Introduction: Links Hall
“Asian American” is a categorical definition that encompasses the heritage of 48 different countries with 2,197 different languages. Confining this broad range of cultural backgrounds into a single box narrows the definition of what it means to be Asian in America. As a result, Asian American artists often have fewer opportunities to develop their craft and explore aspects of their identities beyond the monolithic cultural background they have been assigned.
This past spring, Links Hall’s Programming Committee awarded residencies to Rika Lin and Mitsu Salmon, two artists pursuing broader explorations of their Asian American experiences expressed through contemporary artistic practices. Around the same time, we connected with California-based choreographer Dahlia Nayar over the opportunity to present her work “2125 Stanley St” through the National Dance Project’s Touring Award. Since 2014, Links has been part of the National Performance Network’s U.S./Japan Connection program to build strong relationships among U.S. and Japan-based artists and presenters. The convergence of developing creative residencies in Chicago and Japan while producing projects by Nayar, Lin, and Salmon, alongside the larger cultural dialogue in regards to the stereotyping and whitewashing of Asian and Asian Americans in the performing arts sparked a need for Links Hall to engage further in this conversation. Seeking an artistic partner already exploring these issues, we reached out to A-Squared, a second generation Asian American theatre company, to work with us on building a platform in our 2016/17 season that could articulate the breadth, depth, and diversity of contemporary performance practices by Asian Americans.
The artists selected by A-Squared to participate in this festival are united by the shared experience of having their Asian identity confined by American society and by a shared struggle to find a balance between performance traditions they have inherited and performance practices they have created. Each artist in this festival is here because they have built their own pathway to this platform – they have found their own voice within performance.
Contemporary reflections of a deep past: A-Squared
As Asian Americans, we are cognizant of certain expectations and pressures, often based on academics, career, or family planning. Some of these parameters are set on us in how we are portrayed outside our communities, some of them stem from our own families and the Asian communities to which we belong. In the past, we have been stereotyped as carrying ourselves in society in a soft-spoken manner, smoothly blending into the larger society. We believe that the image of the “quiet” and “model” minority is being circumvented by younger generations of Asian Americans. We have chosen to focus on these up-and-coming side steppers within this festival.
As artists we share common ties to two continents, we are rooted not only in our Asian motherlands but in the American continent. We are influenced by its dominant culture. We listen to hip-hop, rock, and jazz. We enjoy American football, basketball, and baseball. We are as likely to watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead as the Korean dramas and Japanese game shows that have recently gained cult followings here in the United States. We are governed by the same societal norms and mores as all Americans. As a result, we are an intercontinental blend of influences. The investigation of Asian American identity undertaken by this festival provides a window into who we are as the offspring of immigrants comprised of two distinct cultural identities that have blended into one.
We are united by big things, and by little things. Many of us are able to speak the language of our ancestral homeland and enjoy culinary creations that have crossed oceans and transversed years as recipes have been passed down from our immigrant forebearers to generations of descendants. Others of us were raised in a home that practiced the rituals and customs of religions brought to these shores from our distant motherlands. We all have ties to a shared continent across the sea. These ties can be behavioral, psychological, or spiritual, but they are continually morphing into something new, and it is this “new” that we will focus on in the A-Squared Asian American Performing Arts Festival.
Regardless the subtle dichotomies, each artist in this festival has a voice that is distinctly Asian American. Each artist in this festival represents a bridge that travels from the sources of the past, marked by monoculture, immigration, and assimilation to varying degrees, and arrives at the cultural sources of the present which are marked by diversity, globalization, and technology. For this reason, all the works in this festival are contemporary examples of the art of performance as well as contemporary examinations of where we came from, who we are now, and what the future may hold for us as Asian Americans.
Hope Kim co-produced A-Squared’s Ching Chong Chinaman,My Asian Mom 126.96.36.199, andMy Asian Mom 2014. Her acting credits include all three editions of theMy Asian Momseries of short plays,Really Rosie, Rizal’sSweet Stranger, andThe Other Shore. She recently played the lead inJinju (Northwestern Senior Directing Short Film). Hope is an A-Squared company member and serves on its board.
Cary Shoda is a co-founder of A-Squared and a Chicago-based actor, director, producer and graphic designer. He played Khue in Trial By Water (co-produced with dueEast Theatre Company) and produced The Wind Cries Mary. Other acting credits include The Laramie Project (James Downing Theatre Company), Camino Real (Mom and Dad Productions), and video segments in Ceres (Factory Theater). Graphic design credits include McKinsey & Company, Spencer Stuart, and The Museum of Contemporary Art.
Giau Truong is a company member of A-Squared for which he directed Ching Chong Chinaman, The Other Shore and various shorts that appeared in My Asian Mom, A-Squared’s signature show of ten-minute plays. Giau has also directed plays for James Downing Theatre Company, Theatre for a Change, Dream Theatre Company where he serves on the board and CIRCA-Pintig, Chicago’s long-running Filipino American theatre company for which he served as artistic director from 2007 through 2012. He is a teaching artist and program manager for Storycatchers, designs lights and production stage manages for Links Hall, and stage manages with Chamber Opera Chicago and other companies.