epiphany that stops him in his tracks.

DUTY AND DESIRE by Vivian Keh-Hue
In the midst of the trendy Koreatown club scene, an unexpected reunion occurs between childhood friends Penelope and Chester. While quick to judge one another regarding their choices in life, both characters find themselves driven by values common to the Korean American experience, having to navigate the rift between duty and desire.

Performance Dates:

Premiere at the I Want the Wide American Earth Opening Party
Friday, September 13, 2013 • 6:30PM – 10:30PM

Performances held in the exhibition gallery at 1PM each Saturday:
September 14 • September 21 • September 28
• October 5 • October 12 • October 19 • October 26

I Want the Wide American Earth tells the story of Asian and Pacific islanders in America through a series of 30 evocative banners accompanied by a selection of artifacts chosen from the collections of the Japanese American National Museum and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. I Want the Wide American Earth runs from September 14 to October 27, 2013.

For more information about the exhibition, visit janm.org/wide-american-earth

I Want the Wide American Earth Opening Party

Japanese American laborers at Tule Lake War Relocation Center, Tule Lake, California.
Photo credit: Library of Congress

Opening Party
Friday, September 13


Whether you rep the 626, can’t get enough of boba, or just really love Asian Pacific American history, come out to the opening party for I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story!

The opening party will have loads of great entertainment and treats. YouTube comedy and music stars The Fung Brothers and DANakaDAN will be performing live, along with music from DJ Tony. We will also be debuting a new two-person show, Our American Voice. The show, presented in partnership with East West Players, explores diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans. And if you get peckish between performances, head on over to the Mighty Boba Truck for a delicious drink!

Through a Smithsonian traveling display of 30 banners of poignant text, photographs, and art, I Want the Wide American Earth takes a sweeping look at how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of our nation’s history.

Check out the exhibition page for more info.


(Video from: The Fung Brothers)

Thanks to the Smithsonian and exhibition sponsor W.K. Kellogg Foundation; public programs sponsors: MetLife Foundation, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County Arts Commission; and media sponsors: Angry Asian Man, KSCI-TV LA-18, and The Rafu Shimpo.