Current Issue, Vol. 34 No. 2

Introduction to Asian American Dramaturgies

by Donatella Galella
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre
Volume 34, Number 2 (Spring 2022)
ISNN 2376-4236
©2022 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

“Look, this country’s a disaster in so many ways,” actor Raymond J. Lee belts with ferocity in David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s 2019 musical Soft Power.[1] Yes! At the concert celebration of the Kennedy Center’s fiftieth anniversary in 2021, he softened, “Look, this country’s still hurting in so many ways.”[2] Yes. With increased public attention to rhetorical and physical attacks against Asians and Asian Americans, works like Soft Power have received more attention, and this very issue on “Asian American Dramaturgies” has felt more urgent. But does the price of admission to the stage and legibility to the public need to be a spectacularization of recent anti-Asian violence? As #StopAAPIHate trended on social media, it was exhilarating and exhausting to witness some colleagues come into consciousness and care about the existence of systemic anti-Asian racism, given how histories of colonization, incarceration, and assimilation haunt Asian Americans. Still, Lee delivers his next line in Soft Power with hope held over a long note, “But we have the power to change.”[3] Asian American theatre and Asian Americanist thinking offer criticality and possibility. As Dorinne Kondo writes in Worldmaking: Race, Performance, and the Work of Creativity, “Dramaturgical critique deploys research, theory, and scholarship for reparative ends.”[4] Ambivalence remains, because even as representation matters, visibility politics must go beyond the surface.

In this special issue, the first that the Journal of American Drama and Theatre has dedicated to Asian American theatre and performance, I asked, “What can Asian American dramaturgies do? What can we do with Asian American dramaturgies?” The following pieces offer a range of answers. Inspired by Nicole Hodges Persley and Heather Nathans’s co-edited 2021 special issue “Milestones in Black Theatre,” “Asian American Dramaturgies” consists of short pieces from interviews with artists to interventions in academia. To set the stage, the issue begins with a roundtable of Dorinne Kondo, Esther Kim Lee, Josephine Lee, Sean Metzger, Karen Shimakawa, and myself reflecting on the field of Asian American theatre and performance studies. The following dramaturgical readings give much-needed attention to the politics of whiteness and possibilities of music and history in Young Jean Lee’s and Lauren Yee’s plays (Christine Mok, Jennifer Goodlander, and Kristin Leahy with Joseph Ngo). A photo essay and interviews put the spotlight on major Asian American theatrical institutions and on Hawaiian artistic-political epistemologies (Roger Tang, Jenna Gerdsen, and Baron Kelly). kt shorb, Al Evangelista, and Amy Mihyang Ginther consider their own artistry and writing as putting Asian American dramaturgies into practice from strategies of re-appropriation to refusal and deprivation. Bindi Kang and Daphne Lei provide inside looks into their crucial dramaturgical work on recent Asian American theatrical productions. In the final piece, Ariel Nereson brings readers back to Kondo and Yee and invites us all to teach Asian American dramaturgies.

Including this introduction, these fifteen contributions join the past fifteen articles that JADT has published with some engagement of Asian American theatre and performance, from analyses of US dramas performed in Asian countries to meta-critiques of canonical Asian American plays in the US theatre landscape. I share this bibliography in order of publication:

 

Brian Richardson, “Genre, Transgression, and the Struggle for (Self) Representation in U.S. Ethnic Drama,” JADT 8, no. 3 (Fall 1996): 1-18.

Hsieh-Chen Lin, “Staging Orientalia: Dangerous ‘Authenticity’ in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly,” JADT 9, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 26-35.

Robert Ji-Song Ku, “‘Beware of Tourists if You Look Chinese’ and Other Survival Tactics in the American Theatre: The Asian(cy) of Display in Frank Chin’s The Year of the Dragon,” JADT 11, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 78-92.

Byungho Han, “Korean Productions of A Streetcar Named Desire,” JADT 13, no. 1 (Winter 2001): 36-51.

Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, “Listening with the Third Ear: Kabuki, Bharata Natyam and the National Theatre of the Deaf,” JADT 14, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 35-43.

Dan Kwong, “An American Asian in Thailand,” JADT 14, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 44-54.

Dan Balcazo, “A Different Drum: David Henry Hwang’s Musical ‘Revisal’ of Flower Drum Song,” JADT 15, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 71-83.

Jon D. Rossini, “From M. Butterfly to Bondage: David Henry Hwang’s Fantasies of Sexuality, Ethnicity, and Gender,” JADT 18, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 55-76.

John S. Bak, “Long Dong and Other Phallic Tropes in Hwang’s M. Butterfly,” JADT 21, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 71-82.

Ashis Sengupta, “‘Coming Out of the Closet’: Re-reading The Boys in the Band and On a Muggy Night in Mumbai,” JADT 22, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 33-50.

Kee-Yoon Nahm, “Visibly White: Realism and Race in Appropriate and Straight White Men,” JADT 27, no. 2 (Spring 2015), https://jadtjournal.org/2015/04/24/visibly-white-realism-and-race-in-appropriate-and-straight-white-men/.

Wu Wenquan, Chen Li, and Zhu Qinjuan, “Arthur Miller: Reception and Influence in China,” JADT 27, no. 3 (Fall 2015), https://jadtjournal.org/2015/11/20/arthur-miller/.

Esther Kim Lee, “Strangers Onstage: Asia, America, Theatre, and Performance,” JADT 28, no. 1 (Winter 2016), https://jadtjournal.org/2016/03/23/strangers-onstage-asia-america-theatre-and-performance/.

