Posts tagged #TheatreWorksSV

Magical Moments from the TheatreWorks Writers Retreat 2018

Our room is all set up for the actors!

Our room is all set up for the actors!

Last week, playwright Brad Erickson and I participated in the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Writers Retreat to work on our project Lowcountry (assisted) Living. Our main goal for the week was to get a draft of Act One complete. I'm happy to say we met that goal (though, of course, we are already thinking about revisions to be made). I last took part in this special retreat four years ago when I wrote the first ever words and music The Four Immigrants. We, the writers, are basically given resources (a room, a piano, access to wi-fi and printing, etc) and actors to work with, and aren't given any specific instructions for the week, other than to create and to present some bit of our creation to an audience of donors at the end of the retreat. I cannot stress how helpful and crucial this "open playing field" is to the creative process. Our time was split between solo work, dramaturgical discussion, and running new drafts of songs and scenes by actors. Two magical moments in particular stand out to me.

One evening, I stumbled upon a core idea for a song and decided to stay later to work on it. While writing it, I had a moment of emotional connection to the song, which is often a sign to me that I'm on the right track. In short, I was crying. The next morning, I played and sang the song for Brad at the piano, with him sitting behind me. While singing it, I could tell that Brad was also crying, and I purposely avoided turning to look at him, because I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the song. Afterwards, we had a laugh about it, but also noted that this song contains something powerful and central to one of the character's plotlines. That was magical moment number one.

Headshots and programs for the day of the presentation!

Headshots and programs for the day of the presentation!

The other occurred after we did a run-thru of our rough Act One and received feedback from the artistic staff at TheatreWorks that the focus of WHO the story was about didn't seem consistent or clear. I started to see that the opening number I had written was perhaps a culprit. Only four characters sang in the opening number, but Brad and I definitely wanted all eight characters to have equal weight in the story. I proposed the idea of expanding the opening number to include and introduce all eight with interweaving parts. Brad liked the idea, and I felt strongly that I should try to complete this expanded version in time for the presentation on Sunday (this revelation came Friday afternoon). So with only one day and two hours to work with the actors, I worked like a madman on Saturday adding in all of the new parts and creating an opening number which I felt painted a fuller picture of what the story was about. I was running on adrenaline and risk. Hats off the the amazing group of actors who took on the challenge of the revised song like the pros they are. After our first sing-thru, I think we all felt like it was a much stronger opening for the show, and with some adjustments, we were able to perform the piece on Sunday.

I'll forever be grateful to TheatreWorks - their staff, donors, and volunteers - for creating this environment for magical moments to arise. What might have come about slowly on our own time seemed to bubble up to the tops of our minds thanks to the space and freedom the Writers Retreat afforded us.

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!



Help us record The Four Immigrants original cast album!

I'm partnering with TheatreWorks to produce The Four Immigrants original cast album -- and we are looking for generous donors to help fund the recording costs. The professionally recorded cast album will not only allow audiences to enjoy the songs from the show, but will also aid me as I meet with potential theatre companies about future productions. Your investment in the album is an investment in the future life of the show!

Every gift of $60 or more will receive your very own CD even as you support the creation of exciting new works! But, there are so many more gifts—even VIP experiences! So whether big or small, join our adventure by November 17 and in addition to your gifts, you will be entered into a drawing in which one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of The Four Immigrants Manga. Click the banner above to donate today!

The Four Immigrants received a TBA Award!

Last night, I was honored to receive a Theatre Bay Area Award for Outstanding World Premiere Musical for The Four Immigrants. It was an exciting evening, to say the least! One particularly meaningful memory was when members of the TheatreWorks cast joined with actors from previous readings of the piece to sing "Furusato" together on stage. Thank you to everyone who has supported The Four Immigrants!

In case you haven't heard, we are also raising funds to help produce an original cast album for the show! To donate or for more info, CLICK HERE.

From L to R: Sean Fenton, Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K. Carnahan, Stephen Workman, Min Kahng, Phil Wong, Leslie Martinson, Jeffrey Lo

From L to R: Sean Fenton, Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K. Carnahan, Stephen Workman, Min Kahng, Phil Wong, Leslie Martinson, Jeffrey Lo

The Four Immigrants: Four Mind-Blowing Moments (A Post-Show Reflection)

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.

Auditioning the show at Pearl Studios, NYC

Auditioning the show at Pearl Studios, NYC

Bi-Coastal Auditions
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.

Me, Actor James Seol, and Akiko Kiyama posing with a photo of Henry Kiyama and his parrot

Me, Actor James Seol, and Akiko Kiyama posing with a photo of Henry Kiyama and his parrot

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!