10 Contemporary Asian and Pacific Islander American Playwrights You Should Know
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we are celebrating the excellence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by highlighting some of the very best APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) artists creating work today. Today, we are highlighting ten contemporary APIA playwrights you should know:
Yilong Liu is a New York-based playwright who was born and raised in Chongqing, China. His latest play, The Book of Mountains & Seas, won the Kennedy Center Paul Stephen Lim Playwright Award this year. June is the First Fall, a play about a Chinese-American man who returns home to Hawaii, where he must confront his family after a difficult breakup. Inspired by a portrait of Afong Woy, the first Chinese woman in the U.S., June is the First Fall, will fittingly receive its premiere production at the Kuma Kahua Theatre in Honolulu. Most recently, Liu received a Greenhouse Playwriting Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm for the 2018 season. His work can next be seen at Victory Gardens Theater this August, where The Book of Mountains and Seas will receive a reading in August.
Born in Calcutta, and raised in India, Russia, and the United Kingdom, Dipika Guha is now one of the most talked about young artists in San Francisco. Her piece Yoga Play was featured on the Kilroy’s List in 2017, and like most of her plays, mixes comedy with tragedy and chaos. She explores love and passion in relationships, as well as in drive in her characters’ careers; for example, Yoga Play centers on an employee at a top yoga pants brand trying to save the company after its reputation is tarnished by scandal. Guha studied under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel at Yale, who called her an “incredible, nuanced playwright…smart, political, theatrical and deeply, fiercely emotional”. Guha’s You Across From Me, a commission from Actors Theatre of Louisville, just premiered at this year’s Humana Festival. She is currently a fellow at The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton.
A. Rey Pamatmat
You might have seen A. Rey Pamatmat‘s work in Boston a few years back when Huntington Theatre Company and Company One Theatre programmed his plays after all the terrible things I do and Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them concurrently at the Calderwood Pavillion in 2015. Since then, Pamatmat has been quite busy. In March, he was the keynote speaker at Humana Festival‘s College Days, and earlier this month he traveled to Morocco with a team producing his play Blood in Your Blood as part of his summer fellowship at the Sundance Institute. He will join Yilong Liu at SPACE on Ryder Farm as a member of the 2018 Working Farm. @AReyP
Jiehae Park is a playwright and performer who is working all over the world. Her work was last seen in Boston in Company One’s production of peerless, a satirical piece about Asian-American twins who will stop at nothing to get into The College of their dreams. She had a residency at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer and was most recently seen as a performer in Yale Repertory Theatre‘s production of Haruki Murakami’s SLEEP, adapted by Naomi Iizuka (another fantastic Asian-American playwright we’ve featured previously!). Park wrote for season one of Marvel’s TV show, RUNAWAYS. @jiehaejiehae
Velina Hasu Houston
Ever since her breakout play Tea, with Music premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1987, Velina Hasu Houston has been commissioned and produced plays, musicals, and operas internationally. Tea, which is about five Japanese international brides, is still the most-produced play on the experience of Japanese women and even inspired the 1993 movie Joy Luck Club. Houston is currently a playwright-in-residence at Pasadena Playhouse, where she continues to write works that explore intersectional identity. Personally, of Japanese, Cuban, African-American, and Blackfoot Pikuni Native American Indian descent, Houston works to tell the stories of multiracial communities and teaches at the University of Southern California, where she founded the Asian-American studies department in 1992.
Christopher Chen is a San Francisco-based playwright whose works focus primarily on interracial identities. His play Passage, a minimalist fable about the clash of two imaginary cultures that riffs on E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, just closed at The Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia. Chen won the 2017 Obie Award for Playwriting for his play Caught, which follows a Chinese dissident artist who was detained for his art through the opening of a retrospective gallery of his work. He is currently the playwright-in-residence at Crowded Fire Theatre, which commissioned two of Chen’s critically-acclaimed plays, The Hundred Flowers Project and The Late Wedding.
Writer and performer Jeanne Sakata has come into the national spotlight as her solo show, Hold These Truths, has been gaining popularity and productions across the country, including here in Boston at Lyric Stage Company. Based on the true story of civil rights activist Gordon Hirabayashi, Hold These Truths explores his journey of resistance against the order for Japanese internment in World War II. Sakata has acted in film and television roles, including a stint as a voice actor in Disney’s Big Hero 6. Sakata can currently be seen on stage as Lady Capulet in Romeo & Juliet: A Requiem at People’s Light in Pennsylvania. @jeannesakata
Lauren Yee has had work produced nationally since the mid-2000s but garnered attention from a wider audience after having multiple plays featured in both the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Kilroy’s List. One of her Kilroy nods this year, Cambodian Rock Band, a rock epic about family secrets and a dark chapter of Cambodia’s past, will enjoy 2019 productions at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Victory Gardens Theatre. Her second 2017 Kilroy hit, The Great Leap, which also won Yee the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, can next be seen at Seattle Rep and Atlantic Theatre Company. Yee’s work hasn’t been seen in Boston since a Company One workshop of her play Hookman in 2012, but if you’re patient and take the commuter rail, a production of her play The Song of Summer at Trinity Repertory Theatre in Spring 2019 could be yours to experience. @laurendyee
Susan Soon He Stanton
Susan Soon He Stanton is another Kilroy’s List alum: Today is My Birthday was featured on the 2015 list, while Cygnus appeared on the Kilroy’s 2016 edition. Originally from Aiea, Hawaii, Stanton now makes her home in New York, where her plays have been performed on the stages of Playwrights Horizons, Joe’s Pub, Clubbed Thumb, and more. Stanton is two-time Sundance Institute Theater Lab Resident Playwright, and has also written several short films. Her newest play, we, the invisibles, was just featured at this year’s Humana Festival at Actors Theater of Louisville. @SusanSoonHe
Aditi Brennan Kapil
Known for her epic scope and co-opting of classical text, it’s no surprise that Aditi Brennan Kapil‘s work is produced internationally. An actress and director, as well as a playwright, Kapil was also recently featured on the 2016 Kilroy with her play Orange, a journey through Orange Country through the eyes of a girl on the autism spectrum. Her work was last produced by Company One, who staged the entirety of Kapil’s The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy in 2014, three stand-alone plays loosely based on the trinity of Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Company One also produced her four-part play Love Person in 2012, a love story told in English, ASL, Sanskrit, and email. Kapil is currently writing on Season 2 of the TV show American Gods, where Mama-Ji, the Hindu goddess of war, is set to join the cast. @AditiBKapil
Featured photo: Kim Klasner and Khloe Alice Lin in Company One’s production of peerless by Jiehae Park.