Archives for posts with tag: Tim Dang

After the Panel: Stop talking. Start doing.

by Erin Quill

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for After the Panel: Stop talking. Start doing.

(Ed. note: The following interview series builds on Seema Sueko’s report on the Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye panel, “Jump into the Gaps.” Diversity & Inclusion online curator Jacqueline E. Lawton shared a series of questions with attendees of the panel to expand and continue the conversation.) 


JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.

ERIN QUILL: Primarily I am a Performer – I hold a BFA from Carnegie Mellon in Vocal Performance. I was in the Original Broadway Company of Avenue Q, the 50th Anniversary production of Flower Drum Song, toured as Lady Thiang in King & I, your general musical theater resume… On Los Angeles stages, I am known for my work with Lodestone Theatre Ensemble’s productions of The Mikado Project and Closer Than Ever. I have been a sketch comedy performer in New York and in LA, and have studied quite a lot of improv. I have had recurring roles on two television shows that shoot in NY – Damages and NYC 22, and appeared in the film, Man on a Ledge.

As a writer, I have a blog that I started right before my son was born, called www.fairyprincessdiaries.com where I write about Diversity in theater and anything else that tickles my fancy. In 18 months, I have over 50,000 views from all across the globe.

I have produced, worked in casting, written screenplays turn into features – I have done just about everything I could do to maintain life as a theater artist. As Sondheim wrote – Art isn’t easy…

JL: In a conversation about Diversity, identity and representation is important. How do you identify? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?

EQ: Ethnically, I am Chinese, Irish & Welsh, and am a dual citizen of the United States and Australia. My Parents strived to make sure that I understood both the joys and the burdens that being multiracial encompassed – we celebrated Chinese New Year and St. Patrick’s Day with equal fervor. I studied the histories of my diverse heritages, as well as the fairy tales, the music, things that were cultural touchstones.

As my Mother is Chinese Australian, we spent a great deal of time traveling back and forth to Australia in order to maintain family relationships – so I would say that I feel I am a world citizen.

Everywhere I travel, I try to visit a museum and grab a sense of where I am in that city’s timeline. I read histories, biographies, I hang at the ‘local’s’ spot – I look for differences and similarities no matter where I go.

I think that travel and study open your mind, and in terms of being an actor, to be exposed to various accents and ways of viewing the world – it all helps. In my writing, I pull from my world view, which is perhaps the reason my blog has hit such a nerve in the international scene.

JL: Why was it important for you to attend the Diversity: Through the Director’s Eye panel discussion?

EQ: I wanted to attend the Diversity Panel, because I was the first one to write about what was going on at La Jolla Playhouse and it’s production of The Nightingale. I wrote a blog post called “Moises Kaufman can Kiss my Ass and here’s why“, and within a few weeks, it was at 25,000 views. And the resulting ‘fallout’ from that blog post caused quite a stir, and a rush to have panels to discuss diversity – none of which I was invited to. People, many many people gave interviews, based on the fervor surrounding that post, but no one asked me to speak on it, or why I wrote it – so…I wanted to attend the Diversity Panel because I wanted to see where the chips had fallen, so to speak, a year later. Did my work have any influence? Were people willing to ‘get it’ in regards to casting Asian Americans on theatrical stages?

JL: Can you share one or two moments of discovery that happened for you during the panel discussion?

EQ: The first is that East West Players theater, and its Artistic Director, Tim Dang, are ahead of the crowd. They really are – here is an ‘ethnic’ theater that decided to broaden its horizons with a multi-racial cast and do the musical, CHESS. They took a leap and the audience was there for it. They are thinking outside of their comfort zone, they are creating space for the next wave of theater goers to feel welcome. Which means, thankfully, that East West Players is going to be here for many years to come, which makes me happy.

The second is that out of the four Caucasian men on the panel – there are two that are actively embracing Diversity, one who seemed to be shamed into having Diversity, and one who does not, absolutely does not give a damn about Diversity. I think we, of the “Diversity’ camp have to look at is as a win – we have 2 out of 4 for sure, perhaps 3 – and let’s face it – you cannot win them all. 2 out of 4 is progress. They know who they are.

JL: What is your biggest take away from the panel discussion?

EQ: My biggest ‘take away’ from the panel was that people who are concerned with Diversity and with building their audience are going to practice Diversity. And then there are those that seem innately satisfied that having a’ liberal upbringing’ and proclaiming it loudly on a panel negates them from any obligation of serving the Diverse community of Los Angeles. You cannot force a horse to drink, and you cannot force people to open their minds when they have been quite comfortable with the status quo.

