FutureWorks Fellow Akemi Okamura and Company Manager Jeffrey Lo recently represented TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists’ (or CAATA) 5th National Asian American Conference and Festival, hosted by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Here are a few of Akemi’s takeways from the week in Ashland:
In my year and a half as FutureWorks Fellow at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, I’ve been able to see and do a lot of interesting and cool things. From sitting in on rehearsals and being the reader at auditions, to assisting with housing prep for out of town actors and logging new scripts, I have learned a lot. So when the opportunity to attend the CAATA conference presented itself, I naturally said yes. After all, what could be a better learning opportunity than getting to meet with and learn from Asian American theatre makers from across the country and the world? Looking back, it seems somehow super human how CAATA was able to fit so many things into just one week’s worth of conference, and yet they did. To break up the jam packed conference into smaller chunks, I have decided to share with you the top five things that I loved most about this year’s conference. Think of this as your conference highlight reel!
1) Panels and Breakout Sessions
What conference would be complete without its panels and breakout sessions? For me, there were so many great options to choose from that I had difficulty narrowing it down to attending just one per session. Topics ranged from Asian American Directors, to a moving session called “Producing Theatre in a Mixed World” (which was particularly close to my heart as a multiracial theatre artist), along with various discussions on yellowface, and building the next Asian American leaders. There were so many more panels that were available, and if you’re interested in checking them out, visit the CAATA website here: http://caata.net/schedule/
2) CAATA Presented Shows and Readings
In addition to meeting and hearing from Asian American theatre artists from across the country, we were also given the opportunity to see their work. CAATA presented six shows and five readings including: Minita Gandhi’s brave one woman show MUTHALAND; Jessica Huang’s play Purple Cloud, which explored the many facets of what it means to be multiracial; TheatreWorks’ own Prince Gomolvilas and Matt Ackels’ popular Oskar series (in this case, Oskar & The Curiously Colorful Clash); and Leah Nanako Winkler’s new play Two Mile Hollow.
3) Oregon Shakespeare Festival Shows
The fact that the conference was being hosted by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) was a huge bonus. During the conference we were able to fit in four OSF shows, and they did not disappoint. From the rarely-done Shakespeare plays Timon of Athens and Richard II to The Winter’s Tale, each play was a feast for every sense imaginable. But it was Qui Nguyen’s play Vietgone that truly spoke to me. Even though it has been nearly a month since I have seen it, I still don’t have the words to truly do justice to describing the play. It is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, and is as boundary pushing as it is familiar. To quote its director May Adrales, “Vietgone is one of the most important plays I’ve worked on to date. It speaks to the resilience, courage, and strength of the Vietnamese, giving voice to often voiceless refugees. It’s a love story first and foremost between two people who have lost absolutely everything but their sense of humor and their ability to love. Never before have I had to stage a production replete with raps, kung fu fights, motorcycle bump and runs, and a romantic montage sequence. Never before have I laughed and cried and been so thoroughly changed by a piece of theatre.”
Being in a place with so many Asian American artists was amazing. Not only because it was great to see that there are so many folks across the country striving towards equality and representation in theatre, but also because of the sense of community, love, and support that permeated every inch of the conference. People were excited to be there, excited to meet each other, and most importantly, excited to lift each other up.
Lastly, the conference left me feeling fired up to go forth and to help forge a path for communities who are sorely underrepresented not just in theatre, but in the arts and in the country as a whole. So I leave you with the wise words of fellow conference attendees who I think said it best:
“Diversity, in fact, is good business.” – Karen Narasaki, Civil Rights Attorney, American Civil Rights Leader, Human Rights Activist, Chair of the Asian American Diversity Advisory Council for Comcast/NBCU, and Co-Chair of the Asian American Advisory Council for Nielsen
“Generosity is the quickest way to the diversity we seek.” –Eric Ting, Artistic Director of CalShakes
-Akemi Okamura, FutureWorks Fellow