Stephen Hong Sohn, “Calculated Cacophonies: The Queer Asian American Family and the Nonmusical Musical in Chay Yew’s Wonderland,” JADT 29, no. 1 (Fall 2016/Winter 2017), https://jadtjournal.org/2016/12/17/calculated-cacophonies-the-queer-asian-american-family-and-the-nonmusical-musical-in-chay-yews-wonderland/.

Arnab Banerji, “Finding Home in the World Stage: Critical Creative Citizenship and the 13th South Asian Theatre Festival 2018,” JADT 32, no. 2 (Spring 2020), https://jadtjournal.org/2020/05/20/finding-home-in-the-world-stage-critical-creative-citizenship-and-the-13th-south-asian-theatre-festival-2018/.

 

I offer warm thanks to my comrades who made this special issue possible. The guest editorial board members Arnab Banerji, Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, Broderick Chow, Chris A. Eng, Esther Kim Lee, Sean Metzger, Christine Mok, and Stephen Sohn offered careful feedback to the authors and encouraging words, emojis, and punctuation marks to me. Managing Editors Dahye Lee and Emily Furlich communicated clearly and attended well to details. Co-Editors Jim Wilson and Naomi J. Stubbs patiently answered my questions. Book Review Editor Maya Roth thoughtfully reached out and curated her section to engage with our issue’s theme. Finally, I appreciate the American Theatre and Drama Society membership that elected me, enabling me to propose and edit this special issue.

Asian American dramaturgies have unfinished work to do, not for mere inclusion but for radical shifts in telling stories, redistributing resources, and knowing differently. As the author-character DHH concludes in Soft Power with fragile optimism, “Good fortune will follow. If we somehow survive,” the ensemble intones, “In America.”[5]


Donatella Galella is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside. She researches how systemic racism shapes contemporary American theatre from the ways white institutions capitalize on blackness to the persistence of yellowface in musicals. Her essays have been published in journals including Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, and the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and books including Reframing the Musical: Race, Culture, and Identity and Casting a Movement: The Welcome Table Initiative. Her book America in the Round: Capital, Race, and Nation at Washington DC’s Arena Stage (University of Iowa Press) was an Honorable Mention for the 2020 Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and a Finalist for the 2020 Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.


[1] Play and lyrics by David Henry Hwang, music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori, “Soft Power,” Public Theater Opening Night Draft, 11 October 2019, 92.

[2] Reynaldi Lindner Lolong, “Democracy,” YouTube video, 2 October 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKdj3jQTatc (accessed 30 April 2022).

[3] Hwang and Tesori, 92.

[4] Dorinne Kondo, Worldmaking: Race, Performance and the Work of Creativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 197.

[5] Hwang and Tesori, 93.


Guest Editor: Donatella Galella
Advisory Editor: David Savran
Founding Editors: Vera Mowry Roberts and Walter Meserve

Editorial Staff:

Co-Managing Editor: Emily Furlich
Co-Managing Editor: Dahye Lee

Guest Editorial Board:

Arnab Banerji
Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns
Broderick Chow
Chris A. Eng
Esther Kim Lee
Sean Metzger
Christine Mok
Stephen Sohn

Advisory Board:

Michael Y. Bennett
Kevin Byrne
Tracey Elaine Chessum
Bill Demastes
Stuart Hecht
Jorge Huerta
Amy E. Hughes
David Krasner
Esther Kim Lee
Kim Marra
Ariel Nereson
Beth Osborne
Jordan Schildcrout
Robert Vorlicky
Maurya Wickstrom
Stacy Wolf

Table of Contents:

  • “Introduction to Asian American Dramaturgies” by Donatella Galella
  • “Behind the Scenes of Asian American Theatre and Performance,” by Donatella Galella, Dorinne Kondo, Esther Kim Lee, Josephine Lee, Sean Metzger, and Karen Shimakawa
  • “On Young Jean Lee in Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die” by Christine Mok
  • “Representation from Cambodia to America: Musical Dramaturgies in Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band” by Jennifer Goodlander
  • “The Dramaturgical Sensibility of Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap and Cambodian Rock Band” by Kristin Leahey, with excerpts from an interview with Joseph Ngo
  • “Holding up a Lens to the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists: A Photo Essay” by Roger Tang
  • “Theatre in Hawaiʻi: An ‘Illumination of the Fault Lines’ of Asian American Theatre” by Jenna Gerdsen
  • “Randul Duk Kim: A Sojourn in the Embodiment of Words” by Baron Kelly
  • “Reappropriation, Reparative Creativity, and Feeling Yellow in Generic Ensemble Company’s The Mikado: Reclaimed” by kt shorb
  • “Dance Planets” by Al Evangelista
  • “Dramaturgy of Deprivation (없다): An Invitation to Re-Imagine Ways We Depict Asian American and Adopted Narratives of Trauma” by Amy Mihyang Ginther
  • Clubhouse: Stories of Empowered Uncanny Anomalies” by Bindi Kang
  • “Off-Yellow Time vs. Off-White Space: Activist Asian American Dramaturgy in Higher Education” by Daphne P. Lei
  • “Asian American Dramaturgies in the Classroom: A Reflection” by Ariel Nereson

www.jadtjournal.org
jadt@gc.cuny.eduwww.jadtjournal.org
jadt@gc.cuny.edu

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center:

Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Yu Chien Lu, Administrative Producer

©2022 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The Graduate Center CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York NY 10016

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