My biggest question coming away from the panel is ‘Why?’. WHY are we continuing to have panels? Why hasn’t everyone ‘gotten it’ yet? Because they do not want to. They do not SEE Diversity. They will NOT see Diversity and we cannot MAKE them.

How could we sit for 90 or so minutes and hear NY’s Public Theater lauded for Diversity and Art and choose not to see what makes The Public Theater so great? It is the theater of New York City – and it reflects New York City. In Los Angeles, it is equally, if not MORE Diverse than New York – and yet, when we look on our stages, you would think it was 1950′s America. It’s embarrassing. No wonder Los Angeles does not have a National reputation for theater – how can we? We do not reflect the Nation.

Do you know what happened after the panel?

A Director in the crowd, who sat through an entire 90 minutes of talking about diversity approached Chil Kong, and demanded that he give her the ‘go ahead’ to do a show about Chinese history. She was very angry – which both I and Terence McFarland can vouch for – were ‘we’ (and by that I assume she meant ‘we Asians”) going to stand in the way of the play she was intent on producing just because it was a play about China that was going to be performed entirely by Caucasians in Chinese dress and manner?

Because you see, as she told it, this play is ‘allowed’ to be performed by Caucasians in Chinese dress, because this play she is doing, was written by a Caucasian man who adopted his daughter from China and wrote it for her – to help his Chinese born daughter learn the history of China. As performed by Caucasians in Los Angeles.

We had JUST exited the Diversity panel. We were at the reception. In the courtyard of The Pasadena Playhouse!

So my ‘take away’ is that Diversity is only going to happen when Artistic Directors ‘get it’ – it is not going to happen otherwise – what will happen, is that there will be a division of theater in Los Angeles – there will be the ‘white’ houses that will only play to Caucasian audiences, and there will be “ethnic theater’ which will appeal to everyone else. And eventually, one type will die out – and we will then, and ONLY then, know the winner.

May the odds be ever in our favor.

JL: What areas still need to be addressed in your community? What conversations still need to be hand?

EQ: There have been enough conversations to sink a battleship. There needs to be less conversation. There needs to be action – who cares if people are talking if they are not doing? Actions, as every actor knows, speak louder than words.

JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies to address issues of Diversity and Inclusion?

EQ: Begin with your Boards – Diversify your Board of Trustees. Those are the people that raise money for your theater. Oddly, money tends to influence what shows are produced – if your Board is diverse, the theater company tends to incorporate Diversity.

Theater Staff – if your staff is multi-racial, they are going to think in a different way – they are going to suggest different types of plays – because their background will make them open to different kinds of playwrights, directors, actors. Listen to your staff.

If you have a larger theater, then you have to start your own casting files – have ‘meet and greet’ auditions or open calls specifically targeting one group at a time. Look at your season – look at where the play is set, which city, which time period – who would be there? Then go out AHEAD of time and LOOK for those people. Call companies known for having Diversity and ask for recommendations – both for Actors and Directors. Share. Grow. Act.

If you are an Artistic Director, then plot the direction you want your company to travel in. You cannot sit back and say “I’m the AD, the Director I hired is in full charge of this play” – you, as the AD are ultimately responsible for your theater company and every show that you produce. If you, as the AD are not helping guide your guest Director, as to the whys and wherefores of your company – then you are not an AD, you are Human Resources.

Finally – stop being lazy. You know why your company is not Diverse in it’s material or staff or board or casting? Because of laziness. It takes effort to change. You have to want it – you have to want it just as much as when you wanted to be an Artistic Director, or an Actor, or a Set Designer, or a Choreographer. If you want something, you act upon it. If you want change, you make it happen.

Stop “having conversations about diversity every day” – just practice it. Stop talking. Start doing.

If you don’t do anything, I know you are not serious – don’t waste my time. Excuses are so 2013.


ERIN QUILL holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon. She was on Broadway in the Original Company of AVENUE Q, as Madame Rita Liang in the 50th Anniversary Production of FLOWER DRUM SONG at AMTSJ, toured opposite Debby Boone as Lady Thiang in KING & I, other productions include THE MIKADO PROJECT, CLOSER THAN EVER, ANYTHING GOES and so on. TV Credits: Damages, NYC 22, NYPD Blue, Movie Club w/John Ridley, Bravo pilot DISHIN’, Screening Party, Feature films: Man on a Ledge, The Mikado Project. Her blog www.fairyprincessdiaries.com has had over 50,000 views since it’s ‘birth’ 18 months ago – she has spoken about Diversity at LA Stage Day, on Speak UP with Jimmy, appeared in Network Diversity showcases, and most recently, was a Finalist in the Writer’s Program at NBC for the Diversity Showcase. She has written 2 screenplays that went to feature production, and is exhausted about talking about Diversity. She also has a sense of humor and a toddler.


Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com

The Fairy Princess had a pretty busy few weeks – she helped raise funds for The Actors Fund, &  Desert AIDS Project, via the concert series, SPARKLE.

Yes, I was a Sparkly Triple Threat

Yes, I was a Sparkly Triple Threat

The Fairy Princess went to Candy Cane Lane with friends…

Every year, just us nuts!

Every year, just us nuts! (60 degrees in LA, fyi)

She was invited to do an interview with Entertainment Guru and Advocate, Jimmy Nguyen on his show “Speak UP with Jimmy”

(This is not The Fairy Princess, her interview is not up yet, but keep checking back)

The Fairy Princess talked about Diversity on Television, specifically about Asian Americans on Television with Jimmy, and when asked, forgot to mention some people, because she was going off the top of her head, and she has “Mommy Brain” which IS a totally real thing….let’s face it, when you spend most of the day saying “No, don’t touch that” or “Did you poop?” you may be a bit slow on the uptake.

Photo by Dr. Michelle Ko

Photo by Dr. Michelle Ko

Frank apologies to Reggie Lee (Grimm), Maggie Q (Nikita), Deborah S. Craig (The Blacklist), Ellen Wong (The Carrie Diaries), Liza Lapira (Super Fun Night), and any other Asian American Actor that she was asked to name and totally blanked on….I should be able to rattle names off like the alphabet, and sadly, I blanked. I am so sorry, I apologize.

You know I love all of you and am big fan!

Great work y’all!

All combined, this trip to Los Angeles has been delightfully exhausting and nothing more so than this final activity attending the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers “Diversity through Directing” Panel Discussion at The Pasadena Playhouse.

Or as I like to think of it, when I see Panel discussions:

On the panel were Christopher Ashely ( La Jolla Playhouse), Tim Dang (East West Players), Barry Edelstein (The Old Globe), Sheldon Epps (Outgoing AD The Pasadena Playhouse), Jessica Kubzansky (Boston Court), Marc Masterson (South Coast Rep), Michael Ritchie (Center Theater Group), and Seema Sueko (Incoming Assoc AD The Pasadena Playhouse)

Here is what the “Panel” said – not quoting, just summing up:

1. If they have been successful with Diverse casting – such as South Coast Rep, The Old Globe, East West Players and The Pasadena Playhouse – they gently chided the other theaters – and, justifiably so. If one theater can garner Awards and increase sales by casting Diversely, then ALL theaters can.

The Cast of Allegiance from The Old Globe - they had hella nominations, y'all

The Cast of Allegiance from The Old Globe – they had hella nominations, y’all

2. Some ‘blamed” the lack of diversity in their productions on the Director’s vision and/or The Playwright – but if the Playwright or Director in question is not told that Diversity is a goal of the Artistic Director, or something that the company stands for – then they do not really HAVE to open their mind TO Diversity, do they?

Kinda Chicken Vs. The Egg

They will commit to Diversity, but they cannot find Diverse people to hire, so they hire all the same people,  and when they hire them , the same people that they always hire, they will not instruct them that their mission statement includes Diversity, because that would impede the Director in their vision, so consequently there is no Diversity on their stages – but they have a mission statement.

Did I get that right? Is YOUR head spinning too?

When people do not have to look at Diversity, it’s like when a teenager has to do a term paper and their Parent decides to do the weekend out of town – yeah, it doesn’t happen.

You know what happens? Stuff like this:

Clearly not the most diverse of thinking here...

Clearly not the most diverse of thinking here…

3. Some said they were open to Diversity, both using Diverse Directors and Actors, but said in that they have problems finding directors of Diverse background who have the resume for them to invest in a full scale production.

May I suggest looking harder?

In this day and age there is a wonderful thing called THE INTERNET and it is available to do ALL sorts of things.

You can look up a video of a Director’s work –

You could search their name and find a resume!

Asian American Directors of Theater – GO!

You could look around at The Ovation Awards,see what productions are winners & go from there:

4. Some said to find Directors with Diverse Background is a growing thing, that they are planting the seeds in Universities local to where they are in California.

This, I am sure, will be news to the Directors of Diverse backgrounds graduating from Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Julliard, Northwestern, etc, etc, etc – but guess WHAT Diverse Directors? You now know that some California based theater companies do not know how to FIND you, so how’s about you send them a resume and a head shot and they will call you….

5. Some of the Panel did not know that when they post “All Minorities Welcome” on their Castings, that it means little to nothing to Actors of Color, because though they are seen – as per Union guidelines and general human decency – they are so rarely cast, they do not bother going.

