Posts tagged #Musical Cafe

My Year in Review!

A shorter version of this year-in-review was e-mailed to my Newsletter recipients earlier this week. I can often be hard on myself, focusing only on what else I need to achieve, and staring at task lists and check boxes in order to feel like I'm getting somewhere. I can feel like I'm falling behind or failing or not doing enough. So these kinds of reviews help me see the things that I have accomplished, and remind me to take a moment and be proud of my work.


I want to start by acknowledging that for many of my friends and colleagues, 2017 has been a very difficult year. I know too many people who have felt the ripple effects of political policies that seem to strengthen messages of hate and bigotry, rather than freedom and diversity. Additionally, there seems to have been an onslaught of natural disasters this year that continues to this day with the Southern California Fires.

Still, in the face of these trials and traumas, I have also seen amazing creative work flourish around me. I am honored to be part of a theatre community that is committed to being bold and unrelenting in its story- and truth-telling. 2017 has also yielded much fruit for me in my writing endeavors. Here's just a snapshot of highlights by month:

Bad Kitty On Stage! opens at TYKEs in Rochester, NY
Conducted in-class workshops for Story Explorers

World premiere of Story Explorers at Bay Area Children's Theatre

Invited as a Guest Speaker at UC Berkeley to discuss Story Explorers
Helped out as a "Resume Doctor" at the Theatre Bay Area Conference

Workshop of The Four Immigrants at Playwrights Foundation

World premiere of Step Up Crew begins touring Bay Area schools
Bad Kitty On Stage! opens at the Gifford Family Theatre in Syracuse, NY
Table Reading of Song of the Nightingale at Town Hall Theatre

Rehearsals for The Four Immigrants begins at TheatreWorks

World premiere of The Four Immigrants at TheatreWorks - my first LORT Production

First Table Read of Inside Out & Back Again at Bay Area Children's Theatre

The Song of the Nightingale opens at Town Hall Theatre

Taught a "Song-aturgy" class at Musical Cafe

The Four Immigrants receives the Theatre Bay Area Award for Outstanding World Premiere Musical

Workshop for Inside Out & Back Again at Bay Area Children's Theatre

Now onward to 2018!



The Four Immigrants at Musical Cafe

The Four Immigrants Manga  reading team! From L to R: Leslie Martinson (director), Lindsay Hirata (Ensemble), Carina Salazar (Ensemble), Will Dao (Frank), Sean Fenton (Fred), Benjamin Nguyen (Henry), Brian Palac (Charlie), Dana Shew (Ensemble), Lawrence-Michael Arias (Ensemble), Min Kahng (book, music, lyrics), Frederik L. Schodt (translator)

The Four Immigrants Manga reading team! From L to R: Leslie Martinson (director), Lindsay Hirata (Ensemble), Carina Salazar (Ensemble), Will Dao (Frank), Sean Fenton (Fred), Benjamin Nguyen (Henry), Brian Palac (Charlie), Dana Shew (Ensemble), Lawrence-Michael Arias (Ensemble), Min Kahng (book, music, lyrics), Frederik L. Schodt (translator)

At the end of January, I had the opportunity to present a 25-minute segment of The Four Immigrants Manga: An American Musical Extravaganza at the inaugural Musical Cafe Showcase presented by The Alchemy Works and Play Cafe. I had the joy of working with Leslie Martinson as the director of the project (Leslie is also my mentor via the Titan Award, and the Associate Artistic Director & Casting Director for TheatreWorks in Silicon Valley) and with eight amazing actors who infused energy and life into the project! Fred L. Schodt, translator of Henry Kiyama's The Four Immigrants Manga, was also in attendance. After the reading, he mentioned to me that I was staying true to the spirit of Kiyama's work - which pretty much made my evening! The evening consisted of four other musical writing teams presenting portions of their work as well - all in various stages in their creative process.

I learned so much through this rehearsal process and performance. After last year's presentation at the TheatreWorks Writers Retreat, I have moved cautiously forward with a vaudeville style to match the original text's "Sunday funnies" nature. I was unsure as to whether the dated feel of the work would translate to contemporary audiences. It was great to see the showcase audience respond to specific moments in the script/score that 1) worked for humorous effect, but more importantly 2) helped bridge the gap between an old-fashioned style and a modern audience.

Working with actors is always a treat because once I've explained the traits of each character, it's fun to then see actors at play, discovering internal and relational dynamics that I had not yet considered. I came away from the showcase not only feeling like the four titular characters stood strongly as four personalities whose journeys I'm interested in, but that the rest of the ensemble shown through with a presence of their own.

Of course, there are still so many questions to consider. One thing I need to consider moving forward is the idea of Japanese-ness, American-ness, and Japanese-American-ness. Because Kiyama wrote the comic book in a very imitative, American comic-book style, I have gone in the direction of a very American-feeling vaudeville. And yet, thanks to some valuable feedback, I realize that there is a danger then of not having the characters feel "Japanese" enough. This is further made difficult because of the fact that at this time, Japan itself was split on its approach toward the West, and, in particular, America. There were many who passionately claimed that following the ways of Western democracy, individualism, and economics was the way forward for Japan. And others just as passionately fought for a return to traditional Japanese ways. It seems that Kiyama was, at least in part, of the former mentality. He came to America to study the Western styles of art (though it should be noted that he was adept at Japanese artistic styles and techniques as well), and he made the decision to capture the history of the Four Immigrants in a form that was distinctly Western - the frame-by-frame comic strip. What does that mean for my interpretation (as a non-Japanese-but-still-Asian-American) of his work? The good news is, I am still early enough in the process to really grapple with this question and even explore these issues in the script/score itself. As of right now, I don't know if the final show will have anything definitive to say about the topic, but I do see many opportunities to weave it into the work and perhaps show a variety of perspectives. All this to say, these are the types of incredibly rich questions/dialogues that have arisen from the showcase, and I'm excited for this next phase of research and writing!

Next step: complete an entire first draft.