First of all, I want to thank the many people who helped me stand here today. Those who lift me up every day -- my family, my husband and my amazing group of friends, Chad, Tina, Bets. I want to thank TCG, the committee, and panelists. And I want to thank Marc Masterson who gave me two of my biggest breaks and nominated me for this award, John Eisner, John Dias, Barry Edelstein and Bill Rauch who wrote letters on my behalf over the years and for this award. I thank in particular, Mark Clements and Chad Bauman at Milwaukee Rep who have given me an artistic home over the years and this past year a place at the table for Artistic and Institutional decisions. Their support of me reinforces their vision to put art at the center of the organization. And this is just one of the many steps this leadership has taken to find innovative ways of mentoring the next generation of leaders.
And most of all I want to thank my theater family – the writers, (Qui, Kemp, Idris, Rey, Chisa, Stefanie); designers and actors that feed my inspiration, share my passions, feed my curiosities and deal with my mercurial disposition when I’m the heat of tech or in the agonizing state of “I don’t know.” You all make me a stronger artist. A stronger person. And help me see every day joy and possibility.
I attended my first TCG conference when I was 21 and you all were scary as hell. At that point, I could only dream of doing theater for my job. Now my job is to dream. Through the support of mentors and people who believed in me, I emerged from a young woman who spoke quietly but passionately about a society she envisioned, to be one who is pushing that society forward through the theater she makes. I wish I could go back in time and tell the 21-year old me, a 1st generation immigrant, born in rural Virginia, who had seen only seen her first professional theater production a mere four years before that she would standing here accepting an award for directing.
But how could I have imagined it? I had never seen another person who looked like me or my family on stage until I saw Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters at The Public Theater. It also dawned on me, looking around the audience that night, I had never seen so many Asians in one room together -- that I wasn’t related to at least. As I was coming of age, I never assisted a woman, nor assisted a person of color. Of the many LORT theaters I have worked, only two were helmed by female artistic directors.
Not too long ago, I watched Chloe Kim make history as she won the gold in women’s halfpipe with nearly a perfect score. My 6-year old mixed race nephew upon seeing her receive the gold medal said – but “she isn’t American.” How could a 6 year old, whose Filipino mother, my sister, the first Chief of Division of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, not perceive that someone with Asian skin could be American? Or could not represent the United States of America? What did that make me, and his mother, and his grandfather in his eyes? Not American? Still an other? At age 6? Where did he get that limited view?
Representation matters. Telling stories that have not found their way into the main stream matters. Dismantling stereotypes and reframing history to reflect those who have been left out of the telling of that history. This matters. I am a living testament to that.
Together with my Vietgone family, we made a romantic comedy about two Asian refugees in Arkansas. In Kemp Powers’s Little Black Shadows, we told a story to honor the "shadows" whose backs this country was built upon but whose history has never been told on stage. In Idris Goodwin’s The Way The Mountain Moved, we tell the story how the west was really won or lost and the escaped slaves, Native Americans, immigrants and those fleeing religious persecution that inhabited it.
I take up the mantle, as many of my colleagues have, to shift the narrative of the American theater to a new norm – to embrace wholeheartedly our responsibility to present more than a “single story.” To redefine what it means to be American. To redefine the American family. To rewrite the “American story” To reinterpret history to include those who have been excluded from writing that history. I want to show -- that work directed by me, or women like me, works written by women and or artists of color are not risky. They are essential. They are essentially American.
You have given me a great gift today. The Alan Schneider Award is given on the basis of merit and artistry. To be recognized on this level means that the values I espouse -- citizenry, diversity and inclusion and artistic adventurousness -- have made it into the national conversation. Receiving this award has already changed me. It has bolstered my confidence as a director. It has helped me realize the strength of my voice and my potential to change the theatrical landscape. I look forward to more women, more artists of color changing the landscape with me. I look forward to seeing them onstage, backstage, offstage, writing, directing and designing. I look forward to them walking the halls of power upstairs and redirecting financial success to support and empower those very communities.
Thank you for believing in me and helping me take another step forward. Together we will march step by step towards a truer representation of the world we live in and the world we want to see. Onwards!