After two days of recording in January, followed by six months of squeezing in studio time, the original cast album for THE FOUR IMMIGRANTS: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL MANGA is finally here! On Monday, we celebrated with a release party at the Opal Nightclub in downtown Mountain View, hosted by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Of course, I have had access to the album's files for a few weeks now, as we were waiting for the CDs to be published. But the excitement from folks at the party was so invigorating and uplifting, I was filled with gratitude. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the journey of THE FOUR IMMIGRANTS so far. Now, with this album, more people will be able to experience the music of the show. And hopefully, it will help us get to a second production soon enough!
For the last two weeks of June, I got to participate in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Ground Floor Summer Lab. What's great about Ground Floor is that they offer playwrights freedom to work on and explore their plays as needed; they do not require any kind of presentation. Some writers end up sitting in a room and typing away. Others hold public readings of their work, like I did for my play Calafia: A Reimagining. I haven't been able to finish a first full draft of the play yet, but I learned so much from discussions with my director, dramaturg, and actors -- as well as from audience feedback after our reading. I'm excited to see what directions Calafia will take as a result of the exploring, churning, and learning that happened during Ground Floor!
Krystle Piamonte, who plays lead character Hà in the current production of INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, recently shared this story on social media, and it was so sweet I just had to include it in my blog:
"Today after our first matinee performance, I received the most precious note/gift from one of our littlest audience members. A mom and daughter duo came to see INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN and handed this to me after the show. The mom said her daughter felt bad that I was having a rough day (I cry about 3x in this play) and that she wanted to write me a note to make me feel better. She also included this cute lollipop. I’m overwhelmed by this little girl’s empathy and kindness. It’s these kinds of interactions that remind me why theatre is a powerful way to connect to our humanity. Thank you, little girl. You made my heart so full today."
This past weekend, The Song of the Nightingale opened once more in the Bay Area, this time at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. This is the first time I've had a second local production of a show, and a newly revised one at that. I approached this production as an experiment: if The Song of the Nightingale had a new theatre company producing it with a new creative team and a (mostly) new cast, what would I discover about the show? I'm excited to say that I learned that the story of the show still shines through. The design elements, direction, and actor choices may be new, but the characters remain trackable, even more so with the new revisions.
I also learned that this show is a very meaningful experience for the cast members. There are very few musicals that feature Asian-American actors, and those that do are problematic for a variety of reasons. I received feedback from actors in Nightingale that they were very proud to be a part of this show. Several of them felt that for the first time, they could be themselves onstage and backstage. That they weren't putting on a white character or a white perspective of what it means to be Asian. It has been a goal of mine to create more roles for Asian-Americans in musical theatre, and I'm so honored to hear the effect it's having on my friends and colleagues.
Finally, I discovered that I love this show. It holds a very special place in my heart as my very first passion project for musical theatre. The script and score are certainly written by a younger me, and it was an interesting challenging revising the material in a way that stayed true to that younger style of writing. At times, I did wonder if those watching it would sense this "younger me" and consider it an amateur attempt at writing. But while watching it on opening night, I felt confident that I love the show for what it is. The Song of the Nightingale will always be the project that started it all.
When The Four Immigrants opened and folks asked me how I was feeling, my response was something like "Great, but also overwhelming. I think I'm going to be processing this incredible ride for months to come." Now that the show is closed, I am confronted with just how mind-blowing this whole experience has been. Those who know me know how much I love lists, because they help me organize my thoughts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of four mind-blowing moments from the TheatreWorks rehearsals and run of The Four Immigrants.
Early in the year, TheatreWorks flew me out to New York and Los Angeles for auditions. This was the first time I have ever been flown to other locations to search for actors. In New York, we were auditioning at Pearl Studios. Several other productions were holding their own auditions in other rooms, including Disney's Frozen (both the Broadway and the California Adventure calls). It was thrilling to consider how many Broadway writers, directors and performers had been in and out of this building!
Overwhelming support from friends old and new
I am floored by how many people came to see the show, particularly those whom I have not seen in such a long time! Folks from every "era" of my life — friends from high school, college, my childhood church, my old corporate job; family members; and colleagues from theatre — surprised me with a text or e-mail saying they were coming to or were at the show. My heart is filled with warmth and gratitude at the outpouring of love and support for the project.
A Visit from the Kiyamas
Akiko Kiyama, the granddaughter of Henry Kiyama (author of the original comic book), flew to California from Japan with her husband Ken'ichi just to see our production of The Four Immigrants. Both were very moved by the performance. Afterwards, when Akiko saw actor James Seol (who plays Henry in the musical), she called him ojiisan - "grandfather." Everyone in the room could sense how special this moment was. There were smiles and tears all around - and lots of photos taken.
Hearing from Asian Americans and Immigrants
While I've been blown away by the positive response from audiences, the reactions from other Asians/Asian Americans have been particularly poignant: how the show made one man feel "proud" to be Asian, how it helped a wife (Asian, but not native to the States) understand more of what her Asian-American husband might have experienced growing up, how a Japanese American felt that the show honored the history of her family and heritage. I've also heard from folks who aren't Asian, but identify as immigrants or are closely connected to their immigrant lineage, saying the show conveys emotions and sentiments they identify with deeply. I'm honored to have created a vehicle for people to process or experience catharsis of some kind — and hopefully keep them entertained along the way.
Thank you to everyone who came to see the show, or who supported it from afar! And of course thank you to the entire cast, crew, creative team, and TheatreWorks for the unforgettable ride this was!