None of these were new and exciting revelations. The ‘excuse’ for not showing a stage that is representative of America is often “we cannot find the people’. The ‘excuse’ for not finding more Directors of Color is that they cannot find any.

However they have all double pinky swore that they are looking for you.

Well, I guess then, the REALLY mean it - maybe...

Well, I guess then, they REALLY mean it – maybe…

Double Pinky!!!!!! What a relief, I was so worried this was going to be pointless.

The Fairy Princess raised her hand, repeatedly, at the end of the discussion to ask a question. Whether through design or accident, she was pointedly ignored – in fact, no Asian American was given the go ahead to ask a question.

Here was my question: ‘According to AAPAC, Asian American roles on Broadway have grown from 2% to 3% in the last year. While this is not New York and we have not done a study like that here, can you, individually give me a number – because I am Asian and we like numbers – on how much your percentage of casting Asian Americans has risen from last year to this? You may guess or approximate.”

And here is what – if any of the ADs from that panel, with the exception of Tim Dang and Barry Edelstein cannot answer that question with pride, then they must go immediately to a mirror and make a vow to THAT person in the mirror, that

c8447dbbc26434b8d631f4d5c9440c4d8624f5deec103dddfc56bdaaa24e9499

until it is fixed. Because part of the reason we call you an Artistic Director, is that you Direct Artists.

The Fairy Princess does not buy into the ‘we hired this director and they can cast and do whatever they want.’ because I know, from many years in theater, that that is NOT the way it works. The Artistic Director and their strength and knowledge and sometimes, yes, insistence on a point or two is what shapes a company. Individual ‘guns for hire’ are not allowed to willy nilly run roughshod over the theater and those whose vision helps raise money and standards.

If you cannot talk frankly to a Director or Playwright about the need for Diversity in some works appearing on the stage, on YOUR stage, you are not an Artistic Director – you are Human Resources. You just hire them.

As a DIRECTOR or CHOREOGRAPHER to not be open to seeing people of different backgrounds in the world of ‘your’ play – that is a FAIL.

Yeah, I said it. It is a fail. And the worst/best part? You already KNOW it – no one defends something as staunchly as people who already know that they have missed the boat.

Which Boat, Papa? Can you hear me?

Directors, Can you hear me?

(The reason I made my question Asian American specific, is that the audience was diverse, and other people who represented other minority  groups were allowed to ask questions. I am not myopic enough to believe that only casting Asian Americans makes a show diverse. That would mean I am a cloistered ignoramus…and despite Internet aspersions, I’m not. )

 The Fairy Princess has had enough of talking. The Fairy Princess wants to see some action. The Fairy Princess is EXHAUSTED by the need to have to constantly have panels and explain Diversity – it is pretty clear at this point who is committed to it, and who is not. The Fairy Princess’s spirit animal remains The Honey Badger

Instead of patting ourselves on the back for yet ANOTHER panel – why not just up your game?

Why does a room full of Directors, Choreographers, and Artistic Directors who live and work in California need to learn MORE about Diversity?

Have they not been paying attention?

images

Were they at the cheese plate?

Is that cheddar? Delish

Is that cheddar? Delish

Some good points were made at the Panel 

Tim Dang said that to direct a play that is for a particular minority, you do not have to go to a ‘minority’ theater to direct it. In fact, it would be a stronger choice to direct that play with a theater company that services an audience who perhaps has not been to a ‘minority’ theater company. He also said that Southern California is “Ground Zero” for diversification and diversifying theater – good points, Tim.

Sheldon Epps said that he looks forward to LA stages representing America in every production, not just in individual productions. For example, when he directed 12 Angry Men, a fairly famous play, he allowed the murder of Treyvon Martin to influence his choice to cast, and find out what his audience’s reaction was.

Jessica Kubzansky of Boston Court said that because Boston Court is smaller, they are allowed to take more risks, not less – and that the discussion of how to bring more actors and directors of color to their stages is a daily question – one she hopes is answered by actors, at least, at the Open Calls they have.

Seema Sueko, who is the incoming AD at The Pasadena Playhouse said that having a diverse staff and listening to them and what they bring to the table, informs productions across the board if one can listen.

Barry Edelstein said that he wants his stages to look like the city in which his theater company has it’s home – that one should be able to imagine a cast on their stage simply by walking through one of the beautiful parks.

Marc Masterson said some good stuff about how he has managed to diversify his stages dramatically….look, everyone said some good stuff.

The Fairy Princess doesn’t care about stuff.

Stuff is the routine George Carlin used to do.

THEATER is what the people in the audience and on the stage of The Pasadena Playhouse do – so if that’s what you do….get to doing it.

So let it be written, so let it be DONE! Because….

Werd!

Werd!